Scaffolding student group work
By Prof. Spencer Benson, former Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning Enhancement
One danger in assigning student group projects is that some student groups, for a variety of reasons, put off working on the project until it is nearly due. Almost inevitably this results in a poorer quality project, which is more difficult to grade and disappointing for both the instructor and the students. A second issue is helping to reduce the occurrence or the impact of freeloaders, e.g., students who do not contribute their fair share.
Requiring a Work Plan
Two techniques I use to help ensure that students work in timely fashion on their project is to require a project work plan and to devote one or two class periods where student groups can work on their project. When I assign the student group project I require that each group provide a work plan with a timeline and indicating their schedule for completing the project and which members of the group are responsible for which items. For example, if the project is due in four weeks than I generally request their work plan before the halfway point. Students must submit the work plan by the due date. I award small number of points generally less than 10% of the total project points to all members if the work plan is handed in on time and is reasonable. The work paln helps to alert me to groups that may have problems or are heading down a wrong track. About a week before the project is to I generally devote a whole class period where student groups meet in class and work on their project, they must do it in class. This serves two purposes, I do not happen to prep for that class period, but more importantly it allows me meet with each l group for a few minutes to find out where they are, if there are any problems and allows me to determine which groups are on track, which groups may need some help, and head off potential problems.
To help ensure that all group members contribute I allocate 10 to 15% of the group projects for peer evaluation. This is done very simply, each member the class receives an anonymous peer evaluation form (see attached) which they must fill out and turn into me in hard copy. This is done individually and the results are not shared with the others members of the group. I generally collect the peer evaluation forms when the class project is due. On the form each member evaluates all members of the group including themselves and distribute a fixed number of points among the members. Since there is a fixed number of points if one student gets more than some other student must get less. I also provide space for comment, this is optional and students do not need to comment on their assigned scores. My experience is that I consistently see students fairly evaluate their peers and distribute the points in a fair fashion. For groups where one or more students did not contribute it becomes very apparent when all the other members rate this individual low. I often observe that one student within the group will get slightly more points if they took on a leadership role or their contributions were greater. The peer evaluation points help to remind students that they need to contribute. A variation on this that has been used by some of my colleagues, is that the peer evaluation distribution is converted to a percentage and that percentage is used to adjust the final project grade for each student.
Revised by CTLE on 27 January 2022.