Designing Effective Team Projects in Online Courses

Participating in team projects offers students the chance to develop interpersonal communication skills (Figueira & Leal, 2013), build relationships with classmates, and increase the level of collective competencies as each group member brings something different to the group. However, in the online environment where the majority of the work occurs asynchronously, students may resist having to work with others (Smith et al., 2011) on graded assignments.
Students often say that they do not like group work because they expect that they will have to contribute more than their teammates or that they will have difficulty scheduling times to meet with other group members. They also may be uneasy about being assigned an individual grade based on the work of the team.
After teaching fully online courses for the past five years, I offer seven best practices for teamwork in online courses:
Intentionally create teams. The best teams are formed when each member can bring something different to the group. Having three leaders may cause tension, as there would be no one willing to be led. At the same time, if there are no leaders present, it may be difficult for the group to form a vision for the project and get the work started. Get to know your online students and their preferences. This can come from a survey or preference inventory or through online discussion boards or other interactive course features. In a traditional class, you would see who the students are sitting next to and engaging with; do the same …