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Online Students Resources and Services

Information and links especially for Online Students

Why Is There Group Work in College Courses?

On the list of phrases that strikes fear into the hearts of students everywhere, "group work" is only slightly behind the clear winner "public speaking."  However, group work is often a component of college courses, including online courses.  

The reason why professors require group work is the same as why they require public speaking--employers want their employees to have those skills, as well as other related skills developed by working in groups/teams (and public speaking).

According to the 2019 Job Outlook report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the top 8 (ranked) skills employers want:

  1. Communication skills (written)
  2. Problem-solving skills
  3. Ability to work in a team
  4. Initiative
  5. Analytical/quantitative skills
  6. Strong work ethic
  7. Communication skills (verbal)
  8. Leadership

All student, whether online or face-to-face, need opportunities to learn and develop those skills. 

Working successfully in teams generally requires both communication skills and problem-solving skills, and students working in groups usually have opportunities to display initiative and develop leadership skills as well.

Communication Is Essential to Success

Successfully working in groups in any setting (online or face-to-face) requires good communication.  Many problems that arise when working in groups are due to group members not communicating at all or group members ignoring other members' attempts to communicate.

If your professor has assigned group work in your course, he/she will assist you in communicating with your group members.  However, professors are not mind readers and will not know if group members are not communicating (or not contributing) without the other students reporting it.

Tips for communicating with fellow students:

  • Don't wait for other students in the group to initiate communication
  • Make contact often
  • Discuss and agree on a primary means of communication--email, text, social media, etc.
  • Discuss work/school/family schedules and agree on timeframes for returning messages
  • Be specific in what each group member will do and what group members can expect from the others
  • Keep messages short

Tips for communicating with professors:

  • Use the professor's preferred means of communication (usually school email--this is likely stated in the course syllabus)
  • Be specific and detailed with your questions
  • Contact the professor quickly about problems with a group member(s)--don't wait until close to the project/assignment due date
  • Make contact often--your professors want to help you be successful

Communication and Collaboration Tools

There are many different methods of communication and collaboration available to students.  The best method for you and your group will be the method members are willing and able to use consistently. 

Discuss and agree on a method within your group at the beginning of the project/assignment.


Using email might be the least complicated way to stay in touch, especially if you start with a group email (including all group members) and then always "reply all" to keep an ongoing email chain going. 

  • as long as senders choose to include previous emails in the chain, a record of the communications will be kept automatically
  • choose either your school email address or a personal email address (be sure to be consistent)
  • email easily allows files of various types to be sent back and forth
  • sharing email addresses is preferable for some students rather than sharing a phone number for texting


Some students prefer texting over email, and it can work fine as a primary means of communication if a group text is used AND all group members agree to use it.

  • most device providers allow users to keep texts, so that would provide a record
  • texting won't work for sending files back and forth, but that might not always be necessary depending on the project/assignment
  • not all students want to share their personal phone number with classmates

Microsoft OneDrive

All Central Penn students have the ability to use OneDrive to save and store their files.  Since OneDrive is part of Office 365, you can share Word, Excel, and/or PowerPoint files (among other types).

If you haven't used OneDrive before to save files, it is available with the other Office apps once you're logged in to your school email.

  • OneDrive by itself will not let you communicate with your group members, so you'll need to use email, text, or another method to do that.
  • OneDrive allows you to share files, without giving editing permission, if you just want others in your group to see your work
  • If you want your group members to be able to edit a file you share with them, be sure the "Allow Editing" box is checked before sharing.

Google Options

Google has multiple apps that allow varying degrees of communication and collaboration.  Although a Gmail account is required, Gmail accounts are free to create (and many students already have them).

Google Hangouts

  • With Hangouts, group chats can be created--and Google will keep a record of the conversations
  • Hangouts does not allow for sending files back and forth

Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides


Organizing the Work

Depending on the course and assignment, your professor might give specific instructions on how to organize your group--or they might give no direction.  If your professor gives you instructions--follow whatever your professor says.  If your professor does not--see below for suggestions that could work on many situations.

*Determine what role(s) each group member will serve.  The role(s), and number of role(s), will depend on how many are in your group--and on the assignment/project.  All group members actively participate in the main 'work' of the group (e.g. making suggestions, doing problems/questions, writing a final report, etc.)

  • Leader/Facilitator/Manager--almost always needed in most groups
    • depending on how long long the project will take and how complicated it will be, the role of leader could rotate through group members
  • Record Keeper--responsible for keeping a record of the group ideas and suggestions, interactions, copies of files, etc.
  • Monitor--keeps the group on task, keeps track of how much each member participates, encourages/reminds those who aren't contributing, pulls back a member(s) dominating the conversation
    • this role could also rotate through group members, and/or be shared by more than one member

*Based on the complexity of the assignment/project, your group might want to identify additional steps (not specified by the professor) to be completed.

  • Example: if part of the project is to create a PowerPoint presentation of 10 slides, steps to complete that could include creating an opening slide, creating a Reference slide, creating slides about certain topics, etc. 

*Based on the final deadline of the assignment/project, decide on intermediate deadlines--in addition to any intermediate deadlines set by the professor.

  • the more complicated the assignment/project, the more intermediate deadlines your group should create
  • if one group member will submit material to the professor, deadlines for submission by group members to that person should be at least 1-2 days before the material is due to the professor