Students work on group project

Peer Assessment: Benefits of Group Work

Teaching ProfessorWith the increased use of group work in college courses, exploration of the role of peer assessment has broadened, as has its use. In one survey, 57 percent of students reported that their faculty had incorporated peer evaluations into group assignments. We’ve done articles on this topic before, but mostly we’ve highlighted resources, specifically good instruments that direct peers to provide feedback in those areas known to influence group outcomes. Recent literature includes a variety of peer assessment systems (find three examples referenced at the end of this article), many of them online programs that expedite the collection, tabulation, and distribution of the results. Here’s a list of the benefits of making peer assessment part of group learning experiences.

Peer assessment can prevent group process problems. Several studies show that it helps, and sometimes virtually solves, one of the most egregious group problems: free riding, as in students not doing their fair share of the work. One study found that the very possibility of having peer evaluations improved the performance of group members. Of course, that benefit is enhanced when peers receive feedback from each other as they are working together as opposed to when the project is finished.

Formative peer assessment also improves individual and group performance. Even if the group is not experiencing major problems, formative feedback from peers can help individual members fine-tune their contributions and help the group increase its overall effectiveness. Some of the processes faculty are using to achieve this benefit include individual and group responses to the feedback. Individual students comment on feedback from the group via an email to the teacher, and groups use the feedback to develop an improvement plan. They also make note of what the group is doing well. Online peer assessment systems make multiple exchanges of formative feedback possible, which is helpful when the groups are working on complex, course-long projects. The Brutus and Donia system resulted in measurable individual improvement during a second semester when the system was used. In other words, students took what they’d learned about their performance in the group and acted on it the following semester.

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student collaboration

Taking Collaboration Seriously

Like many professors, I use group projects in my classes. When my students work together on a project, I’m hoping they’ll be able to accomplish complex instructional tasks and support each other’s learning on the project and in the course. In my experience, I’ve found that many student groups function positively and productively, but there are always some groups that do not. In those groups infighting occurs, which negatively affects the students’ work in addition to their learning, their connection to course content, and their overall impression of the class.

Over the years, I’ve tried different ways of forming student groups. I’ve put students in groups based on their schedules, their interests, and their majors. I’ve allowed students to choose their own groups and even used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (www.myersbriggs.org) to form complimentary teams based on students’ personality types. Regardless of the system, I still have a few groups that just don’t function well. To work on this, I’ve attended different conference presentations over the last year where colleagues shared their grouping strategies. One presenter used a compatibility quiz similar to those used on online dating sites. Another described a complex online system called CATME (info.catme.org) that puts students in groups based on a series of survey responses. I was happy to discover that I wasn’t the only one interested in the best way to form groups.

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Forming and Managing Effective Team-Based Learning Teams

On the first day of class, when I'm introducing Team-Based Learning to my students, I often hear a few groans. I ask the students how many have been involved in team work or group work before. I ask the ones who have for some pros and cons. One of the most common “cons” is the problem of freeloaders in the team--students who will sit back and let the others do the work and who will receive the same grade as the rest, regardless of the effort that they have put forth.

Many students complain about the difficulty of finding time to get together with their team. That truly is a problem these days, when many of our students are working and/or have families. Unfortunately, the students who don’t have those kind of demands on their time often tend to blame the ones who do for being unable to make it to the meetings.

My students have also observed that cliques tend to form in the classroom and frequently within their team. They may have found that some students on the team are overly assertive and forceful in their opinions, while many are much less assertive and opinionated but just as likely to have correct answers.

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time to evaluate

A Solution to the Free Rider Problem in Group Activities

Group activities are an excellent way to improve student learning in an online course. But they invariably raise the free-rider problem—the student who does not contribute his or her fair share of the effort. This is particularly bothersome to students when there is one group grade for all members of a group. While there is a real-world value to giving a group grade since many activities in life are evaluated on a team basis, there is an issue of fairness in the students’ minds. This leaves the faculty member with the unenviable choice of using a group grade and having to deal with student complaints about free riders, or using an individual grade and being unable to accurately distinguish one student’s contribution from another. Kadriye O. Lewis, professor of Pediatrics at the UKMC School of Medicine, came up with a solution by creating an “Intra-Group Member Peer and Self-Evaluation” to assess individual performance.

Dr. Lewis uses a variety of small group activities in her classes that involve one or two weeks of work each, with the results posted to a discussion board area for class deliberation. Groups are scrambled every few weeks in order to give students a chance to work with others. At the end of each group activity, all group members fill out an evaluation on every other group member’s participation. Each student answers a variety of questions about the other students on a traditional Likert scale from Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree. The topics include:

  • Keeping abreast of group progress
  • Sharing ideas
  • Completing tasks on time
  • Attending meetings
  • Demonstrating respect for others
  • Contributing to group discussions

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STEM students working on a problem.

Team-Based Learning: Strategies for Getting Started [Transcript]

Making sure students come to class prepared is an ongoing challenge for all faculty members.

With the Readiness Assurance Process, Team-Based Learning (TBL) helps instructors and students alike get past this age-old obstacle. This seminar transcript delves into TBL’s problem-solving framework and discovers how you can use it to design team activities to deepen students’ problem-solving experience.

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Understanding Different Types of Group Learning

Small group learning is learning expressly designed for and carried out in pairs or a small, interactive group. Why should we use small group learning in the college setting? Small group learning provides a practical rationale. Most of us have seen the surveys of employers who are looking for a specific set of skills in their new employees, among these are teamwork, emotional intelligence, global citizenship, communication, and leadership. These are the kind of skills that small group learning can give students practice with and help them develop in.

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