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Assessment for learning: Designing meaningful group (team) work experiences

This is the fifth post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018.

Throughout my undergraduate degree, I rarely had opportunities to engage in group work or even interact with my peers, besides the occasional in-class discussion. However, friends of mine in other fields of study did have such opportunities … and I frequently heard complaints from them about the assessment of group work. They sometimes described the experience as purposeless – there was nothing about the assignment that made group work seem necessary. Often, one or two of the group members ended up doing all the work. One way to avoid this situation might be to design group work so that members are accountable to peers for their performance in the group. In addition, it would be motivating for students if group work assignments had a clear and meaningful connection to applications in the discipline and emphasized skills development.

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. Two students from two different faculties shared with us their experiences with group work.

This student describes their experience learning discipline-specific techniques with their peers in the context of a lab, expressing the value they saw in developing teamwork skills.

In this student’s experience, the groups were tasked with making a decision about how to navigate an ethical dilemma. The student highlighted the value of the experience to them: “Working in groups gave me a real-world perspective on how working in a real environment would be.”

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy: Consider designing teamwork so that students assess peers’ contributions to completing the assignment. Not sure how to do that? Check out Using Peer Assessment to Make Teamwork Work.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

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Student Engagement Officer, Office of Science Education

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