Collaboration and Group Projects

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Collaborative Projects

TEAM - A small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and common approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.



Student Guide to Collaborative Projects

Learning outcomes

  • Demonstrate understanding of the subject by explaining, interpreting and applying the subject
  • Provide thorough, supported and justifiable accounts, facts and data, meaningful stories, add personal dimension to ideas and events, include images, anecdotes, analogies and models
  • Provide different points of view, analysis of the arguments for each and support with facts and references
  • If applicable, identify areas where there is insufficient information to substantiate a point of view or determine the best alternative, and explain why
  • Participate in a group effort to produce a shared product through collaborative effort, to demonstrate personal accountability while engaging in a group learning experience (unlike individual independent assignments usually associated with online learning). Discussion posts demonstrate students' contribution.
  • Deliver a comprehensive project presentation that represents the combined effort of the team. The research and analysis extends beyond the work of a single team member and represents consideration of a variety of sources and ideas.


PROJECT STEPS

  • Forming the project team - getting to know the other participants, becoming familiar with their interests, knowledge, skills and commitment to the project
  • Planning the collaborative work - identifying area of investigation, sources of information, allocating resources, establishing activities, timelines and deliverables for all participants
  • Exchanging work on the project - providing references, resources and commentary about the topic, formulating the central ideas and supporting evidence, discussing alternatives and conclusions based on information available.
  • Creating the presentation - taking information gathered, analyzed, discussed and organized and preparing a product or document for delivery that represents the work of the group
  • Evaluating the process - reviewing the project work and summarizing the observations individually and as a group. Identifying what worked and what could have been done differently for better results.


Forming the Project Group

  • Who is in your group? Are they punctual with their work? Did they have a lot to say in discussion forums? Did they sound like they thought out their work?
How team members work can be as important as the subject you are working on. If all members of the team share similar work styles - keep to deadlines, prefer discussion rather one person taking a leadership role, the team can get the project work done more easily.
When you can select your team mates, forming a group with similar working and learning styles is more important than the subject area.
  • Can the group "meet" in real-time to get started?
Using instant messaging or any other collaboration tool can be useful for your team "kick-off". Everyone has lots of questions and this is a good, quick way to have everyone participate and get their questions thought about and answered.
  • Who else is in the group? What is their background and interests?
For the project to be successful, you are going to have to work as a team. You need to know what resources are available. You want to have the opportunity to do your best work and rely on others to do their part. Getting to know others on the team will help determine how to work together and determine what work you will need to do.
Describe yourself, your interests and your expertise to your group. Ask questions is you would like to know more about others in your group. Be sure to share information about yourself and your skills if it will help the group get organized. Each person should tell the group his or her name, interests related to the project, background related to the project, other courses taken appropriate to the project and so on. Take a thorough inventory of the group's resources.
  • What does each group member already know about the topic?
    Include "kick-off" introductions, going over interests, goals and skills of each individual, including personal schedules, group dynamics, as well as availability. Assigning clear roles with job descriptions for each member can reduce confusion and duplication later.
  • How much time is there to learn more about the topic? What more do you want to add to the group knowledge of the topic through research?
  • What does the group need to produce the deliverable - knowledge, organization and management, writing and presentation skills, technology?
  • How should the group work be structured? Have members been assigned roles or activities? If you can choose your own group structure, what roles and activities will you do?
    Establish a structure by appointing a coordinator and recorder.
  • How will decisions be made? How will problems be resolved?
    Deciding on the decision making process will eliminate delays later on.
    Is there a leader who will oversee the project and make decisions? Will all members have input or veto power? It is good to think about and discuss these questions before you get started.
  • How will you communicate? How often will you check for messages and reply to others? Are there any times that you will not be able to participate?
For projects that last only days or weeks, checking for messages DAILY is recommended. Checking for messages several times a day or using Instant Messenger is even better. Threaded (asynchronous) discussions work well for group project communications so all responses, ideas, questions and comments are all available for reference. Chats are quick but may be difficult to schedule. Email and lists may also be used, but care must be taken to ensure that everyone gets all the information and can keep it organized. Some groups even phone members with important reminders. Be sure to get contact information - email addresses and SMS numbers, at the beginning of the project.
  • Are your required to use tools or technology for the project? Are all members prepared? What can be done to accommodate these requirements?
  • Have you established the basic structure for your group? Is every one in the group clear about who the members are? The purpose of the group and the project? The structure of the group and the work to be done? The roles and responsibilities for each member of the group? If not, ask some questions or offer suggestions. It is very important that membership, purpose, structure, and roles are well understood by all group members before moving on.


Consider creating a Team Charter. The following components of the charter are recommended by the University of Phoenix:

  • Course and contact information - Students identify their course and instructor, and share contact information.
  • Team member skill inventory - team members identify for their teammates what they the think they bring to the team in terms of special aptitudes, knowledge and skills for special team-related roles.
  • Learning team goals - the team lists its goals for the course, including those relating to the completion of assignments, quality of work, or team meetings. In this section, potential barriers to realizing goals should be mentioned as well as identification of strategies for problem identification and solving.
  • Ground rules - the team members identify and agree to the rules of conduct for the team, related to such protocol items as meeting times, roles, responsibilities, methods of contact. The object is to improve team performance and minimize conflict.
  • Conflict management - while admitting that conflict is generally unavoidable, the team agrees that it should be managed. The team identifies potential sources of contact and outlines how to manage and prevent occurrences.


Planning the Group Project Work

  • What is the topic and scope for the project? What are the deliverables going to be? What format must be used? Is research required? Are standard research citations required?
Understand the requirements from the outset so there aren't any surprises later. If grade guidelines are provided, be sure to review these when deciding on the deliverables. As a preliminary step, do some quick research to find out how much information there is about your topic. You may need to expand or reduce the focus of your project depending on the amount of information your are able to gather.
  • Does everyone have an equitable share of the work to do?
For a group project, it is important that all members have the opportunity to contribute and appreciate the contribution of others. Even if you do different activities, everyone should be expected to contribute an equitable share. Each group member must commit to doing some portion of the project work.
  • Does everyone have all the information they need to proceed with their portion of the project work?
In a group project, some members will need information and clarification from others. Learning from one another is an important aspect of group project work. All members must contribute to discussions by providing information, asking questions and making suggestions.
  • Does anyone need help because of language? Is anyone having problems using the online tools?
Ask the group for help if you need it. Make suggestions if others ask questions. Think about how you would work if this were an in-class project. You would probably discuss many aspects of the project with other members. You can do the same thing online. You can make comments and ask questions that you think of later - things you can't do in person.
  • Do group members understand the project requirements?
It is important that everyone understand where the project is heading and what must be delivered at the end of the project.
If you need clarification, ask the group. Provide your interpretation of the requirements. If there is uncertainty within the group, ask the instructor for clarification.
  • Is there an outline of the work to be done? Has the work been divide up into activities with deadlines and assigned to group members?
Planning the work is important for the group. By spending time identifying activities, working out who is going to do what and by when, the project objects can be met quickly and effectively. Misunderstandings and duplication of effort can be reduced, if not eliminated with good planning and organization.
State what you are planning to do to contribute to the group project. This will help you clarify your own objectives. If your part depends on the work of others, say so and make sure they know what you need from them and when. If you have questions, or are unclear about the structure and process, be sure to ask now.
  • Have you set deadline dates for each phase of the project? Have these been clearly communicated to all members of the group? Is someone going to be the timekeeper and send out reminders of up-coming due dates? Has everyone committed to working to the schedule?
Nothing is more frustrating than waiting for someone to finish their work after an agreed upon deadline is past. It is best to work out the schedule in advance. If you are not able to commit to the schedule - say so, so that alternatives can be worked out. If you find you can not meet the deadline once the project is going, let your team mates know immediately and let them know what you can and can not commit to.
  • Are you working on schedule? Have school, work or family obligations come up that will prevent you from participating at the level you originally committed to?
The best surprise is no surprise. Keep your team informed about your progress. Let them know if you run into problems or if you think you might be delayed for any reason. Tell everyone in advance if you can.
  • How are you tracking progress? Are members sending regular daily emails to the team to let them know how the work is going?


Exchanging Work on the Project

  • As work progresses, how will group members be updated? How will you know when activities are complete?
Making sure that all team members can see and review individual work as the project progresses. There is nothing worse than finding that there is no work being done in an important area, or there is duplication of effort.
  • Are you going to share work as you go or wait until the entire activity is complete?
  • How will problems or surprises be communicated to the group?
  • Are there opportunities for group discussion? Are there issues or concepts that are complex and relevant to the project topic?
Working collaboratively means sharing ideas and opinions with the group, adding information and perspective and coming to some understanding that is more than any one individual would on their own.
  • Is the project scope too broad or too narrow, now that you have more information? Do you have new, interesting information that changes some of the original plan or topic outline?
  • Are there differences of opinion? How are they being addressed in the group? Disagreement is OK. If the communication is open, differences can be resolved quickly and the group can move on. Criticism is issue oriented, never personal. The objective is to have a final project that all team members can be proud of.
  • Is the project work moving toward fulfilling the project requirements and objectives?
It is easy to get off track when a number of people are working collaboratively. The grade for the project will be based on the requirements. Be sure that they are all being met.
  • Are you missing anything important?
Regularly check the current work against the stated objectives and requirements. Make any additions or changes necessary to get back on track.


Creating the Publication or Deliverable

  • How will the final deliverable - paper, report, web page, presentation, be produced? Are special skills required? Does everyone have the necessary skills or knowledge? Are there other activities such as testing or proof-reading that everyone can do?
  • Does the deliverable meet or exceed expectations? Have all the grading criteria been met?
If grading criteria or a rubric were provided, ensure the deliverable satisfied each and every requirement.
For an online project, it is especially important to address all the requirements as this is the only source of information about the grading criteria. You don't have the benefit of in-class discussion to find out more information informally.
  • Are the important issues represented? Is the organization of the material appropriate? What is fact and what is opinion and are they identified for the audience? Have sources been identified? Is this college-level work?
  • Does the deliverable represent the best effort of all members?
The deliverable represents the work of all group members and some portion of each members' final grade will depend on this deliverable.
Take ownership for the deliverable and contribute to making it great. If you are the author or a reviewer, your input is important.



Evaluating the Process

  • How does your final project deliverable measure up to the requirements? Did everyone contribute?
  • How did the project work progress? Did you have a plan and work to it? Was it detailed enough? Did the group stick to the plan? If not, why not? What level of planning would have been appropriate now that you can look back? What would you do differently next time?
  • How would you rate your participation relative to that of others in the group? How satisfied are you with your own effort? How could you have contributed more or worked more effectively as part of the group?
  • What could the instructor provide that would have helped the collaborative group project experience?
Providing feedback to the instructor will help make collaborative online projects better. Online group projects are difficult to prepare and any suggestions for improvement are helpful and appreciated.
  • What was the most important thing you learned during the group project?
  • Write a brief summary of the collaborative group project experience. Include something that your learned from each of the group members.
You may not have realized it at the time, but you learned a lot from the group. Take a few minutes and think about some specifics.


When good project teams go bad

It happens. Some teams just don't work out. So long as you make a reasonable effort to identify and resolve the problems - usually through discussion, flexibility and hard work - the team work can get completed satisfactorily.

Some things to remember

  • This is a distance learning class. Most students take online classes because they don't have time to get to on-campus classes. It stands to reason that they don't have a whole lot of time for this course work. Some students with a lot of time may expect and unreasonable commitment from other team members. This can lead to conflict and frustration. Be sure that your expectations of other team members and their time are appropriate.
  • Many students tend to wait until the very last minute to complete their work. If this working style is not yours, pick a group with other early contributors. Big differences in work style and time seem to be the leading cause of group project problems.
  • Project grades as structured so that team members get grades appropriate to their contribution. If someone is not doing their part, missing deadlines or otherwise causing problems for other members, the other students can report this in the project summary. Please inform the instructor. This is a learning experience. Too often, students will try to solve the problem themselves or do the work of the problem team member. This is not necessary - just keep me informed. I may be able to help.


A few last thoughts...

As you are forming your groups and working out roles and responsibilities, be sure to let your team know what your skills and preferences are. Are you a good editor? Do you have experience creating web sites? Are you good at graphic design?

In addition to having everyone contribute to the content of your final project, use the talent within the group to make the final deliverable in the wiki really interesting and visually attractive as well as utilizing the linking, formatting features of the web. Be sure to include pictures, audio and/or video as appropriate.

Respect copyrights - give authors and creators credit for their work.