Collaborative group work is common at UTS because it benefits student learning. When groups work well, students learn more and produce higher quality learning outcomes.
Reviews of student feedback demonstrate that many students benefit from learning in groups as long as the groups are well managed and there are clear and fair assessment requirements. In a group assignment the students want a system that gives them every opportunity to receive a high grade that also reflects the level of contribution made by individual students.
Addressing these three aspects of assessing group assignments can reduce the students' concerns:
- helping students understand the criteria for the group product and processes,
- informing them how you intend to measure individual contributions to the group,
- informing them how you allocate the grades between individuals in the group.
Clarifying the criteria
Once group work has been selected as an appropriate teaching and learning method, a decision is required on what aspects of the group work activity will be assessed. Lecturers can assess the product of the group work, the process of group work or observing the group dynamics first hand (Nightingale et al, 1998). The product of group work might be a report, project or poster. The process of group work would include how well the students collaborated with each other.
Successful group assessment makes it clear to the students at the start of semester how group product and group process components relate to their final grade. Not all group work needs to be assessed (UTS 2001: 10). For example introductory exercises designed to build team cohesion are often introduced early in a subject to demonstrate the expectation of cooperation in groups but not given a formal grade.
On the whole lecturers already have good methods for assessing the products of group work. The same principles of fair, reliable and equitable assessment used for assessing individual assignments can be easily applied when assessing the outcomes of the group.
When the product of group work is the only element assessed, the unintended effect can be that students tend to work individually and then combine their contributions for the final mark. This discourages collaboration and with less commitment to the group outcomes some of the group members may not contribute equally to the final assignment, perhaps withholding resources from one another or complain about "free-riders" not contributing to the final product (Habeshaw, et al, 1995). Assessing the product alone also has significant consequences for learning as students rely on their recognised strengths and are only effectively assessed on a limited part of the subject's learning objectives.
If the group process will be assessed, students need to be clear about the criteria. Criteria usually refer to the evidence of learning (Brown Bull & Pendlebury, 1997). Criteria for group contributions would be decided by the lecturer, the lecturer in consultation with the student or by students. All student work at UTS is marked against the stated criteria which, needs to be provided to the students in writing within the first three weeks of the semester (R 3.1.14). However, this could indicate statements such as "criteria for assessing group contributions will be negotiated with students in week 2 of tutorials." If the students have some experience of group work, the group itself can be involved in process of setting the criteria for group participation (Brown, Race & Smith, 1996: 123)
Merely stating the assessment criteria can encourage some potential non-participants to contribute to the group work (Race, 2000). Criteria, which are too detailed can encourage low level learning outcomes as students adopt a surface approach to learning and simply check off the assessment requirements. Developing general criteria for learning about team-work is more important than developing an exhaustive list of requirements (Winter, 1995: 66). An example of these general criteria might include:
- The ability to work with other people
- The ability to motivate other people
- The ability to overcome difficulties
- The ability to generate idea
- Attendance and time-keeping
- Taking a fair share of the work
(Brown, Bull & Pendlebury, 1997: 175)
If learning about team processes is one of the critical aims of the group assignments it will need to be monitored and assessed. Once evidence on the final outcomes of the group work has been collected, marks need to be allocated to individual students. By far the most common approach for allocating marks is to provide a single mark to all the members of a group. The lecturer would only adjust the mark on a case-by-case basis should a major problem in the group process become evident. This is a widely used method but leads to considerable dissatisfaction if students feel that marks do not fairly reflect individual contribution.
Another popular method is a combination of group and individual activities. Students receive marks awarded for a series of individual tasks that are combined with a single group mark from the group component. Gibbs (1992) cautions that any averaging of assessment items needs to be undertaken in a way that does not to bias any single task by providing it with a disproportionate weighting in relation to the other tasks. A variation on this method is to assign specific roles in the group such as coordinator, time keeper or note-taker and provide an individual mark for these roles.
Lejk & Wyvill (1996) outline nine methods of deriving individual grades from group assessments. Most involve the students deciding on how a single group mark is to be redistributed among the other group members. As a result of the reallocation some students will receive a final score above or below the group average based on the students' assessment of each other's performance. Two widely used schemes are Divided Group Marks and Peer Assessment Factors.
Divided Group Mark
Habeshaw (1993) suggests a scheme in which the students distribute the total pool of marks between themselves. The group mark is multiplied by the number of students in the group to provide a pool of marks to be redistributed. Students can either allocate individual marks from the pool or allocate percentages based on performance in agreed criteria. In the second case an average of the student's combined marks normally becomes their final grade.
Peer Assessment Factor
Goldfinch (1994) presents a widely used scheme for determining the individual's effort in comparison with other members of the group. It forms the basis for the SPARK web-based program developed at UTS described in greater detail in the IML Assessment Guide 1.3 . To calculate the final mark a single group mark is given by a lecturer is manipulated to derive an individual mark by multiplying a peer assessment factor with the group mark. The peer assessment factor is a confidential score nominated anonymously by each of the other group members.
The peer assessment score is arrived at by each member of the group scoring the other members against agreed criteria using a scale of 1 to 3, with 3 representing a contribution that is better than the others in the group, while 1 is a contribution that is less than the others in the group. Goldfinch includes a 0 score for no help at all in that particular criterion and a -1 score for a hindrance to the group.
The sum of each individual peer assessment score gives an individual total that is divided by the average peer assessment mark for the group. The final peer assessment factor is derived from the peer assessment score and the percent of an individual's mark taken from the group mark.
Gibbs (1992) provides a variation of peer assessment factor in which all students receive the average group score plus a peer allocated score. Each student receives an above average (+1 or +2) or below average (-1 or -2) score nominated by the other group members added to the group average. The only condition is that the average of the moderated mark must be the same as the group mark.
Suggestions for assessing group assignments
The average quality of the final submissions may be significantly higher in well functioning teams but simply giving all students the same mark may reward students who contribute the least. Students want a fair and reliable method of attaining their marks and need to be assured that their contribution to both groups' outcomes and processes are important. A second guide on group work provides advice on assigning individual grades.
To ensure fair group assessment lecturers at UTS who assess students in groups suggest the following:
- Assess a number of smaller items along the way to ensure that the groups are functioning appropriately and have established effective group processes
- Make a distinction between the product and process of group work
- Group work is best suited to projects that are too large for any one student to complete alone
- Where process is assessed, focus on the different roles students took in the groups