Group Work: For Better or Worse

This week my group and I completed our team discussion.  It was my first foray into the online group work realm.  I was lucky to have a great group to work with, but I couldn’t help but wonder, at times, if there was a more effective way of collaborating with my group than just through email.  Often times, we would be shooting emails back and forth about easy topics that could have been answered in a matter of seconds, but ended up taking days due to everyone’s work and email schedules.  An assignment that could have taken an hour to do in person with a group, ended up taking a week to get sorted.   So, I am wondering if the benefits of group work are outweighed by the inconveniences of a digital classroom.

The obvious advantages of group work include developing collaboration skills and the sharing of ideas; however, to take full advantage of a group scenario, synchronicity is almost a necessity to do it efficiently.  The dilemma that arises is the main reason students take online courses, the flexibility.   Despite the conflicting elements presented with online group work, it is a safe assumption that it will remain a dominant component in online courses for the foreseeable future.  One must ask then, what tools are available to help streamline the group work process?

Of course, we are all familiar with sharing files on google docs and using skype for video chat, but there is a myriad of other programs available for group collaboration. A great resource for group tools is 20 Collaboration Tools for College Students.  Although some of them are quite basic, many of them were new to me.  A fair number still utilize synchronous aspects, which doesn’t help with flexibility, but there are a lot of options for sharing information in different virtual settings.  Out of the 20 presented, Vyew caught my attention because of the speaking capabilities while viewing a document between all group members.  Titan Pad is another intriguing site that allows multiple group members to edit a paper simultaneously.  I have not had the opportunity to try either, but I look forward to the possibility when the next group project inevitably arises.

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6 Responses to Group Work: For Better or Worse

  1. Clare says:

    Thank you so much for the link on collaboration tools. I can’t wait to check some of them out. I actually use Dropbox quite a bit already. I also did my first online group work recently and happened to instant message with one of the members through Gchat. It was just a coincidence we were online at the same time though. I do think group work has its benefits even if doing it online may take quite a bit more finagling.

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  2. Bryan Graham says:

    I think that it all depends on what type of assignment you are doing. I think that in many cases it can be more difficult because of coordinating times to work. However, if you have a group that is relatively independent, I think that it can cut off time significantly.

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  3. elearnable1 says:

    Hey, Ben – great link! And I agree, we had a good group! For me, I think that the type of online collaboration varies based on the type of assignment that the group is working on. Anytime I’ve worked on a group project that involved a significant deliverable, there’s always been a fair amount of synchronous communication (usually taking the form of a Google Hangout). Other times (as with our team discussion assignment) it’s been possible to work on things asynchronously. I totally agree with you, though, that our team could have tackled our assignment more quickly using a real-time collaboration tool. I suspect that you’ll end up collaborating in different, more creative ways as you work on different types of assignments in future courses.

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  4. I’ve just gone through the process of planning this week’s discussion with a group. My group mates were emailing my university email which I didn’t realize was no longer being forwarded to my personal gmail account because my password had expired. I appreciate the Canvas messenger application because I’m usually on Canvas everyday. I think that the more centralized group communications can be, the more quickly everyone can respond. While I agree that communication through email can sometimes take awhile, I remember group projects in undergrad where scheduling an in-person meeting can take up to a week to find a mutually available time. I think that more diverse opportunities for communication through a central platform like Canvas would help facilitate more genuine group interactions.

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  5. rmsalas72 says:

    Benjamin, like you I experienced the difficulties of working in collaborative online groups using collaborative tools. I have been exploring options to propose to the teachers I am working with. This is a common complaint because virtual meetings still cannot provide the same fluid discussions as face to face meetings. I found it very useful to create agreement documents and set clear expectations for each team member. The main problem for me is the difficulties to work in an asynchronous approach because it is really time consuming to find the right time to meet online. I will check the tool your mention. Like always, thank you for provide such useful information!

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  6. Great post Ben. One thing I want to add about communication is that more than the tools, I think there needs to be a sense of urgency among group members. No matter how sophisticated the tools are, if the team members are not organized or responsible, time is always wasted. As an online student, in the past three years, I have used Google hangout once to discuss a topic for an assignment. This is not the most important part of the assignment. All we had to do is come up with a topic, which I think could have been done in email format. Instead the other had this brilliant idea of discussing first. We all agreed on a time, but people showed up late, or didn’t show up at all. An hour later when we had a couple more students, we started the discussing which lasted another hour. What a waste of time. Thinking back, I would say the reasons for such poor communication is not the tool but the students themselves. First, most of them showed up late; secondly, some did not know what we were going to talk about; and lastly, no one seems to agree with anything.
    I do think it is important that students have some basic sense responsibility and an understanding of accountability for any communication to be successful.

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