In this unit
This unit includes suggestions for assessing group work. It will focus on a number of alternative approaches for assessing student groups and will outline the advantages and disadvantages of each.
The challenge of assessing group work
After groups have completed their task (or a component of it), some form of assessment usually takes place. In most instances, this assessment results in a mark being awarded to each group member (which then makes up some proportion of the student's final grade for the subject). Despite appearing easy, assessing group work can be extremely difficult. No matter how you derive each member's mark, there will always be complaints from group members. This is because some members feel they have been disadvantaged by the efforts of their fellow group members.
How should I assess my groups?
In general, there are three different assessment systems used to allocate a mark for group work. These are: 1) individual assessment, 2) same mark allocation and 3) weighted mark allocation.
Many lecturers find it easier to assess all group members individually. Under this system, each group member is assessed on an individual piece of work. This may be a full product (eg. a paper, report) or a section of the product which each member has completed for the group assignment. In this context, groups are primarily used to pool resources together for all members to share (eg. data, literature). Groups are also used for the purposes of providing peer support and to encourage students to cooperate and communicate with each other.
Lecturers employing the individual assessment system argue that it works very well. The main benefits concerns the student's satisfaction with the system. Students are satisfied with the system because:
- there is less dependency on each other
- it is seen as fair
- there is less editing needed
- there are less disputes
- there are fewer complaints
Whilst students may be satisfied, there are critics of the individual assessment system. The main criticisms of the system are that:
- it discourages cooperative behaviour
- there is less commitment to the group
- students see little reason to meet up regularly
- the individual reports can be very similar to each other (which can raise issues about students copying each other's work)
- there is more marking
- group members can become competitive with each other and not share their resources and ideas
Same mark allocation
Another way to assess group work is to allocate the same mark to each group member. Under this system, groups are required to submit one product for assessment. The grade for this product is then awarded to each group member. The rationale behind this system is that groups should work together on all aspects of the task and should be assessed accordingly. By doing so, members learn to operate in fully interdependent groups where they will be rewarded as a collective unit.
Those using the same mark allocation system argue that it has many strengths. These include:
- There are fewer assignments to mark. This results in higher quality marking for the assignments and more feedback.
- There is increased coordination and cooperation within groups.
- There is increased interdependency in groups.
Those using the system also acknowledge that it does have problems. These include:
- Students often perceive the system as unfair (particularly if members have not contributed equally).
- There are often more disagreements and conflicts over the allocation of tasks.
- There is often too much dependency on each other.
An increasing number of lecturers are using a weighted marking system to award marks to group members. In this system, members receive a mark comprised of both a shared and individual component. Usually it is the shared component that carries more weight with the individual component acting as a supplementary mark (usually around 5-10% of the total group mark). The weighted marking system has essentially emerged in response to the growing number of complaints from students over the use of the shared marking system. It attempts to maintain the shared marking system but at the same time acknowledge that individual contributions may vary within groups. Basically, it rewards the group as a whole but also rewards each member for their individual contribution to the group.
Whilst the system attempts to acknowledge the differences in individual contribution, measuring this component can be complex. Most try to use some sort of peer assessment to derive at this individual mark. The most common procedure is for students to assess each other on one (usually contribution) or multiple criteria (eg. contribution, quality of work produced, participation in group meetings). Traditionally, this procedure is conducted at the end of the group assignment using a pen and paper questionnaire. Usually, students are required to write the names of their group members and assign a contribution mark (or marks) to each person. Each member's marks are then tallied to determine the individual's overall peer assessment mark.
In recent years, efforts have been made to improve the peer assessment procedure by helping lecturers administer and then score each member's peer assessed mark. One innovation at UTS has been the development of an online assessment tool called SparkPLUS (which stands for Self and Peer Assessment Resource Kit). This assessment tool requires students to rate each member's performance (including their own) on a number of key attributes (which can be selected by the lecturer).
Like all assessment methods, the weighted marking system has strengths and weaknesses. Its strengths are:
- It is perceived as fair by students.
- There is less free riding.
- It helps with the development of skills. If students know what aspects they are going to be peer-assessed on, they are more likely to learn these skills and enact them.
Its weaknesses are:
- They can be time consuming to administer.
- Many students end up giving everyone the same mark.
- Students are subject to intimidation. There have been cases where students stand over other members and make sure they get a good mark.
- They are open to discrimination and bias.
What percentage of the total mark should I allocate to group assignments?
According to the UTS Assessment Policy and Procedures Manual, group work should not account for more than 30% of the total assessment in a subject. However, in specific cases, this mark can vary with the written permission of the Faculty's Responsible Academic Officer (ROA).
Options to consider
- Some lecturers give groups a choice about how they want to be assessed (eg. using the same mark or the weighted mark system).
- Some lecturers are beginning to incorporate learning journals or logs as a way of attributing a group member's individual component mark in the weighted marking system (rather than using peer assessed marks). See Unit 7: Helping Students Reflect on their Group Experience for more information on the use of learning journals.
- Some lecturers find it useful to assess each group member's individual component using an oral defense system (ie. each student is interviewed about their group project, their role in this project and the contribution of the other group members). This system allows lecturers to evaluate who has done what in the group and weight the individual component accordingly.
Want to know more?
More information concerning the assessment of group work can be found here.
There are many excellent references dealing with the assessment of student-based group work. These include:
- Lejk, M., Wyvill, M., & Farrow, S. (1997). Group learning and group assessment on undergraduate computing courses in higher education in the UK: Results of a survey.Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 22(1), 81-91.
- Boud, D., Cohen, R., & Sampson, J. (1999). Peer learning and assessment.Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 24(4), 413-426.
- Goldfinch, J., & Raeside, R. (1990). Development of a peer assessment technique for obtaining individual marks on a group project. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 15(3), 210-231.
- Freeman, M., & McKenzie, J. (2001). Aligning peer assessment with peer learning for large classes: The case for an online self and peer assessment system. In. D. Boud., R. Cohen., & Sampson, J. (Eds.). Peer Learning in Higher Education: Learning from & with Each Other. Kogan Page: London.