Group assessment can be valuable to cultivating both subject-specific knowledge and skills and transferable skills. It should be seen as an ongoing assessment rather than a single mark coming out of a ‘black box’ of group work.
- Ensure that you are clear on the expected learning outcomes from the group assessment, both in terms of subject knowledge/skills and transferable skills; this will help to avoid over-complicating the practical aspects of group work.
- Where possible, choose group projects that will be useful to people outside the group, e.g. other students on the module or students who will be taking the module in future; researchers in the field; or even students or practitioners outside the University.
- Ongoing formative and summative assessment throughout the project will encourage the groups to stay on track and will help to avoid workload skewing toward one or two members.
- Multiple forms of assessment at the end of the project will give a more complete picture of if and how the learning outcomes were achieved.
Best Practice Tips
- Consider whether the learning outcomes are best served by allowing students to choose their own groups or by splitting them up randomly (or according to a rationale that you devise). Keep in mind that outside activities (sport, work, volunteering, etc.) will have an effect on whether a group can work together, so in either case you may wish to either devote in-class time to the project (e.g. using the Flipped classroom model) or factor this in when students choose or are put in groups.
- Consider allowing students to choose a topic rather than choosing group members, so that group members are brought together by a shared interest. This may lead to the time issues mentioned above, but will help students to remain engaged with a topic in which they are interested.
Recording group progress
As group projects are typically extended pieces of work that involve a complex number of activities, simply looking at the end product gives an incomplete picture of the success/failure of the assessment as a group effort. In many cases, this also does not reflect how groups operate in the workplace. Some ways to record and monitor group progress throughout are:
- Group blog/shared workspace/journal: the group records their progress at intervals that you determine. This could be left open-ended or could involve templates that the group must complete. This is ideally done online so that the lecturer can monitor group progress when convenient to them, and can comment or give feedback.
- Individual blog/workspace/journal: this has benefits as listed above, and also allows individuals to reflect on their personal learning, record what they have done individually, and vent frustrations.
- Check-in points: a more formal way of achieving the above is to set several deadlines for pieces of the project to be completed, or for summatively assessed updates to be fed back to the lecturer (depending on the nature of the project). This helps students stay on track and flags up any issues early on.
Assessing group work
- Work can be assessed in a combination of different ways, including peer assessment (using online tools to help), group presentations, group outputs and individual reflections.
Managing conflict and disengagement
- Set clear ground rules and expectations so that group members know what to do if there are disagreements in the group and official processes for managing them.
- Consider how final group marks can be allocated to ensure that there are no free riders.
Hmelo-Silver CE. The international handbook of collaborative learning. Hmelo-Silver CE, editor. New York: Routledge; 2013.
Mazur E (2013) Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual. Second Edition. Pearson. ISBN 978-1292039701