Virtual Teams In Higher Education: The Light And Dark Side

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Lynn Grinnell
Amy Sauers
Frank Appunn
Larry Mack


Distance Education, Online Learning, Higher Education, Educational Technology, Teaching Methods & Styles, Research & Development, Teams, Virtual Teamwork, Leadership, Trust, Qualitative Research


Students and faculty are grappling with learning teams in the online environment - more than half of all higher education organizations offer online courses (Hoffman, 2006). As online course developers try to replicate the best practices of traditional classrooms, the asynchronous technology of the Internet has added great capability while also increasing the confusion that distance in space and time can add to the learning process.

This study conducted a qualitative survey of online learning teams using content analysis by three researchers and grounded theory by the fourth researcher. Analysis of the rich text responses prompted the researchers to propose a model for online team development that reflected the functionality or dysfunctionality of teams. Key influences related to the internal or external locus of control of conscientious students. Key findings include strong connections between conscientiousness and attitude towards teamwork on the input side with satisfaction and trust for outcomes. Unlike other research, these online teams linked performance not to pedagogy, but conscientiousness, attitude towards teamwork, and trust. Technology did not hinder performance, suggesting that the new generation of learners is more comfortable with online interactions. The study detected a new factor, team leadership, as a core issue limiting learning and success within teams.


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