Topic 3

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I have joined quite many group works online, of which a fair amount has been rather bad. One reason for this I think is the fact that teachers have received none or very little education in how to execute group work online. Due to the pandemic teachers all over the world have been obliged to change their way of working, which is easier for some than others. For many teachers their current work identity has been formed over several years and it is not all that easy to change habits and ways of working from one day to another.

This ONL course is a good way to reflect over online teaching and what the requirements are to make it successful. All our topics have been very useful and given me many new ideas. In Topic 3 we, amongst other things, looked into instructions for both teachers and students when working in groups online. I found Stephanie Smith Budhai’s (Assistant professor of education at Neumann University) views in her article Designing Effective Team Projects in Online Courses (2016) quite interesting. She gives useful examples of things to consider when planning group work for students.

If possible, you should create groups intentionally, so that each member can bring something different to the group. You should avoid having three leaders in the same group but also avoid not having a leader at all. This of course requires getting to know your students, which is not that easy when working online, but can be done for example with a survey to find out the participants’ preferences. You should also keep groups small and odd numbered. The best number for a group is three. With a small number it is easier for the group to find meeting times to work on their tasks. An odd number eliminates the group from being split in decision making, there will always be a majority in a vote situation. The expectations for individual contributions should be clear. Each group member should know exactly what the expectations are on an individual level, so that it is clear what should be done and by whom. There should be an equal number of tasks for every group member. For groups to be able to work efficiently, you should create a private virtual group space that you as a teacher have access to. The group space should have a discussion board, a file sharing area, a possibility for real-time meetings and a chat. The students have to be introduced to the chosen virtual team space so that they can access and participate easily. As a teacher you should monitor the online group space. Let the students know that you will be following the group space and that you can answer questions and give feedback on topics that may arise. This way the students will feel your “presence” during the group work. As feedback is an important part of learning, you should develop a peer feedback system that the students should know about when starting the project. The knowledge of the evaluation will motivate students to contribute more and work more collaboratively with the other team members. At the end of the project it is important to assign individual and team grades. Students should be assessed on the individual contributions they made as well as on how well they participate in the team components. With clear expectations for individual contributions the individual accountability will increase and thus result in a more positive collaborative experience.

The things listed above will hopefully make the group work more collaborative and give tools for students’ future work life. I think one of the most important things learned in schools is to be able to work towards a common goal together with others, despite individual differences. Due to the pandemic, the working life has also changed dramatically. Most meetings are held online and we need to learn how to work efficiently in this new way. There in no going back to the old ways of working and the same applies for studying. The better students learn how to collaborate online with one another during their studies, the better they will manage when entering work life.

How to make online group work functional and engaging