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Engagement and Collaboration MPA Online

Great Virtual Teamwork

Dora Kingsley Vertenten

By Dr. Dora Kingsley Vertenten, Professor (Teaching)

Online education is programming that the USC Price School has been perfecting for ten years. The MPA online program has been wildly enhanced by implementation of soft skills learning along with the usual critical thinking and analytic lessons for students.  Students in the MPAOL program report participating in more than 50 virtual teams while completing their degree.  Most love every minute of the professional networking, creative collaboration and structured outreach with peers and faculty. But what makes the online classroom tick when it comes to teamwork? 

In another blog posting, Know Your Team CEO, Claire Lew writes “there are two kinds of trust necessary for remote teams:  an emotional bond around good intentions and confidence that everyone is committed to doing their best work.” She offers several steps for improving team trust in this article on virtual team building.

Lew’s professional tips for virtual teams also are useful for online education. Online classrooms depend upon strong peer-to-peer engagement and collaboration as well as faculty-to-student engagement and collaboration.

Virtual team building in an online classroom starts with getting to know each other through introductions, discussion boards, and team conference calls. Before “getting down to business,” aka getting the assignment done, students should take the time to get to know each other, to share their own individual strengths and priorities.  As faculty, I try to remind everyone that figuring out what you don’t like to do and what you’re not good at doing … yet… is as important as any promise to produce work product or assumption about previous experience. 

Building trust in a virtual online classroom means being honest about your time availability and interests and sticking to your commitments and promises. As an online faculty member, my job is to model both knowing who each person is as an individual and to demonstrate a consistency of experience in our classroom for virtual teams and groupwork to flourish.

Ragupathi, K., & Lee, A. (2020). Beyond fairness and consistency in grading: The role of rubrics in higher education. In C.S. Sanger, & N.W. Gleason (Eds.), Diversity and inclusion in global higher education (pp. 73-95). Palgrave Macmillan.

Swan, K., Shea, P., Fredericksen, E., Pickett, A., Pelz, W., & Maher, G. (2000). Building knowledge building communities: Consistency, contact and communication in the virtual classroom. Journal of Educational Computing Research23(4), 359-383.