Evaluating Individual Contributions to Group Assignments

Instructional designer Debbie Morrison has an interesting piece discussing different strategies for how your students might evaluate one another upon the conclusion of a group project. While the article focuses on peer evaluation strategies for online learning, everything in the discussion is equally applicable to face-to-face teaching.

The author concludes that the existence of a peer evaluation is rarely a motivating factor for quality participation. However, peer evaluations do a serve a purpose in providing an opportunity for group members to express their dissatisfaction with other students in the group. The piece then addresses how instructors might handle the negative comments that students might make about other group members.

Her preferred strategy for assessing individual contributions to group projects? Self-evaluations:

I believe the learner will benefit far more by completing a self evaluation (that is well crafted to include focused self reflection questions) that forces him or her, to examine how he or she contributed [or did not] to the group process. The tool also encourages the student to consider actions that he or she demonstrated to support the team and to estimate what percentage of the work he or she contributed to the project.  ‘Forcing’ the individual student to assess their own behaviour, as opposed to others is more constructive – it supports the aim of developing collaboration skills, along with the knowledge component.

What do you think? Did you use peer- or self-evaluations for group assignments this semester? Were you happy with the feedback your students provided?

Mixing it up

We’re past mid-terms, but not yet into the final stretch. This is the time in the semester when the work can pile on and things can start to feel monotonous – for both instructors and students. Here are a few ways to vary the learning experience.

First, check out the Pikme iphone app. This is a free app that will help insure that you are calling on your face-to-face students equitably. It will randomly select students from a list, using all names once before it repeats any.

Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center has a nice review of the app:

To set up the app, enter a name for a course or group in one of the five available positions. Then tap the class name and enter student names. There’s no way to import a list, but you can attach a photo to each student.

To use the app, select a class to bring up the student list and then shake the phone. It will randomly pick a student without repeating from the list. Unfortunately, there’s no way to adjust this to, say, allow you to call on a student twice before repeating the list, so the farther down the roll you go, the less surprised people are going to be.

You have the option to rate student responses on a three-point scale and store the ratings. Later on you can view a student’s average rating, see the total number of questions asked and reset the ratings. There’s no way to see an entire class’ ratings at once – you have to go student-by-student.

The review does note that the app does require a lot of clicks to get things done, so do consider that. You can also find another review of the app at ProfHacker.  Something else about the app? It was written by an engineering professor and two of his students. Talk about useful, applied learning!


Second, what about doing some different in-class activities to help students with their presentations and papers?

Presentation-wise, here’s a great small-group set-up to help students practice their presentations. The article doesn’t specifically mention technology, but you could encourage students to practice with PowerPoint, web videos, or other technology they plan on using. Students could then get some feedback not only about their content and speaking style, but also about how their use of technology was helping (or hurting) their ability to communicate with the audience. In fact, if one had enough resources, the instructor could even get video coverage of each of the four corners, so that students could also review their own practice presentations.

Paper-wise, here’s an efficient workshop set-up to help students with a portion of their final papers. I like that the workshop is narrowly focused (say, on only the introduction or conclusion of a student’s paper) and that the writer has the opportunity to hear from many different readers. A second appealing point is the direction to only give the writer “one specific piece of advice” about improving the paper. In fact, since our student writers often make many of the same mistakes, I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be possible to create some kind of shared class list of all the feedback (while simultaneously retaining the connection between the feedback and the paper). Twitter? Something within one’s course shell? A Google spreadsheet? The goal would be for students to benefit both from the comments aimed specifically at their papers, and for them to have access to the whole-class suggestion list. Do you have any thoughts on the most efficient and accessible way to make this happen?