Group work and Peer Evaluation
There certainly are benefits to students’ learning through social interaction and there has been a strong employability argument about the need to develop the portfolio of skills necessary to successfully work as a member of a team; there have also been pragmatic, logistical reasons, as student numbers have risen disproportionately with staffing. Group work has the potential measurably to improve student engagement, performance, marks and retention and usually succeeds in achieving this potential provided that there are associated assessment mechanisms that leverage appropriate student learning behaviour (Jaques, 2000). In the absence of such assessment mechanisms these benefits may not materialise. Allocating a single group mark to all members of a group rarely leads to appropriate student learning behaviour, frequently leads to freeloading, and so the potential learning benefits of group work are likely to be lost. In fact the assessment of group work is arguably one of the biggest sources of student dissatisfaction, largely because it is often perceived as unfair. Houldsworth and Matthews (Houldsworth & Matthews, 2000) also describe a ‘sucker effect’ in which the most hardworking student gradually reduces their effort in order to avoid being taken advantage of by the freeloaders.
The literature provides numerous examples of group work assessment (Gibbs, 2004). In the aforementioned group poster assessment, a version of the “Knickrehm method” (Maranto & Gresham, 1998) was utilised. The lecturer makes an expert academic judgement about the quality of the product (i.e. in this case the screencast) while the students peer review the quality or quantity of various types of contribution to that product.
Collating these student peer evaluations can dramatically increase the work load for the lecturer. The automation of this process through the use of technology is the key to minimising the workload for the lecturer. Following the presentation of the screen casts students were required to complete an on-line survey, using a “form” created through “Google docs”. The on-line survey allowed students to confidentially evaluate their peers contribution to the group project, using pre-defined criteria based on group assessment criteria offered by Bloxham & Boyd (Bloxham & Boyd, 2007). These peer evaluation marks are available to the lecturer as a excel spreadsheet through google docs, saving a considerable amount of administration time. These marks were accumulated and in this case represented 50% of the total grade of the assignment with the remaining 50% awarded by the lecturer. Research is ongoing within this area, examining the impact on student learning and also looking at alternative technologies like, CATME, a free-to-use web-based survey (www.catme.org) that was developed to enable self- and peer-evaluation of individual contribution to group work.