How to Work Effectively in an Online Group
Making the decision to go to school online can be both a stressful and rewarding experience. There are many different schools to choose from and varying degree programs you can enroll in. In fact, more than 5.8 million students have enrolled in at least one online learning class since the fall of 2014.
In the past, online degrees were often viewed as inferior; however, these attitudes are starting to fade away, and degrees earned online are very much accepted by most employers nowadays. Additionally, students are becoming more comfortable with online classes, with 90% of online students saying they actually preferred e-learning over traditional classroom learning.
In an online setting, you will be interacting with students from around the country, sometimes around the world, completing individual assignments, working on group projects, and participating in discussion boards with your instructor.
I have earned all my degrees using this method and while it has been exciting, rewarding and an experience all of its own, it certainly hasn’t been without problems. One of the main issues I have encountered is the challenges of working with other students through a digital setting.
Working on group projects in an online environment is a very different experience and interacting over the internet requires a different skillset than communicating in person.
In a couple of classes, I had to deal with group members not turning in their part of a project on time – or even at all. It was very frustrating, especially when trying to contact them. I was able to reach out to them, but it always took longer to get a response back than if I had been sitting in an actual classroom with them.
Another challenge I encountered was with brainstorming. There were several instances where trying to conceptualize and analyze with my classmates through an online forum just felt completely ineffective. Because online classes offer more flexibility, it was rare to have everyone in my class online at once. So the opportunities for discussions amongst the full group were few and far in between.
But don’t let problems like these deter you from taking the plunge into the online college experience. Here are five things you can do when working in online groups that will not only help you be successful as a student but will help you grow as a person and learn something new.
5 Tips for Working in Online Groups
Decide on a communication method
Before starting on any projects, you and your group should decide how you will communicate with each other. One of the benefits to online learning is that you can choose how to stay in touch with your classmates – email, text messages, phone calls, video conferencing, group discussion boards, and more.
But all of these choices can make consistency a challenge. It’s wise to choose one method of communication as a group right off the bat and stick to it. This helps to make sure that everyone knows where they can find information when they need it, makes sure everyone stays included and up-to-date, and avoids conflict later on.
Create an action plan
Creating an action plan should be one of the first things you do when you are put into a new group. Action plans outline important information like how the group will complete projects, who will be delegating tasks, and how to handle issues within the group.
It’s important to have this plan in place before you begin working on the actual class project as it helps to ensure that all team members are on the same page. It also can help avoid confusion or group disagreements. Finally, it’s important to discuss how you’re going to handle discord moving forward; remember, even though you’re in a school setting, it’s still important to handle all of these discussions as professionally as possible.
Start work early and contribute often
E-learning classes require that you work independently and on your own time. This means it’s your responsibility to look ahead and see what assignments and projects are coming up each week and to make sure you’re prepared ahead of time.
As soon as the week starts in your class, you should check to see what assignments are coming up. If you have a group project due, make sure you get started on any reading material and figuring out how the project will be broken up. You definitely don’t want to be that person who shows up to a group discussion completely unprepared.
Also, make sure that you are collaborating with your team as often as possible so you can stay up to date on any changes made to the project and on any discussions the group is having.
Prioritize group work
Since you don’t necessarily see your classmates in an online class, or even talk to them every day, it can be easy to forget that you have other people depending on you. But just as in traditional classroom settings, all team members’ grades are at stake in e-learning group projects.
Make sure to keep your portion of group work as a priority along with your individual work. In my experience, it always helped to try and get my group work done before I started on my own assignments. I always wanted to make sure I was prepared for group meetings and didn’t want to be a reason that others’ grades suffered. This attitude definitely helped with our team dynamic.
Be a team player
Online classes can be just as stressful as in-class courses. And without the in-person support of traditional learning, they can be even more stressful. With that in mind, it’s important to be a team player in your online groups to provide the support your team members need and to get support in return.
If a group member needs your help or clarification, try to answer their questions or help them out. One way to offer this type of support to your group members is to suggest setting up a separate thread in the class’s online forum to be used for question and answer type conversations or even just general conversation.