4 Assessment

4.1 Methods of assessment

The advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to group assessment are discussed in Race (2000). The argument for using group work in assessment is that it will reward achievements that are not adequately recognised in individual forms of assessment (for example, in contributions to joint presentations, social skills in group membership and reflection on peer activity). Presentations of group work give good opportunities for the assessment of oral skills, which are particularly important for employability.

Oral assessment does, however, create problems in terms of the time taken up by requiring an audience (typically of students and staff) and assessment reliability (Adnett, 2000). The first of these problems might be addressed by making the critical review of peers' presentations also part of the assessment process. Students will learn more from the contributions of others if they feel motivated to engage critically with the content of what is being presented. The second problem may be addressed through sharing criteria for the oral assessment with the students in advance of the presentation (Davies, 2000).

A form of assessment, relevant for group work and with direct applicability to concepts of deeper learning, is the reflective log or report (see section 5.3 for further reading). There is no single convention about log structure. As with other written submissions, the criteria for assessment should be devised as appropriate to the aims of the work. Given the less common nature of this type of assessment and the variety of possible objectives, it is critical that the assessment criteria are made clear to students. Reflective logs can be used for purposes including:

  • assessment of other group members by the use of a standardised peer assessment format;
  • self-assessment, where students evaluate their own performance against targets;
  • tutor assessment of the depth of understanding and involvement of the student (Habeshaw et al. (1993, p. 85) remind us that criteria can include 'originality, commitment, skills of observation, analysis and synthesis, sensitivity, self-knowledge etc.');
  • providing a back-up to other assessment systems (that is, in cases of dispute or ambiguity, the log can be used as a supportive document).

4.2 Peer- and self-assessment

Peer- and self-assessment have substantial advantages (see section 5.4 for further reading) and these are summarised by Race (2001):

  • Students are already self-assessing and peer assessing quite naturally.
  • Tutor assessment is not sufficiently valid, reliable or transparent.
  • Peer- and self-assessment deepen students' learning experiences.
  • They let students into the assessment culture.
  • They help students towards becoming autonomous learners.
  • They help students develop skills relating to life-long learning.
  • They help students to gain much more feedback than would otherwise be possible.
  • Some of the drudgery can be saved by peer assessment.
  • Self-assessment gets students to reflect on their own work, and can open up productive student-tutor dialogues.
  • Students' performance in traditional assessments is enhanced.

A number of appropriate peer- and self-assessment checklists are included in Jaques (2000). One of these lists concentrates on students' skills in organising their learning:

  • Contribution to group discussion.
  • Carries out instructions and degree of supervision needed.
  • Works easily with others.
  • Response to criticism.
  • Polite with colleagues.
  • Ability to organise own work.
  • Ability to supervise others' work.
  • Speed of recognising essentials.
  • Adaptability to new situations.
  • Efficiency at solving problems.

A mark of 1-5 is applied on a scale that goes from a very positive assessment of their colleagues' ability to a very negative assessment.

Instead of checklists completed by all students, we can opt for forms that are completed by the project group leaders. Elliott (2001) adopts this method in a group project for first-year business economics, with statements being made about the work of each group member.

The argument for self- and peer assessment is not one-sided. There are dangers of student bias that need to be allowed for. Typically, bias may arise from:

  • reticence about providing negative information on fellow students;
  • reluctance to cover a full spectrum of marks, with realistic maxima and minima;
  • collusion that disadvantages some individuals;
  • reluctance to fail a student.

Design options to counter such bias include:

  • initial discussion, input and commitment by students to assessment programme;
  • checking uniformity of student opinion (e.g. individual questionnaires);
  • observing anonymity in assessment (e.g. questionnaires completed in class);
  • a clear procedure for arbitration on disputed assessments;
  • a procedure for investigation of student participation (e.g. vivas, log books and exams).

4.3 Allocating marks in group assessments

An elementary marking scheme, often appropriate for small-scale group work in a controlled environment, has the mark for the group output being allocated equally. Where we wish to encourage and reward task- or process-related activities, individual members can receive different marks. For example, for additive and conjunctive tasks each member's individual work might be identified and graded. For any format of task, individuals may also be graded on various performance criteria. Where there is an overall group mark and these individual grades, we have the choice of adopting an additive or multiplicative model.

With an additive system, the marks for the individuals' performance are added to the group mark. For example, a group report may be marked out of 80 per cent and each individual's contribution out of 20 per cent is then added. Alternatively, the individual's performance may be marked on the basis of penalty points. A group report can be marked out of 100 per cent and the individual's contribution results in deductions starting at 0 per cent for wholly exceptional, -5 per cent for very good, etc. With a multiplicative model, the mark for the group task is adjusted by a weighting given to the individual assessment. Numerous variations are possible, and one way of avoiding the 'grade inflation' endemic with such a system is that the average student in the individual assessment gets the group mark. Those better than average get a percentage above the group mark, and those below average get a percentage below the group mark.

To emphasise the importance of the group work, it is usual to weight it more heavily than the individual mark: for example, 70:30. A group mark can be awarded that the group must then divide amongst themselves. If the scheme works correctly, they will divide the mark between themselves according to their in-depth knowledge of their relative contributions. Back-up procedures in case of non-agreement need to be available.

Consensus over performance assessment is not always achieved and it is important to have agreed arbitration procedures. A University of Nottingham case study in the LTSN Engineering Work Group Report (2002) illustrates the type of flexibility needed. Student groups were asked to reflect on each member's contribution and indicate any mark redistribution they felt appropriate. However, 'if agreement could not be reached then an individual (confidential) peer assessment form was sent to each group member and a peer assessment adjudication constructed by the module staff.'