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Taking on the Leadership Role in an Online Group Project

May 14, 2009

I recently began teaching an online course which has a group project as one of the assignments. I would like to talk about the leadership role in a group project and how that role can be best utilized in an online environment.

The leadership role is one of the most challenging positions in a group project assignment. The leadership duties can be spread out across the group but, someone will almost always take on the majority of the leadership role in a group project. This is often the first person that shows initiative. The leader of the group often speaks the most and sets the tone for the group. So, be sure to be positive and optimistic while meeting with the group. Studies have shown that group projects run more smoothly and receive higher grades when the leader displays a positive and energetic mood towards the group. If there is a conflict over who will take the reins of the group project, dissension within the group may develop. The group may need to vote on who will be the best group leader in order to maintain cohesiveness. Once the leader is in place there are some preparations that would need to be completed in order to help insure the best group dynamics.
One of the first steps that would need to be taken would be to determine the meeting times and methods of communication. Since the assignment is being submitted at an online College/University, it may not be possible for the members to meet in person. The best forms of communication would most likely be through a group Electronic chat room (E-chat) or an Instant Message (IM) service or through a conference phone call where all of the students can hear each other at the same time. IM services are provided through many free email services and social networking sites. There are also free online networking tools that allow you to e-chat and speak over the phone at the same time. Also, be sure that each student has a list of the group’s phone numbers and email addresses. Set up a schedule of meeting times that are the most convenient for the group as a whole. If a member can’t attend a meeting, then the leader would take the responsibility of communicating to the absent member what was discussed and to what duties may have been assigned. If the Leader is absent then, someone else in the group will need to elect to supply the information to whoever is absent.
Another important step would be for the group to break the project down into sections and assignments and then to divide up the work as equally as possible amongst the group. The tasks would be presented as a list and then the group would go through the list and discuss the most efficient course of action. It is not up to the leader to delegate the assignments. The leader should let everyone express their ideas and should try to be more of an organizer of thoughts, ideas, and responsibilities rather than telling everyone what to do. He or She may need to be assertive when it comes to getting feedback on meeting times, bringing up topics for discussion, and laying out the responsibilities of the assignment and requesting volunteers for each one.
If you take on the role as the leader of the group, it may seem unfair because you are doing more work than everyone else, but this is one of the reasons for group projects. It will help you to develop leadership skills and helps prepare you for this type of role in the work force.

Rob Stage, Internship Specialist

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