Skip to Main Content

Group Work

Group Projects in Online Courses

Group projects in online courses require many of the same structures and processes that in-person groups use—for example, online groups should adhere to the characteristics of effective groups, write a group contract, agree to a specific communication plan, organize and plan effective group meetings, and learn how to resolve conflict.

But online groups do come with added challenges—for instance, students who enroll in online courses often do so because they need greater flexibility in their schedules, which might make it difficult to schedule regular group meetings.

In this section, we'll share a few tips to help online groups navigate the unique environment of remote working.

How to Collaborate Online

New protocols for remote teams:

  • Stick to some agreed-upon norms to avoid confusion.

    These could include acronyms about expected response times to a message (e.g., 4HR = Four hour response; NNTR = No need to respond), and standardizing the use of particular communication platforms (e.g., text in emergencies, use e-mail if you can wait for answers, etc.).

  • Aim for clear communication.

    Unless your group has agreed on acronyms or short-hand ways of describing ideas or requests, don't assume others will understand your short messages. Take the extra time to be extra clear, regardless of the platform or medium you're using.

  • Don't send too many messages to your team.

    Each time you e-mail or text a group members, imagine you're physically walking over to that person's work space. If you followed up an e-mail with a text and phone call, it would be like opening your group member's office door three times in a row. Minimize your 'digital volume' and think before hitting 'send'.

  • Team members who are more introverted in person can benefit from written communications, which can encourage more participation.

    Make sure you include approaches that all group members can use to participate online in ways that feel genuine to them.

  • Celebrate and socialize remotely to strengthen relationships between group members and improve collaboration.

    Creating space to talk about non-work-related topics can boost rapport and create empathy.

How to Organize Online Meetings

Staying Connected & Communicating Online

In the case of virtual teams, effective communication is essential—it means everyone in the group must be able to use appropriate tools and strategies to stay connected with each other.

Here are 3 key ways to help remote teams communicate effectively:

  1. Create a virtual social meeting point.

    Make sure there's a forum to talk, share information, ask questions, and get to know the other people in your group. You could use a chat-based application (e.g., Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc.). When you can't see your group members face-to-face and have the social interactions that build relationships and rapport, it can be difficult to establish trust—if it's not managed correctly, this lack of trust could undermine everything the online group is trying to achieve. Having and regularly using a social meeting platform helps to facilitate open communications and maintain that important level of trust between team members.

  2. Ensure digital communication can't be misunderstood.

    It's estimated that in face-to-face interactions, body language and facial expressions can convey up to 55% of the information that people receive. In e-mails and texts, these visual cues are missing, so it's easier to misinterpret the meaning. Online teams need to take extra steps to ensure each message they send is clear. Reliable communication builds trust, minimizes conflict between team members, and ensures everyone is on the same page.

  3. Use the 3 layers of communication to your advantage.
    • Impersonal communication: Simple and formal communication style. Follows the established procedures of the given team or project. Involves minimal interaction (e.g., team status updates, sharing general information, etc.). E-mail is commonly used for this communication.
    • Personal communication: Helps build relationships (which is just as important on a remote team). This style of communication cuts down on misunderstandings and conflicts and is best suited for times where there's no need to involve the whole group, like 1:1 catch-ups or internal messaging.
    • Group communication: Helpful when all members of the team need to get on the same page, brainstorm, or have a live discussion (e.g., a strategy meeting). This communication style relies on virtual meetings using tools such as WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or another platform where the entire group can be present.

The key is to make sure you're an active participate in all forms of communication and information sharing, and that there's a healthy balance of the 3 types.