This lesson was designed as a part of the MiddCORE summer 2020 and winter 2021 online cohorts. The program has always involved extensive collaborative group work, however doing this work completely online and across multiple time zones posed a new challenge. As many educators have pointed out, it is essential to provide some scaffolding and support when beginning any group-work. Too often we assume that people know how to collaborate and what we expect of them in our group work challenges. These assumptions become even more problematic when we are not physically in the same space to hear and see challenges that might be presenting themselves as groups collaborate in real time. The lesson below was designed to help support this process and give students a window into the process of “teaming online”.
The Set Up
We began this work with a reflective task that asked students to consider the way in which they prefer to work, strengths that they will bring to the group, and other information that team members should know about them.
In Class (live) Activity
MiddCORE is still largely built on students meeting synchronously via Zoom, so the team invited me to work with the group on learning how to “team online”. Prior to the session all students were asked to complete the reflective task and bring it with them to the session.
At the beginning of the session I introduced myself and explained my experience with working as a part of a remote team and the impact of the pandemic on our work processes. I worked to frame the discussion as not just occurring because of the pandemic, but that the impacts were definitely amplified because of our current situation. One of my goals was to make the connection that in a globalized society, it will only become more and more common for remote teams to need to learn how to work together effectively and efficiently.
Next I explained several “learnings” that I had accumulated over my time working as a part of a remote team. These considerations/topics included:
- The necessity of establishing communication channels and protocols
- How important it is to overcommunicate
- Important components of collaboration plans and the purpose they serve
- The significance of time zones and their impact on equitable work environments
- Why it is important to examine interpersonal skills as critical components of a fully functional team
(You can click on each item to view a brief video overview of the topic.)
Some of these points directly connect to the reflective task students were asked to complete, so before breaking into groups I referred to these connections and the importance of recognizing and owning your own needs, strengths, quirks, etc. when attempting to work as a part of a team. (See point #2 in this article – “Create an equitable distribution of labor and assure students that you, not they, are responsible for this aspect of the collaboration”)
I then explained that students were going to work together in their teams to establish a team agreement that would guide their work. In order to establish a successful team agreement students needed to ensure that all voices were heard in their meeting and I encouraged them to share info from their reflections to determine the best way for them to work together based on all of their individual needs and preferences.
Before breaking into break out rooms I paused to ask for any questions, and then explained the time limit for the break out rooms, the expectation for what would be completed during that time, and how could they ask for help if they needed it.
The Wrap Up
With 5 – 10 minutes left of class, all students returned to the main room so that we could recap how things went. We discussed general questions and whether any group felt stuck or significantly challenged in setting up their team agreement. Students were reminded they could also touch base with the faculty member or program managers if they felt like they needed additional assistance with their group. It’s important for students to know that there is help if things are really not going well in their group.
Learn more – here are some articles and resources that inspired the structure of this lesson:
- 8 Ways to Improve Group Work Online by Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis
- Group work: Using cooperative learning groups effectively – from Vanderbilt University
- Assessing Group Work – from UNSW Sydney
- Reflective Listening – from UNSW Sydney
- Five Steps to Improving Online Group Work Assignments – from Faculty Focus
- Tips for When Group Projects Aren’t Working – from the Eberly Center Carnegie Mellon
- Assessing Group Work – from the Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon
- Project Based Learning for Online Spaces – from the Instructional Design team at WPI
- Self & Peer Evaluation of Group Work Contributions for Research Papers and Oral Presentations – from California State University, Northridge