Work With Others | Arts and Science ONLINE

Work With Others

How to Make Group Work Work

By: Maggie Veneman

Shall I tell you a secret of a true scholar? It is this: every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn from him.

          - Ralph Waldo Emerson

pitfalls of group workDespite its many benefits, the majority of students find group work to be inefficient, inconvenient, and frustrating. Group work is especially challenging in online courses; time zones, technology, and conflicting schedules inevitably become huge issues. Arts & Science Online students have expressed concerns about group work, identifying these issues:

  • Time-consuming
  • Ineffective
  • Less engaging than individual work
  • No standardization across courses
  • Unfair grading

So why do professors continue to assign group work? There is actually a reason for it. Research has shown that group work is one of the most effective ways to train and assess students’ metacognitive abilities. Metacognition is the awareness and regulation of one’s internal thought process. Group work forces you to put your thought process on display for the other members of your group, which is a great opportunity for you to work with others to assess your thinking and reasoning. Most group work also has an element of self-reflection, another great way to identify and analyze your strengths and weaknesses.

Group work can help you learn to break down complex tasks into smaller tasks, manage your time, work collaboratively, build communication skills, improve your problem solving skills and resourcefulness, and improve your organizational skills.

Here are some tips from fellow students on how to have an enriching group work experience:

  • Take the initiative to start a conversation within your group
  • Be inclusive and respectful of all group members
  • Establish regular check-ins and set meeting dates
  • Leave a buffer for time; aim to be finished before the assignment is actually due
  • Have compassion for others in your group and work as a team

dogsledding It’s important to recognize that life happens, and sometimes there will be a member of your group who is late for a check-in, or missed some of the work. You should communicate any concerns you have with your group members, but you should also check in with the absent group member; they likely have something going on in their life that is hindering their progress, and will appreciate you being understanding. Communication is key.

There are some tools online that may help you to organize your group’s communication. Students recommend Slack, Dropbox, and Google docs.

Working with others is something that most people will do often throughout their lives, whether through work, school, or family responsibilities. It facilitates the development of crucial skills. If you’re interested in what these skills are and how they can be used in a work environment, see this great article by Debbie Morrison, “Why We Need Group Work in Online Learning”.


Group Work: Advice from Students

Don't wait for someone to initiate the group work, don't wait for someone to post on the forum first. I found that taking the initiative to start a discussion or even do a little extra to encourage a "start" is important.

         - Patricia Kwan

It’s important to be inclusive - all members of the group should be included in the discussions and decision-making. As distance students, communication can be difficult, especially with different time zones. It’s helpful to establish regular check-ins and meeting times so that the group can be online at the same time for a discussion - everyone should be prompt and in attendance for each meeting.

         - Erin Carissa

Leave a buffer for time. A lot of us tend to wait until the last minute to do projects. But when doing group work, we need to remember that there are multiple people's schedules and lives involved. Aim to get things done a little bit early so if someone has an unforeseen issue, the group knows with enough time to figure things out.

Have compassion for group members. Things happen. Computers break, people get sick, schedules become overwhelming. One day, it could be you having the issues that are holding your group up.

Don't wait until the last minute to communicate issues. Struggling with your section? Concerned about a group member? Don't wait until the last minute to communicate these issues to your group or your professor -- try to give as much time as possible so issues can be addressed properly.

           -  Jen Evans

I have had many group assignments so far at Queen's and I would agree with many of the suggestions so far, take the initiative is key, be respectful, supportive and inclusive of your peers opinions and their work, and set a meeting time(s) in the discussion forum.

And try not to stress about the students who don't participate. Perhaps they have recently lost a loved one, been in an accident or lost their job; you don't know what is happening in their life. You cannot change whether they participate or not, but you can control what you do and how you react to it all.

         - Marilyn Clark

How to Set Learning Goals in Group Work

What can group work teach you?

  • How to break complex tasks into parts and steps
  • How to plan and manage your time
  • How to gain understanding through discussion and explanation
  • The value of giving and receiving feedback
  • Stronger communication skills
  • Problem solving
  • How to see from someone else’s perspective
  • The importance of collaborating with peers

For more information, see the Carnegie Mellon University website.  

Learning Goals:

Working in groups can be extremely beneficial for developing your self-awareness through metacognition. Metacognition, or being aware of and regulating one’s internal thought process, is a critical component of effective learning. Use this chart to assess your progress; write down personal goals in one of more of the categories before you begin the group project, and whether or not you met these goals after the project.

Collaboration: Real World Implications

Active Learning:

Knowledge is constructed through interaction with the environment. Learning by doing is how nearly every new job starts, so treat group work as a practice round before entering the professional realm.

Global and Digital citizens:

Students participating in online group work are developing skills that will increase their employability. Employers today want to hire people with strong communication skills, the ability to work in teams, and proficiency with digital platforms.


Two heads are better than one. Cooperation and collaboration will allow you to come up with ideas and projects that you could not have conceived on your own. Your group members will stimulate your creativity. Sharing responsibility for the work will also lighten your workload.

Accountability and Morale:

Being in a group makes you accountable for your actions, which is key in the workplace as well. If you promise your group that you will finish section three of the project, you will be more motivated to actually finish that section than if you were working independently. The team environment also increases morale when the group is respectful and encouraging.

See these articles for more information:

How to Make Group Work Collaborative in Online Courses

Why Teamwork is Important in the Workplace

Why and Where is Teamwork Important?