Group and collaborative learning
Australian universities confer degrees for individual performance. Collaborative learning unsettles traditional answers to questions such as: When is collaboration cheating? How much does a student own the output of her team? Can individual grades accurately reflect a students’ ability to collaborate?
The 5 essential elements of mental wellbeing discussed in Day 1 of our Fostering Student Wellbeing course also underpin assessment design. Groupwork aligns neatly here as it can enable positive relationships and create a sense of belonging – although this can be contrary to what students may expect beforehand.
Direct instruction and/or providing students with resources on effective groupwork can be beneficial e.g. see Working in Groups guide from Griffith University.
However, things can go wrong for students in groups – e.g. they make a mistake in front of peers, display ignorance or a commit a social faux pas, or post inappropriate comment in a forum. This can lead to an embarrassing situation relayed rapidly through social media, and potentially harm the reputation of individuals or the group.
Key strategies to support students wellbeing:
- Create an environment of psychological safety (see Day 2 of this course for a refresher)
- Be clear with expectations around privacy and confidentiality
Quality of group assessment
Both students and teachers may resist group assessment for similar reasons.
We assess in order to evaluate programs, target help for students who need it, give students feedback on strategy and performance, and to justify a credential for each student. For these purposes, assessment of group learning requires some adjustment to concepts of quality.
Reliability. Repeatability becomes less important than adaptability: teams should improve over time.
Validity. Objective procedures or products tell us less about authentic collaboration than shared understanding revealed in interactions.
Equity. Instead of uniform tasks, fair collaboration has individual, relational tasks. Even so, individual performance may be legitimately concealed by good teamwork.
Achievability. Difficulty may depend on unforeseeable logistic factors, so good teams scan for risks, make contingency plans, and need scope to modify their tasks.
Mark allocation can incentivise different strategic behaviours, for instance:
- The expectation of equal grades helps to foster trust-building and generous collaboration.
- Individual assessment tends to promote competitivity, information-hoarding and contestation. However, it can reduce student anxiety about the academic risk and stress of dealing with “social loafing”.
- Weighting grades with peer-ratings, via tools such as WebPA, SparkPlus, or CATME, absolves teachers and promotes mutual accountability within the team.
A smorgasboard of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) assessment models
Each team-member privately posts a reflection about the team progress and function, including an emoji or simple mood-rating. Statistical exceptions (such as severe disparity within a team, lack of variation over time, abrupt unified change, unhappiest teams) highlight a possible need for team mentoring.
Gallery / portfolio
Each group curates a collection of digital works, and each student comments and/or rates items or collections displayed by another group.
Individuals complete a 5 minute quiz based on weekly pre-reading, then together with their assigned team in tutorial time, with the highest performing team winning a monetary prize. Quiz scores regularly show that a team is better than every member individually.
🛠 Online quiz
Weighted marking system [Video] [Dr K Wiley, UTS]
During and following a team project, each student answers a questionnaire about their team and peers’ behaviour, then receives a chart of ratings and anonymised comments for themselves and the team. The team discusses the feedback, and a tutor may assist. At the conclusion, the raw grade earned by the team’s product is automatically weighted according to the peer ratings.
Peer-contributed question bank[Dr Paul Denny, Auckland]
Students create topical multiple-choice questions, and answer and discuss questions created by their peers. The final exam includes a selection of high-quality questions, advantaging students who have already answered many of the contributed questions.
Students edit a wiki-style knowledgebase for their group, and tutors may review and annotate wiki pages to provide guidance and stimulus. Individual participation can be identified in page history.
🛠 OU Wiki
Calibrated peer review
Students practice grading sample works until their assessment is accurate, then grade and write feedback on peers’ submissions, and receive aggregated anonymous feedback from peers.
In the Techlauncher program at ANU, students self-organise multiskilled teams to tackle industry-linked projects. Tutorials and audits provide regular formative assessment and feedback in an Action Learning Cycle.
🛠 Everything! Students select or create the tools they need to develop a solution for a client.
Competitive performance teams
Each team prepares knowledge, strategy and skills in advance of a competition before an audience of peers and expert judges. Examples include Law mooting competitions and Mock Trials, STEM Olympiads
🛠 Video journal
Students can love or hate their group experiences. A sense of agency is a big part of fostering a positive group experience. We must also ensure that the collaboration is going to be worthwhile for students, and that the rationale and expectations are explicit.
We can show respect for the students by considering their efforts involved in forming and maintaining groups, and offer them support throughout that process.
Groupwork leverages our social and emotional abilities to extend our cognitive reach. Working in groups can be a profound learning experience for both students and teachers, especially if well designed, well coordinated and well supported throughout the process.
- What is your preferred method of assessing collaborative learning or group work?
- How have you managed any challenging situations that have emerged with groups?
- Groupwork – when to use, benefits, challenges, strategies and more: https://teaching.unsw.edu.au/group-work
- Challenges of groupwork and strategies: https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/challenges.html
- Facilitating and monitoring groupwork: https://teaching.unsw.edu.au/facilitating-and-monitoring-group-work
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