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Assessment: Planning and implementing group work

Student roles in group projects

Group dynamics are essential to the success of group projects. Time needs to be allocated to selecting groups, helping students to choose roles within groups, and helping students manage conflict.

  1. Depending on the project, 3-5 students per group is shown to be an effective number (Fay, 2000; Wheelan, 2009), allowing for diverse perspectives, communication work, productivity, and cohesion.
  2. Groups selected with instructor’s informed input tend to outperform randomly or self-selected groups (Michaelson, Watson, & Black, 1989). Keep in mind that unfamiliar teams can lead to the most growth in terms of group-based skills. Students can be agents in the process by requesting teammates that meet agreed-upon criteria: mix of genders, ages, cultures, etc. A ‘speed-interview’ mingler can be used for students to identify prospective teammates and their skill sets (Spring, no date).
  3. A team contract or charter, developed with student contributions, can pre-empt conflicts within the group and increase cohesion and commitment from the start of a project. Common items to agree on are a team name, communication methods, deadlines, meeting days/times, roles, and conflict resolution steps (Spring, no date).
    (Sample) Team Charter from School of Business. An effective team charter example used in the School of Business at Camosun College.
  4. Assigning roles and responsibilities to group members can enhance productivity and cohesion. Examples of roles include organizer, observer, facilitator, researcher, writer, and editor (Chao & Pardy, no date). Assigning roles and their duties can also reduce the number of ‘free-riders’ or ‘lone wolves’ who feel disconnected from the group’s work. A variety of survey tools exist that identify individuals’ personality profiles and group-related skills. These include the University of Kent’s Teamwork Skills Quiz or Helen Fisher’s Personality Profile survey. The team contract can include provisions for revisiting team roles as a project proceeds. These tools can also be used before teams are selected to identify good mixes and make-ups.

Implementing group-based assessments

  1. Build in time to prepare students to work as a team.  Students at first may be apprehensive about group work so it is important to set the right tone from the beginning.  Since team skills are needed in any discipline, relating the group project to their future careers can be beneficial, such as discussing together important team skills needed for their future success and reviewing recent job descriptions in which these skills are identified. Discussing their concerns upfront is also advisable.  What does a good team look like? What are some problems they have experienced in teams? What have been your personal experiences?  Having an open discussion and brainstorming together how to ensure the group work is positive sets the stage for strong communication, collaboration, and planning. 
  2. Setting expectations – the use of a team charter.  Clear and agreed upon expectations upfront helps to ensure group success.  Unequal distribution of work, poor communication, and interpersonal conflicts are common causes of team strife.  Research supports having the teams develop a team charter that outlines expectations for them working effectively as a team and lays the ground rules that they will follow.   Consider having the team charter be a marked assignment so that students take it seriously and invest the time in discussing important issues up front.  
  3. Allocating class time. Allocating class time to work on the group project, ideally each week, allows the groups to meet at a convenient time and for you to monitor their progress and provide guidance as needed. 
  4. Transparent Assessment.  It is important that students know how they will be assessed ahead of time.  Research also recommends that the assessment tool, such as a rubric, be developed with student input so that they are not only aware of how they will be assessed but are actively involved in it as part of their active learning.  See the section on Assessing Group Work
  5. Consider the use of supportive technology. D2L, Blackboard Collaborate and Microsoft Teams are all Camosun-supported technology that can help assist in the formation, development, and success of teams.   Check out the eLearning resources and support.  

Associated resources

  1. Innovative Ways to Prevent Conflict in Student Groups.
    Do your…group projects frequently result with unmanageable student conflict? Have you already tried consequence-oriented strategies (e.g., group grade, peer evaluations to reduce grades, threats to fire a group member or professor intervention) without success? Consider these preventative strategies…”