Enhancing Collaborative Online Group Projects

Concurrent Session 7

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Online collaborative group projects historically are inherent with issues.  There are solutions to these issues that can be incorporated into the project.  This presentation addresses issues with collaborative group projects,  recommends solutions to the issues identified, and concludes with the holistic benefits achieved both for future projects and upon graduation.


Dr. Maus has taught in the higher education field, both in an online and seated environment. Her career in higher education originated as an adjunct instructor in 2005. Her full-time position in higher education began in 2010. She teaches business and healthcare administration courses. She has developed an Associate degree in Business with a specialization in Health Care Administration, a Bachelor degree in Organizational Management with a specialization in Healthcare Administration, in addition to, a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration. Dr. Maus has had the opportunity to work in the healthcare industry since 1991 in a variety of different capacities within hospitals, in the medical employment industry in sales, and for a highly specialized laboratory testing facility. Additionally, Dr. Maus has worked with the National American Red Cross on a special database management project involving donors throughout the United States. During her tenure at On Assignment, Inc., she was awarded the prestigious honor of President's Club Affiliation twice for outstanding marketing and sales performance. She has served as Project Manager/Champion for a Go Green initiative in a private laboratory of 400+ employees. Dr. Maus presented in 2013, 2014, 2016, and 2017 at the Online Learning Consortium International Conference in Orlando, Florida, the Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Conference in 2015 and 2016, and at the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning conference in 2017, 2018, and 2019. She reviewed three textbooks for Elsevier, Inc., and has acted in 2013 and 2015 as an abstract reviewer for the American Public Health Association annual conference. Dr. Maus published an article in 2017 titled Using Taskstream-Tk20 to Help Faculty Close the Loop on Assessment. Her dissertation, published in 2018, is titled Examining the Relationship between Organizational Climate and Organizational Citizenship Behaviors within Hospitals. She is the 2019 recipient of the Service to Campus Tiffin University award.
Professor Diego Hernandez joined Tiffin University as an Assistant Professor of Management in the School of Business five years ago. Currently, Diego is the Assistant Dean for the School of Business at Tiffin University. Diego worked his way up from Director of Tutoring Services to Program Chair to Department Chair to Assistant Dean. Prior to joining Tiffin University, Diego worked at a Toledo, Ohio area high school for 5 years and two different Toledo, Ohio area universities. Diego received his B.S. in Industrial Engineering and M.H.M. from Industrial University of Santander in Colombia and his M.B.A. from The University of Toledo, Ohio. Diego’s teaching interests include Accounting, Finance and Mathematics. As a professor, he is also a student. He learns from each of his students, just as they learn from him. Diego loves learning, whether in a classroom or out in the real world. His professional career includes serving as a Civil Right Investigator for the Title IX office at Tiffin University and site visitor for the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

Extended Abstract

Enhancing Collaborative Online Group Projects

  • Introduction:  

    • The session outcomes are:

      • Common issues inherent in online collaborative group projects will be identified.   

      • Participants will be provided tips and take-aways concerning several solutions for each issue identified commonly experienced with online collaborative group projects.  

      • The overarching benefits of a well-developed and well-managed online collaborative group project will be discussed.

  • Definition

    • According to Scherling (2011), collaborative group projects entail a group of individuals working together, rather than independently, towards a common goal that is meaningful.  Collaboration in a group project involves active participation, interdependence, and synthesis of ideas.

    • Whereas, online collaborative group projects entail a group of individuals working together, rather than independently, towards a common goal that is meaningful.  Individuals challenged with the task will be enrolled in an online class using a learning management system such as Moodle, Canvas, or Blackboard.  Students may opt to also engage in collaboration outside of the learning management system.  Online collaborative group projects content can include, but is not limited to, the construction of a presentation or paper.  

  • Common issues with online collaborative group projects and effective strategies/solutions (tips and take-aways) to address each issue identified

    • Issue:  Selection of the group. There are some circumstances where there is no easy way to select the group. Often, there is a tendency for students to prefer to be in a group with a friend.  If the instructor decides to select the members of the group, what parameters would be utilized to determine the group members?  

      • Solutions

        • Select groups at random based on predetermined criteria identified by instructor.  

        • Deliberately select heterogeneous groups. Heterogeneous groups can be advantageous, because of the different perspectives brought to the group (Burke, 2011; Wang, 2013)

    • Issue: Accountability.  Often times work is not distributed evenly throughout the group.  Some students will “free-load” and opt not to participate in the group experience requiring other members to have a heavier workload to ensure completion of the project. Issues with accountability can result in struggles to successfully complete the group project, while also increasing anxiety, stress, and lack of trust and potentially result in additional negative impact on future group projects (Oliveira, Tinoca, & Pereira, 2011).

      • Solutions

        • Design groups where students must participate collaboratively, for collaborative online group projects require both individual and group accountability.  

        • Integrate the use of technology through a discussion thread or a recorded chat room, so students can document their interactions online and the instructor can view individual participation and the interaction of the group.

        • Design process where students must establish the responsibilities and roles of each member in the group.  Incorporate this requirement into the project at the beginning, requiring students to document and communicate each participant’s role and responsibilities to the instructor.  

        • Require the group to establish and agree upon objectives and then, a final goal.  Objectives should be prioritized.   Incorporate this requirement into the project at the beginning, requiring students to document and communicate objectives and a final goal with a timeframe established to the instructor.  

        • Require the students to collectively agree upon norms or rules at the beginning of the project, establishing what activity will be acceptable within the group.  This permits recognition of unacceptable activity, providing the group with the opportunity to recognize when an individual in the group is not operating within the agreed upon parameters.   Incorporate this requirement into the project at the beginning, requiring students to document and communicate the group's norms or rules to the instructor.  

        • Student feedback concerning the functioning of the group ideally should be communicated to the instructor not at the end of the assignment concerning how the group is functioning, but rather throughout and at the end of the group learning experience.  Share with the audience of the conference the Peer Evaluation form.

        • Instructor should provide feedback to the students throughout the project, both individually and to the group.

        • Require reflection addressing such topics as what went well, benefits gained from engaging in collaborative group work, and how they personally can improve.  Incorporate this element as a requirement of the assignment, but to be submitted individually at the completion of the collaborative group project.

    • Issue: Conflict. Students are not typically attracted to and convinced of potential benefits received from group projects, hence resulting in a predisposed negative attitude.  Students can can be apathetic or even hostile to the whole idea of engaging in discussions within the group that are required to address problems identified and determining solutions to those problems.  Students may not know how to address conflict in collaborative group projects, resulting in disengagement.

      • Solutions

        • In order to promote buy-in to the collaborative group project, communicate to the students the benefits of engaging in group projects of which include, but are not limited to, collaboration with others and the potential synergy that can result, enhancing communication skills, developing leadership abilities, organization, delegation, and negotiation skills. Communicate the benefits of collaborative group projects in the assignment description provided to the students.

        • Provide a guide or tips for students to learn how to effectively manage group conflict.  Share the guide to the students at the onset of the collaborative group project.  A guide will be shared with the audience of the conference.

    • Issue:  Communication.  Students lack the ability to clearly articulate their thoughts.  Students are hesitant to share thoughts for fear that their inexperience or lack of knowledge will be exposed.  

      • Solutions

        • Promote the act of inquiry in other areas of the class, such as in the discussion questions to involve both exploration and critical thinking.  Require students to participate in discussions throughout the course.

        • Promote communication early on in the group project through the use of icebreakers or team building, establishing opportunities for bonds to be developed.  

        • Incorporate and apply the use of various channels of technology that is both unfamiliar and familiar for students to use when communicating in a collaborative group project.  In the event the technology is unfamiliar, provide the appropriate support, such as in job aids and training at the onset of the group assignment.  An example of job aid will be provided to the audience of the conference. Technology can include:

          • Moodle

          • Adobe Connect

          • Skype

          • Google Docs

          • Google Hangout

          • Social media such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter

  • Study results.  Data will be collected in two sections of the same online course, identified as MKT151 Introductory Marketing.  One section of the course will provide the students with only the group assignment instructions.  The final grades of this section of course for the group assignment will be collected.  The other section of the course will provide the students with all of the recommended collaborative group assignment solutions discussed.  The final grades of the assignment for this section will also be collected.  Results will be discussed.  

  • Conclusion.  Holistic benefits and significance of group projects. The potential benefits of group projects that educators should emphasize to students are the social, psychological, and learning benefits gained, of which can be applied to other collaborative group projects and beyond graduation.  The student’s future career will almost certainly involve working in groups with a diverse range of people who will have a wide variety of skills and abilities.  Through well constructed collaborative online group projects

    • Students can learn why groups make better decisions than individuals

    • Students can learn how to work with others

    • Students can learn how groups function productively

    • Students can learn content at a deeper level through engaging in group interaction


Burke, A. (2011). Group work:  How to use group effectively. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 11(2), 87-95.  Retrieved from http://www.uncw.edu/jet/

Oliveira, I., Tinoca, L., & Pereira, A. (2011). Online group work patterns:  How to promote a successful collaboration. Computers & Education, 57(1), 1348-1357. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2011.01.017

Scherling, S. E. (2011). Designing and fostering effective online group projects. Adult Learning, 22(2), 13-18. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/home/alx

Wang, Z. (2013). Effects of heterogeneous and homogenous grouping on student learning (unpublished master’s thesis). North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina.