Group work: how do you evaluate it?

Think thoroughly about how to evaluate group work as the evaluation method strongly determines how the group functions. Determine in advance what you are evalutating. Determine who evaluates and make sure that the evaluation is valid, reliable and transparent. 

What do you evaluate in group work? 

Determine, as concretely as possible, what aspects you take into account in the assessment based on the objective(s) you have proposed for the assignment. (Click here to read more about the preparation of group work.) The following aspects may be part of the assessment: 

  • the group’s end product: format (e.g., a report, poster, oral presentation...) and content 
  • the task process: means the way in which the work was accomplished, the working method, the road map and planning  (e.g., by asking the students to draw up ‘a plan of action') 
  • the group process: the agreements, the division of tasks, the division of roles, the meeting techniques... (e.g., by having students keep a logbook) 
  • attitude: giving constructive feedback to each other, being open to criticism, the sense of initiative, the degree of influence on group decisions... (e.g., on the basis of  observations) 
  • individual input by each group member: input in the end product as well as the group processes (e.g., by having students write an individual report)   
  • personal development: progress of the individual students during the assignment 
  • reflection skills: quality of the students’ reflection on their own functioning or the functioning of the group 

Was one of your goals to teach students how to work together? Then it makes sense, amongst other things, to include the group process in the assessment. Do you want to teach students to speak in front of a group? Then assess the group’s presentation. The presentation can then be considered as (a part of) the group’s end product. 

Who evaluates group work? 

The assessment can be carried out by one, but preferably several people, who may or may not be involved in designing and/or supervising the group work. If possible, keep the roles of assessor and supervisor separate

The lecturer 

If you evaluate the group work as a lecturer, the literature recommends not to act as a supervisor at the same time, as this may lead to confusion. Are you a supervisor and an evaluator simultaneously (which often occurs in practice)? By working with concrete evaluation criteria or with multiple evaluators (who mark the same group work independently), you increase the reliability of the evaluation. 

External parties such as companies or a panel of professional experts 

External assessors can provide great added value. However, make sure the external assessment is in line with the objectives and standard of the programme and your course unit. As a lecturer, you remain ultimately responsible for determining the final mark and you need to be able to justify it (see also: test principle 15). 

(Fellow) students 

It is very instructive for students to assess themselves. De English term for this is self-assessment. Through self-assessment, students learn to be critical of themselves and their delivered work, and they learn to reflect on their own strengths and working points. Moreover, by allowing students to test their own work against clearly defined academic standards or criteria, they will also get a better handle on those criteria. Therefore, self-assessment can be used for different aspects of the assess. Let students evaluate themselves in terms of the group product, the task or group process, their own attitude, their personal development, etc. However, it is not advisable to use self-assessment as a source for summative evaluation (i.e., an evaluation with marks). That is not so reliable. Use self-assessment as a source for formative evaluation (i.e., not with marks, but as feedback for your own learning process). 

Peer assessment also takes the opinion of fellow students into account. In doing so, group members evaluate each other on matters such as the attitudes or individual input of the other members. Peer assessment in group work: 

  • increases the awareness and responsibility for the own learning process by: 
    • giving feedback to and receiving feedback from others. 
    • gaining insight into evaluation criteria and academic standards. 
    • receiving critical insight through the work of others. 
  • ensures additional (interim) feedback, in addition to the feedback students receive from lecturers. 
  • makes the group process more visible and therefore possibly open for discussion. 
  • enables an individualised evaluation within the group work (versus the same mark for all the group members). 

Similar principles apply in a peer review. Students also evaluate each other, but the difference is that the fellow students come from outside their own group to evaluate the product of other groups. Think of oral presentations in which a group presents their product and all other fellow students rate the presentation as a ‘critical mass’ (e.g., by using a rubric). As with peer assessments, peer reviews increase the students’ awareness and responsibility for their own learning process. The students also receive additional (interim) feedback. Click here to read more about peer assessment, peer review and peer feedback

How do you carry out a high-quality evaluation of group work? 

A high-quality evaluation meets three criteria  (cf. test policy UGent): 

  • validity: the evaluation measures exactly what you want to test. In group work, you measure the extent to which students have achieved the objectives you have set for the assignment. 
  • reliability: are the results fair and not due to coincidence or measureming errors? 
  • transparency:  are the rules clear? 

 

More tips for reaching a valid, reliable and transparent judgment of group work are: 

Create concrete evaluation criteria 

Once you have determined which aspects of the group work you will evaluate, you determine the evaluation criteria for those aspects. Are you rating the content of the group product? Then structure and coherence can be an evaluation criterion. Are you judging the task process? Then the setting or meeting of interim deadlines can be an evaluation criterion. And so on. The higher the standard you expect from your students, the 'stricter' the criteria will be. Make a list of criteria and hand it out to the students. That's how they know on what basis you will rate them. Or go one step further and draw up the list with the students. 

Use a rubric to rate complex aspects, such as individual attitudes in the group process, efficiently and reliably. A rubric is also an excellent tool for students to assess themselves or fellow students. Rubrics are divided into several evaluation criteria. For each evaluation criterion, different performance levels with corresponding scores are distinguished and described extensively. Because these different levels are described in terms of observable behaviour, it is easier for evaluators to determine what a score of 1, 2, 3, etc. exactly means. Below is a part of a rubric as an example. It was designed for the course unit 'Planning and development of interventions' at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. (Read more about rubrics here.) 

 

Evaluation criteria  1 2 3 4 5
Involvement  The student disturbs the group with irrelevant matters and is not involved in the thinking process.  The student is not involved in the task and provides no input.  The student thinks along, is involved and follows the thinking process, but the input is not always relevant.  The student thinks along, is involved, follows the thinking process and brings up relevant matters.  The student thinks along, is involved, follows the thinking process and has a creative, innovative, relevant input. 
Group process  The student takes a dominant position in the group and leaves no room for discussion with others, which affects the group dynamic negatively.  The student’s participation in the discussions is limited or non-existent. The student has a passive attitude.  The student participates in the discussions and knows how to defend his or her opinion. However, sometimes the student lacks the courage to that.  The student participates in the discussions, knows how to defend his or her opinion and sometimes brings new ideas to the group.  The student participates in the discussions, knows how to defend his or her opinion, brings new ideas to the group and manages to integrate the ideas of others into the collective idea. 
Assertiveness  The student is too critical, constantly interrupts the group with discussions about irrelevant matters and has a negative attitude towards the work of others.  The student is not critical, follows the group blindly and does not stand up for his or her own opinion. The student adopts a passive attitude.  The student has a (healthy) critical-constructive attitude but sometimes struggles to express and defend his or her opinion. The problems raised are relevant.  The student has a (healthy) critical-constructive attitude, raises relevant problems, dares to express and defend his or her opinion. The student has a (healthy) critical-constructive attitude, raises relevant problems, dares to express and defend his or her opinion and is able to complement other group members when justified. 

 

Inform students about the evaluation procedure 

Indicate when and which documents and products you expect from each group and each individual student. Also, explain how you will calculate the mark for the team. Will you give a group mark where each group member gets the same score? Or is the group mark only a basis which can be adapted to an individual mark – students are asking for this – based on, for example, observations by the supervisor, peer assessment, individual interrogation of the student about the group work or individual contributions/products? Finally, also indicate what is being evaluated and which criteria will be used: will only the group product or also the group or task processes or even the reflection be assessed?  

Also, remember to clearly state on the course sheet which evaluation method is being used,  for example, a project and peer assessment. Please also mention the calculation of the end-of-term and continuous assessments, for example, the written exam is worth 15 and the group work after peer assessment is worth 5 marks. (Here you can find more information about how to complete course sheets.) Always mention on the course sheet that you as lecturer-in-charge remain ultimately responsible for the final mark for the group work (see also: UGent test principle 15). For example, if necessary, you may deviate from the mark given by others (e.g., fellow students or external companies) or from the proposed calculation key (e.g., if, according to this key, each group member receives the same score). As a lecturer, always ensure you can justify the final grade. 

How do you grade group work efficiently? 

Although there is no miracle cure to avoid the intensive work that is required to check and supervise group work, you will find below a few (modest) tips.  

  • Reduce, where possible, the size of the documentation produced by the students.  Collect the information needed for the final evaluation, but do not allow the students to fill pages with irrelevant information. Omit subtasks that are not strictly necessary or limit them in size. Clearly indicate what information you expect from the students and provide guidelines regarding the size of their documents
  • Teach students how to structure their group work and how to word information clearly. Consider giving a template to the students. Another option is asking students to write a table of contents (on, for example, an A4) and only allowing them to continue the group work once you’ve checked and approved it. 
  • In the preparation and guidance of the group work, pay attention to the quality you expect from the group work. Make sure that intermediate products, although not complete, are only handed in by students once they are carefully prepared. If necessary, return careless work that is below standard to the students without feedback and ask them to review it. 
  • As an evaluator, consider what is easiest: tasks on paper or electronic. It is easier to automate the submission and processing of electronic documents than hard copies. In addition, electronic availability makes it possible to manipulate the material with particular software (search function, tracked changes, etc.) and it can be shared more easily with different evaluators. Hard-copy documents, on the other hand, are often more enjoyable to read and to make notes on. 
  • Marking is easier and faster when the evaluators clearly know what to pay attention to. Therefore, develop clear evaluation criteria, marking instructions and scoring rules for the evaluators.

Want to know more? 

  • Read the full collection of Evaluate associated with the Basic Teacher Training and that includes tips for exams with open-ended and closed-ended (multiple-choice) questions, open-book exams, oral exams, group work and internships.  
  • Read the sources on which this education tip is based. 
    • Anseel, F., Beirens, K., & Feys, M. (2010). Effectief communiceren en samenwerken. Academia Press. 
    • Buchholz, S., Roth, T., & Hess, K. M. (1987). Creating the high performance team. John Wiley & Sons Inc. 
    • Fontaine, J. (2006). Gesprekstechnieken en toegepaste groepsdynamica: Methodologie van groepsoverleg en groepsdynamica. Mondelinge communicatietechnieken. Academia Press. 
    • Mckeachie, W.J., & Svinicki, M. (2011). Mckeachie’s Teaching Tips. Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. 
    • van Berkel, H., & Bax, A. (2002), Toetsen in het hoger onderwijs. Houten/Diegem: Bohn Stafleu Van Loghum. 

UGent Practices

Last modified April 1, 2021, 1:20 p.m.