Like most people, the pandemic has affected college students in a dramatic way. Unlike most people, college students have witnessed the pros and cons of virtual higher education firsthand.
I was a Sophomore when Covid-19 made its appearance and quickly shut down my university classes. As educators scrambled to find ways to continue teaching classes, students were grappling with what higher education would look like, how we’d continue to build relationships with professors and students, find value in our courses and move forward in our chosen majors.
In short, it was a mess.
The changes thrown in my direction were ones I had never experienced and certainly never anticipated. I had to quickly adapt to the online educational environment and figure out what I needed to do to be successful academically in a brand-new learning hub. I set a detailed schedule at home tracking my online classes, assignments and requirements. Without a single in-person class during my Junior year, this schedule became my academic lifeline.
One of the most challenging aspects of virtual learning, I quickly learned, was figuring out how to work on group projects when the “group” couldn’t actually meet in person. Group projects are stressful for students in a normal semester, but virtual learning takes that stress to a whole new level. What does collaboration look like on a screen? How do you build trust, set expectations and get results when you never meet your teammates in person?
It’s not easy. And, as a Journalism major, it became apparent group projects were going to be a major part of my (virtual) school year. Nevertheless, trial and error was an important part of the learning process, and by the end of the spring semester, I felt confident in my ability to successfully complete massive group projects in a virtual environment.
Here are 5 tips for Successful Group Projects… Virtual Edition:
1. Group Bonding:
In a normal in-person semester, bonding with new group members can be awkward. Virtually? Yep, super awkward. That’s why it is so important to schedule time to get to know one another – either on Zoom or another video chat platform.
Set up an introductory “meeting”, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. By meeting your classmates in a casual, laid-back environment, you can get to know each other and learn one another’s strengths and weaknesses. This gathering will set the tone for the rest of the project and transform your group from strangers to teammates.
Select a messaging platform your group will use throughout the project. With virtual learning, there isn’t an option to discuss the project after class like in a typical lecture environment. Having a consistent platform to communicate will make sure everyone has the latest updates on the project. It may be through email, text, or group messaging, but whatever you choose, make sure every member is on board and willing to check in with the group.
Communicating outside of class may not come naturally at first, but this is the best way to ensure that all work is getting done by certain deadlines.
If you don’t collaborate with other group members during a project, there is bound to be a problem, especially when it comes to consistency. In a virtual learning environment, it is often impossible to meet up with every group member in an in-person setting to collaborate. Picking a consistent platform that has features such as real time editing and suggestion mode is a key step in making sure that every part of the project is getting done.
Platforms like Google Docs and Microsoft Word typically are the most beneficial in getting group work done, but every group project is different. As a student who enjoys collaborating with others, I have found Google Docs to be the most helpful tool because it gives an in-person feel to working on group projects, virtually.
It is important to recognize that there are many ways to complete assignments in a virtual learning environment, and not all group members will have the same approach. Listening and respecting each other’s perspectives helps make sure that assignments are completed to the best of the group’s ability.
Knowing how to use group platforms is important in ensuring that all members are treated with respect. For example, joining a Zoom call a few minutes early is a great way to demonstrate respect for other members’ time. Communicating at appropriate times during the day and staying updated in different group chats is another way that group members can demonstrate respect for one another. If you show respect to your team members, the group has a higher chance of reaching their goals and being successful.
5. Aim for Success:
Group projects can be challenging, but with all these steps in mind, they can flourish in a virtual learning environment. Although adjustments may be necessary along the way, these steps outline a path to success for all group members. When you have video streaming and strong team communication, your group projects can run successfully regardless of whether your project is virtual or in-person.