Working Together (Without Getting Together)

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Online collaboration is a useful tool that I can say from experience scares the bejeezus out of people (for some reason). Everyone seems to know that the tools are available but most would seem to prefer meeting in person if the option is available.

A lot of the apprehension can be assuaged, I think, if the instructor sufficiently sets the stage and guides the process. Clear goals and expectations for group work are important to have up front. You’ll want to let students have some freedom and to figure some things out on their own of course, but the more they know about what they’re getting into, the less resistant they’ll be. The other important thing (which instructors DO NOT DO ENOUGH) is give the students a rationale for working in groups. Online or not, giving a reason for collaborative work is absolutely huge. Personally, I hate working in groups. I don’t like having to rely on teammates (often, I want things done my way and would rather do it myself) and I don’t like being responsible for anyone else’s grade (I have a tendency to not get things done in a timely manner [this blog post itself is a late assignment, and not the first] and don’t want classmates’ grades to suffer for MY mistakes). Though often, these are the exact reasons to do group work. In life, in the workplace, very few things are done without collaboration with coworkers, friends or family.  Some will be more reliable than others, you’ll have to pick up the slack, you’ll have to be carried.  Might as well get used to it.

Working together online has gotten easier than it’s ever been.  Rather than sending emails back and forth with attachments to read and edit, everyone can hop on the same google doc and work simultaneously.  Since on a google doc or a page on wikispaces, the revision history is visible, the instructor can see which group member contributed what and when. That helps a bit with the issue of dead weight riding the coat tails of the smart kids.

Recently, I worked with a group to make a Star Wars themed radio show.  No two group members were even in the same room at the same time when we worked on it. A few minutes of audio were recorded individually by several people and posted to soundcloud, to be downloaded by another person to be edited and spliced together. Listen to it, if you haven’t already. No one in that entire program is having a conversation. Every person’s part was recorded at a different time, in a different place. Would you be able to tell, if I hadn’t said?

And for those who would still rather work face to face, like myself, there’s still skype, google+ hangouts and other video chats.  Something about having a sitdown talk with a partner or group really helps my thinking process. I can make brilliant and insightful contributions to class discussions (if I do say so myself), but asked to write or state my thoughts without that opportunity to talk it out a bit… I become much less impressive.



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