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Collaborative Grades

posted: 6.7.07 by Barclay Barrios

First off, the “Shape of the Thing” exercise worked pretty well. It would have worked better with more samples of each genre though. It was hard for the students to draw the shape of a proposal or conference paper because they only had one of each type to look at–more samples would have made the shape easier to see. But it was a real success in that they were able to see how the parts/shapes were all related, how a proposal became a conference paper became an article. I’m thinking when I do this next time I will provide more samples of the genres OR I will use it to help students understand process, getting them to draw, for example, notes and outline and rough draft and revision. That should be interesting and successful.

Speaking of things that worked but could have worked better, the grad students worked collaboratively on a research project, documenting the local histories of the English department, the college, and the university. Collaborative grades are always a bit tricky, I think. Or at least I think that because I remember my own educational history, growing up as the hyped-up, over-eager, anal-retentive dweeb who ended up doing all the work because I was so obsessed with grades. So the problem I have with any kind of group grades in the classes I teach is what to do about that dweeb in my own classes and also what to do with the total slacker. In other words, I’ve always struggled with the issue of giving a group a grade but making sure that grade reflected individual as well as group effort.

I thought I had the answer. I had each group member turn in an individual group report in which she or he reported on the group dynamics and thus in which he or she also had a chance to report anyone in the group who didn’t do the work. I figured this would be an equalizing mechanism; if everyone reported that Student X didn’t do any work, then I could factor that in to Student X’s grade. I’ve tried this before in my undergrad classes, a web authoring class specifically. It worked like a charm.

But now I’m not so sure. I fear I haven’t taken into account the extent to which group and peer pressures prevent an honest evaluation from any individual. Specifically, I was meeting with someone from one of the groups about her final project and she mentioned some problems she had with someone in the group and the work that someone did but none of that made it into her individual report, which was all glowy and “Yay group!” and stuff.

So, Bitsters, on the one had I have this suggestion about group grades. On the other, I don’t know that it works. So, on yet another hand I’m wondering how to handle group grades. Do people live and die by the final work of the group? Is there some way to factor in individual effort?

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Categories: Assessment, Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Teaching Advice
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4 Responses to “Collaborative Grades”

  1. Derek Says:

    I don’t know about effort, Barclay. But I do tend to think that grades for collaborative projects can involve ratios of the team’s performance and the individual’s performance. As you know, the two are not always easy to separate as pure and discrete, but formal assessment often requires that we regard them as isolable. Still, I can imagine involving students’ self-assessments as a formative measure (one that accounts for many of the “had I/we done this differently” lessons drawn from the project) that is read in tandem with other sorts of evaluation, like we might find in explicit rubrics.

  2. Jessica Fordham Kidd Says:

    In my freshman comp class last semester, I tried an experiment in which groups had to do a rhetorical analysis of a famous argument. The groups worked together during a couple of classes, but then each student had to write the results in his or her own brief analysis essay. The essay grade then reflected the group’s work while rewarding the individual for quality writing, original ideas, etc. Students seemed thrown off by the idea at first, but gradually warmed to the idea.

  3. JP Says:

    Over the past several years I’ve incorporated more and more collaborative assignments in which the students assess each other’s contributions. I don’t do this necessarily because collaborative compositions tend to be of a higher quality (though I think they do), or because it creates a more communal atmosphere in the class (though I think it often does), but because it teaches the students certain other skills relating to teamwork and persuasion. After all, if, in addition to writing, we are instructing students in practices of persuasion and negotiation, then the kind of “soft skills” honed in collaborative work can be a very useful addition to course content.

    In the set up I’ve used, 90% of each student’s grade is based on a general evaluation of the project (same evaluation for all participants of each team). 10% is given calculated on how the student’s collaborators have assessed their contribution. In this model, the evaluation of student by their peers is not large enough to radically change their overall grade, but it is significant enough to compel them to think seriously about how much they are contributing and how well the other members of the group are viewing that contribution. In other words, though the “lesson” of the project is the primary objective, there are also some other “lessons learned” about group dynamics and collaboration. One must be careful here, of course. As Barclay mentioned earlier that we don’t want confrontations over plagiarism to mimic episodes of *Cheaters,* we also don’t want class collaborations to take on the side-deals and secret alliances of *Survivor*: a student must always be aware that an instructor is wiling to intervene if they are getting a raw deal from their collaborators.

  4. Barclay Barrios Says:

    Cool *Survivor* analogy, JP. I like that everyone is suggesting some sort of admixture between the group and the individual and you’ve given me some good ideas to think about how to make that mixture more effective.