Group assignments and products

(By: Riet Martens)

These days, almost every programme includes study components where students are required, on completing the component in question, to prepare a group product. The goals of academic training now include competencies in the areas of cooperation and social communication skills. Moreover, group assignments encourage students to engage in active, self-regulated learning.

As a test format, group assignments resemble individual assignments in many ways. Additional considerations here are to ensure that individual students achieve the learning objectives, and that free-riding behaviour is avoided/detected.

We will successively address:

·

The choice of a group assignment

·

Assessment of group assignments

·

Individual performance in group assignments

·

preventing free-riding behaviour

The choice of a group assignment

The question of whether a group product is an appropriate test format is closely linked to a subject’s learning objectives (and, of course, to the programme’s goals and intended final qualifications). In many professions, the ability to work as part of a team and to jointly create a finished product is an essential aspect of the work. Students in a group situation are confronted with the views and assumptions of others, as well as with different attitudes and approaches. Developing interpersonal skills is good preparation for professional practice. These include skills such as contributing to discussions and written reports, offering balanced opinions, and dealing with resistance within the group.

Although the choice of group products should ideally be driven by the goals, certain practical considerations may also be involved, such as efficiency and cost cutting.

Assessment of group assignments

If you have opted to conclude a study unit (= subject) with a group assignment, there must be clarity about the assessment method to be used. When assessing the assignment, it is important that you get a clear understanding of each student’s individual contribution to the creation of the final product: it is an examiner’s duty to determine that the individual student has achieved the learning objectives. For students, it is important to be ‘judged’ on things that they have actually achieved. Accordingly, free-riding behaviour must be prevented, as must situations in which group members divide the work among themselves such that each is required to make minimal effort (and thereby fail to achieve all the learning objectives).

A group assessment is justified only if all members of the group make equal contributions to tasks of a similar level and degree of complexity. If this is not the case (if a group assessment does not reflect the individual performances delivered in terms of level and complexity) or if there is a risk of free riding, then one should ensure that individual performances are visible. Use is often made of intermediate solutions, involving the assessment both of group work and of individual contributions.

Individual performance in group assignments

How can you ensure that there is clarity about individual performances? As a lecturer, you are also an examiner, often also the designer of the learning environment (or group learning environment) and the supervisor of learning processes (including those involving groups). In this capacity, you can resolve many of the problems that examiner face. Conditions can be created that engender complete confidence that all participants will achieve the intended learning objectives. For instance, the group can be instructed to start by drawing up a work plan or project plan (which also provides for regular moments of reflection, evaluation and adjustment). Each individual student can be asked to keep a logbook or portfolio. Group members can (increasingly) be involved in the assessment process (peer-assessment and self-assessment), especially if the ability to organize their own personal development (based on reflection) is one of the programme’s final qualifications. Involving students in the assessment process gives them a degree of responsibility for their own learning process.

Sources:

- Bax and Perrenet (2006), Toetsen van groepsproducten (Testing group products). In: Berkel, H. van, and Bax, A. (ed.) (2006). Toetsen in het hoger onderwijs (Testing in higher education). Houten: Bohn Stafleu van Loghum,

- Hanne ten Berge; Beoordelen van groepswerk (Assessing group work), www.ivlos.uu.nl

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