- Make it clear to the students why groupwork is being required. This admonition is particularly important for students in distance courses, whose learning preferences may favor working independently.
- Form small teams that are balanced in knowledge and skills. Teams of three or four are large enough to provide adequate diversity of opinions, experiences, and learning styles, but not so large that individual members can successfully hide. Groups of all strong students or all weak students should be avoided. If possible, at least one member of each team should have experience with the computer tools to be used to complete the assignments.
- Give clear directions regarding both the assignments and the communication tools. Virtual groups may find it particularly frustrating to have to decipher muddy directions about what to do and how to do it, and their frustration could hurt both their motivation and their performance. Give short preliminary assignments that require the team members to demonstrate their mastery of the communication software.
- Monitor team progress and be available to consult when teams are having problems. The tendency of some students in traditional classes to let groupwork slide in the face of other time demands is likely to be worse when the team members never see each other face-to-face. Appoint team coordinators whose responsibilities are to keep their teams on task and to report on progress and problems at regular intervals. Periodically rotate this role among team members. Prompt groups that are not meeting frequently enough and offer guidance if they appear to be stuck.
- Intervene when necessary to help teams overcome interpersonal problems. Suggest strategies like active listening to resolve conflicts. (Each side makes its case, and the other side has to repeat that case to the first side’s satisfaction without attempting to counter it. When both sides have had their say, a resolution is sought.) Consider conducting such sessions by videoconference or telephone rather than asynchronously.
- Collect peer ratings of individual citizenship and use the ratings to adjust the team assignment grades. Rewarding exceptional team members and penalizing non-contributors helps avoid many of the conflicts and resentments that often occur when students work on group projects. A procedure for collecting ratings and using them to adjust team grades is described in the literature.
- Anticipate problems and get help when necessary. You can be reasonably certain that any problem you encounter in groupwork has already been encountered by others and is addressed somewhere in the literature. When a problem arises, check the references to make sure you have not forgotten any of the elements of good practice in cooperative learning and ask knowledgeable colleagues or faculty development center personnel to help you strategize remedies.
Source: FAQs. III. GROUPWORK IN DISTANCE LEARNING - Richard M. Felder and Rebecca Brent North Carolina State University