Just because you aren’t in the same room (or country!), doesn’t mean that you can’t collaborate effectively. Just like with any kind of group work- for online group work to be successful it helps if you think through, in advance, the ground rules for how you will work together.
Read the Instructions!
Make sure that you read any instructions that your instructor gives and ask questions if you have them. (And most definitely ask questions if the professor does NOT give you instructions!) Keep track of deadlines and take note of your professor’s guidelines on how you should work in your group.
Set Regular Meetings, Make Agendas, Take Notes
Time spent at the outset clarifying group members’ expectations on participation, roles, and communication will help in the long-term.
- Take time to get to know each other. In addition to names and contact information, share interests and hobbies, favorite music or sports, or what your favorite (or least favorite) animal is. Play Quarantine Baking Bingo. Share your current favorite TikTok dance. It can feel awkward to connect with classmates when you’re learning remotely, but oh well, here we are, you kind of just have to go for it.
- It’s everyone’s job to be aware that we don’t all have access to the same internet and physical workspace resources. Talk to each other and check out what on-line resources work for you and your group (Zoom, Google Hangouts, Canvas chats, etc.), and together decide what is going to work best for everyone.
- Group work, both online and in-person, works best when you set regular meetings and stick to them. Agree on the agenda for your meeting in advance.
- Some of your group members may be working physical jobs with inflexible hours, or have family responsibilities at home. Some classmates might be in different time-zones. Access compassion for each other during these hard times and offer flexibility if you can–your group may need to figure out the least bad time to meet, instead of the best time.
- Take notes in a shared document so everyone can contribute, follow along, and refer back to the group notes when you’re studying on your own. GoogleDocs, Word Online (in Cornell Box), etc., work well.
- If you are using Zoom, you can use the Zoom whiteboard feature to collaboratively work on ideas. AWWapp is another helpful screen-sharing tool.
For more ideas, check out this article, “Gain Skills in Online Course Requiring Group Work” in US News and World Report.
Check-in With Each Other Regularly
Consider doing remote team-building activities with your group. If we weren’t remote and/or physically distanced even when we’re together, chances are you’d walk out of class and make small-talk: plans for the weekend, housing (and housing woes), siblings, sports, what song the clock tower is playing. Doing some of this with your virtual group can help build camaraderie and connection.
Use a few minutes of scheduled meeting time to ask how things are going or to do an ice-breaker. If you build this into the agenda (5 min or so) and stick to the time allotted, you will still have plenty of time for your work–and your work may be better!
If someone has been absent from your group meetings ask them directly if they’re still able to participate in the project. If you don’t get responses within a day or two, let your instructor know. This is not about being petty, it’s about taking care of each other.
For useful information, go to the Cornell Covid-19 updates page covid.cornell.edu.
Many of these tips are adapted from the Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan—thank you to our colleagues for generously sharing their resources.