RHD student and member of the Student Representative Council, Roksana, shares her research journey about group-based assessments.
Keep reading to find out about Roksana’s research.
I am Roksana. I am currently doing Masters by Research in Project Management and hoping to upgrade to a PhD degree with an extended scope. I am also the Student Representative for Higher Research Degree.
My research focuses on designing group-based assessments with its best practices to improve collaborative learning and develop project management competencies of higher education graduates.
Employers expect a range of soft and technical abilities in the skillset of graduates. However, employers are not satisfied with the soft skills of graduates. Soft skills include communication skills, teamwork, problem-solving, creativity, interpersonal skills, critical thinking, and leadership traits. Higher education (HE) institutions from which these students graduate are often held responsible for the under-preparedness of graduates.
To develop these essential attributes and enhance employability, group-based assessments play a key role in the domain of higher education.
A group-based assessment can be defined as “a graded assignment requiring students to work collaboratively across multiple class periods and involving some time outside the normal class meeting”.
Every student engages in at least one group assessment during their study period. While some students benefit from group assessments, others may face the opposite. I have both good and bad experiences while working in a group. While group activities create an opportunity to learn collaboratively, it can induce lots of stress and anxiety if not designed appropriately.
Why group-based assessment?
One of the main reasons for including group-based assessment in higher education is to develop employability skills in graduates. Group work is known to improve students’ soft skills such as interpersonal skills, team building, leadership and communication skills, behavioural competencies, problem-solving skills, and leadership.
Group work facilitates deeper forms of learning in comparison to conventional lecture-based forms of teaching. During collaborative learning, students react to each other, provide and receive information, develop constructive learning and create a collaborative learning platform.
In collaborative learning, students achieve better outcomes, obtain deep learning, acquire greater communication and teamwork skills, and gain a better understanding of the environment in which they will be working as professionals.
To get the full potential of collaborative learning, students require to assist their peers by providing and receiving explanations.
Challenges of group-based assessment
While group work provides a rich opportunity to experience collaborative learning and develop the most demanded attributes in graduates, group-based assessments can create anxiety for students as I experienced while pursuing my Masters in Management for Engineers degree.
My team members were not cooperative and barely pulled their weight. I thought my contribution would not be recognised and assessed fairly. I had to always chase them in order to get their parts done. Hence, I suffered from a lack of trust and uncertainty about the outcomes.
Due to the disadvantages of group work, some students prefer working individually instead of being in a group with strangers. However, individualistic learning is not as beneficial as collaborative learning when it comes to developing interpersonal skills, team-building skills, leadership traits, time management skills, communication skills and many more.
The most common problems students may experience are “Free-riding” and “Social-loafing”. While social loafing is the tendency of a group member to reduce their effort, free riding is the opportunity to get the same marks as others with almost no contribution.
Additionally, difficulties include different working styles of peers and group member selection, discourteous leadership, a lack of respectful behaviour between group members, devaluation of others’ opinions, increased peer pressure and excessive responsibility and being embarrassed. Students also suffer from the improper distribution of workload, lack of engagement and responsibility.
My research is the way out
In order to respond to employers’ demands, develop the required attributes in graduates and reduce the challenges of group activities, my research will design a framework to guide the design of group-based assessments with evidence-based best practices.
The research focuses on various aspects of group-based assessments such as the group formation process, group composition, group size, task complexity, team charter, self and peer evaluation and the like. These aspects should be considered when it comes to designing group assessments.
The research work is in progress. It is hoped that the outcomes of the research would help academics administer group assessments effectively which would be fit for the purpose. It is then expected that graduates would be able to enhance their employability skills.
Written by RHD student and member of the Student Representative Council, Roksana Jahan Tumpa.