March 31, 2006
eCoaching Tip 9: Managing and Facilitating Group Projects
This e-coaching tip is the second of three tips focusing on the Why and How of Group Projects within Online Courses. This tip focuses on guidelines and suggestions for managing and facilitating group projects.
These tips include recommendations for matching the appropriate tools for different stages of group projects, and techniques for helping to ensure that students stay on schedule.
Also, don’t miss the useful resource that you can share with your student groups called “Building Blocks for Teams” from Penn State – http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/teams/student/
Another good resource on Collaborative Group Work is at the University of Guelph website called “Learning Commons Fastfacts.” <www.learningcommons.uoguelph.ca/ByTopic/Learning/GroupWork/Fastfacts-GroupWork.html>.Again, this is a resource that students might find helpful.
Here is a sampling of some of the questions and answers.
- How can we work together without wasting time?
- Place reasonable limits on planning and brainstorming activities.
- How can we deal with group conflict?
- Try to make collective decisions professionally and democratically.
- What do we do if a group member is not contributing?
- Deliberately take turns presenting ideas or updates.
The Why and How of Group Projects within Online Courses — Part Two of Three: Managing and Facilitating Group Projects
4. Once groups are set up, what are some simple guidelines for facilitating group projects — to ensure that all students work and learn from the projects?
Once a project is underway you’ll want to check regularly with each project team to see that everyone is participating and that the project is moving along. Here are a few things you can do to support the team process.
- Monitor the team discussion area — if you are using this type of tool —and leave messages indicating that the group seems to be proceeding appropriately and that you stand ready to answer any questions they may have. Or, if very little has been posted, you can email the team asking how things are proceeding and if they are encountering any barriers or have any questions. There are useful team tools within Blackboard that enable you to monitor and track team participation and activity.
- Establish various team checkpointsat which time the group provides a team task schedule, a summary of discussions and decisions thus far, an outline of final project components, etc.
- Provide reminders of the schedule using a milestones approach. Something to the effect of the following is often useful: “We are now half way through the time allotted for the project so you should have completed the following…” Or “The team plan is due by Friday of next week so you should have met with your team and have a draft of your sections underway. ”
One of the principles for facilitating online projects is to provide enough instructor presence to remind team members that their activities and progress are not invisible to you, the faculty member, and yet not provide so much presence that the project shifts from being team-led to being instructor-led. You want to provide sufficient help so that the students are successful, but not provide more help and presence than their level of maturity and experience suggests is needed.
It is easy for students to get lost in the process of group work, especially with larger groups. It is helpful if one of the roles of the team members is that of project or group manager who helps to direct the project and monitors that each student is working on their particular role or responsibility and doesn’t get lost. This is a good leadership role.
5. What communication and presentation tools work best for students when working on projects? – Email, chat, phone, discussion areas, teamwork areas, etc.
Online asynchronous teamwork can bog a group down. When learners are communicating within their teams, the faster the communication mode the better, so synchronouscommunication tools such as chat, instant messaging and the telephone can be excellent tools and should be encouraged as appropriate.
Synchronous tools are particularly useful in the early stages of a project when groups need to reach consensus as quickly as possible about project content and tasks. Low-tech conference calls sometimes can be the very best tool for group formation and task negotiations. Some new tools that support synchronous group meetings online are also being evaluated. Some of these tools are free; others are quite expensive, so best to stay tuned and watch these developments.
Asynchronous tools such as the discussion team areas within Blackboard, wikis and blogs are useful tools for communication, for sharing progress and for sharing resources, and for collaborative writing and reviews, etc.
When learners are ready for final reviews before presenting projects to the larger class, asynchronous tools work well so that everyone in the course has an opportunity to review the projects. Use of discussion boards, PowerPoint with audio and/or MP3 files can usually all be possible for a group’s project presentation.
Managing Groups — Additional Thoughts
When problems arise with one of your groups, and the law of averages pretty much ensures this will happen, it is good to have a set of guidelines for students as to how to proceed. The usual rule of thumb is that the problems are best resolved within the group itself. The faculty member should be reserved for the very difficult problems that the group cannot resolve itself. Faculty, of course, can be asked general questions to guide working through any problems; but it is best if the group can resolve problems. A good resource for both faculty and students on working within teams is “Building Blocks for Teams” from Penn State – http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/teams/student/. You may want to post this resource in the same folder or space as the group project directions and rubrics. (Note — each of the topics in the Frequently Asked Questions on this PSU web site is a link to extended discussions.)
Note: These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2016 in the second edition of the book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by designingforlearning.org.