For people who have never done it, they may wonder how it is possible to work on group projects in an online learning environment. With today’s technology, it is not as hard as you might think. Having participated in quite a few group projects in this format, I can tell you; it is possible and not any harder than in a face-to-face learning environment.
I just finished working on a group project for a Ph.D. class I am taking. It was a proposal for a research study we hope to conduct over the summer or in the fall. As a group of five Ph.D. students, we created a proposal for a Think Aloud Protocol usability study on the Canvas LMS. We designated one member of our group as the team leader. He was responsible for interfacing with our professor, looking over final deliverables to ensure quality completion, and turning in final deliverables for grading. Other than that, we did not define specific labels for other group members, but I ended up taking on the role of organizer of group meetings and trying to make sure the project moved along with everyone knowing what they were supposed to do.
Our project required two different deadlines for deliverables. First, we had to turn in three draft deliverables: a scenario for the Think Aloud usability testing, an IRB application, and annotated bibliography. I volunteered to do fill out the annotated bibliography and help find references. The team leader took charge of creating the IRB application while we split the protocol scenario and finding references between other group members. To collaborate on the project, we created a Google Drive folder to hold all the documents and references. Additionally, we communicated synchronously through Google Hangouts and Skype both through instant messaging and video conferencing. Asynchronously, we used email to converse.
The second and final deadline was a rough proposal for the study combining our previous deliverables. We split up the parts of the proposal. I worked on the literature review section concerning the Think Aloud Protocol, as well as helped with formatting the various parts of the document. Additionally, I reviewed the final document for grammar before the team leader did the ultimate final product for reconsideration before submitted it.
Overall, we worked well as a team in the distributed learning environment. However, we did run into some communication issues that are inherent to collaborating in virtual environments. Without facial, tone of voice, and body language cues, it is sometimes hard to discern the actual intended meaning in text writing. This disconnect was especially true when we were down to the final deadlines and trying to communicate through instant messaging to get core tasks complete for finalization. In the future, if a similar situation were to occur, I would try to speak over a telephone where the tone of voice is heard. Regardless, this type of group work is invaluable for creating community in an online environment and should not be avoided due to possible communication issues.
Boline, Hough, Krinsky, Saleem, and Stevens (2012) discuss the creation of effective online learning environments in their article Cutting the distance in distance education: Perspectives on what promotes positive, online learning experiences. Their findings revealed:
When students were asked to describe one or more favorite aspects of their online courses, they pointed to the social exchanges that occurred. These included such activities as texting fellow students and completing real-world assignments that required them to interact with others in their local communities. When asked about their least favorite activities, they pointed to learning through rote memorization and engaging in group activities where their classmates’ lack of involvement had the potential to negatively impact their own grades. (p. 123-124)
I enjoyed reading this article because it points out ways to create positive experiences for students in online learning. Most of the article I agree with whole-heartedly. Their findings indicate participants found courses that included interactive learning activities, multimedia, real world activities, flexible and interactive instructors, and peer-interaction much more engaging, helpful, and positive than text-based, learn-on-your-own settings. My experience has been the same. However, I was sad students did not enjoy group activities. Personally, I feel the value of group activities outweighs the negative aspects.
In both face-to-face and online learning situations, I have experienced some team members not pulling their weight. I feel this is just another real world experience that takes place in the workplace and life in general. It is how we deal with it that defines us. Of course, the course assessments and grading need to be set up to account for this, and students need to be made aware from the beginning their grade will not be affecting by what others do or do not do. If the learning activity is set up effectively, group activities are enjoyable and valuable in all learning environments.
Boling, E., Hough, M., Krinsky, H., Saleem, H., & Stevens, M. (2012). Cutting the distance in distance education: Perspectives on what promotes positive, online learning experiences. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(2), 118-126. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.11.006