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Working Well in Groups

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

“Teamwork makes the dream work” might be your LAST thought when assigned a group project, especially a virtual group project*. I recently heard several students speak about their frustration with trying to organize, attend and contribute to virtual group projects. Beyond the challenges with internet connections and finding time to meet, group members tend to polarize into one of two camps: those willing to do the work for the group’s grade and those who are not. Further, virtual collaboration seems to provide even more “invisibility” for any members ghosting the group’s meetings and assignment deadlines. This leads to immense frustration. Those taking the initiative for the project can still get stung with a lower grade in the end. For these reasons, there are those in Higher Education who would argue that virtual group work is not a fair assignment or assessment of student work in our current pandemic-altered classrooms.

Silver Lining

Before you start a petition to eliminate group work from LU courses, could there be a “silver lining” to your next group project? Yes, there really is. The struggle to communicate, schedule, and produce a quality group project serves a greater purpose beyond the classroom. In the last year, we’ve witnessed many careers make the shift to virtual platforms. Employees find themselves collaborating within virtual teams of coworkers who literally depend on the group to imagine, create, and market the products that keep their company and our economy moving forward. These soft skills needed to contribute meaningfully and produce a quality “group product” – all while working virtually – are becoming more and more necessary for today’s workplace. So dear College Student, your next group project could be the exact resume builder that sets you apart in your upcoming job interview.

Group Dynamics

While group dynamics will vary, much of our dislike for virtual group work stems from a lack of member accountability and scheduling trouble. In the working world, employees are accountable to a manager/boss. The risk of being fired is usually enough to garner contribution from even those colleagues who lack motivation. Student-led groups tend to have default accountability: that one group member who tries to keep everyone on task. Whether this default accountability is effective or not, the hope is that every group member will be motivated enough by the project’s grade to pull their weight. Understandably, group dynamics can be fraught with frustration. Additionally, students may be in different time zones, even countries, with various work and family responsibilities. Scheduling a time to meet outside of class can be challenging.

Combat Frustration

Combat frustration with these tips for your next virtual group project:

  1. Know the big picture before breaking the project into smaller parts. What is the project’s purpose? How much will this project count toward your final grade in the class? On that note, how will the project be graded – as one collective group grade or as individual grades within the group?
  2. Choose a virtual platform that documents all contributions made by group members, and stick with meeting and communicating on that one platform. If possible, invite the professor to join the group’s platform to see contributions from each group member if frustrations arise. Two platforms that work well for group work are Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Teams provides channels for group work, and Zoom provides break-out groups.
  3. If possible, keep your group to a small number. Groups of three or four people have an easier time scheduling, and it’s much harder to ghost a smaller group. Begin the group project with each member writing/posting their own job description based on the project’s requirements and the group’s division of tasks. Also include soft and hard deadlines for completing tasks based on the professor’s specific expectations.
  4. Record and save any live group meetings within the virtual platform. This allows group members who may not attend due to scheduling conflicts to catch up on missed meetings.
  5. Finally, plan for delays. If possible, set a deadline to complete the group project a week in advance to allow for unexpected issues, edits, or complications with technology.

 

Being Proactive

Successfully navigating virtual group work takes a proactive approach. While virtual group work requires added effort with scheduling and accountability, these projects prepare you for the work you will do outside of college. Dear Student, the struggle to work in groups and produce a quality project is not wasted. Try these tips and let us know how they worked for you. Email us at casas@liberty.edu


*Quote by John Maxwell

Source: https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/10/28/advice-how-successfully-guide-students-group-work-online-opinion


Written By:

Sarah Boettger

Assistant Professor
sboettger@liberty.edu

Academic Success Center
College of Applied Studies & Academic Success