Where is my group member?

How many times have you been asked this by students who have been assigned groups/teams for your class? In the face-to-face class this can happen, but in the online environment it can be even more challenging.

You’ve done a very thorough job setting up the groups, providing a first discussion that requires members to discuss how they will communicate, set deadlines, “meet”, and work through challenges such as late work and non-responsive group members.  However, there is still problems with group members not responding to their group mates.

Here are a few strategies that you might try to help the process along, without ‘doing in for them’.

  • Add the “The Survivor Clause” in your syllabus (Bond, 2012). This clause allows group members to vote out their non-responsive group member with instructor approval.
  • Create a group contract.  The very first group assignment should be the group contract, which would focus on all the details that a group needs to address to be successful. Group members should negotiate how they will communicate, “meet” on a regular basis, meet deadlines, and how they will address a “group breakdown” should a group member not come through with their obligation.
  • Create group roles. For example, a group leader that rotates each week (alphabetical by last name) so that each student has the opportunity to be in a lead role. Suggest a back-up plan if the group leader fails to take the lead, i.e.: a hand-off to the next group member alphabetically.
  • Instructor presence. Post in each of the groups’ discussion forums the first week to let them know you are ‘there’. After that, lurk, but don’t stifle conversation.
  • Set posts to automatically send emails.  If possible, the group discussion forum should be set to automatically send out an email to all group members each time someone posts. This helps encourage participation as students realize activity is going on in their group.
  • Encourage competition. Some friendly ‘competition’ between teams could be a motivator. Think of a group activity activity that could be designed as a competition and encourage students in a competitive manner.
  • Recognize exemplary work. Summarize the weekly activities, particularly the group ones, in an email or post to the class.  Point out exemplary work by groups as a way to encourage all students.
  • Give it reason and value. Remind student the purpose behind group work. Out in the “real world” work is most often done in groups and not always with your friends (Taylor 2011). Group work is not essential, but it is valuable when you combine multiple perspectives.
  • Create a Tips List for Successful Groups.
  • Build in individual accountability. This can be designed in a variety of ways. Some ideas include: partial credit given individually and group, a group member “rating card” submitted by the group leader each week indicating group member contribution, individual quizzes, etc.


Bond, Torria. Where’s Waldo: The Missing Group Member. July 2012.

Best Practices for Designing Group Projects. Carnegie Melon 2013.

Taylor, A. (2011). Top 10 reasons students dislike working in groups … and why I do it anyway. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 39 (2), 219-220.