Group Work Struggles with Online Learning

Tamara Buchanan, Reporter

Many students at Novato High School have struggled with group work during the past 8 months of online instruction. During the beginning of remote learning in March of 2020, many teachers were not attempting group work or made it optional to work with peers for online assignments. However, in this current year, group work or being put into a breakout group on Zoom has been something teachers do very frequently if not daily. 

Problems often occur with online group work as some people’s internet connection isn’t as steady as others, making it hard to communicate. This creates a challenge that didn’t exist when students were sitting close to partners or group members. Students, however, have made adjustments and utilized resources to help them communicate better with online learning. 

Zoe Campa, a junior at Novato High, discussed this topic.

“Contacting people in and outside of class went pretty well,” she said. “We got everyone’s phone number and put them into a group chat where everyone responded quickly, which was nice.” 

Campa then said the group project went well but was a challenge as they were not able to meet in person and work on the project face-to-face.

“A lot of the time, we were all working separately, sometimes working on the same thing without realizing it and then hoping it would all come together in the end,” Campa added.

Working on projects in person allows students to have easier conversations about who does what roles, tasks, and duties. During online learning, with the challenges of slow internet or other interruptions, it is more difficult to have clear communication. 

While having this year primarily on Zoom, students aren’t getting that community feeling when they are working in groups. When students are present on campus, the classroom has a certain energy. Being online can create more anxiety, as turning on and off your Zoom microphone reduces the natural, open communication that would normally happen in a classroom. 

Audrey Buchanan, a junior at Novato High school, had an insightful take on the situation. 

“The community aspect wasn’t really there in my opinion,” she said. “It was like you said a couple of words then divide up and do the work and then no one talks for the remainder of the time.”

Buchanan went on to say that what she got out of the project isn’t as much as she would have gotten with in-person learning. 

“People’s cameras are on for about 50 percent of the time, and people connecting and being engaging, if you’re lucky, maybe 30 percent of the time,” she added.

This makes it difficult to work with a group when people aren’t engaging in a conversation. It’s like you’re talking to yourself most of the time and people aren’t willing to fully contribute. 

While many students are struggling with online learning and group work, teachers are also being challenged. Many students are not participating as much, not turning on cameras, or rushing the work that they turn in. Also, receiving quality group work and students inability to effectively work together is another problem teachers are facing. 

Evan Underwood-Jett, a social studies teacher at Novato High, described what goes on in his classroom in terms of group work. 

“I think that students are doing a little bit of both in breakout rooms and a lot of it depends on the students in the room. I would say the ideal is that everyone is chatting and working collaboratively, rather than independently and I see that happen a lot. I also see kids not really talking, or saying anything,” he said.

It comes down to how confident and willing the students are in each breakout group. Another struggle is that everyone’s home environment is different.  Whether it be background noises or other distractions in their home, some people may not feel comfortable sharing a view into their home life.

While remote learning has been a struggle for many students, group projects are adding to the stress for plenty of students. Perhaps group work could be optional for the students that are uncomfortable with it or maybe students could choose their groups. This may make students more comfortable and create an easier environment for people to ask questions if needed. Finding the most comfortable situation will be the key to success for many.