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Teamwork Tips

Working with other students online can break down the isolation of learning at a distance and deepen your understanding of course content, but it adds the challenge of communicating online. Furthermore, some students find it difficult to delegate responsibility among team members and become frustrated when others fail to meet deadlines.
 
The following sections contain some reasons why teamwork will benefit you now and in the future followed by strategies that will help you reap the benefits of working collaboratively online:
 

Why Teamwork?

No doubt you are busy person; that is probably why you enrolled in an online course. You may be working and taking a full course load. You may think that you should not need to rely on others to complete your coursework. So why would your instructors assign teamwork?
 
Working collaboratively to complete coursework assignments can:
 
  • Make you more competitive in the job market. Projects and presentations that you complete in collaboration with classmates demonstrate your ability to work successfully with others, which prospective employers will view as an asset (see tip below). Skills with collaborative technology tools can also enhance your future success on the job.
  • Enhance your self-confidence in your interpersonal skills. Successfully negotiating tasks and deadlines and working through conflicts will leave you satisfied and reassured that you can work successfully with future coworkers.
  • Build lifelong relationships that enhance your personal and professional life. Almost any professional will tell you that connections developed with peers along the career pathway have opened doors. Teamwork assignments provide opportunities to develop lifelong relationships.
  • Provide opportunities for more meaningful dialog and deeper learning of course topics. Discussions with your peers can impart insights and understandings that you are likely to miss when completing assignments on your own. The hands-on nature of teamwork assignments affords opportunities to apply new concepts at a deeper level.

Teamwork and Your Future Employment

The article, Are They Really Ready To Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce reports that 94.9% of employers are looking for employees with teamwork and collaboration skills. These employers want people who can work effectively on a team.
 
One of the biggest challenges you as an online student may face after graduation is that prospective employers may look at your educational record and wonder:
 
Are you going to be good at working with other people?
 
Did you develop the skills necessary to work with others in your online program?
 
Assignments completed with the team can serve as foundational elements in your job-seeking portfolio, especially when coupled with a description of your contributions to the assignment. This will provide evidence that you are able to work effectively and collaboratively to produce a complex work product.
 
 

Start Early!

It will take time for you to communicate online with your teammates and decide how you will work together. Do not wait until the last minute, as it can be time consuming to work in groups in an online environment.
 

Decide How You Will Communicate

Will you use your team discussion area or schedule meetings in Connect, Skype, and/or a chat tool? Note the technology suggestions at the end of this page. Keep in mind that communicating using discussion forums has several advantages over e-mail:
  • Messages posted to a discussion forum will not get lost in your or another team member's e-mail inbox.
  • Discussion posts can be seen by everyone on your team, whereas e-mails may be missed if some team members are not included as recipients.
  • Last but not least, your post to a discussion serves as evidence of your communication efforts and contributions to the project.

Check for Understanding

Is everyone on the team clear on project requirements and due dates? Make sure your teammates have the same interpretation of the assignment instructions as you do. Before you begin working, isolate any questions and seek clarification from the instructor before moving forward.
 

Practice Good Netiquette

Avoid the use of ALL CAPS (this can be perceived as shouting) and be thoughtful about how you word your messages. Beware of any language in your e-mails or discussion posts that may convey unintended negative or inflammatory messages. Never send an e-mail in anger. Read more about good netiquette in Course Information: Interacting Online.

Create a Team Charter

Work with your teammates up front to establish a simple list of guidelines that everyone on the team agrees to follow. This can save time and frustration in the long run and is a great way to document your communication decisions. Here are guidelines you might consider:
  • Keep all commitments by the agreed-upon due date.
  • Make decisions by consensus, but majority rules if consensus is not reached.
  • Respect others' needs, feelings, and rights through civilized disagreement.
  • Check e-mail and the discussion forum every day and respond within 24 hours.
  • If guidelines are not followed, we will first approach the offender. If problems continue, we will contact the instructor.

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Develop a Timeline and Consider Geography

Agree on a timeline that includes dates for drafts and reviews. As you develop the timeline:
  • Make sure the schedule accounts for times when you and other team members may not be able to participate.
  • Let each other know how quickly you can turn things around.
  • Be sure to find out what time zone your teammates are working in so you can account for any complications this may cause.
  • Discuss which skills each of you can contribute to the project.

Collaborate with Your Peers throughout the Project

Collaborate with your peers throughout the project to promote each other's success by engaging in activities such as:
  • Giving and receiving assistance
  • Exchanging resources and information
  • Giving and receiving feedback from team members
  • Challenging each other's reasoning
  • Mutually influencing each other's reasoning and behavior
  • Engaging in the interpersonal and small group skills needed for effective teamwork (Johnson & Johnson, 1989)

Divide/Conquer/Converge

Work together to break the assignment into smaller tasks and decide how you will divide up the work. Consider the skills of each team member, opportunities for personal growth in new areas, and how you might help one another be successful.
 
Cycle through the steps below until the assignment is complete:
  • Divide: Once you are all on the same page with the assignment, decide how to divide up the work. Also decide on the date by which tasks should be completed and when you will meet for a progress check.
  • Conquer: Complete the tasks you agreed to work on.
  • Converge: Report in on your progress, discuss and resolve any obstacles that arose, and agree on how to move forward. You can converge asynchronously (not at the same time) in your team discussion area in TRACS. Or you can meet synchronously in Connect, Skype, or another appropriate online technology described below.
  • Repeat: Keeping in mind all that needs to be done prior to the assignment due date, divide the next steps among team members and set a date for your next progress check.
 

Scheduling Tips for Online Meetings

While you can complete a lot of work in TRACS forums, your team may decide that a real-time meeting is necessary. Furthermore, some assignments may require real-time meetings. Here are some tips for scheduling meetings:
  • You will likely find it helpful to use an online scheduling tool such as Doodle.com (free).
  • For long-term projects, consider scheduling meetings at regular intervals (e.g., every Monday and Thursday at 7 PM). Taking the time up front to schedule a weekly or biweekly day and time that works for everyone may save time and frustration in the long run. Regular meetings can reduce anxiety by providing a forum for discussing topics that cannot be resolved efficiently via e-mail or forum posts.

Elect a Group Leader

Especially for larger projects, elect a group leader (or ask for a volunteer) and determine his or her responsibilities (e.g., make sure all the pieces come together in a timely fashion, provide a big-picture perspective to ensure that the pieces fit together coherently, check the work against the rubric, etc.). Or assign these tasks to different team members.
 

Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing

Researchers have recognized phases of group work that are necessary in order for teams to work productively together. Acknowledging these phases may help you approach the challenges of teamwork with greater understanding and acceptance.
  • Forming: During this stage teammates develop relationships. It is important to allow socialization to occur during the forming stage so teams can move on to more productive stages.
  • Storming: Teams move through a period of conflict, which may be internal for some team members and not apparent to everyone. In other cases, the storming phase is more overt and unpleasant for conflict-averse individuals. During this stage, teams begin to define how they will work together as they confront different points of view and approaches.
  • Norming: During this stage teams are able to develop a plan for moving forward and apply strategies for decision-making that effectively resolve conflicting points of view. Team members begin to recognize that individuals will not succeed if the team as a whole does not succeed.
  • Performing: Highly successful teams reach this stage. Performing teams function as a unit and become highly productive. Team members effectively manage their disagreements, resulting in better decisions and work products.

Tuckman, Bruce W. (1965) 'Developmental sequence in small groups', Psychological Bulletin, 63, 384-399.

 

Consider a Document Versioning System

Agree on a document versioning system. For example:
  • One person assembles contributions from team members into a document and saves it as PaperV1
  • Another person reviews and edits the document and save it as PaperV2
  • A third person reviews and edits the document and saves it as PaperV3

Technology Tools for Online Collaboration

Did you know? Any Texas State student can create a TRACS project site that provides you with access to all TRACS tools including: Forums, Resources, Wiki, and Chat Rooms. See the videos at this link to start a TRACS project site: http://tracsfacts.its.txstate.edu/Students/videotutorials.html

Also, check out the following technology tools for online collaboration, which are free to the general public and/or Texas State students.

I need to…
Technology
Description
Hold an online text discussion
 
Note: You can create your own TRACS project site and add Forums or Chat; see the paragraph above this table.
TRACS Forums
TRACS Forums is the recommended tool for threaded online discussions. The number of participants is unlimited. You can use the content editor to add text, graphics, and hyperlinks. Participants can read threads and post comments at any time.
TRACS Chat
Chat Rooms in TRACS allow you to hold synchronized (real-time) discussions.
Schedule a group meeting
Doodle
With Doodle you can poll your team to find everyone’s available times and then schedule a meeting. It’s great for coordinating busy schedules.
Hold a live meeting with video, audio, and text.
Adobe Connect
Meet using video, audio, text chat, application sharing, and a whiteboard with draw tools. Ask your instructor to request a Connect meeting room for your team. Meeting rooms are available 24x7. Meetings can be impromptu or scheduled in advance.
Skype
The free version of Skype can be used to conference call up to 4 people. It includes text chat and, for a 2-person call, video support.
FreeBridge
FreeBridge can be used to conduct scheduled conference calls by phone. One person schedules the phone call and shares the PIN with participants. Everyone then calls the “meet me” number at the scheduled time and enters their PIN.
Collaborate online on documents or diagrams
 
Note: Be aware that, with these options, your data will be stored on public servers.
Google Drive
Users with a Google account can create and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in real time. Google Drive does not highlight changes made by a particular editor, but it does show where in the document each editor is working. Each editor’s changes can be seen in the revision history.
EtherPad
Use EitherPad to create a shared writing space with chat functionality without having to register or log in. Anyone with whom you share the link to the writing space can join you for real-time editing, and each participant’s text appears in a different color.
Dropbox
 
Save a file on any of your devices (computers and Internet-enabled phones) in your Dropbox folder, and you can access it from your other devices or from the Dropbox web site. You can set permissions to give others access to specific folders within your Dropbox folder. Documents edited by anyone with access are updated in everyone else’s Dropbox folder, so it’s a great way for groups to share their revisions to documents, presentations, etc. Note that editing does not occur in real time as with Google Docs or Sync.In.
Creately
Collaboratively diagram things like concepts and project plans. Creately includes draw tools, drag-and-drop objects, and clip art. It produces a diagram, not text. The free version supports only 3 collaborators.

Note that online tools change almost daily. We strive to keep this list up to date, but be aware that some of the information in the table above may have changed and new tools may have arrived on the scene since the last update of this page.

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