The Value of Technology Tools in Team Projects

By Watkins, Ryan | Distance Learning, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Value of Technology Tools in Team Projects


Watkins, Ryan, Distance Learning


Learning activities that make use of small groups and teams are now common in many e-learning courses and environments. From college courses on science or engineering to training programs on computer security or leadership, many instructors value the dynamic roles that cooperative groups can add to student learning. By engaging learners in case studies, team exercises, role playing, or other group activities both online and face-to-face, courses can diversify and expand the learning experience.

Instructors are, however, often hesitant to capitalize on the communication technologies that learners are using in their everyday lives, technologies such as cell phones, instant messages, the Internet, and Blackberry devices, to enhance the group experience. Although these technologies have dramatically changed how learners communicate with one another outside the classroom, most courses continue to rely only on conventional class sessions and small group meetings for the interaction of cooperative learning teams.

By integrating a variety of technologies (e.g., e-mail, shared calendars, chat rooms) into the group activities and assignments of both online and face-to-face courses, instructors can guide learners in the effective use of technology for enhancing team learning. The introduction of these technologies can also provide learners with many valuable skills they can apply in work environments where cooperative teams are often utilized.

Below are eight examples of how technologies can be integrated into group assignments and activities:

1. Instant messages to discuss project tasks and timelines;

2. E-mail attachments for sharing draft project documents;

3. Shared online calendars for setting project timelines;

4. Track-changes feature in Microsoft Word to gather feedback from group members;

5. Chat rooms in Blackboard or WebCT to have "real-time" discussions with group members;

6. YahooGroups to maintain shared files and communications within a small group;

7. Cell phones to have conference calls with multiple team members; or

8. Desktop video-conferences to communicate with off-campus learners.

Commonly, the results of introducing elearning technologies to the small group and team activities and assignments within a course is the natural transition of the learners away from a reliance on face-toface meetings to the more flexible use of technology to support the development of team projects. Making use of the technologies that they regularly use outside of the classroom, learners will often value the opportunity to apply technology to their efforts in college courses or training programs. From e-mailing team members about project guidelines to using YahooGroups to maintain shared files within a small group, the applications of technology to cooperative group projects is almost limitless; and with effective guidance, learners can build the necessary interpersonal and technical skills to effectively use these technologies to support their learning.

For instance, learners can improve their online communication skill when submitting to a chat room or discussion board (or sending a e-mail, instant message, or text message) by applying the following guidelines:

* Review every message you intend to send out before hitting the "submit" or "send" button.

* Don't try to be clever with your language; your goal should be clear and concise communications.

* Use spelling and grammar checkers available in most software applications. If necessary, cut-and-paste the message into your word processing program to make use of its spelling and grammar checker before sending the message.

* Important information should be near the top of the message, not somewhere down in the fifth or sixth paragraph.

* Review the To:, Cc:, and Bcc: list of recipients before sending an e-mail.

* Within the text of the message, ask the recipient questions to verify that they are clear about the content of your message (for example, "does that make sense to you? …

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