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Accountable group work

A group of students working on a project Photo courtesy of University of Wolverhampton

For most of my academic career I loathed group work. I often found myself doing the majority of the work and receiving the same grade as my teammates who contributed nothing. There was little individual accountability during and after assignments, and the process became frustrating. It wasn’t until my third year of undergraduate studies that peer evaluations became a consistent part of the grading process, making the process much more collaborative and enjoyable.

I understand that assessing group work can be a difficult endeavour. Grading an assignment itself is relatively straightforward process, but the next step—converting group performance into individual grades—is a bit more complex. This step is necessary to ensure grades are fair and representative, and best left to the students themselves to measure.

Requiring students to submit self and peer-assessments is a great motivator. It is also significantly easier for instructors to determine each individual’s actual contribution with several evaluations in hand. Providing students with a peer-assessment rubric, like this one from Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center, holds students to account while also providing insights into both project contribution as well as more interpersonal skills such as:

  • Group participation
  • Time management and responsibility
  • Adaptability
  • Creativity/Originality
  • Communication skills
  • General team skills
  • Technical skills

While these assessments generally motivate each student to pull their own weight, it is not a guarantee. Some students will still continue to slack off, and while they will receive an appropriate grade afterwards, the rest of the group suffers throughout the assignment. To get a better understanding of how teams are functioning in real-time, and to intervene before a group reaches a crisis, many courses require students to provide weekly updates through short surveys or blog posts.

There is no avoiding group work, but there are opportunities to make it a more enjoyable and equitable experience. Having team members hold themselves, and their colleagues, to account fosters strong collaborative skills that will serve them for the rest of their academic and professional careers.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and marketing strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also a part-time faculty member at Centennial College and serves on the board of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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