Assessing Group Work in Online Courses

It’s been longer than I had intended between posts, but this is because of some changes in my professional life.  As of November 18th, I will no longer be at the University of Victoria, but will be at Camosun College (still doing similar things, and still in Victoria, just down the road a bit.)  I have, however, decided that I want to remain committed to this blog – I’ve just moved it.  The content will still be geared towards those who are new/newish to online teaching, and I still welcome comments and suggestions for topics!  So, without further ado, here is Assessing Group Work in Online Courses!

Whether you call it group work, team work, pair work, or collaborative learning, there may be times when you want your students work together in some way in your online course.  In this post, while I will touch on some of the main considerations to keep in mind when deciding to add group work to your course, the focus of this post is really around assessing group work.

Why group work?

There are many good reasons to have students work in groups, and research supports the importance of collaborative learning in fostering critical thinking.  Here are some websites that discuss the whys of group-work in depth.

Fostering successful teamwork

Whatever group activities you decide to include in your online course, you need to ensure that you provide clear guidelines for your students around why they are working in groups (including how group work can benefit them in life/work, and how the group work aligns with the course goals), as well as about how they can most effectively work in a group.  Here is a short list of sample tips to provide to your students about how to work effectively as a group:

  • Start early (note that this presumes groups have been given enough lead time to allow them to work together effectively.  This is especially important in an asynchronous learning environment.)
  • Establish an overall timeline for the activity, and come to a decision around when group members will be available to post and comment on the work being done
  • Assign roles and responsibilities
  • Determine if it will work for group members to meet synchronously (e.g., by phone, by Skype, by chat-room), and when that could work (and how)
  • Establish and “sign” an agreement for the workload and division of labour
  • Let your group know immediately if you will be unavailable for a period of time, or will be unable to meet a pre-determined deadline
  • Let your instructor know as soon as possible if someone has not turned up for group work

Here are some websites that give some insight into fostering successful teamwork online:

Ideas for group activities

There are many kinds of activities that can work well for group.  For example, giving peer feedback, collaborating on a project (case study discussion, paper submission, etc.), and preparing and giving a presentation to the main group (perhaps with a facilitated discussion).  This website has some good examples of online group activities on page 14:

Assessing group work

Regardless of what kind of group work you have in your course, you will need to figure out a way to assess it.  While grading for both process and product may require more work up-front, research and anecdotal evidence suggests that this is the best way to go.  So, here are some questions to ask yourself when working out an assessment strategy for group work:

  • Will you assess a final product as produced by individuals?  Will you give grades to individuals for specific components of a group-produced final product?
  • Will you assess a final product as created by the group?  Will you give the same grade to each person in the group?  And, if not, how will you determine individual grades?
  • Will you assess the process of how the group worked together?  Will you build in penalties for any non-participants?
  • Will you ask the students to self-assess or peer-assess the group work process?  Both?

The answers to these questions will depend on the outcome you wish the students to achieve.  For example,

  • Is the goal to have students produce a collaborative project (paper, presentation, etc.)?  If so, then assessing the final group product makes sense.  You may then want to add a peer-assessment piece whereby students “rate” each other on the way they worked in the group (i.e., did they complete tasks on time, were they regularly interacting with the group, etc.).
  • Is the goal to give students a chance to network and bounce ideas off of each other, rather than to assess them on a group-created product?  For this kind of group work, there may or may not be a formal submission required.  If there is, individual student submissions may be a good way to go.
  • Is the goal to engage students in a peer assessment activity?  In this case, there may be no reason for additional peer assessment of the group-work process, but you may wish to grade them on the quality of their peer reviews.

Rubrics for Group Work

As always, giving students clear instruction and including rubrics/grading criteria for group work activities will help avoid confusion that might arise when students are working in groups.  Here are some links to sample rubrics you may want to try (or adapt) in your own course:

Finally, here are some websites that discuss the many possibilities for assessment of group work in an online classroom:

At some point in a future post, I will talk more about group work itself, and explore what kinds of group activities work best and how they can be effectively managed.  In the meantime, I do encourage you to try a group activity in your course if you feel it’s appropriate.  And try it for more than one offering of your course.  I think you will find that, over time, the rewards it will bring to the course experience will be worth the effort.

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