Virtually team working

No I would say we are really team working!

Sorry I should have warned you that I do have quite a bad sense of humour (although I would call it good!). Maybe this blog post title is more an example of poor grammar than humour…..

This week I have taken a bit of time to reflect on my first experience of team working in an on line environment. Firstly, I would say I really lucked out with the group I was assigned to, I think right from our first meeting I could tell it was going to be good, it was really funny how we just slotted into certain roles and took on certain aspects of the unit design. There was a very quick sense of team established.

An important element for any groups productivity is the ability to organise itself (Haines 2014). So when you are face to face it is perhaps easier to do this, you have a meeting you can assess everyone’s skills and what they can bring to the table and start to assign work based on this. Some of this happens quite easily, in a face to face context you can quickly tell if someone feels confident about the task you have asked them to do, or they are a little uncomfortable and adjust the approach. Often in a work context there is a manager/leader who has been assigned to the project/group work. But in our situation we were left to our own devices (ipads, laptop, mobile phones-sorry bad jokes again!). I would say that there were a couple of people who emerged in this leading role and it has worked very nicely for us. I am not sure if it was by design or luck was on our side.

One thing that is noted in successful team working is the idea of trust in your peers (Haines 2014). Trust is such an elusive thing and it can be very hard to quantify! There are a few factors that I think helped our group to build trust in one another. One of the key things that helped in part to build a sense of trust was our regular meetings. Which were difficult to squeeze in with work and social commitments etc., but I think these were so valuable. It was an opportunity for us to look at what we needed to do, talk about it, and decide how we were going to do it and then set off and do it. For me it was the voice communication that was such a re-assuring part of this group work. It was good to know that others in the group were feeling just as confused and a little befuddled as I was. This came across so much more clearly using a web ex rather than a forum or a discussion board.

Another factor of successful team working has been communication in general. Definitely an issue early on was deciding how best to communicate. This same issue now exists with face to face groups though. But for me communications are so important in setting a group up for success. For me this group work has really been an example of how amazingly technology can be used to facilitate group work. We have had meetings right from the start via Webex with follow up emails and this has helped so much. It has made me realise there are so many communication channels that you can use, but what is really important is having a sense of consensus, picking a tool and making it work for your purposes is what is key.

So for me a few things I have learnt about group work in a virtual environment (but actually I think these transcend both physical and on-line group work):

  • A sense of trust in your fellow group members, which has helped to build a good sense of team
  • Communication- regular and in person (even if this is in an on-line environment. A phone call is always worth a million e-mails).
  • Agreeing tasks and assigning them to people. A common goal is so important and helps to build a sense of commonality, team and purpose for your group.
  • Deadlines…. We all work to them and unfortunately even if they add stress they are still useful.
  • The sense of support that our team has been able to develop has been really good. Not just in terms of this unit, but more widely about the module and the experience of starting the degree has been really valuable for all our team.
  • It has been a really productive forum for sharing ideas and I think the resulting unit has taken shape really well because of it. There has been an enthusiasm to try a few ideas which has been good- such as creating a little video to introduce ourselves as unit leaders.

All in all, I think I have had quite a positive and enjoyable group working experience. Mind you we are only half way through our unit, don’t want to speak too early! but so far so good!! Go #Team_STEAM!!


Haines, R., (2014). Group development in virtual teams: An experimental re examination. Computers in Human Behavior, 39, pp.213–222. Available at: [Accessed March 1, 2016].


2 thoughts on “Virtually team working

  1. Good to see you’re having a positive experience of teamwork, Ella. One’s early experiences of groupwork, especially online, can colour one’s attitude towards it, with the outcome that you might not expose your own students to it, even if the experience is valuable. Is there anything in particular about being an online group that stood out for you? Were there advantages or disadvantages of being online? I’m wondering also about applying Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s community of practice to your group – would you say developing the seminar made you into a community of inquiry at some level?

    Would love to read your comments on this.

  2. Hi Anne,
    Thank you for your comment, I agree with you in terms of often your own experiences can colour your attitudes to something, beit group work or using a technology, Very often my own willingness to try something in a session has come from seeing someone else’s presentation and wanting to try it in my own teaching. For this reason I believe Communities of Practice are vital, I am a big fan of things like teachmeets for sharing ideas.
    If we take Communities of Practice to mean:
    ‘Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.’
    (Wenger- Trayner- no date)
    Then yes I do believe that this unit seminar helped to form us into a community of practice, in terms of our group there has been a sharing of practice and ideas which has been very interesting and fruitful. Because of the diverse nature of our group I think we have all found it interesting to find out about what the others do, where sometimes they find difficulties and how the sometime over come these difficulties.
    In terms of the wider whole BOE cohort I think there is a much wider community of practice, which again has been very interesting to be a part of and to learn from. In terms of developing a community of practice I do think that building Communities of Practice takes prolonged involvement and often a core of people to drive it forwards (Wenger-Trayner). I very much see you guys as tutors as the drivers for our CoP on the BOE and us (students) as the community engaging with this. So in a way when we take over to deliver a seminar we find ourselves in this same role for 2 weeks, which is very interesting 🙂
    I think if you start to look at this in terms of the Community of Inquiry model put forward by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000). Then I think we have developed a social presence as #Team_STEAM, the cognitive presence in terms of selecting materials for the unit, developing the content etc. The teaching presence we have been delveloping, I think at the moment we are trying to find our roles as faciliators of discussions etc. which can be more challenging I think, posing questions at the right times etc. takes practice… but I think we are setting a good climate and supporting discussions and development of ideas. Which then in turn is creating an educational experience for those participating in our unit. So on a smaller level, then yes I think each group is creating a mini Community of Inquiry around a few areas of inquiry which are feeding in to a bigger Community of Practice.
    In terms of what stood out for being in an online group for me, I think I was expecting it to feel a bit more of a distanced experience and difficult to build a sense of group, but in actual fact I have found it quite the opposite, I felt we quite quickly bonded a sense of purpose and a group.
    Advantages of being online is being able to utilise technology effectively to be able to support our work. Being able to have a meeting and being able to work in real time with each other to make changes to the moodle site has been very good.
    Disadvantages, funnily also technology, I think each of us have had difficulties connecting etc at some points, which has been frustrating. But being able to follow up with e-mail communication has been invaluable.

    Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) Critical inquiry in a text-based envrionment: Computer conferencing in Higher Education, Internet and higher education 2(2-3). Available from: [Accessed 8.03.16]

    Wenger-trayner (no date) Introduction to communities of practice. Available from: [Accessed 8.03.16]

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