A handout from the Online Information Series
Copyright (c) 2006, Jolene M. Morris, All Rights Reserved


25 Learning Team Tips

Purposes of Learning Teams

  1. The following is one of the five University of Phoenix learning goals: Graduates of University of Phoenix will work effectively in diverse groups and teams to achieve tasks. They will be collaborators, able to function well in team settings as both leaders and followers. They will respect human diversity and behave in a tolerant manner toward colleagues and those they serve. (Student Handbook, 2003)

  2. Lessons from the Geese (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZd02sRGLT4). Be sure to check out the "Related Videos" on the right.

Required Documents

  1. Charter with action plan. This document is available from the learning team toolkit on your eCampus student Web site. In my classes, the charter is a graded assignment. You will receive feedback, and you may be asked to correct and re-post your charter. Post the charter in your <Learning Team> forum in the THREAD provided. See tip #7 below for more information about the required action plan.

  2. Logs & Weekly reflections. Learning team logs are not required in Online courses; however, a summary of your learning team’s activities and a “Plus/Delta” exercise (What went well? What didn’t go well? What will we do differently next time?) should be posted in the <Learning Team> forum on a regular basis.

  3. Learning Team Evaluation Form. This document is available from the learning team toolkit on your eCampus student Web site. In my classes, the evaluation form is graded only on whether or not you submit the form to your <Individual> forum by the due date. The content of your evaluation is not graded -- this exercise is helpful for you to reflect on the learning team experience and to share with the instructor your observations about your learning team. Your comments on the evaluation form do not affect the grades of your learning team members. Grades are determined and awarded only by the instructor.

Preparation

  1. Exchange phone numbers with your learning team members. If your computer crashes or you can't get online, you will need some way to let your team mates know.

  2. Create an Action Plan as part of your Learning Team Charter. Developing a plan should ensure that you are prepared for the project, understand your roles, and will work together to complete the learning team assignment(s). It should also assist in getting everyone committed early to avoid a last minute rush. By being as specific as possible, you will avoid operating on assumptions about who is doing what and when (and we all know what happens when we assume, right?). This plan should be so specific that anyone can step in and assume any group member's role. It is recommended that your Action Plan contain the following elements:

    • The group's objectives. This should state what your group intends to accomplish. Identify your methods of cooperation and leadership. Be specific! Some learning teams find weekly conference calls helpful. Some groups all commit to being online at particular times. Whatever you decide, be specific.

    • Outline the deadlines for completing each portion of the work. What is due, and when?

    • Work out the roles of each group member. Who will do what? How will the work be divided? How will the group present the assignment? What will happen if a group member is not participating? What happens if a group member has to leave town unexpectedly? What if a group member has to be gone, and will not have access to a computer? Again, be specific! What happens if the group cannot agree about something?

    • Who is going to post the final project?

  3. Complete all reading assignments and research ahead of time so your learning team is effective in the time they have to work.

Attendance & Participation

  1. Although there isn't a 5 days out of 7 participation requirement in your learning team, you should check in with your team on a daily basis wherever possible.

  2. Participation should be approximately equal by all team members.

  3. If a team member hasn't posted in the learning team for at least two days, send a note of concern to the team member. Post the note in the learning team forum with a copy to the student's private inbox.

Communication

  1. Remember that ALL communication between learning team members MUST be recorded in the learning team forum. If you choose to communicate by phone, FAX, private e-mail, instant messaging, etc., make a record of your communication and post it in the learning team forum.

  2. Communicate with your team members and let them know what you're doing, where you are, when they can expect to see your contribution; and for Pete's sake, if you're going to be late, let someone know.

  3. Entries in the forum constitute "an asynchronous meeting".  In your meeting, it is important to use threading, use subject lines that explain what the thread contains, and read through all the posts in order to stay current. 

  4. Study the communication example at the bottom of this handout -- this is perhaps the best tip of all the 25 Learning Team Tips.

Interpersonal Relations

  1. Draw out reluctant participators where necessary.

  2. Some groups work well with a leader and some don't. Decide among yourselves which group dynamic you prefer, leader or leaderless. The study group is an association of equals with no one person empowered to direct the actions of the others. When team members contribute equally and are comfortable with the group's goals, the team should functions as a leaderless group. Under these circumstances, your purpose and priorities are established quickly and tasks are agreed upon jointly. In other circumstances, there may be a need to create a group leader. Anyone assuming a leadership role needs to seek consensus and to encourage the creativity that often suffers under a directive leader.

  3. Reach consensus. Consensus does not mean that everyone agrees -- it means that everyone can accept the group decision, even if they feel other decisions are better.

  4. Respect diversity. It has been said that if we all think alike, there is no need for more than one of us.

  5. Conflict is a normal occurrence in any team situation. Resolve conflicts. Deal with differences and conflicts in a professional manner. Resolve conflicts without intervention of the instructor wherever possible.

  6. Do not put down, ignore, or flame any team member. Do not set any team member above other team members as smarter, better, etc.

Learning Team Assignments

  1. Remember that Team Work implies Team Effort. If the University intended teams to just divide up the work amongst each team person and then compile and post, the syllabus would have merely assigned additional problems for the individual work. Team work is TEAM WORK. Be sure everyone on the team buys off on all of the work. You can split it up, but then everyone needs to look at the work and buy off on it. Remember, your grade depends on someone else's work.

  2. Be sure to have contingency plans. If someone doesn't get his or her part in, the entire group loses points. Smart groups have more than one person working on each area of the research, just in case.

  3. It is important to have clear communication in the group. It helps if someone in the group will break down the sub-tasks that are part of the final project. This ensures equitable distribution of the group assignment.

  4. Plan your time so the project does not have to be completed at the last minute.

An Example of Poor and Good Learning Team Communication
          Thanks to Jocelyn Taylor for allowing me to use this example.

Below are several team meetings.  Which is most productive?
 
Team A
Day 1  Student One:  Hey, let's find a time to meet.
___________________________________________________________
 
Day 2  Student Two:  Sounds good to me. 
Day 2  Student Three:  I have an erratic work schedule so you'll just have to tell me what you want me to do. 
___________________________________________________________
 
Day 3  Student One:  Is anybody online tonight?  We need to get working on our assignments.
___________________________________________________________
 
Day 4  Student Three:  I'm confused. 
___________________________________________________________
 
Day 5  Student Two:  So what are we doing?
Day 5  Student Three:  I'm willing to do what you tell me to do.  Just let me know.
___________________________________________________________
 
Day 6  Student One:  We have a paper due tonight...any ideas for a topic? 
Day 6  Student Four:  Sorry, I've had tech problems, can someone fill me in?
___________________________________________________________
 
Team B
Day 1  Student One:  Hi Team.  We have a paper due in 6 days.  I propose that we determine our topic by midnight tonight.  If anyone has not responded with their opinion, (as stated in our charter) they will need to accept what we decide.  I propose we write on "The Digital Divide" and I propose this timeline:  (timeline detailed here)
Day 1  Student Two:  I like that topic and the timeline works for me.  I'll post an initial outline tomorrow if the topic does not change. 
___________________________________________________________
 

Day 2  Student Three:  I see you selected the topic.  I'll post research tonight.  I'll also volunteer to write the intro and conclusion. 

Day 2  Student Two:  Here is an outline as I promised....

___________________________________________________________
 

Day 3  Student One:  The outline looks good.  See my additions to your intro and conclusion and note several paragraphs. 

Day 3  Student Three:  I have written my assigned paragraphs. Would someone check the formatting of my citations and references -- I'm still learning APA.

___________________________________________________________
 
Day 4  Student Two:  The rough draft is completed. 
Day 4  Student One:  Thanks for your efforts, I have made minor notes. 
Day 4  Student Three:  I'll post to WritePoint by 10 tonight if you have no changes. 
___________________________________________________________
 
Day 5  Student Three:  Here is the latest draft with WritePoint suggestions. 
Day 5  Student One:  I'll incorporate the changes and post. 
___________________________________________________________
 
Day 6  Student One:  The final draft has been posted. Way to go, team! <honk-honk>
___________________________________________________________
 

Team B is obviously the example of great team communication. You will notice that the students were all proactive and didn't wait for someone to tell them what to do. Because of the nature of asynchronous communication, each team member must volunteer, and then begin working on needed tasks.

Develop and use timelines for all assignments. Extra time in planning and organizing at the beginning of this course will make the end of this course stress-free!

Copyright (c) 2009, Jolene M. Morris, All Rights Reserved