Why Online Group Projects Suck

Educational theorists just LOVE the thought of group projects.  They increase collaboration!  Build transferable skills!  We get to be all techie and use wikis!  Don’t get me wrong, wikis are cool and useful, but that’s not the point here.  Group projects are really difficult to manage in an online setting and students just don’t like them all that much.  First off, many students take online courses because they require a certain kind of independence.  They may need to log on at odd hours and do assignments in their own time.  They have kids, jobs and other committments that make working with others difficult.  Also, I have many, many students who are deployed military or who have obligations that make group work impossible.  This means that I have to always have an alternate assignment for those who can’t participate.  What usually happens, and this goes for the classroom setting as well, is that one or two people get the research and writeup dumped on them.  No matter how hard we want everyone to participate equally, someone emerges as the leader, and is the motivating factor, and one or two people in the group ride their coattails to a better grade.  How do you solve this?  Peer evaluations?  Oh, sure.  Don’t you just want to write an honest evaluation of the person who did nothing in your group for your prof?  That’s horrible!  I wouldn’t want to do that.  It may not always be a matter of some people getting a free ride, many, many of my students have literacy problems.  English is not their first language, and yes, I take that into account when I grade their work and try to make sure they get the writing help they need.  Is it fair to make other people in a team situation be responsible for these students who need extra attention?

Believe me, I value collaboration.  When I teach F2F I LOVE to get people into groups, give them a project and a time limit and then let the fun begin. Online presents other challenges, and I feel more like a babysitter than a facilitator.  I would love to have these projects work well and feel that all my students are getting good results from them. I really would, but I am still unconvinced. If some of you out there have had good results, let me know what you did.  I’d love to hear about it.

3 Responses to “Why Online Group Projects Suck”

  1. grant Says:


    In class (in person), peer review is indispensable. I’m not sure people really “get” how to write without having someone ostensibly on the same level to point out what works and what doesn’t.

    Online, I’ve had less success in getting collaborative writing projects done. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect a large part of this is simply the software – next semester I’m just setting up a phpBB forum on my personal webspace to see what students do with that.

    In both cases, these aren’t group projects that create a single finished product – they’re people commenting on each other’s writing. Everyone really is a critic. I can see why this might not work so well in something other than a composition class, since a lot of criticism is going to be leveled at style and syntax and things that are (partially) beside the point when trying to convey substantive things like facts and theories.

  2. Amy Says:

    It would be interesting to try to develop a group project in a composition course. I’m not sure how well it would meet the requirements of it, but I could see very easily doing a peer review exercise online where you pair people up and assess them on their reviews.

    I think that one of the big issues that I’ve had is that not everyone is going to contribute to the same degree. Still, I am thinking of working one or two of these into my anthro courses because I think that learning communities might work well there.

  3. Adam Jones Says:


    Every group project I have been involved in I have basically done it myself. It is hard to get people together who are not on the same schedule in their personal life.

    However I have initiated group study programs for final exams that have been very successful.

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Online Educational Specialist