How to Excel in Virtual Group Projects
Group projects can often seem daunting and overwhelming, especially given the added pressure of having to accomplish everything online. As virtual schooling continues to become more prevalent and popular, learning how to navigate collaborative projects online is a great skill to master for both academic and professional careers! As you participate in online group assignments, you'll not only develop a plethora of soft skills such as teamwork, communication and interpersonal skills, but the papers, projects, and presentations that you create can be added to your portfolio to demonstrate how you function in a team environment. We've outlined 4 of our top tips to help you succeed and get the most out of your next online group project.
Create A Communication Plan
Communication is key when it comes to working on any type of project with others. Establishing a communication plan as early as possible will help set your team up for success and create an encouraging and open-ended atmosphere, allowing for easy future changes, revisions and additions. When possible, choose group members with similar schedules as many online students reside in different time zones and can have opposing work schedules. Begin by confirming a comfortable forum for your group discussions where you can communicate live-time, either with instant messenger, texting, video chat, or with Internet telephony, such as Skype or Zoom. This encourages continuous communication and helps to prevent group members from missing emails or taking too long to respond. From there, decide on details such as scheduling weekly Zoom meetings or conference calls to ensure everyone remains in the loop regarding project updates and is keeping up with their assigned workload. Additionally, discuss and decide on where you will work as a group. Choosing a shared workspace, such as Dropbox or Google Drive, is necessary to avoid any confusion over which is the latest version when you're working together and you will get to see updates in real time. A great tip is to schedule extra meetings closer to the project deadline in order to address any last minute hiccups and tasks.
Establish Group Roles & Tasks
Group projects have many moving parts to them, with each aspect requiring a distinctive and specific type of work. In addition, certain portions are often dependent on the prior task being accomplished, for example, an annotated bibliography is created before the research paper is written. It is imperative to identify which project activities need to be accomplished first and to set deadlines for these portions in order to grant adequate time for the remaining work. Once you have identified the order of priority for each aspect, it can be helpful to assign roles to each group member. Do your best to align group roles and responsibilities with individual strengths and interests. The University of Waterloo outlines seven possible group project roles: leader, organizer, editor, researcher, writer, troubleshooter, and presenter. Depending on group size and type of assignment, it is common to assign several people to one role or have members assume multiple positions. Have a group discussion and determine who is best suited for each role and then begin to allocate role-related tasks to each member.
Manage Conflicts & Expectations
The meshing of multiple personalities can sometimes cause challenges that result in disagreements, especially during evaluative formal projects. Try to find solutions and work out conflicts as quickly as possible whenever they arise. Even while online, school is a professional environment with the expectation of appropriate and mature behaviour. This means being responsible for project tasks, using kind language, maintaining a positive attitude, and avoiding bullying and any other actions that would undermine group progress.
With that being said, it is important to manage your expectations regarding your fellow group members. Nobody is perfect and you never know what might be happening in their personal lives. Life can be challenging and everyone is going to experience a bad day, or even a bad week, at some point during the course. It is important to be patient with your peers as you would hope for the same in return. The project may not go exactly according to plan so be prepared to troubleshoot and step in to help when you can, and also reach out for help when needed.
Don't Be Afraid To Talk With Your Professor
Whether they're trying to get you to bond with some classmates or test your teamwork abilities, your teachers and professors want to see your group succeed. Your instructor is there to teach the material, give feedback and support you and your classmates. If your group is having trouble finding a solution for a pressing conflict, it is absolutely okay to reach out to your professor. Sending an email providing group updates and asking for guidance can be used to track progress and mediate concerns. In addition, asking your professor to implement mandatory peer evaluations is a great strategy that encourages equal participation. This really helps to ensure individual accountability and discourage any slacker behaviour.
We hope you'll give these tips a try next time you find yourself working on a group project from a remote location!