The benefits of group work revolve around three areas. First of all, group work has the potential to improve the quality of student learning. Collaboration that takes place during group work enhances students' understanding through clarifying concepts, as well as helping students develop a sense of responsibility for their contributions. The ability to collaborate is an essential employability skill for most graduates who need to be able to work in a team effectively. Hence incorporating group work into teaching, learning and assessment helps students develop teamwork, analytical, collaborative and organisational skills, and makes assessment seem more authentic by mirroring the workplace environment. At the same time group work can also be beneficial for the lecturer as it has the potential to streamline assessment and feedback workload.

Despite all the benefits there are also potential problems that affect student satisfaction and their perception of the fairness of group work. Some common problems include:

  • Variety in degree of engagement of different group members due to lack of belief in the usefulness and appropriateness of group work especially as an assessment method
  • While marking and feedback might be quick, the preparation for successful group work may take time
  • Social and personal differences between group members may make communication difficult
  • Assessment criteria might favour product over process or vice versa
  • Assessing individual contributions might affect fairness, especially when there is lack of clarity how group and individual marks will be calculated

Aspects to consider when assessing group work

There are a lot of decisions that have to be made in relation to assessing group work. Some questions to ask include:

  • Are you assessing process, product or both?

There is a belief that the best option is to focus on assessing both the process and the product as this eliminates issues with unequal distribution of work. In this case, the meaning of 'process', and what it entails, needs to be explicitly explained to the students. Also a decision as to what proportion of the grade is going to be allocated to the process and the product needs to be made and communicated clearly.

  • What criteria are you going to use and who will develop them?

The transparency of marking criteria is very important for successful group work. The marking criteria can be set by the lecturer, can come from the students or can be a mix of both. Developing the criteria together is very beneficial as it contributes to a better understanding of expectations. It is best to develop criteria for process and product separately. While coming up with assessment criteria for the product is relatively easy, as it resembles the process followed for individual assignments, assessing the process might be more problematic. You might wish to consider the process in terms of the degree of contribution. You can consider contribution in terms of attendance of group meetings, evidence of cooperation, task and time management, personal reflection or responsiveness to feedback.

  • Who assesses the work?

The work can be assessed by the lecturers, students or lecturers and students. Peer marking is quite often used in group projects and can be a valuable experience. For more information go to Peer assessment part of the hub.

  • Who gets the mark  

The last thing to consider is whether you will be allocating a group mark or an individual mark, or perhaps an average of both. Allocating an individual mark is fairer in the eyes of the students, that is on condition that the criteria for grading the process are established.

Whatever decisions are made they have to be clearly communicated to the student. Quite often dissatisfaction with group work stems from lack of communication between the students and teacher.

An example of a detailed rubric for assessing group work can be found here. Examples of group project assessment tools can be found here. All of these resources were produced by Carnegie Mellon University.