Using group work in a large module for summative assessment

Instructor: James Findon, IoPPN
Module: Addressing Problems, Level 4
Assessment type: 

  • Summative group poster (semester one 35%)
  • Summative group presentation delivered in a format of the group’s choice (semester two 35%)
  • Individual reflective commentary on the group work (30%)

Why did you introduce the assessment? 

The assessment is a core part of the Addressing Problems module, which runs over two semesters. The module itself was introduced to ensure that there was a practical element which supports the learning of content in other modules. The module consists of one initial lecture and 1 hour seminars each week over both semesters leading to the final assessments.

The module learning outcomes address real world practices of working in groups and teams, being judged as a group in the world of work and being able to negotiate the rules and roles within a team.

At level 4, the majority of assessment is through exams, but the Addressing Problems module prepares students for group work and coursework that will take place in levels 5 and 6.

How did you design the assessment criteria and weighting? 

Semester 1: students produce a poster in groups to address a problem which is assigned to them. The group then presents their ideas in the form of a poster – 35% of module

Semester 2 – students form different groups to address a new problem and the group presents their ideas in a presentation format (they can use a PPT or anything else e.g. video) 35%

Students are given a group grade based on the final product which is assessed through criteria.   

Students are assigned a group grade so all students in the group obtain the same grade. However, an individual student cannot get a higher grade than their level of attendance. For example, if a group obtains a grade of 70% and one individual member’s attendance is only 60%, that individual cannot obtain higher than 60%. 

The process of group work is assessed through a reflective commentary-  30% . This is assessed through different criteria.

How did you give feedback and provide formative practice

In the week prior to the before assessment in the final session of both semesters, groups have the opportunity to present their poster/presentation to their GTA as a dry run. They obtain feedback as a group.  This opportunity is flagged at the beginning of the semester so students know how they will get feedback. Because this formative assessment is as close to the real summative assessment as possible, most students will take the opportunity because they should be close to completing the work on their presentation/poster.

The whole process is scaffolded by the GTA throughout the module, so groups get lots of help in class. The GTA can see how the groups are progressing and guide them on track.

How did you explain this to students? 

The module is designed to allow students to practically apply the content in other modules to a real-world situation. This rationale is emphasised to students throughout the course and in the Module Guide  because it is a core objective of the module. The inevitability of group work in the world of work is emphasized to students, and therefore finding ways to deal with its challenges is part of the module assessment.

Students are provided an Assessment Brief .

Students can discuss issues with the course leader and GTA at any point throughout the module. However, at the beginning of the module, students explicitly discuss in class what factors make good group work. They are told to set up a tools for communication e.g. WhatsApp and OneDrive. They allocate roles which play to individual strengths and establish a list of rules or contract for their groups.  In their individual reflective commentary, they reflect on this- what worked and didn’t, and how what they have learned can feed forward into future group work.

What benefits did you see? 

  1. Students gain confidence in groups work and the experience changes their expectations of group work. This can be seen in their experiences in future modules where group work is required and is more high-stakes.
  2. Students also gain confidence in presenting their own work to an audience through an appropriate academic discourse.
  3. Students apply content of the programme in a real way to address a real world problem. This is authentic, and the reason many students sign up to a psychology degree, so is inherently engaging.
  4. The module consistently receives good feedback and comments indicate confidence and a reduction in stress around group work.
  5. Students have to understand a range of content from other modules in order to gain a high score in this module. This allows for a wider range of skills and Learning Outcomes to be practised and assessed across the programme so combats the problems associated with modularisation where students cannot see links between content and topics.
  6. There is no real additional pressures on teacher workload as much of the preparation takes place in class and group grading reduces the need to work out individual contribution.

 What challenges did you face and how did you address them? 

Reflective writing: The module has been running for two years and it became clear that students were struggling with the reflection aspect.   

A seminar given by the GTA was introduced, which inducted students into the basics of reflective writing. Exemplars were used, so more guides and scaffolds allowed the students to understand the purpose and conventions of reflective writing.

Group work: It was noted that groups did not always come prepared with content understanding if they had not attended the lectures. In addition, groups did not always bond well initially.   

MCQ questionnaires were introduced at the beginning of each of the first five sessions in term 1. This was done individually and then again in groups through a Scratch and Solve type activity. Students have to work together immediately so this facilitates group bonding. It doesn’t contribute towards formal assessment but the best group gets a prize as a token to motivate them! The questionnaire allows the GTA to identify weak areas in content and this feeds into the future seminars.

Group work: Many students are initially anxious about group work or receiving a group grade.  

  • Attendance is mandatory and students cannot score higher on a group grade than their attendance. This alleviates some anxiety about group grading (of course MCs and illness are taken into account).
  • Because the criteria for the presentations weights content higher than the delivery, students who are anxious about presenting don’t worry so much about this affecting their grade. The group also allocates its own roles so not everyone has to present if they don’t want to; this is pre-decided and agreed upon by the groups, but anyone not presenting might take a larger role in another aspect.
  • Students don’t practice in front of other groups so feedback is not public and helps to reduce stress.
  • The GTA can see the process of the individual throughout the seminars, so if someone lies on their reflective commentary about their level of input, then they will know.
  • There are inevitably some drop-outs in the first year, which means that sometimes groups can be imbalanced by the end of the semester. However, this also happens in real life and is something for the students to reflect on.
  • In a class currently there are 100-180 (4/5 students in each group). Because of the increased intake, groups may have to increase to 6/7 next year. This is a potential challenge because smaller groups work more effectively. This will be monitored.

What are your next steps? 

For the coming academic year, a pre-semester project will be introduced to further facilitate group bonding and identify initial issues that students might have in negotiating group issues. Students spend a week in their groups to develop as psychology tour of London produce a website or brochure. This is formative and focuses on the process rather than the finished product. It is a form of diagnostic assessment to see what issues are there and groups which might need more scaffolding.

What advice would you give to colleagues who are thinking of trying group work? 

  1. Ensure plenty of guidance is given for students around group work, especially if it is being introduced at level 4.
  2. Balance group assessment with some individual summative assessment for the module. If students know they will be assessed in some way for their have individual contribution, it alleviates anxiety about group work.

A transcript is available for this video.

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