Online Group Work
Modern-thinking teachers in both the conventional and the internet classroom insist that their students take part in group projects to help them learn and practice new skills. In the internet school or college environment, this will usually involve a group of students from the same course working together on a task. The students will be required to coordinate their efforts and produce a joint presentation, for example, or carry out some research. The type of task and the structure of the group project will depend on what you're studying.
Group Work On The Internet
Even in "real-life" environments, working with other people is challenging. The whole point of team work is bring together different talents, perspectives (and egos) to produce something better than what would be produced if only one person worked on the project. The group must make sure that the needs of individuals in the group are met, but that the best interests of the group as a whole are served.
Put this situation into a virtual learning environment and you have a whole new set of challenges. You are working with people whom you may never meet face to face, and who have schedules outside of their study time online which you know nothing about. In some cases, your only point of contact may be email, which can be a problem if you need someone in an emergency.
For these and other reasons, some online students have doubts about group work.
Reasons For Internet Group Work
So why do e-course teachers insist on group projects?
Future employability - Probably, the most obvious answer is that team work is an essential part of employment in the real world. No man is an island, as they say. It's virtually impossible to earn money in today's society without having contact with other people. Experience in group work is therefore something that employers look for in job candidates.
Learning from others - when several people work together successfully, each person uses his strengths to compensate for the weaknesses of others and vice versa. Individual team members benefit from knowledge, perspective and experience to which they would otherwise not have had access. This is why, when group work is properly managed, the result is a better end product than what would have resulted from the efforts of one individual.
Making Group Work Work
Of course, managing group work online is very different to managing team projects in a real-world classroom. Here are some tips for making sure you get the best out of online group work:
Determine right at the beginning what means of contact you have (email, chat, learning forums, VoIP) and have all group members provide contact details. Make a list of these and the times at which group members are available to be contacted.
Take some time to get to know the people in your group. Share some personal information, or, if you're not comfortable with that, talk a bit about other aspects of your course and your experiences. Establishing some personal relationships will encourage group members to honor their commitments to the group.
Allocate responsibilities within the group and keep a record of who has agreed to do what.
Schedule times, in consultation with the whole group, at which everyone is committed to being online to discuss progress or make decisions affecting the group. If you can't be available at the scheduled time, do everything you can to let the other group members know in advance.
Set mini-deadlines for long projects, at which time everyone agrees to share their work so far with the other members of the group, and discuss next steps for the project.
Lastly, remember to always aim for constructive criticism and give positive feedback where it is due. This is probably the hardest aspect of any group work. Likewise, group work works best in an atmosphere in which everyone feels free to talk about their ideas. So speak up if you have something to say.