Online Group Work

Setting up groups in online environments depends on the age and maturity of students in teams (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). There are many factors that instructors need to consider when forming groups like the culture, age, gender, study habits, students goals for the course, the context in which students are collaborating and the students’ expertise (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010). More important, is considering the “time zones and online work habits” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 129). While Boettcher and Conrad (2010) recommended that instructors form the groups based on the students’ characteristics, Hilton and Phillips (2010) argued that instructor-appointed and student-formed groups provide the same deliverables in terms of the final product. Some professors explained that sometimes students like to choose their groups; they explained that this is more often happen in experienced and mature students. Furthermore, instructors need to focus on the learning objectives when assigning group work for students; they have to make sure that the assignment relates to the course goal and that it is worthy of a group (University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2012).

Prepare the Students for Group Work

Instructors need to prepare students for online collaboration by providing details about the tools, the process and the resources (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010; University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2012). In their groups, students could assign roles and responsibilities; they could also determine the best way of communication, how to resolve conflict and strengths of each group member (Hicks, 2011). This information could be collated in one document and presented to the instructor as a group charter (Hicks, 2011). View an example of a Students’ Project Charter (Log in using your Ryerson Matrix ID) with suggested strategies.

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is another tool that instructor could provide for their students. WBS are organizational charts to help mapping all tasks required in the project (Russell, 2008). In addition, WBS help to divide the project tasks into smaller and manageable deliverables (Project Management Institute ,2008). After clearly articulating the objectives of the project in the charter; students could break down these objectives into smaller tasks; after, they define timelines, responsibilities and inter-dependency for each task. Fig. 1 provides an example of a WBS.


Leadership Role

In group work, some students are reluctant in taking the lead and some jump in and take the lead without giving a space for other students’ contribution. Many of the conflicts and problems in group work are related to group meetings. In the face-to-face environment students may not attend meetings, may waste time by discussing out of topic issues and may leave the group. In the online environment, culture differences, technology tools and time zones may affect students’ communication and collaboration.

Effective groups must be able to decide if they need a leader and, if so, how to select their leader and what the leader’s job will be. One possible suggestion is to rotate the leadership role, with a different member chairing weekly meetings. Other roles in a group meeting could be note taker and time keeper. The leader is responsible for setting an agenda and outcomes for the meeting, and for sending them to members ahead of time. The leader is also responsible for encouraging team members and keeping the group on track.


Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Hicks, C. (2011).Guiding group work: Activities to maximize student learning from group projects. Retrieved from

Hilton, S., & Phillips, F. (2010). Instructor-assigned and student-selected groups: A view from inside. Issues in Accounting Education, 25(1), 15-33.

Project Management Institute. (2008). A guide to the project management body of knowledge. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute Inc.

Russell, L. (2000). Project management for trainers. Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press.

University of Wisconsin-Madison (2012). How to Design & Facilitate Group Work. Retrieved from:

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