Assessment, Group Work and other vexing issues

Last week, Gas Station without Pumps had a post about the problems with group work.  I just did a group project in my CS class which I didn’t think went quite the way I wanted it to.  It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. In part, it’s my fault for not setting better parameters for how the group project should go, but I think it’s also just really hard for students to do group work in a real sense.  They’re too worried about how they’re going to be assessed to contribute in an authentic way.  Stronger students often take over or the work gets divided up in ways that aren’t really useful; it’s just convenient for the students, especially for the assessment piece.  I plan to do some further research about how to make this work better.  I believe in group work.  I think I just need to include the right kinds of assessment tools to recreate the authentic experience one would get in a work situation.

I’m constantly struggling with assessment.  I’ve been teaching for over 20 years, and it’s this issue that I always get hung up on.  I like project-based learning, and for the most part, it works for me, but then I also want to include ways of testing for concept understanding.  What’s happening to me a little bit is that students rely on me and the textbook or other materials to complete their projects.  They’re copying a lot of code and altering it.  That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but then I’m never sure if they really understand what they’re doing.  So I have started having tests to make sure they really get a concept.  But I’m not sure that works that well either.

Last year, I mentioned that I was primarily focusing on the creativity in the projects.  The more explicit I was about that, the better the projects were, and the less “code copying” the students did.  So, often, my issue with assessment is really an issue of me not laying out the guidelines.  Of course, creativity is a subjective thing, and I hate turning something like that into a rubric (though I do for middle school).  Basically, I want them to create projects that make me say, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.”  But I can’t put that on the assignment sheet.  Sigh. I’d love to hear from others about assessing projects or even assessing inquiry-based learning, which is something I want to do next year.

4 Replies to “Assessment, Group Work and other vexing issues”

  1. My hunch is in line with the links I followed a few steps from Gas Station Without Pumps, that the way we do group work in school is unlike how it is done outside. The school approach is often “learn about doing group work by doing group work” and the lack of real direction yields the Lord of the Flies kind of bad experiences.

    I’ve been hunkered down to trying to sort out how do this in a completely online class (ds106) where we require group work for their audio projects. This semester Martha and I saw better group processes, some might be a result of us making the timeline longer and more scaffolded. Still, my class had one completely dysfunctional group, one marginal, one student who just bailed on her group (“I am sorry, I do not do well in groups”.

    In assessing, I have been talking some to our friend Barbara Ganley, who I am visiting now (I hear your jealousy before you respond, you should be, its lovely here). She talked about a process she used, that we tinkered with, to make the students come up with the criteria they would use to assess and be assessed (e.g. have them buy into “what makes a good audio project”). The other thing we tried was after the projects, they were charged with reviewing another group’s work, and then rate their own group on the same criteria. Quite a few got pretty critical of others!

    I feel far from having this figured out; but I still believe in the benefit of having students work in a different way than purely individual.

  2. Alan,

    Thanks so much for your response. It’s really helpful to hear what you’ve tried and what you’ve experienced. I have a colleague who has her students assess themselves and each member of the group, which works relatively well. I keep trying to come up with authentic projects that really do require some group work but inevitably, they work in parallel rather than as a real group. It’s like toddler play.

    I like the idea of having the students come up with the criteria. I may try that for my next project, which is individual, but that may be a step toward doing the same for group work.

    And yes, I’m totally jealous! Tell Barbara hello for me.

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