Group Work

Group work can take many forms. Pair- or group-based exercises can be used in class to deepen student understanding of material (read more here about how to structure these exercises). Commonly, instructors ask students to work in groups on graded assignments. Commonly, students say they dislike this type of group work because it doesn’t feel fair if one or more members don’t carry their weight. Students are often skeptical of group work because efforts might not be perceived as being evenly distributed to all members, which further leads to questions about grading.

Like any other skill, students may come in not knowing how to work in a group effectively and need practice. You can help students have a successful group experience by asking them to assign roles within the group (e.g., recorder, manager) that can be fixed or rotated, set deadlines for milestones (e.g., we’ll have the poster content completed by this date so we can prepare the oral presentation) and hold each other accountable (e.g., regular internal updates to track progress).

 

Assessing Group Work

Developing clear criteria and a rubric can make assessing group work easier and fairer. In addition, consider how you will grade. Will the entire group get the same grade? Is there a way to differentiate between individual contributions? How will you track them? In addition, will you assess how well the group worked together? 

Including students in the grading process can make it less fraught. As you consider how you will grade, you should determine how you will assess the group’s work toward the final product and individual contributions. Creating a reporting system can keep students accountable for their contributions and allow them to credit peers for their work. These reports can be done individually or as a group before they are submitted to you. 

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Approaches to Self-Assessment

You also may want students to reflect on their own contributions to the group product. You may have students rate themselves on relevant team-work skills such as listening to others, collaborative problem solving, and finishing individual tasks by the agreed-upon time. You could have them assess the percentage each member contributed to the finished product. These ratings could contribute directly to individuals’ grades or could be used as a way to differentiate the grades for individual students, especially if there is a conflict in reporting of contribution. For instance, Student A in a five-person group may rate themselves as having contributed fully to the project (20%) but the other members agree that Student A contributed far less, giving you evidence to downgrade Student A. 

 

Grading Methods for Group Work

Instructor Assessment of Group Product

Assessment Option
Advantages
Disadvantages
Shared Group Grade

The group submits one product and all group members receive the same grade, regardless of individual contribution.

  • encourages group work - groups sink or swim together
  • decreases likelihood of plagiarism (more likely with individual products from group work)
  • relatively straightforward method
  • individual contributions are not necessarily reflected in the marks
  • stronger students may be unfairly disadvantaged by weaker ones and vice versa
Group Average Grade

Individual submissions (allocated tasks or individual reports) are scored individually. The group members each receive the average of these individual scores.

  • may provide motivation for students to focus on both individual and group work and thereby develop in both areas
  • may be perceived as unfair by students
  • stronger students may be unfairly disadvantaged by weaker ones and vice versa
Individual Grade - Allocated task

Each student completes an allocated task that contributes to the final group product and gets the marks for that task

  • a relatively objective way of ensuring individual participation
  • may provide additional motivation to students
  • potential to reward outstanding performance
  • difficult to find tasks that are exactly equal in size/complexity
  • does not encourage the group process/collaboration
  • dependencies between tasks may slow progress of some
Individual Grade - Individual report

Each student writes and submits an individual report based on the group's work on the task/project

  • ensures individual effort
  • perceived as fair by students
  • precise manner in which individual reports should differ often very unclear to students
  • likelihood of unintentional plagiarism increased
Individual Grade - Examination

Exam questions specifically target the group projects, and can only be answered by students who have been thoroughly involved in the project

  • may increase motivation to learn from the group project including learning from the other members of the group
  • may diminish importance of group work
  • additional work for staff in designing exam questions
  • may not be effective, students may be able to answer the questions by reading the group reports

 

Student Assessment of Group Product

Assessment Option
Advantages
Disadvantages
Student distribution of pool of marks

Instructor awards a set number of scores and let the group decide how to distribute them.

Example: 4 member group
  • Product grade: 80/100.
  • 4 * 80 = 320 pts to be distributed.
  • No one student can be given less than zero or more than 100.
  • If members decide that they all contributed equally then each get 80
  • If they decided that person A deserved much more, then A might get 95, and the remaining if equal would get 75.
  • easy to implement
  • may motivate students to contribute more
  • negotiation skills become part of the learning process
  • potential to reward outstanding performance
  • may be perceived as fairer than shared or average group mark alone
  • open to subjective evaluation by friends
  • may lead to conflict
  • may foster competition and therefore be counterproductive to team work
  • students may not have the skills necessary for the required negotiation
Students allocate individual weightings

Instructor gives shared group grade & individual grade adjusted according to a peer assessment factor.

Example
  • Group Grade = 80/100
  • The individual student's peer grade ranges from .5 – 1.5, with 1 for full
  • Grade = Group grade * peer
  • Below=80 *.75 =60
  • Above=80 * 1.2 = 96

As Above

As Above

Peer Evaluation - random marker, using criteria, moderated

Assessment items are anonymously completed by students who identify whether their peer has met the assessment criteria and awards a grade.

These grades are moderated by instructor and rating sheets returned to student.

  • helps clarify criteria for assessment
  • encourages a sense of involvement and responsibility
  • assists students to develop skills in independent judgment
  • increases feedback to students
  • random allocation addresses potential friendship and other influences on assessment
  • provides experience to careers where peer judgment occurs
  • time may have to be invested in teaching students to evaluate each other
  • instructor moderation is time- consuming

*Adapted from Carnegie Mellon University. Winchester-Seeto, T. (April, 2002). Assessment of collaborative work – collaboration versus assessment. Invited paper presented at the Annual Uniserve Science Symposium, The University of Sydney