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6 Tips for Navigating Group Work in an Online Class

Amanda Verkest, a CPS Student Ambassador, shares her advice for excelling at group work in a virtual setting.

As we embark on the first semester of 2021, online classes remain prominent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, distance learners (like myself) continue to find value in the convenience and flexibility of online programs. As such, virtual group work will likely be a reality for many students in the upcoming year and beyond. The tips below are designed to help students navigate common challenges associated with online group work to ensure continued success.

6 Tips for Working on Online Group Projects

1. Be respectful of your groupmates contributions and time.

Throughout online group work, remember to be respectful of your group members’ ideas, and use constructive techniques to give feedback. Finding ways to compromise within your group will be essential from the start.

Time is one of the most precious resources we have, and everyone has different ways of managing theirs. It’s vital to be respectful of this fact throughout the project. For example, if you have a meeting scheduled to last one hour, do your best to stick to that time limit. Once you set a deadline, stick to it, and if you’re falling behind or have an unexpected disruption, communicate with your groupmates ASAP.

2. Start early.

Plan a virtual Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams meeting to get to know your groupmates as early as possible. We all have busy schedules and different methods for completing assignments. Therefore, it’s best to get the ball rolling immediately. By doing this, everyone can work at their own pace and feel comfortable in the group.

Determine the best times for everyone to work collectively and define how best to communicate with one another. Be mindful that some students may be in different time zones, and plan your work accordingly. I recommend using Microsoft Teams because you can use both video meetings and chat. In the chat function, all messages will be saved which can be beneficial for team members who may not be working synchronously. Some students also enjoy using WhatsApp for communication.

3. Divide and conquer.

During your first meeting, review the required materials for your project, determine who will be best suited to complete specific tasks, and set deadlines for individual work as well as the final product.

It will also be helpful to schedule future and recurring group meetings ahead of time, but understand that most of the work will be completed individually. All group members should be present for the initial meeting. After that, as long as the majority of the group can attend the meeting, it can be recorded for those who cannot make it to review later and leave comments or questions.

4. Use an outline.

An outline is a helpful way to organize individual and group work. Google Docs is an excellent platform for this process; it allows each group member to add or edit materials at their convenience and keeps track of the edits made in real-time. Using Google Docs for an outline also creates a streamlined, centralized point for all your work to be completed.

5. Leave plenty of time before the deadline for peer review.

It’s crucial to review your colleagues’ work before submitting it to ensure the material is accurate and follows the guidelines set out by the professor.

Additionally, you want to ensure the final product flows smoothly from start to finish, regardless of which team member completed which part. An exemplary group project should be presented and perceived as if one person completed it, even though there were numerous people involved.

6. Be understanding and patient.

Life is full of unexpected challenges that will have an impact on students’ ability to complete their work as expected. Particularly as we are still battling the SARS-CoV-2 virus, there will be a greater risk of illness, death of loved ones, and other disruptions that may impact your group work.

Thus, it is imperative to be understanding when these challenges or disruptions occur and be patient while you or your teammate works through them. If necessary, know when it’s time to give away or pick up some responsibility for the benefit of the group. Having room to allow for disruptions and challenges like these is why it is so beneficial to start work early and intend to be finished before your deadline.

These six steps should help students excel in virtual group work, but remember to keep in touch with your professor throughout the process and communicate any negligent behavior as soon as possible to head off problems early on.

Explore our related articles for more tips for online learning success.