I have to admit that I fit right in with Enid Irwin’s statistics: the biggest thing I am worried about when it comes to online classes is dealing with the online “teamwork.” I also have to admit that I’m a huge skeptic when it comes to teamwork in the classroom (as a former teacher, I know it can work, but there have to be parameters set early on).
In high school, I was always stuck with a group of people that I could “help out.” This wasn’t encouraging and usually meant that, because I knew I had to keep my 4.0 in order to get a scholarship to college, I would end up doing almost all of the work. The teacher knew it. The other students knew it. Most of all (and this irked me), I knew they all knew it.
In college, I found my group, who were my fellow English students. We went to a small, private college and my entering group pretty much all worked well together. This was my first introduction to teams that actually worked toward a common goal, and it felt amazingly wonderful.
In jobs past and present, teamwork has always been necessary for job survival for a variety of reasons. When you are a teacher, you need other teachers to work with to bounce ideas back and forth, to determine what’s working and what isn’t with a particular group of students, and just to know that others are going through the same things at the same time. In other office positions, I know that staff work together to get jobs done efficiently. I know how to use this program well. You don’t? Well, I’ll help you with this project if you can help me with this other project.
One thing that I’ve always done in work situations that I hadn’t thought about in school ones is something that Dr. Haycock mentions is key: always lay out your goals to ensure the entire team is working in the same direction. While this seems logical in a work situation, I’ve never really thought about it in school. If I had known this in high school, I could have explained that my goal was to get an A, while John Smith could have told me his only goal was a C. This disconnect in goal would have explained a lot, and it’s something that I have never really thought about in this way before. I am actually excited to put this into play and say, “What are our goals as a team? What do we need to get done? How will we get it done?” (Not specifically a grade letter, especially at this level of work, but in order to obtain specifics and make sure we all know why we’re there.)
It’s especially nice to realize that the infighting that usually happens in the beginning is normal in teamwork. This does make sense to me: you are putting a group of people, all from varying backgrounds and temperaments, together and expect them to come to a consensus on something or to produce a specific, cohesive product. A little bit of grousing or “discussion” is to be expected in the beginning. But then the team needs to buckle down, focus on the goal, and work together to meet that goal.
Interestingly enough, my husband teaches at a local university and generally has one online course that he teaches each semester along with his in-class courses (and one online or in-class session in the summer). When I was taking the online self-assessments, I mentioned that I thought it would be immensely beneficial to his students, as his biggest complaints are students not participating in the online discussion forums until the end of the semester (too late for actual discussion, not eligible for a grade, and defeats the purpose of doing it during the actual unit it was “due”) and not taking the class seriously (i.e., thinking an online class will be “easier”).
I was happy to see that these fallacies were addressed in the online assessments, as I believe online classes to be more difficult than in-class sessions. You are responsible for all the content, and there is no time you can sit in class, passively, and allow the information to be fed to you while you only take notes, thinking you’ll go over it yourself again in-depth later. You have to make time for your classwork, because there is no “this is due during our next in-class session, so I know I have until…” It’s easier, when you don’t have a face-to-face deadline set, to think that you’ll just get to it when you have the time to do so.
I know that I am a procrastinator, and when I obtained my bachelor’s degree, I set in place parameters that ensured I would meet all deadlines. To this day in my jobs, I maintain those parameters to ensure that I not only have the work done in time, but I also have it done early to catch any errors or needed changes before the information passes out of my hands and on to my bosses. To counteract my procrastination tendencies, I have to set artificial deadlines for myself, which I always meet. I have never been late with work or an assignment.
I use Google Calendar, with its ability to create separate calendars for different classes and its notification system that I can customize not only by calendar but also by event, and it has served me well in my school, personal, and work life. I am actually the new employee trainer at my place of employment for Google Docs, Google Calendar, and GMail. Google Bookmarks is a lifesaver for saving and later finding online bookmarks (it’s simple and easy to use, although its format isn’t for everyone. There are browser extensions for, at the very least, Chrome, Firefox (or Waterfox), and Opera that allow you to make more sense of the Bookmarks folder system).
Additionally, calendars on Google Calendar can be shared with teammates/classmates to ensure everyone knows the time frames involved with getting the final product completed in an efficient manner and on time. Gmail seems almost custom-made for teamwork, with conversation-view (so you can track an email thread from all team members quickly and with less opportunity for others to miss essential emails) and custom labels that allow you to pick more than one label per email to sort by class and by project, if you so choose.
I believe that what I have learned from Enid Irwin’s and Dr. Haycock’s presentations is that teamwork can be very rewarding and, in the end, you will probably end up with a better product than what you yourself could create without outside brainstorming and discussion. Does it take extra work to make teamwork beneficial for all members? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.
And online teamwork is no different. While the methods for meeting together are different, the skills needed are the same: set meetings, show up, figure out your role, get all the griping out of the work, and roll up your sleeves to get to work.