Group Assessment Guidelines

Preamble

These Group Assessment Guidelines are pursuant to the Faculty Assessment Policy. They should also be read in conjunction with the University’s Assessment Policy and Unit Assessment Procedures which underpin them and state the principles of assessment at Monash.

Attention is drawn specifically to Section 6 of the University Unit Assessment Procedures which address group work:

Where a unit involves group assessment, the Chief Examiner must ensure that explicit procedures are made available to students that indicate:

6.1. The proportions of the mark for the assessment that will be allocated to the outcome of the group work, and to the process followed to obtain the outcome;

6.2. How the group will be formed and managed;

6.3. How the contribution of the individual students to group work will be assessed, and who will determine the criteria to make this assessment (group, teaching staff or both);

6.4. Who will assess the contribution of the individual students (peers, teaching staff or both);

6.5. The requirements for timely notification and resolution of disputes among group members; and

6.6. The requirements for all members of the group to sign off on the submitted work.

Purpose

The Group Assessment Guidelines are designed to:

  • highlight the issues relating to the design and implementation of group work as a method of assessment;
  • provide clearer guidance to staff on best practice in the use of group work assessment;
  • provide a useful resource for the development of skills for teaching and assessing group work.

Principles

The Group Assessment principles, in addition to the University principles are as follows:

  • Design of group assessment that balances process with content;
  • Acknowledgement that the differences individuals bring to group work should lead to outcomes greater than can be achieved by individuals working alone;
  • An experience of group work which allows students to learn firsthand of its benefits and challenges and reflect on those;
  • Cognition of the need to teach students team work skills.

Group assessment design

Before setting group work, the Chief Examiner in conjunction with the Unit Coordinator/Campus Unit Coordinator (where the Chief Examiner is not also the Unit Coordinator)/Discipline Head and other members of the teaching team, needs to plan the objectives for the task in relation to the overall assessment regime for the unit.

Group work is most valuable where it is designed to achieve learning objectives relating to the development of collaborative skills and aligned with Monash Graduate Attributes. The assessment focus should be on the process of working in groups:

  • collaboration and cooperation
  • analysing the task and assigning responsibility for its components
  • leadership, teamwork, delegation and coordination
  • preparation and presentation of a report
  • setting and maintenance of deadlines for each component
  • awareness of issues that arise and techniques for managing difficulties.

Group work should not be viewed as a way of reducing the marking load. In fact, group work requires active involvement by the teaching team, particularly in terms of monitoring problems and intervening should a group become dysfunctional.

Content Learning

Assessment tasks set for groups should not focus on detailed content learning _ individual learning outcomes in relation to content are likely to vary considerably across the group and must be structured carefully to enable assessment of individual learning.

Weight of Group Assessment within a Unit

Group assessment tasks need to suit the unit’s learning objectives and teaching mode.

The development of collaborative skills can be seen as a cumulative process. Group work in first and second year units therefore needs to facilitate the acquisition and practice of skills for working in groups.

First year units – staff are encouraged to think about setting minor team-based tasks in tutorials, to empower students for undertaking formal group assessment in subsequent levels of study.

Second year units – the use of team based tasks in tutorials may be continued. Formal group work can be introduced but it should not account for a significant proportion of the unit assessment. Planning needs to take prerequisites into account – it should not be assumed that all students will have the same degree of preparation for group work assessment at this level, some may have come from backgrounds where group work is not the norm.

Third year and graduate units – more sophisticated group work assessment can be included in higher level units. Depending on the discipline, a reasonably high proportion of assessment might be academically appropriate. However, as a general rule, group work should not exceed 35% of the total assessment prescribed for a unit.

Managing Group Work

Complaints and general student dissatisfaction with group work are common. Usually, dissatisfaction is a symptom of inadequate planning or oversight. Consistent with the University’s Unit Assessment Procedures in relation to group work, it is important that group tasks are carefully planned and managed, and that students are given clear information about key aspects of the task in the Unit Guide.

The Chief Examiner needs to ensure that:

  • the objectives are clearly stated (including how they link into the unit and course graduate attributes/assurance of learning)
  • students know how the groups will be formed
  • the teaching team is trained appropriately to manage and assess the task, and to foster the development of the required skills
  • information is captured about each member’s contribution so that individual performance can be evaluated
  • problems are triggered at an early stage so that intervention can occur in time to keep the task on track.

Forming Groups

There are four main ways that groups can be formed:

Random selection: Students grouped according to a lecturer/tutor randomly determined criterion e.g. numbering, background, characteristics, names.

Self selection: Students select their own group. (This may occur with some help from teaching staff).

Lecturer selection: Lecturers/tutors select the groups based on their knowledge of the students and their abilities. The groups may also be determined by asking students to fill in questionnaires about preferred working style, linguistic proficiency, study habits etc. Student may be assigned
‘job’ titles.

Structured self selection: Lecturers/tutors facilitate group selection based on an in-class activity undertaken by the students. The activity requires students to be briefed on the project and then to progressively meet each other as they ‘sell’ the skills they would bring to the group – ‘speed-networking’.

The advantages and disadvantages of each method are outlined in the table below:

AdvantagesDisadvantages

Randomly selected by lecturer/tutor

Unbiased selection method.

Groups are responsible for the shaping of the process (as opposed to an ‘engineered’ situation where tasks may be allocated by the lecturer/tutor).

Limited effort required on the part of the lecturer/tutor to assign groups.

Challenges of the group work process can be magnified when members are also dealing with cultural and linguistic issues.

Chance plays a large part in the success or failure of the group.

Elements of skills, ability and diversity can be unbalanced across the cohort and within individual groups. The chance of achieving an even spread of abilities is highly unlikely and therefore could result in a bad group experience.

EAL1 students may be relegated to a lower status within a group based on others’ perceptions of their competence due to language or ethnicity.

In heterogeneous groups EAL students may be prevented from contributing in substantive ways. This may then result in these students becoming unwilling freeloaders.

Could take longer for the group to cohere.

Self Selected

Initial higher cohesion possibly resulting in greater productivity.

Greater ownership of group problems/conflict

Team related norms may have been established from prior classes where students have worked together.

Students often prefer to self select over any other group formation method.

Tendency toward cultural and linguistic homogeneity.

May possess an inadequate skill set across the group.

Problem of ‘leftover’ students that then have to be placed in self selected groups. Embarrassment of rejection.

Students may not know each other well enough to make an appropriate selection. EAL students may be reluctant to approach L12 students to join a group.

L1 students uncertain how to deal with EAL students, for example should they modify their language and if so, to what extent? Can result in reluctance to engage with EAL students. EAL students may be relegated to a lower status within the group.

Lecturer/tutor selected (‘engineered’)

Task or job allocation or roles can make it less likely for specific group members to ‘hide’. This highly structured approach may also help to alleviate the problem of having different skill levels within the group.

If roles are clearly defined, it can give the student some feeling of autonomy in relation to their specific role. Students are less likely to be excluded from the process.

Challenges of the group work process can be magnified when members are also dealing with cultural and linguistic issues.

Selection criteria can vary considerably from teacher to teacher. Lack of consistency.

L1s may resent being mixed with EALs.

In heterogeneous groups, EAL students may be prevented from making substantive contributions to the group. This may then result in these students becoming unwilling freeloaders.

Students may be reluctant to take ownership of the group if the group structure is imposed upon them. This may also cause them to be less engaged in the learning process.

Designing and collating questionnaires in order to assign groups is time consuming and there is little evidence as to whether this results in a better group structure.

Period of time for culturally and linguistically diverse groups to cohere may take longer than for a homogenous group.

This can cause problems when groups are placed under tight time constraints.

Structured self selection

Many of the same advantages and disadvantages of either self- select and engineered – however in addition:

Gives students a basis and criteria for their selection, particularly if they are in situations where they don’t know the other students, whilst still leaving them with the choice.

Helps develop skills and a level of maturity to realise that your friend might not be the best person to work with if you both don’t aspire to the same grade or have different levels of ability. Working with someone else is therefore an appropriate choice.

Increases awareness and knowledge of others in class, beyond the selected group.
Encourages reflection.

Formation process is linked to learning objectives/ skills.

Can increase integration of L1 and EAL students as they are chosen for a ‘reason’.

Time consuming.  However when linked to theunit objectives it is worthwhile and it can also be run as a relevant icebreaker activity.

Reliant on the students actively participating in the process.

Students can still default to their preferred norms / clusters / cohorts (or the person beside
them!)

Effectiveness is dependent on the selection criteria used.

1 English as an Additional Language
2 First language speakers (in this context, English)

Dysfunctional Groups

If a problem arises that seems insurmountable, the lecturer should have a back-up plan, such as splitting the group or specifying additional individual assessment. However, if the purpose of the group work is to develop collaborative skills, a student who is unable to perform well in the group is not displaying these skills – assigning a fail for the task is a valid option, providing the situation has been fully investigated first.

Methods for Assessing Group Work

When designing the task, the assessment methodology needs to be defined. Some of the assessment methods that can be used, either alone or in combination, include:

  • Peer assessment – the task is assessed on the basis of evaluations submitted by each student. This method is particularly useful when the learning outcomes are related to the experience of working in a team.
  • Summative assessment – on the basis of a seminar presentation and/or written report or invigilated test. This may be more appropriate for higher level units.
  • Formative assessment – assessment by the teaching team based on observation of the groups at different stages of the task.

Staff Training and Additional Resources

Training for staff to plan, manage and assess group work is essential. Chief Examiners should ensure that staff have the appropriate training and support to ensure that group work is used to enhance student learning.

The Faculty convenes a range of ongoing seminars and professional development forums to meet the training needs of staff.

Further useful resources for students and staff are available at:

Monash University Language and Learning Support Online A Guide to Groupwork

Monash University Office of the DVC (Education) Sessional Teaching Essentials Program Building Learning Groups

United Kingdom Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Group Work