A virtual group is a group of individuals, in a course, who work together using technology to collaborate with one another, usually not face to face, with the goal of producing a shared project. These shared projects could be online presentations, written documents, or videos. Here are some characteristics of online teams who have successfully completed shared projects. Working in a group in an online course can be challenging. This guide provides you with the tools, strategies, and suggestions to make your online group work a success.

Steps for Successful Online Group Work

Step 1 - Familiarize yourself with the skills you need for group work

Effective teamwork and group communication are essential for your professional and personal success. Group assignments can help build important interpersonal, process management, and technology skills. Learn more about the tools (and skills) that you can use for group work. 

Step 2 - Conduct an initial group meeting

In this meeting it is important to get to know who is in your group

  • Spend some time to get to know your group members. Learn something personal about each group member: their hobbies, their major, their schedule, perhaps some of your group members have jobs and family commitments that are good to know about when working in groups. The more you know about each person the more connected you will feel with each other even if you never meet face to face. 

  • Share attitudes about group work. Ask group members to share their experiences on working in groups. This will help you gauge if some group members have a negative attitude towards group work because of the past experiences were negative. Consider discussing these negative experiences and discuss ways your group can avoid these. Look for positive experience and try to implement these in your group process.

  • Establish communication norms. Establish rules and expectations about how your group is going to connect and work together:

    • How are going to communicate? UWF email, outside email, phone messages, Google Hangout messages, etc.

    • What are the expectations to respond? 24 hours? 48 hours? A week? Keep in mind that some group members could be on different time zones and they may have schedule constrains such as not available to connect on weekends or working late at night or similar constrains.

    • Are you going to be using Canvas area designated for the group work space? If so, what are the expectations of logging in to Canvas course shell? Daily? Weekly?

    • Are you going to be using teleconferencing tools such as WebEx, Zoom, or Canvas conferences? They can be great tools to utilize for your group work.

    • If you group needs to produce a written report or a joint presentation, are you going to set up a file sharing space like Google Drive? Perhaps you wish to explore Collaborations tools available in your Canvas course shell?

  • Designate group roles. Consider assigning group roles: leader, time/deadline keeper, information gatherer, clarifier, editor, etc. This will make sure that each group member is accountable as. Also, each member may have strengths and weaknesses. Do not assign the role of keeping the project on track to a person who is an admitted procrastinator. Make sure everyone understands the assignment and their role.  

  • Rules on work process. Establish guidelines for work process and ethics. These can include topics such as decision making. That is, how are you going to make decisions- consensus, majority rule, leader authority? Discuss the timelines for completing your work, discuss rules for what happens if a group member misses to contribute work by a set deadline. For example, can you remove nonparticipating group members from your group? Consult your syllabus and instructor about that so that you could be clear about the group’s ability to set accountability by each group member.

Explore these resources to learn more about building a successful online group. 

Step 3 - Complete the work

No matter what difficulties arise in the group process, you still have to complete the work assigned to the group. If you have non-participating group members, ask your instructor if you have an ability to remove the group member from your group but also be prepared to cover the work this person was assigned. Just like in a real work, emergencies will happen, different people will have different priorities, and it is a responsibility of all group members to make sure that classroom assignments are completed. This is why it is so important for the group to set the norms, designate roles and establish deadlines. When utilized effectively, these tips will help your group to detect issues early and correct them before the work has to be submitted to your instructor.

Step 4 - Turn in the Assignment

Group assignments in Canvas require only one person from the group to turn in the assignment for grading. Assessment and grading can be based on the group (everyone gets the same grade) or individual contributions. Check the syllabus to ensure you meet all the requirements. It may be helpful to schedule one last group meeting to review the project before submitting it.