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Here's how students are navigating the tricky world of group projects online


UNC students Anna Monocha, Laurel Thomas, Marina Perez, and Wid Alsadoon work together on a group project before Fall Break in Davis Library on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

UNC’s shift to remote instruction has left students to navigate new challenges — including working on group projects virtually, rather than in person. 

Robin Blanton, an academic coach at UNC's Learning Center, said many students who have returned home have additional responsibilities. Blanton said it’s important to be open and sensitive to that, while focusing on encouraging group members. 

Angel Bui, a first-year business administration major, said she is working on a group paper for her first-year seminar.

“It was really difficult to get the schedules to align and also to not be able to see each other,” Bui said. “It wasn’t like being on campus where we could just set a time to meet at Davis. We had to set a time when we weren’t watching our little siblings or helping our mom out.”

Academic Coach Marc Howlett said students can make academic coaching appointments to talk through group projects or other academic needs. 

Blanton and Academic Coaches Ashton Davis and Monica Davis devised several recommendations for students working on group projects remotely. Some of their suggestions include clearly communicating meeting times and group member roles, along with choosing someone to facilitate meetings and keep the group on track.

Alison Chau, a sophomore communications major, said she struggled to communicate with her group about an essay they were writing together. 

She said she had trouble getting in touch with her group members and was anxious when the group turned the assignment in shortly before the deadline.

“If we had regular classes, I could have been a lot more direct with them, and I could’ve said ‘Hey, I think we need to do this,’ instead of having to text them and hope they see their phone in time,” Chau said.

Jessie Gleason, a first-year biology and public policy major, has been working on a group presentation. She said communication was easier when she saw her group members regularly on campus. 

“My big advice would definitely be to set a specific time, once a week or twice a week, however often the group needs to meet to get work done, and at those meetings, make sure to assign who’s in charge of getting what done before the next time that you guys meet,” Gleason said.

Howlett said there are benefits to learning how to do remote group work, as students will be doing this type of work well beyond college. 

Blanton agreed.

“Learning how to use these tools now, even if it’s a time where we aren’t choosing to, we’re kind of forced to be able to do it — there is a gift in that,” Blanton said. “The gift is that we’re all going to count these as superpowers later when we go into careers where we need to make progress on anything.”

But for now, Blanton said it’s okay for groups to get off task, to a certain degree, and catch up on life. 

“Especially now as we’re all separated, we’re realizing how important it really is for us to connect on so many different levels about what’s going on in life,” she said.

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