Remote teamwork: how to foster collaboration among students

One of the major differences between attending physical classes and studying remotely is the social aspect: in these times of social distancing, most students will agree that only being able to contact their classmates via video conference or chat does not quite feel the same as seeing them in person.
But socialising is not all about hanging out with friends during breaks or after the school day is over: group projects, whether students love them or hate them, are undeniably an important part of the educational experience, meant to hone such skills as teamwork, empathy, and leadership.
Working on a group project remotely requires the team to express those same skills differently, and while some may miss the days when they were allowed to meet up and work together around the same table, the experience of remote teamwork is a valuable precedent that will teach students some important practical lessons that may one day transfer to their jobs.
Let’s explore what solutions technology offers for students to be a team without ever meeting in person and how everyone involved, from teachers to students, should adjust their methods and expectations to this new mode of working together.

Learning to compromise

Compromise is one of the keywords of all good teamwork, and in these exceptional circumstances, students may not be the only ones needing to learn how to compromise.
Before setting the class any sort of remote work, teachers should consider that not every member of the team is working in the same conditions: innumerable factors, from faulty connections to restricted screen time due to sharing devices with family members or having limited data plans, to simply not having the privilege of a rich, quiet environment that is conducive to learning, where the student can minimise distractions and maximise access to sources of information, can influence the amount of effort and time each group member can put in.
The disparity between students who are willing to work hard and those who expect to be rewarded despite not having contributed as much as their teammates has always been a reoccurring problem in group work, but with remote learning, one should never forget that a smaller contribution may be due to forces outside of their control—which is not to say that technical issues should be used as a universal excuse for not pulling your own weight, of course. In fact, working together remotely on the same final document may even provide better proof of who has been doing the lion’s share and who could have made a greater effort, with such consequences on grading as the teacher sees fit.

A virtual round table

Meeting up with your teammates may be prohibited in these extraordinary times, but that should not stop you from setting up a virtual meeting space that can work just as well as a physical one. From taking part in virtual classrooms on Microsoft Teams, to discussing your project on Google Meet to grant you a measure of privacy from the general classroom conference call, to making collaborative edits to a single final product with Google Docs or Slides, the solutions at your fingertips are nearly endless and you are sure to find a new method that suits your needs.
What is more, familiarising with all these remote learning tools may make your instructors more readily available for advice: no longer restricted to office hours, teachers who are willing and able to experiment with technological solution may find themselves in a position to provide better, more careful guidance and coordinate the efforts of each team as needed.
This temporary distancing may even improve your social relations after the global emergency is over: simply exchanging phone numbers and social media information with your teammates may expand your network of contacts and gain you friends you never thought you would make.
Group work, after all, is all about establishing relationships, of the personal and professional kinds both, and being open to points of view other than your own: even in this time of increased distances, using technology to work together may bring us closer than ever.

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