Saturday, 2 November, 2013

Paper Review: How do students define their roles and responsibilities in online learning group projects?

Williams, K. C., Morgan, K., & Cameron, B. A. (2011). How do students define their roles and responsibilities in online learning group projects? Distance Education, 32(1), 49–62.

This paper explores the processes of group role formation in online class settings. Authors have used qualitative analysis to code chat logs and discussion threads in six undergraduate Family and Consumer Sciences online courses that required online group projects. Following four themes related to the process of group role formation emerged:
  • testing the waters: a method students use to check in with each other and to test their ideas prior to make commitments related to roles and processes.
  • apologies as being nice: a strategy students employed to avoid creating conflict, or to preempt negative feedback or anger.
  • tag - you're it: a process groups used to assign leaders by default. The first one who posts an idea is seen as the leader by the group, whether he/she intended to take that role or not.
  • struggling to find one's role: processes used to discover, understand and clarify individual roles within a group without clearly stating or defining specific roles.
The authors have further argued that students created following roles as the group process evolved over the course of the semester:
  • leader: facilitates and keeps the group on track
  • wannabe: tries to control the group without taking the responsibility
  • spoiler: an infrequent participant who comes in and out and expects that others work around what they want to do, without regard for previous work already being done or roles already in progress
  • agreeable enabler: goes along with all suggestions even when tasks shift and continues to do work for others, letting others get away with work avoidance
  • coat-tail: tries to appear to be an active participant, but in reality does little or no work
  • supportive worker: understands assignment criteria and group dynamics, follows through and takes initiative to ensure group’s success.
Results lend support for a balance between allowing students to create and experience roles on their own and faculty assignment of roles. Questions are raised related to faculty approaches toward directing and scaffolding the group process.

This paper uses qualitative analysis techniques to identify themes related to the process of group formation in the context of online course. Though a significant research is done in the area of group formation, such research in the context of online course is quite useful. This paper has further identified the roles and have mapped them on the roles identified by earlier researchers. This is a good contribution, which should be further validated.    

Group formation in an online course need not be drastically different process but would have its own nuances. This paper addresses this topic and raises further questions that provide ideas for further research.

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