Despite the many changes Miami University students and professors have made inside the classroom because of COVID-19, group work has remained. Both students and faculty have faced hurdles when it comes to working collaboratively, but there may be benefits as well.
Sophomore Megan Rastrelli is an adolescence and young adulthood math major with a minor in management. Rastrelli said that although she has been able to complete some of her group work in person, she has also utilized Zoom, which comes with both benefits and disadvantages.
“It's easier to be organized and be looking at the same thing [on Zoom], but it's definitely not the same as working on the project in person,” Rastrelli said. “I think there are some types of just natural chemistry when you're working with a group where your ideas just bounce off each other so much easier.”
Despite the pros and cons of completing group work virtually, Rastrelli said she particularly enjoys completing it during the pandemic because it gives her a chance to form relationships with her classmates.
“I can confidently say I've made a few friends,” Rastrelli said. “If I didn't have group work, that wouldn't be the case.”
Political science professor Monica Schneider has assigned group work in multiple classes this semester. Schneider said some of her students had expressed that they wanted to interact with other people, which encouraged her to assign group work.
“I wanted to set it up so that students could be working in smaller teams and to feel part of a group, which I think everybody's really craving right now,” Schneider said.
Schneider said the biggest complaint she has received from students concerning group work has to do with their dependence on team members and what time they normally complete assignments.
“Particular group members will be frustrated because they might be want[ing] to do the assignment early, but not everyone has posted, so they can't respond until other people post,” Schneider said.
Shae Mooney, a sophomore speech pathology major, said that, although she appreciates certain elements of virtual group work, she believes it could be overwhelming to some students.
“I just feel like it's added stress and added anxiety that you don't need especially because we really can't meet,” Mooney said. “It's not like we can even talk about [our project] after class, and it makes it difficult.”
Even with the challenges of group work, Mooney said she thinks it should still be assigned but at less frequent rates.
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“It's a good skill to have, to be able to work with people that aren't in the same place as you, especially for jobs like collaborating with people,” Mooney said. “But like when it's a couple of group projects a week, it could be a lot, like it can get tiring,”
Skip Benamati is a professor and chair in the information systems and analytics department at Miami. Benamati said learning to collaborate virtually could be particularly helpful to specific groups of students.
“In their future careers, business students are going to do a lot of work virtually. So they're getting experience doing that,” Benamati said. “I think that's going to help them a lot when they get out into the real world when they graduate and start their careers.”
When it comes to completing group work in person, Benamati said he has experienced difficulties. He said students can no longer gather around tables to collaborate, so he tried to put students in virtual meeting groups in person, but microphone feedback became an issue.
“The group work in class has been very difficult,” Benamati said. “I still haven't figured out how to do that well.”
Schneider said the Center for Teaching Excellence has been a good resource for her this semester, as it has conducted seminars that taught professors how to do group work online.
“That did influence how I created those projects and the kinds of things that I did in order to facilitate team comradery,” Schneider said.
Even with the challenges of this semester, Schneider said the quality of her students’ work has been excellent and that she has been impressed with how Miami students have handled themselves.
“I have seen a lot of participation and a lot of really excellent work,” Schneider said, “and I'm really very proud of my students.”