Designing formative group tasks

This is the second post in a series titled ‘All Things Group Work’. The first is here.

Feedback is often cited as a potent means of enhancing student achievement (Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Wisniewski et al., 2020). Most importantly, feedback presented to students via formative assessment serves to provide them with the means by which they can determine if they need to adjust how their learning is progressing, or to continue on their current learning path. Either way, the very nature of formative assessment being before summative assessment means the students have a chance to act on the feedback.

However, if we look at the majority of courses in higher education programmes, it appears that students completing group work assessments are rarely afforded such an opportunity. Group work is usually only available in a single assessment, and this is despite the fact that quite often the weighting of the group assessment is relatively high.

Boud and Dawson (2021) illustrate what best practice looks like in their paper “What feedback literate teachers do”, and consciously designing tasks that incorporate feedback cycles is a dominant notion. This involves using assessment, even summative, as a formative tool, by providing multiple opportunities for students to act on the feedback they receive.

The solution is to design formative group tasks in tutorials, and as part of the design, create opportunities for students to engage in peer evaluations.

Setting the scene

The first thing to do is to improve students’ group work metacognition. This will mean not only discussing the benefits of group work and how it relates to real-world industry, but helping students identify what the individual skills are that characterise group work. Group work is in fact comprised of a myriad of components, and for students to be successful, each of the components needs to be taught and practised to mastery. The images below are downloadable and can be shared with your teaching team.

Building capability

It is then time to start creating activities that provide students with the necessary skills to thrive in a group work project. Helping students understand the importance of trust and then helping them build it with those they are working with at their table in the tutorial opens the door for them to learn about effective communication skills. Also reflecting on individual differences in temperament and personality is a powerful way to help students identify areas of strength and weakness amongst a team, and also how these differences can be leveraged. Instigating an activity that resembles developing a group charter is an excellent way to highlight to students that teams operate most efficiently in real-world industry when there is organisation and agreement on specific processes. Ideally, these activities would be group activities where students role-play and act out scenarios related to each of the specific components, and experience first-hand the effects of particular behaviours, and what happens when they are adjusted.

Group member evaluation

Now that the fundamental skills of group work have been taught, you need a way to assess those skills. Group member evaluation (GME) Is a pedagogy that offers such an outcome. In this post, I discuss the benefits of using GME, which include the ability to increase validity in assigning everyone in a group the same score, and also the potential for students to learn graduate attributes and self-regulatory behaviours by reflecting on how others have perceived their group performance and behaviours.

The next step is to help students develop skills in being able to evaluate their peers in group tasks, and this will involve assisting the students to read a rubric and also write effective constructive feedback. This will be the focus of the next post.

References

Belbin, M. (1993). Team roles at work. Offord: Butterworth – Heinemann

Boud, D. & Dawson, P. (2021) What feedback literate teachers do: an empirically-derived competency framework, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2021.1910928

Chang Y, Brickman P. (2018). When Group Work Doesn’t Work: Insights from Students. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2018 Sep;17(3): ar42. doi: 10.1187/cbe.17-09-0199. PMID: 30183565; PMCID: PMC6234829.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.

McInnis, J., Devlin, M. (2002). Assessing learning in Australian Universities: Ideas, strategies and resources for quality in student assessment. Australian Universities Teaching Committee, Centre for the Study of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/assessinglearning

Wisniewski, B., Zierer, K., & Hattie, J. (2020). The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 3087.

Acknowledgements

The images were created with the assistance of Rebecca Smith at The University of Adelaide.

I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer at the University of Adelaide. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger or on LinkedIn

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