Advantages and Disadvantages Working in Group - Using Computer Conferencing

By Karl Lawrence


Introduction:

Group work involves a number of persons coming together on some common ground with the same objectives and goals in mind. In my particular case, involvement in group working consist of other student members forming in to groups, to achieve more or less the same stated objectives. 

My aim here is to identify the advantages and disadvantages to working in a group/team setting. I will attempt this from my experiences in working with other student members via electronic conferencing - Open University First Class System.

Developed Experience:

The group activities consisted of creating a web site - with each member of the group contributing his (or her) own page, based on topics (these topics was inclusive to the course) of general interest. Within each group, members had to select a subject area he/she would pursue/research, but no two members, of the same group, covering the same subject area - therefore members needed to discuss and decide, as a group, the direction the group should take, in this regard.

Advantages:

The first advantage in working in a group setting is that it enables the group as a whole to be many times more productive than individuals working on their own. It allows each member to focus on the task and the problems that might arise. Receiving the individuals' contributions to both. Discussing the pros and cons of the various ideas and thoughts on the problems, and in a spirit of cooperation, elect a particular course of action, being prepared that should it not worked out as plan, to revisit, as a group, to find alternative solutions.

The second advantage is that the group can be seen as a resource, from which each member can draw or call upon. Members are working on their allotted tasks, and find they need further information or advice, or discover a easier method of approaching an aspect of their problem (but one which each member will at sometime encountered), will post a message in the conference, and members of that group, according to their experiences and knowledge, will respond, this response could be at anytime of day or night, given the medium.

The third advantage is where a member needs encouragement to put their views across. It might be 'how they feed about a particular approach' or a decision that has been implemented, how is it working from their point a view e.g. feedback. It is incumbent on each member of the group, and this must be shown to the individual concern, to have that individual playing his/her part in the overall scheme of things.

And a forth advantage is the 'manners and people management skills' that a group/team develops in order to communicate, bearing in mind the medium over which communication take place. In this particular case: electronic conferencing. Members develop, and practice, the necessary skills required for electronic conferencing. This is the Netiquette of electronic communication.

One other advantage is the speed at which a response to a query can be made - at anytime of day or night - this wouldn't be possible with the conventional method of communications.

Disadvantages:

One of the disadvantage is that a member cannot take upon an issue and pursue it, on his/her own, to its logical conclusion. The whole idea of group-work is that members consult the group as a whole, and especially when new ideas are introduce. One must be prepared to have their ideas examined and scrutinised.

Members of group, as prerequisite, must interact constantly to ensure processes, strategy and objectives are being met. It's necessary to develop interpersonal skills - in order to communicate with fellow members, within and outside the group. In the context of electronic conferencing, certain other skills are paramount: 

Reaction from members will not be instantaneous, as would if face to face or on the telephone: response might take a few minutes, a hour or days. Members has to come to terms with these new ways of working, and yet be prepared that group work by this medium still require group consensus. One cannot decide to go it alone.

It is incumbent on members to ensure that their system for communication is in working order, and regularly checks' for messages, in order to play their full part.

Conclusion:

To conclude, there are obvious advantages and disadvantages in group working using the electronic conferencing system. Members need to learn new skills to handle the new communication technology. They also need to appreciate the system has limitations and therefore embrace methods - netiquette - to bridge the gap. But the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages: one may have a conference with several other persons, who are spread out around the globe, without ever meeting these people; yet in terms of group working, still manages to accomplish their objectives. 


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