Clarifying the criteria
Once group work has been selected as an appropriate teaching and learning method, a decision is required on what aspects of the group work activity will be assessed. Lecturers can assess the product of the group work, the process of group work or observing the group dynamics first hand (Nightingale et al, 1998). The product of group work might be a report, project or poster. The process of group work would include how well the students collaborated with each other.
Successful group assessment makes it clear to the students at the start of semester how group product and group process components relate to their final grade. Not all group work needs to be assessed (UTS 2001: 10). For example introductory exercises designed to build team cohesion are often introduced early in a subject to demonstrate the expectation of cooperation in groups but not given a formal grade.
On the whole lecturers already have good methods for assessing the products of group work. The same principles of fair, reliable and equitable assessment used for assessing individual assignments can be easily applied when assessing the outcomes of the group.
When the product of group work is the only element assessed, the unintended effect can be that students tend to work individually and then combine their contributions for the final mark. This discourages collaboration and with less commitment to the group outcomes some of the group members may not contribute equally to the final assignment, perhaps withholding resources from one another or complain about "free-riders" not contributing to the final product (Habeshaw, et al, 1995). Assessing the product alone also has significant consequences for learning as students rely on their recognised strengths and are only effectively assessed on a limited part of the subject's learning objectives.
If the group process will be assessed, students need to be clear about the criteria. Criteria usually refer to the evidence of learning (Brown Bull & Pendlebury, 1997). Criteria for group contributions would be decided by the lecturer, the lecturer in consultation with the student or by students. All student work at UTS is marked against the stated criteria which, needs to be provided to the students in writing within the first three weeks of the semester (R 3.1.14). However, this could indicate statements such as "criteria for assessing group contributions will be negotiated with students in week 2 of tutorials." If the students have some experience of group work, the group itself can be involved in process of setting the criteria for group participation (Brown, Race & Smith, 1996: 123)
Merely stating the assessment criteria can encourage some potential non-participants to contribute to the group work (Race, 2000). Criteria, which are too detailed can encourage low level learning outcomes as students adopt a surface approach to learning and simply check off the assessment requirements. Developing general criteria for learning about team-work is more important than developing an exhaustive list of requirements (Winter, 1995: 66). An example of these general criteria might include:
- The ability to work with other people
- The ability to motivate other people
- The ability to overcome difficulties
- The ability to generate idea
- Attendance and time-keeping
- Taking a fair share of the work
(Brown, Bull & Pendlebury, 1997: 175)