Collaboration Among Online Learners (Part 2)

After coping with a challenging group project, last week I blogged about my suggestions for getting group work off to a great start. What I figured out is that collaboration requires time, flexibility, a positive attitude, and a commitment to getting the job done. Once the introductions are over, here are my suggestions for sustaining a supportive learning environment and a productive group dynamic.

Part Two – Working Well Together & Working Together Well

  1. Break the assignment down and forge a plan. When working individually, but as part of a larger group, it is important to keep the overall objectives and final goal in mind so that all the pieces fit well when brought together. As a group, try forging a strategic plan by breaking the assignment down into manageable pieces, prioritizing the tasks involved, setting realistic goals, and dividing the responsibilities among the group members. Make steady progress by setting a review schedule for each set of tasks before moving on to the next level and avoid last-minute panic by leaving a cushion of time for final revisions prior to the due date.
  2. Establish clear roles and responsibilities. Even with a plan in place, each group member needs to understand exactly what they are expected to contribute and when they need to deliver it. With online collaboration, it can be even more challenging to maintain the cohesion required to keep the group moving forward in the same direction. In the absence of contracts or some other similar strategy introduced by the instructor, it will become particularly critical to keep all members of the group actively involved and updated as the project progresses. To facilitate ongoing communication, try setting up a team in ANGEL and be sure to e-mail replies to all group members so that no one falls behind, gets lost, or feels isolated. After all, this is a group project!
  3. Take initiative. In a group project, doing your part means more than just completing individual assigned tasks. Even when not in a leadership role, group members will need to review, comment on, and amend the work of others. Part of the collaborative learning experience requires all group members to be actively involved in revisions and ongoing development of the project. Every group member possesses a unique perspective, but each will have to take the initiative to freely share it in order to ensure that the final product is a true reflection of the entire group. Be prepared, because if you believe strongly about something, this may require you to defend an unpopular position to the rest of your group.
  4. Know when it’s time to bring in the instructor. Even with all of the best intentions and capable partners, there are times when making inquiries to the instructor or asking for intervention is the right thing to do. Does the project need a title page? Is specific formatting required? Are you coping with an absent partner? What about when consensus can’t be reached and things just aren’t coming together? Always exhaust your own opportunities to answer questions and resolve issues among the group first, but recognize when those attempts are falling short. Be sure to ask the instructor to get involved while there is still enough time to solve the problem and complete the project.

To conclude, let’s bring these strategies for collaborating online together. You have a new group project. What’s next? First, start with ample time, flexibility, and a positive attitude. Try to make group commitments a priority. Identify individual strengths and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Together, develop a planned approach with established review dates and update it as the project evolves. Be an active participant and a responsible partner. Remember that the instructor is available to clarify and mediate, if necessary.

Some of my most rewarding learning experiences have been as part of a group. The diverse experiences, skills, and opinions of my peers serve to broaden my perspective and I appreciate their contributions. Still, it took me several weeks to recover from a single negative experience. So, I hope these strategies are helpful the next time you have a group assignment and please feel free to share your own insights for success in collaborating online.