Giving individual marks for groupwork: 4 practical ideas

One of the changes introduced by Macquarie’s new Assessment Policy is assigning at least 50% of groupwork for individual contributions. In other words, students who do groupwork need to get different marks.

This change is motivated by research that shows that giving students the same mark for groupwork considerably increases freeloading.

It also encourages some hard-working students to gradually withdraw their efforts as they do not want to be taken advantage of. More about research findings on groupwork here.

HOW CAN WE ASSIGN INDIVIDUAL MARKS FOR GROUPWORK? 

Literature offers different scenarios for assigning individual marks, but most of them can be broadly categorised as:

groupwork updated

APPROACH 1: GROUP MEMBERS ASSESS PEER CONTRIBUTIONS

The idea behind this approach is that students’ final marks can be comprised of: (i) a ‘product mark’ given to the whole group by a tutor/convenor and (ii) a ‘process mark’ from peers. The exact ratio of product/process mark can be determined by a convenor or negotiated with students.

This approach has two key advantages: (i) it develops skills important for students’ future careers by encouraging students to think critically about groupwork (ii) it requires limited marking from academics.

 toolsHow can it work?

Students are invited to assess their peers’ contribution to groupwork. For example, students can assess their peers based on ‘a fair share’, e.g. ‘did (more/less than) a fair share’ and assigning marks to it. A ‘fair share’ is given a certain number of marks, for example 100, and students can give their peers any number below or above 100 (85, 130, etc). In addition, students should be asked to justify their marks.

shieldGetting valid results

Three elements seem to be critical for the validity of these marks:

  • anonymity of markers
  • an overall mark rather than multiple marks based on criteria, especially for less experienced with groupwork students and
  • explicit training before groupwork.

Specifically, studies report that students assign more valid marks if their identity is kept anonymous from those they mark (but not from the convenor). Being anonymous from peers can help some students to be more honest in their assessment.

There is also evidence that students may cope better with one overall mark rather than ‘criteria-based’ marks. This is particularly true for those students who may not have had much peer assessment practice in the past.

Finally, research suggests that there needs to be considerable communication and training prior to groupwork around fairness and reliability of assigning marks. The lack of such communication can lead to unreliable results and ‘student pacts’ where they assign each other the same marks.

There is an additional risk with contribution assessment. Literature suggests that more dominant group members sometimes manipulate allocation of tasks to improve their grades at the expense of less aggressive group members.

A good practice to address the above issues is using ‘interim’ peer evaluation (e.g. mid-project survey) that can include explicit questions about freeloading and unfair task allocation.

APPROACH 2: STUDENTS SELF-ASSESS

This approach encourages students to keep logs/portfolios of their contributions, and submit these ‘portfolios’ for assessment.

toolsHow can it work?

Students compile a file where they describe their contribution and provide evidence (e.g. screenshots, images, etc). This file can be submitted via Turnitin (or any other submission method).

shieldGetting valid results

Research suggests that high-achieving students tend to underestimate and under-represent their contribution to the group, while lower-achieving students tend to over-estimate and over-represent their contributions. It may therefore be a good idea to get the group to endorse individual members’ portfolios before submission.

APPROACH 3: INDIVIDUAL ASSIGNMENTS BASED ON GROUPWORK 

There are multiple variations of this approach. An ‘individual’ task can be:

  • an extension of the activity that students conducted (e.g. a new scenario),
  • an analysis of the groupwork (e.g. analyse methodological issues or a difficult problem that the group faced),
  • a reflection on what students have learnt or would do differently or
  • any other individual task that a convenor finds suitable.

toolsHow can it work?

The process can be similar to any individual assignment, for example, students can be asked to submit their work via Turnitin (or any other submission method).

shieldGetting valid results

It is important that the task requires students to draw on their groupwork experience (rather than general knowledge).

APPROACH 4: USING ‘TRACKABLE’ SOFTWARE

Students are asked to conduct and/or document all their groupwork via a trackable software, such as wiki.

toolsHow can it work?

Students use a wiki as their main ‘workstation’. The convenor can access reports of different students’ contributions via ‘Statistics’ and ‘History’ functions .

shieldGetting valid results

The marker needs to analyse the quality and not the quantity of contributions, as there may be a temptation for students to make minor changes to the wiki and write information-light posts in order to increase their contribution statistics. There is also risk in not documenting some of the ‘face-to-face’ discussions.

summarySUMMARY

Getting students to assess the extent of each other’s contributions to groupwork may be the most sustainable method of giving individual marks for large cohorts, as it requires limited additional marking.

Teaching staff also can also use a variety of other methods, such as adding additional tasks or requiring students to collect evidence of their contributions/learning.

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