CEE TEL Design Group Work Online

Group Work Online

Building online community

Your internal students have likely chosen face-to-face teaching and are expecting social contact opportunities and instant feedback. They may therefore be feeling a little unsettled and dislocated during the rapid pivot to online delivery because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, you can develop an online learning community for them that provides opportunities for connection between students, yourself, and the learning materials.

Some important student resources include:

Just as communicating for academic purposes through text online is a learned skill for students, so is online interactivity and collaboration. Here, we will draw on the enduring work of Gilly Salmon (2002) around “e-tivities” - structured online activities designed to establish interactive discussion - not just responses to questions posed by you.

The 5 stages of online community development with examples of e-tivities

Students may be resistant to group work due to the additional burden of negotiating with peers who have different priorities, timetables, skills and ways of working. However, group work can develop valuable collaborative skills required by future employers and are components of graduate competencies, standards for practice, course and subject learning outcomes.

Make this rationale explicit to students to help them recognise the value of group assessments.

When students work together, the group progresses through several stages - for example:

  1. Forming
  2. Storming
  3. Norming
  4. Performing (Tuckman 1965).

In a typical academic study period that is measured in weeks, the opportunity for groups to bond and move past the storming/norming phases is limited.

Students working in groups online may experience increased reluctance or reduced ability to:

  • Seek timely support for any group conflict issues they are experiencing
  • Provide feedback on group progress
  • Raise questions or concerns via email, compared with face-to-face (since email is more nuanced and creates a permanent record), particularly regarding more minor issues.

To address these challenges, provide structured, regular and targeted support. Let students know in advance what help is available, and when they are required to provide progress reports.

Additional reading