On Distance Learning and Group Work

Having finished the first year of my MSc feeling like I had just about got a grip on distance learning, I began my second year feeling fairly confident. However that confidence quickly faded when our first assignment was handed out; we would have to work in teams to produce a Service Development Plan for a fictional county in England that was merging its school and public library services. The topic of the assignment didn’t bother me so much; I had every confidence that our tutor would cover everything we needed to know to successfully write the report, but I have to admit I was quite nervous about the team aspect. We had participated in some informal team work in our first year, but never in a situation where our grades actually depended on our ability to work together.

Now that I am a couple of months into the semester, and the assignment is due in about a month, I can say that, although it has been challenging at times, I’m actually glad that this assignment requires group work. From the initial communications with my team it quickly emerged that everyone had the same hang-ups and preconceived notions about working in a group. Mainly, most members of the team (myself included) didn’t like the idea of having to work to others’ deadlines and not having the freedom of working right up until the last minute. However, I feel like once it emerged that we were all thinking these same things, the group dynamic was more relaxed. Working in a team on an assignment has forced me to take a different, more organised approach to my work than if I was doing it individually. I have to be accountable to the rest of my team and explain my thinking for why I’m taking a certain approach. It requires more planning and foresight than I would normally do, and I think that can only be a good thing!

Its always going to be difficult working with a group that you never actually get to meet; working together through online chat, message board posts and Google Drive will never have the same, natural flow of getting together and discussing things face to face. Additionally, different timezones mean there are problems with finding a time to ‘meet’ that works for everyone, or getting a timely response to an urgent question. But I think we have handled these challenges quite well and it has certainly given me a new perspective on not only team working but ways in which to approach individual assignments, too.