Monday, February 28, 2011

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

I'm taking a class right now through the local community college called "Online Communication," which, as seems natural, is an online course. Currently, we're working on group projects, putting together a document as a combined effort with m group-/class-mates. Since I make a habit of checking in on the class on Mondays, and the "weekly units" end on Sundays, I was the first to get a start on it.

Now, the majority of each of our communications with our classmates is through an online forum. Thanks to this, I am able to watch other groups stumble along and try to pull themselves together. I don't know how many of them have done online group work before, but I'm going to guess that none of them have.

One of the groups, let's call them Group C, is trying to get everybody online at the same time to chat together and put the project together. Group A (also not mine) is having leadership difficulties, as well as having trouble understanding the nature of the assignment. Group D hasn't even started talking.

Group B, which is my own, seems to be doing quite well, seeing as I'm waiting for one more group member to complete their assigned portion, and then the document will be complete. Not bad for an assignment that's not due for another week!

What's my secret?

First, I stepped up and not only assumed leadership, but also offered the position to anyone who felt they should lead instead. This gave us direction and velocity way back at the beginning, even if the direction was not fixed.

This is Group D's problem: no-one wants to step forward. They're all sitting there, waiting for someone to make the first move, and in the meantime, the clock is ticking away. Eight days into a fourteen-day project, I'm almost done and they haven't even started.

Second, I started the assignment, posting it in a collaborative document on a third-party website designed for such work (Google Docs). This gave the other members push in some direction, showing them what I determined was what the instructor intended based off the assignment.

This is where I feel Group A is having the most difficulty: the assignment states that the document needs to be "written in third-person" and some of their group members don't seem to know what "third-person" is. As I have already posted an example and written my portion, even if there were some member of my group who didn't not understand, they had a leader who was on daily to help and an example to based their own piece off of.

Third, I led the group. If someone needed help, I was there to provide it. If someone didn't understand something, I clarified it. If someone needed help writing their piece, or proofing it, or coming up with ideas, I was there. That is a true leaders role: not to delegate responsibilities, but to show other the way when they may be confused or lost.

This is where I feel Group C is having trouble. When the first post went up in their thread, it was not someone giving direction, it was someone looking for direction. Nobody has tried to lead their group, though members have asked other members to lead for them.

Fourth, I let my group-mates work at their own rate, on their own time, not trying to force them to follow or find time to mesh with anybody else's schedule. That would be an impossible task, since I already know that each of us is from a different demographic and at a different point in our lives with different and varying responsibilities.

This is Group A's other problem. They seem to have forgotten that what you create on the web, stays on the web; it doesn't disappear as soon as the creator signs off. That said, there's no reason for everybody to be online at the same time. If someone has a question, they can post it on the forum, and whenever the person with the answer to the question signs in, they can answer it, regardless whether the person who asked it is on-hand to receive it or not.

There will be another project that I've already been looking into, not a group project, but an individual one, involving each of us setting up a company with at least two offices that communicate over the internet. I can already see that these group projects are designed to show us the strengths, weaknesses, and difficulties of communicating entirely through the internet, such that we can design our company all the better for it.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't already starting to plan it out, which really should come as no surprise to anyone, including my class's instructor.

I am grateful for my familiarity of tools that are available on the web, not so that I have an advantage over others in the class, but so that I can help them become better communicators over the internet in their own rights.