Introduction Assessed group work is a prevalent feature of undergraduate courses and for Engineering is required to meet accreditation standards as defined by AHEP 3 (Engineering Council, 2014).
|Engineering Practice||Understanding of different roles within an engineering team and the ability to exercise initiative and personal responsibility, which may be as a team member or leader.|
|Additional General Skills||Exercise initiative and personal responsibility, which may be as a team member or leader|
There are further skills to be gained from group work which are valued by employers including oral communication, negotiation and other interpersonal skills. Teamwork is also representative of the way in which may students will work once they graduate since complex problems often require collaboration to solve (though it is not possible to mimic fully the hierarchy of managers and focus of business objectives). The assessment of individuals within a group can give rise to tensions between group members who are concerned more with their own mark than the output of the group, competing with one-another rather than working together for the best outcome.
The marking of group work can therefore be fraught with difficulty, especially when combined with peer review. Without peer review, students complain that others are getting away without contributing, that marks are not reflective of effort or that their grades suffer due to bad team members. On the other hand, peer review can lead to appeals from students on the grounds of bias and there are cultural considerations when it comes to asking students to judge others. Clear marking guidelines must be prepared for the students so that there is no ambiguity about how they are being assessed (Chin, 2010). Students must also have the opportunity for formative group work in order to adapt their own performance and to avoid simply splitting into individual tasks and continuing to work alone.
Types of Group Marking
If one were to brainstorm how to mark a group, there are many variations. The first consideration is whether Is the marking should be related to the group dynamics or group performance? This is the ‘product’ vs ‘process’ question. If group performance is the key, then how is the individual contribution to be evaluated? If he ability to work in a group is a learning outcome to be assessed, then how can it be measured? If the individual contributions (either to the process or the product) are being assessed, then should students write individual reports? Once the actual learning outcomes to be assessed are established, the question remains of how to allocate marks, and how the marks affect the overall grade. Should the marks be weighted around an average score or should there be a separate component of the assessment added onto the final group mark? Winchester-Seeto (Winchester-Seeto 2002) describes some potential strategies for mark allocation which are adapted and summarised here. Advantages and disadvantages for each are described but no recommendations are made.
Group work is seen to be a strong indicator of employability and therefore group exercises are a common feature of assessment centres. Kent university includes extensive advice on working in a group aimed at those about to undertake assessment centres but which is useful for this review (Woodcock 2017). Woodcock defines both exemplars for group success as well as ways to assess individual contribution to group dynamics. Woodcock’s criteria for an effective team are given in Figure 2. Some further qualification of these terms are listed below:
• Clear goals – everyone knows and understands and is committed to the goal
• Clear tasks – everyone understands what they have to do and when
• Coordinated – organised
• Balanced task vs process – what do we need to do vs how do we achieve it
• Supportive informal atmosphere – members can speak up
• Comfortable with disagreement – can successfully overcome disagreements
• Lots of discussion – full participation, everyone listens and is heard
• Feel free to criticise – positive and constructive
• Learns from experience – reviews and improves performance
Evidently, there is a mismatch between the objective of employers (to assess process and skill) and of academics (to assess output).
Even with adequate marking criteria, the scale of marks and how this links to final assessment can be unclear. The main process for arriving at a final mark seems to be by giving some weighting score as a result of the peer review whilst maintaining a group-average mark. Therefore, in order for some students to go up, others must come down. Where this would be useful in an assessment centre to compare and rank applicants, the students may end up ranking each other so that a member who would receive a high mark is another team is overshadowed in this one. There must be equity between projects so that students can be objectively marked rather than in comparison to their small-group peers.
It is suggested that students either rank participants or align the points to ‘the best’, ‘above average’, ‘average’, ‘below average’, ‘the worst’. There are social and cultural variations between how people assess on the Likert-scale.
Any recommended mark-scheme must therefore have clearly identified and meaningful criteria whilst also relating to the way that students are marked, i.e. giving a grade descriptor for each category of behaviour.
There are no strong conclusions or best practice which emerge from this review and therefore the following recommendations are based on improving the School of Engineering group marking process to incorporate the process and to achieve equity between groups by providing a robust rubric for marking.
The recommendation therefore is for a total mark consisting of three parts:
A. a mark for the output (report and presentation)
B. a mark for individual contribution consisting of key project skills and impact on group
C. a mark for group behaviour.
These rubrics should be used by all students to award marks for themselves and each other as well as reflecting on the group as a whole. Students will not give a numeric mark but tick a grade-range which is then moderated by the academic to produce the final mark for each student (B) and for the whole group (C). The academic will mark the report and presentation along with normal practice (A). There may be added value in the use of project-management tools such as Asana to monitor group dynamics and to supplement marking rubrics but this is an area for further investigation.
Despite a weighting score being common practice elsewhere, the recommendation here is that the marks for each component are simply added (with % chosen according to academic). E.g. A 60% B 20% C 20%. This is to ensure that the grade for output is not modified and instead reflects the success of the group as a whole but individual skill and contribution is recognised. It avoids situations where in order to score highly, other students must score low marks and it ensures that all students across projects are marked equally.
Winchester-Seeto, T. “Assessment of collaborative work – collaboration versus assessment”. Invited paper presented at the Annual Uniserve Science Symposium, The University of Sydney. April, 2002.
Woodcock, Brian “Team working Skills”, The University of Kent, UK URL: https://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sk/teamwork.htm [Online] accessed March 2017