Providing opportunities for working in a group is one of the key principles of the Block. Engaging in cooperative learning, rather than competitive or individualistic, mirrors what students are likely to encounter in many organisations.

Group collaboration also exposes students to a variety of perspectives and diverse group dynamics while clarifying their own ideas; it is a powerful foundation for promoting critical thinking.

 Osteopathy students working together in simulation lab.

Designing group assessment tasks

The fundamentals

It is important to design multi-faceted tasks that cannot be completed by an individual. Tasks should require students to interact with each other, developing reliance on inter-dependence for success.

Assessing the process encourages students to contribute appropriately and to pay attention to the way their group works. It also helps to resolve potential conflict.

You can assess the following processes:

  • group roles and responsibilities, including the balance of contributions
  • negotiation and leadership skills
  • conflict management and resolution
  • reflective listening
  • response to feedback from group members
  • organisation and time management.

Structure the group work so that students submit several items at milestone points, and require students to identify each student's contribution so that problems can be addressed in a timely way. Consider allocating marks to both individuals and groups and, for example, incorporating peer and/or self-assessment. Refer to your Design Team for advice on appropriate tools to support this.

Groups can be randomly assigned, self-selected or assigned by the tutor.

If students are forming their own groups, think about why this is consistent with the intent of your assessment task. Note that if students are early in their course of study, they may be more comfortable sharing in a self-selected group, when they feel that their group will not be making judgments about their lack of knowledge.

Alternatively, you may want to purposefully assign students to groups to take advantage of particular attributes of working in a group, e.g. give students opportunities to exhibit leadership and take on different roles, or take advantage of the diversity of knowledge backgrounds that the students have. You may also want students to work on giving and receiving feedback - this can be easier when students are less familiar with each other. Working in purposefully contrived groups emulates how students are likely to operate in a workplace.

Specify the size of groups, taking into account the nature of the task. Small groups find it easier to coordinate their efforts, but may struggle with excessive workload and lack of varied viewpoints. Larger groups can theoretically accomplish larger and more complex projects. There are no firm rules; somewhere between 3 and 5 is considered best.

Building teamwork skills in class

While most students have worked on group projects before, don't assume they have effective teamwork skills. Students need to learn how to work with others to do things they might only know how to do individually and also how to handle issues that only arise in groups. Include in-class activities in your lesson plans to build group cohesion and allocate time in class for the group to progress the task and manage the group process.

Consider incorporating activities mid-way through an assessment which provide opportunities for groups to give feedback to other groups and extend these activities to a whole-of-class discussion.

You will need to provide scaffolding so groups will be effective. This involves facilitating the groups to develop rules and procedures for dealing with problems as they arise and agreeing how these will be resolved, especially ensuring each individual's accountability.

Tips

  1. Spend time explaining why you are using group work and addressing any student concerns.
  2. Allocate time in class for students to work on tasks, including:
    • forming groups, allocating roles and developing rules
    • reviewing assessment criteria
    • discussing and elaborating on ideas
    • organising and managing the project
    • reflecting on the experience
    • assessing group effectiveness
    • monitoring progress.
  1. Have a plan for dealing with problems that groups can't resolve.
  2. Make use of electronic tools to support groups outside of class.

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