Interesting points considering the value of virtual teams in online learning environments.

JOLT – Journal of Online Learning and Teaching

    • Understanding Students’ Online Learning Experiences in Virtual Teams

      • Jennifer Loh

        School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences

        The University of New England, Australia

        Armidale, NSW AU

        Robyn Smyth

        School of Rural Medicine

        The University of New England, Australia

        Armidale, NSW AU

        • Proponents of group work contend that students can learn valuable lessons such as communication and problem solving skills which are transferable to the real work environment (Becker & Dwyer, 1998, Black, 2002, Haythornthwaite, 2006).

          • Social facilitation is the tendency that people often perform better in the presence of others than alone (Cook, 2001)

            • A virtual team is a group of individuals who used information technologies to work across time, space, and organisational boundaries to achieve organisational goals.

              • Virtual teams are fast becoming a business-critical imperative for many organisations because of the popularity of the internet, intranet, instant messaging, online discussion boards, video, audio conferencing and other tools which have made it easier to communicate and coordinate people at a distance (Herman, 2001; Lewis, Shea, & Daley, 2005; Martins, Gilson, & Maynard, 2004; Townsend, DeMarie, & Hendrickson, 1996)

                • developing learners’ ability to work effectively in a virtual team setting may be considered to be an important pedagogical goal for many higher education institutions.

                  • Many of the challenges associated with group work such as increased time, social loafing and free riding are not limited to face to face groups but may be exacerbated among virtual group members (Becker & Dwyer, 1998; Roberts & McInnerney, 2007).

                    • Perceived equity issues.

                      • students

                        • Social exchange.

                          • According to Warkentin, Sayeed, & Hightower (1997), the difficulty in exchanging information, unlike in face to face interaction, has led virtual teams to concentrate more on task-oriented rather than socio-emotional information. This means virtual teams may require more time to develop relational links among members in order for the team as a whole to develop healthily (Chidambaram, 1996).

                            • one way to improve this would be to enhance student to student interaction at the beginning of the semester. To achieve this, the instructor redesigned the second online assignment into a team development exercise. The first part of the assignment asked students to introduce themselves and to post at least 2 questions they might have about each of their group member. The second assignment then asked students to describe what their personalities are like, what their abilities are and how they can use both of these traits to help the group. These exercises aimed to facilitate information sharing, communication among team members and help establish team norms/rules.

                              • Less active or missing in action team members.

                                • Group members were encouraged to contact these “less active or missing in action” members and to motivate them to contribute, they were instructed to inform these members that their contribution or lack of contribution would be clearly visible to other team members and the instructor. If all these attempts fail, group members were instructed to proceed without the absent member.

                                  • getting long distance education students to work in a virtual team is a difficult task for the instructor.

                                    • this article is useful in providing some strategies for instructors new to online group teaching especially given the demand for online learning in recent years. The ability for students to use emerging technologies effectively contributes to the values they would bring to employers and their communities. This trend is indicative of the new reality that being able to work effectively as part of a virtual team is becoming just as important as being able to work effectively in face to face team. Indeed, the increased reliance on information technology and the emphasis on virtual teamwork have led many prominent researchers in this area to proclaim the importance of information technology and its ability to, “transform the educational process in the 21st century” (Jones, Cramton, Gauvin, & Scott, 1999, p.3). In addition, global forces have also meant that organisations around the world are more likely to increase the use of multinational teams which include individuals from different countries. These realities have created the opportunity for the increased popularity of virtual teams which enable individuals from different locations and time zone to come together and work together (Bergiel, Bergiel, & Balsmeier, 2008). Therefore, higher educational institutions should prepare students with the requisite skills to function effectively in an increasingly virtual environment.

                                    Subscribe to Around the

                                    Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure