Groupwork in an online learning environment
Koh, Myung Hwa
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Online groupwork is becoming an increasingly popular instructional strategy. Although researchers have questioned the benefits of groupwork in online learning environments, little research has examined the challenges it presents. The purpose of this study was to investigate the experiences of students involved in online groupwork to examine the factors that students recognize as challenging or in the learning process over time. This study used a qualitative embedded case study design with the group as the case. Data were collected using a background survey, individual interviews, one group interview, observations, and archival document collection. The participants were six students in two groups who were graduate students at a large southern university. Data were collected over a sixteen-week period. The findings indicated that the two groups found that previous experience, work habits, small group size, shared interest, shared profession, convenience and flexibility of the technology, sense of connection, and feedback from group members were helpful for their online groupwork. While the students in these two groups worked relatively well as a group, they did face some challenges over the course of the semester. They attempted to overcome these challenges with varying degrees of success. Technology, task, communication, accountability, and feedback from the instructor were challenges for groupwork. However, each group perceived different factors as being helpful or challenging in the learning process in online groupwork. The individual group members had different levels of satisfaction with their online groupwork. Students’ perception of online groupwork is a result of interaction among group members and the instructor. This study suggested critical factors that affect group interactions and offered helpful strategies to promote group interaction for learning. This research also provided strategies for students and instructors that can assist students in completing their online groupwork successfully. Finally, this research provided implications for practice and suggested directions for future research. The findings of this study confirm much of the previous research while also offering new insights into the processes of online groupwork by using qualitative research methods with the group as a case. By listening to the voices and examining the perspectives of all the members of small groups, this study contributes to the new, yet growing, literature base on online groupwork.