Teaching Online With Errol: A Mini-Guide to Successfully Using Groups in the Online Classroom, Part II: Overcoming Group Problems

The dynamics involved in each online student group working toward its goal of an A-worthy project are complex. So many components must mesh smoothly, and because of this each group is ripe for any number of problems. If the instructor does not address these problems in a timely manner, the learning of the collaborative project will be at risk, students will be unhappy, and the overall success of the course will be diminished. There are easy fixes, however, to these potential trouble spots. Here's how:

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The dynamics involved in each online student group working toward its goal of an A-worthy project are complex. So many components must mesh smoothly, and because of this each group is ripe for any number of problems. If the instructor does not address these problems in a timely manner, the learning of the collaborative project will be at risk, students will be unhappy, and the overall success of the course will be diminished. There are easy fixes, however, to these potential trouble spots. Here's how:

Lack of participation by one or more group members

What to do:

Arriving at decisions without meaningful debate/exchange

What to do:

Uneven work distribution

What to do:

 Getting the group to gel/missing group member(s)

What to do:

Lack of and/or poor communication

What to do:

Inefficient time management

What to do:

Personality clashes/personal attacks/request to be switched to another group

What to do:

Starting off on the wrong topic or going in the wrong direction/off on a tangent

What to do:

Members have various skill levels

What to do:

Note: I refer to posting a “Guide to Working in Small Groups,” and its absence from this column is not an oversight. To create this, simply use the list of problem areas below, and turn each into positive suggestions for the class. As an example: “It is important for each member of the group to participate in the collaborative project. To ensure that this happens ask for an initial commitment to participate from each group member, exchange emails to maintain constant communication, and choose a group leader to help keep all on task.”

REMEMBER: Successfully walking a tightrope needs the skills to stay balanced and the knowledge to overcome unexpected problems.

Errol Craig Sull has been teaching online courses for nearly 20 years and has a national reputation in the subject, writing and conducting workshops on distance learning, with national recognition in the field of distance education. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his second online teaching text. Please write him at errolcraigsull@aol.com with your suggestions and comments—he always responds!