Assigning individual marks for groupwork

Assigning individual marks for groupwork

How can I assign individual marks for groupwork?

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

  • Individual assessments (based on groupwork & self assessment)
  • Peer assessments

Individual assessments

Particularly suitable for: Assignments with high weighting/small-medium sized cohorts

Pro:

  • High validity/ Low risk of cheating

Cons:

  • Requires additional marking from educators, thus may not be suitable for large cohorts

There are multiple variations of this approach. An ‘individual’ task could 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
  • a self-assessment and evidence, e.g. a portfolio of student contribution
  • any other individual task that a convenor finds suitable.
How 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). In case of ‘self-assessments’ it may be a good idea to get the group to endorse individual members’ portfolios before submission, as 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.

Getting valid results

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

Peer assessments

Particularly suitable for: large cohorts/ assignments with medium-small weighting

Pro:

  • Limited additional marking, thus suitable for classes of ANY sizes
  • Developing critical evaluation skills in student

Con:  

  • Several validity risks that need to be mitigated

While educators need to assess the quality of the  ‘group product’, individual group members are in the best position to assess each other’s contributions. The final mark, therefore, 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:

  1. It develops skills important for students’ future careers by encouraging students to think critically about groupwork.
  2. It requires limited marking from academics.
How 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.

Getting valid results

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

  • anonymity of markers (particularly for the 1st and 2nd year of undergraduate students who may have limited experience with groupwork)
  • an overall mark rather than multiple marks based on criteria, especially for students less experienced with groupwork.
  • explicit training before groupwork.

Specifically, studies reveal 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.

Practical takeaways:

  • Peer assessments are suitable for cohorts of any size (including large cohorts), but need to be mitigated for risks
  • When an assignment has high weighting (e.g. more than 30%), it may be best to choose an individual task that requires marking from educators
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