Insights: Facilitating Group Work Online


Melanie Shaw, Ph.D. and Lea Campbell, Ph.D.

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If you haven’t taken a workshop with the Online Learning Consortium Institute lately, you are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to expand your professional skills and to network with like-minded individuals around the world who are working to advance online offerings in their organizations. In a recent workshop called Facilitating Group Work Online, students formed groups and accomplished collaborative tasks during the duration of the week-long workshop. It was a bit of a social experiment as participants were able to experience the joys and challenges of group work online firsthand.

One of the best things to come out of the workshop was a list of best practices that emerged after a largely successful group effort. The participant noted:

I look at it as a valuable learning experience, even though I have felt bad that one member felt left out. Part of this misunderstanding was not being well-versed in the technology…Anyway, it reminds me once again why most students dislike group work and how frustrating it can be.  However, these types of interactions are common in online group work and it has prompted me to add a note in my group work assignments reminding students to:

  • Be patient with one another.
  • Remember that technology and scheduling problems can be a challenge.  Start early, and give multiple avenues for accomplishing the tasks (phone numbers – archaic but effective, email addresses, text, etc.)  Work toward a solution and be patient with one another.  
  • Be flexible.  There has to be give and take.
  • When working virtually, we lose all those non-verbal ques that we rely on in face-to-face conversation and it is extremely easy to read negative intent into the actions of virtual teammates so work at communicating with one another (i.e. think carefully about the tone of your emails, talk to one another, use that nifty voice feature on your smart phone, read your emails and respond, if you feel you have been misunderstood, seek to connect and clarify).
  • Pull your weight, complete the tasks you commit to on time.  If you are running late, notify the group.
  • And again… most important, be patient with one another!

This is sage advice indeed. I am grateful to have the chance to work with and learn from these brave and insightful, and yes… patient colleagues! Happy collaborating! Won’t you join us in a future workshop? We would love to learn with you!

Group work poses challenges for faculty and students for a number of reasons, including lack of online technology skills, time conflicts, differences in team member participation, as well as logistics such as design and student satisfaction with group work activities. The OLC workshop, Facilitating Group Work Online, will teach you how to address those challenges by participating in a collaborative group work activity. Learn more

About the Authors

Melanie Shaw has over fifteen years of educational experience ranging from classroom and graduate level teaching to counseling and administration. She is Director of Research and Strategic Advancement at Clemson University. In addition, Melanie is a dissertation chair, teaches undergraduate and graduate courses online, and develops curriculum for a variety of higher education institutions.


Lea Campbell is the Director of Academic Assessment at University of Houston-Downtown. Prior to coming to Houston, she served as the Associate Vice Chancellor of Developmental Education at the City Colleges of Chicago and Director of Student Success Initiatives at Lone Star College System.  She holds a PhD in Higher Education Administration from University of Texas-Austin and an MS and BA in Mathematics from Eastern New Mexico University.


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