Online Group Collaboration

Group assignments in an online learning environment, where you are not able to communicate with group members in person, can be challenging. Following are some common issues that arise--and approaches you can use to help you and your peers work effectively in groups.

In addition to our sample problems and solutions, we also offer four short videos that offer a closer look at group work.

Working Well as a Team
Problem Suggested Approach
No sense of community or connection with peers; failure to bond. Sometimes the project never gets off the ground.
  • Make an attempt to bond with your team members.
  • Ask group members to post photos, details about themselves that they would like to share, and start a forum in which you can all discuss current events and items of interest.
Resentment from team members about the way the workload is dispersed or if the dominant person is perceived as a "bully."
  • Listen.
  • List the roles/responsibilities/behaviors expected of each role. Look at the assignment sheet. From that assignment sheet, the group can make a task list. Once the group has a task list, they can decide on what roles are needed to complete the project. Then assign tasks to specific team members and develop a realistic set of due dates.
  • Ensure that there are clear ways to connect with each other if there are questions.
Friction between team members can be subtle. Some team members may deliberately criticize work, endlessly debate small points, or refuse to contribute at all. Others may become passive.
  • Admit it when there is friction between group members. Get it out in the open. Then, develop a productive solution.
  • Define the roles as well as the tasks. Provide guidelines for team-member roles and describe actions to be taken by each member of the group.
Difficulty coordinating time for the project, due to team members living in different time zones or having different schedules.
  • Give the group at least a week to do each part, no matter how small.
  • Find out your team members' schedules so that, as a group, you can accommodate each other's time constraints.
  • Develop a communications plan. Try to communicate in real time if you can, either with instant messenger, chat, or video chat.
Team members may become competitive rather than collaborative. They may not want to modify any of their work.
  • Build in rewards for working with each other (for example, offering praise to your group members). Encouraging each other will enhance the group environment.
  • Make sure that each person clearly perceives that there exists a clear reward for the effort expended in the group work.
  • Separate the tasks and roles so that there is division of labor, rather than overlap.
Managing the Project Together
Problem Suggested Approach
Collaborative papers require "blending"; the paper should flow as though it was written by a single person. Clearly identify the work required. Develop structures that allow individuals to insert their own work in sections clearly identified as pertaining to them. A couple of group members should be responsible to review the paper to make sure the paper transitions well and each part of the paper flows together.
Irrelevant activities. Group members may resist doing activities they perceive to be irrelevant or not what they envisioned for the goal. Identify the tasks that the group will need to do in order to accomplish the goal. Let team members know how their work ties into the project and how it ties into the course material.
The project may seem overwhelming. Simplify the tasks and break them up into individual steps. Instead of envisioning a large group project, visualize the entire assignment as four or five smaller projects that will each require two or three steps.
Goal or outcome may not be clearly defined.
  • Redefine the outcomes as you go, based on the types of work the group is producing. Be flexible and make adjustments as needed.
  • Make sure the outcome and the goals are as clearly defined as possible. It is important to clearly define the concrete attributes: length, structure, content, purpose, format, complexity.

Why Group Work?

In a professional setting, you will most likely need to work in a group setting regardless of your chosen field. Penn State World Campus prepares students for that experience with valuable group activities.


Sharing the Workload

It's perfectly normal to want every member of a group to do their own share of the work. Setting clear goals, expectations, and a timeline can help make sure everyone contributes to the final product.


Scheduling

World Campus students are busy people. Sometimes it can seem difficult to schedule group meetings with people in different time zones, who all have a number of responsibilities outside of the classroom. This video outlines some proven strategies for making scheduling as easy as possible.


Group Discussions

Making sure all group members have a voice is an important part of any collaborative projects. The strategies in this video can prepare you to take part in balanced discussions and make sure everyone's voice is heard.