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Does online group work, work?

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Before an instructor starts assigning group projects in their online classes, it’s important to ask, can they work? In “Teacher Perspectives on Online Collaborative Learning:  Factors Perceived as Facilitating and Impeding Successful Online Group Work”, 24 students in an online instructional technology course participated in a group project to determine the challenges of online group work.

What was the most critical factor for online group project success?

According to the study, individual accountability. A lack of individual accountability can also be called “social loafing.” Social loafing refers to the concept that when individuals think they are working in a group, they anticipate doing less work than when they think they are working alone. While the lack of individual accountability is common in general group projects, not just online group projects, it is more serious in online environments because students are not always exposed to the pressures and responsibilities of group based work found face-to-face.

So what are some ways to increase individual accountability in online students?

  • Provide feedback on the performance of each group member in terms of his or her level of commitment, responsibility, and participation. (i.e. peer evaluation on member’s contributions)
  • Students can share their work progress and obtain feedback from other members.
  • Online instructors can provide students with guidelines on the group work process, while also asking each group to develop group rules and plans.
  • Monitoring is also important for easing the negative effects of social loafing.
  • Online instructors need to encourage students to ask questions/share their concerns regarding group work so they can take immediate and proper action.

Another factor in online group projects?

Relying on virtual communication and written language. While there are many virtual communication options, there are limitations using them. For example, there can be time lags in discussions, or students in different time zones.

What are some ways to help students communicate?

  • Facilitate group discussion boards.
  • Plan on incorporating an instant messenger in your course. (i.e. yahoo, etc.)
  • Encourage students to obtain phone numbers to communicate less in written language.
  • Incorporate a built-in synchronous chat program.
  • Provide students with techniques about writing effective online written expressions.
  • Encourage the safe use of video-based synchronous communication tools. (i.e. webcams, skype)
  • Encourage students to schedule a time/day of the week every week to discuss the project.
  • Provide students with a virtual online calendar/schedule.

Overall, the study consensus is that in order for students to have success in online group projects, individual accountability, and virtual communication needs to be addressed. Approaching students beforehand with solutions to these roadblocks will help students learn how to collaborate together, as well as collaborate to learn, which is the overall goal for group projects.

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