Students learn more than what they gain from their research and the project they complete in group assignments. Students who are savvy will also learn valuable lessons about communicating clearly, setting up schedules and communicating effectively, and working together in a positive and proactive manner. They might also improve their leadership skills.
Online courses offer students the opportunity to learn how to collaborate with others in technology-mediated environments. They will find that the skills they learn from working together online are extremely useful, especially if the position is in multi-locational organizations and companies that rely heavily upon web conferencing, instant messaging and other online communication tools that connect people all over the country (and the world).
Tips for Virtual Teams
Ryan Watkins, Michael Corry, and E-Learning Companion, Fourth Edition: A Student’s Handbook to Online Success, offer advice to students that can be used in virtual teams at work as well as online courses. They write:
Expect the team to work well the first day.
Make sure you are clear about the roles, responsibilities, as well as the tasks of your team.
Technology can be used to organize (shared calendars and file sharing). ).
Set up rules and norms that will guide communication and completion of tasks.
Make social connections with your team members. (p. 182)
Watkins and Corry also offer students a set guiding principles that will help them succeed in online group work. Below are the key points we want to highlight for students. If you don’t have a group-work practice in place, you might consider adapting these guidelines to your assignments.
Guidelines for Online Teamwork
These can be shared with your students.
Before the project starts:
You should ensure that you have carefully read the information provided by the instructor and that you are fully aware of all aspects of your project (including due dates and deliverables as well as policies and grading standards).
Get to know your fellow group members. Let your group members know your basic schedule so they know when you are available. Also let them know how you can reach you. If you have preferences about the roles and responsibilities that you would like to play in the group, let them know. But be prepared to discuss these with your fellow teammates.
Collect the contact information of your fellow members. This information should be kept safe so that you have access to it even if your technology fails.
Decide how and when to communicate with each other. Set meeting times and decide which communication methods you will use (e.g. Online collaboration software, instant messaging, and e-mail are all options. You can also choose a group leader or decide that leadership roles will be rotated on a meeting by meeting basis.
Identify and agree on the roles of each member of the group. ).
Also, determine which tasks each person will “own.”
You must commit to meeting attendance, clear communication and keeping to your schedule. This will ensure that you are consistent and minimize the chance of technical glitches.
During the Project
You are responsible for all tasks you have agreed to.
Continue to fulfill the roles that you agreed to at the beginning of the project (e.g. Note taker, meeting organizer and point of contact with instructor
Communicate clearly and positively to encourage collaboration, not conflict or rivalry.
A shared calendar helps everyone in your team to see important dates and meeting times. Many apps and programs are online.
Be patient with your team, but don’t be too demanding. Don’t let important milestones or due dates slip by.
Keep communications and files organized in a folder that is easy to find.
You can protect your work by regularly backing up your files.
Before you submit work or send notes to the instructor, make sure that everyone in your group takes the time to read the document and agrees to its contents.
Don’t take too much of any comment personally. Remember that you can’t see body language or hear vocal inflections so you might be misinterpreting what someone is trying to communicate. Avoid easily misinterpreted communication modes like sarcasm.
Keep track of all resources used for research (print or online) and make sure to cite them.