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How to create an authentic learning experience

Step 1 – Prepare the group assignment as an authentic learning experience

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Prepare the group assignment

Before we introduce our class to their group assignment, we create an engaging assignment that meets academic learning outcomes and develops teamwork capabilities valued by employers. An authentic assignment that addresses real-world issues, problems, or applications will mirror the complexities and ambiguities of professional life.


  • Design your assignment to demand the highest level course and programme outcomes appropriate for your class.
  • Frame the team’s deliverables as outputs likely to be valued by a client, the students’ profession, industry or field of employment.
  • Design to require a collaborative effort rather than ‘divide and conquer’ tactics.
  • Incorporate relevant academic policies into your assignment specification.
  • Ensure the assignment description emphasises that teammate peer assessment will be used to reward extra contribution whilst penalising freeloaders and counter-productive team behaviour.
  • Select the teammate peer assessment rubric that will be used by teammates to assess each others’ contribution.
  • Explore how a digital peer assessment platform facilitates conduct of a peer assessment survey

Tactics for designing the group assignment

You can improve the conduct of your existing group assignments simply by introducing formative teammate peer feedback during the assignment. At the other extreme, you can dive into the deep end by courageously redesigning your assignment whilst introducing summative peer assessment. We suggest there are three broad and alternative tactics for ‘getting started’ using teammate peer assessment and feedback, presented in Table 3.1. We discuss the advantages of each tactic later.

Table 3.1 Tactics for introducing teammate peer assessment and feedback

Tactic 1
Immediate shallow-entry formative
Introduce formative teammate peer feedback using a group assignment that has already been designed and/or is being currently undertaken by students.
Tactic 2
Extend an existing group assignment by incorporating formative teammate peer feedback and summative peer assessment with feedback.
Tactic 3
Innovative redesign
Create a novel group assignment focussed on realizing the full benefits of group assignments and teammate peer feedback and assessment.
© Peer Assess Pro

TIP! Consider introducing formative teammate peer assessment and feedback with your group assignments currently in progress. Early introduction will help you to identify and intervene proactively with at-risk teams and individuals.

TACTIC 1 – Immediate shallow entry
Introduce formative teammate peer feedback using a group assignment that has already been designed and/or is being currently undertaken by students.

The immediate, shallow entry tactic can be applied even if you have already designed your group assignment and begun teaching your class. The tactic gives you the opportunity to experience the benefits of using teammate peer feedback and use of a modern digital peer feedback platform.

Simply introduce teammate peer feedback in conjunction with your existing group assignment. Make a small addition to your teaching plan. Specifically, add a formative peer assessment early in the group work, perhaps by week three or just before the mid-point. Next, distribute the collated survey responses back to each teammate. Now, encourage and support each team to undertake the courageous conversations they need to confront teammates whose behaviour may be unproductive. Simultaneously, students can offer positive recognition to their more constructive teammates and leaders. The detailed processes for managing your students’ courageous conversations through a feedback event are presented in Step 6 – Courageous conversations.

Given this timely formative feedback, your teams will be nudged towards improving their processes of working together with consequential improvement to the quality of their delivered outputs. More importantly, you will receive early warning of at-risk students and teams. You can address such issues by adjusting the composition of teams or other appropriate counseling.

To support this shallow entry tactic, you may wish to announce and adopt Academic Policy 5 – Three strikes and you’re out, and Academic Policy 6 – The power of one, introduced as academic policies in Chapter 2.

TACTIC 2 – Incremental summative
Extend your existing group assignment by incorporating both formative teammate peer feedback and summative peer assessment.

Deploying Tactic 1 gains you limited benefits arising from the process of formative peer feedback: you can address manifestly dysfunctional and at risk behaviour identified by your students earlier in the academic programme. However, you and your students gain additional benefits of improving fairness and minimizing freeloading behaviour when you incorporate summative peer assessment into your assessment regime. Specifically, you determine each students’ final results proportional in some way to their contribution to the team’s outputs combined with the result you award to the team as a whole for its delivered outputs.

Practically, you deploy both formative peer feedback early in your teams’ work (as per Tactic 1) with summative peer assessment conducted at the conclusion of the group assignment. As with Tactic 1, you need not adjust your group assignment specification apart from announcing that the academic policies, will apply. Students will want to know the mechanism of peer assessment, and how the process impacts on their academic grades. These matters are detailed later in this chapter. In summary, implementing Tactic 2 progresses your implementation of Pillar 1 and Pillar 2.

TACTIC 3 – Innovative
Design a new group assignment focussed on realizing the full benefits of group assignments and teammate peer feedback and assessment.

There are several modern well-defined teaching approaches that focus on delivering the benefits of group assignments mentioned in Why group assignments? Chapter 1 in addition to those realized by Tactic 2. These benefits include delivered outputs produced to a higher academic quality, students feeling a greater sense of engagement and satisfaction with the results achieved; and students developing professional teamwork capabilities valued by employers. The teaching approaches include authentic learning, project-based learning (PBL), team-based learning (TBL), and action learning.

Authentic learning

Authentic learning refers to a wide variety of educational and instructional techniques focused on connecting what students are taught at university to real-world issues, problems, and applications. The principles of authentic learning underpin several of the teaching approaches discussed later. The basic idea is that students are more likely to be interested in what they are learning, more motivated to learn new concepts and skills, and better prepared to succeed in college, careers, and adulthood if what they are learning mirrors real-life contexts, equips them with practical and useful skills, and addresses topics that are relevant and applicable to their lives outside of school (Great Schools Partnership, 2013).

One important principle of authentic learning is that it mirrors the complexities and ambiguities of real life. In its purest expression, authentic learning culminates in students making some form of genuinely useful contribution to their community or to a field of study.

Project-based Learning (PBL)

Project-based learning (PBL) is a teaching method strongly informed by the authentic learning approach. Students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. Extensive resources to support adoption of Project Based Learning are available from the Buck Institute for Education, Although the Buck Institute is focussed mainly on education at the pre-university level, its principles certainly apply in higher education, especially as the primary vehicle to demonstrate competencies in a student’s intended profession. Reports on the progressive uptake of Project-Based Learning in higher education include Wurdinger (n.d.), Wurdinger, (2016), Ríos et al., (2010) and Shannon (2016).

Team-based learning (TBL)

Team-based learning is a specialized form of group learning with distinctive goals and procedures developed by Michaelsen, Knight, and Fink (2002). In team-based learning, student groups engage in meaningful, problem-focused tasks. The premise of the method is that team cohesion will lead to learning (Michaelsen & Sweet, 2012). Compared with group learning and problem-based learning, TBL is distinctive through the application of four principles (Sisk, 2011).

  • Form heterogeneous teams, composed of five to seven members assigned anonymously
  • Stress student accountability
  • Provide meaningful group assignments focussed on solving a real-world problem
  • Provide feedback to the students.

Team-based learning has been used in a variety of fields such as business, engineering, the natural sciences, mathematics, medicine, nursing, informatics, and the humanities. The state of the science related to TBL is unclear. However, a systematic research review is presented in Sisk (2011).

In some implementations, the teacher incorporates an extension of the flipped classroom. Specifically, the teacher prescribes homework for students to prepare before each class. Immediately upon arrival in class, the teacher conducts a test to establish the the level of each student’s preparation, the Individual Readiness Assurance Test (IRAT). Without revealing the results, the teams into which each student has been allocated now repeat the same test. In this second test round, the teammates discuss their response before a single response on behalf of the team is made. The teacher now grades the second test, the Team Readiness Assurance Test (TRAT). Ideally, each team’s result will be better than the average of the individual teammates’ first round grades but this is by no means guaranteed: a domineering but misguided student may push a team’s performance downwards!

The teacher focusses their teaching on the most critical gaps of knowledge revealed by the results of the IRAT and TRAT tests, rather than teaching everything scheduled for the day. This practice leaves time for the teacher and class to engage on additional group activity that practices application of the knowledge learned, for example a case study discussion.

To promote rapid development of team cohesion and mitigate freeloading, teammate peer assessment and feedback can be used intensively (weekly or fortnightly) in a team-based learning programme. Whilst the individual test results of students are confidential, teammates are quick to discern who is well-prepared for the TRAT test. Consequently, they reward or sanction their teammates through their responses to the teammate peer assessment. A personal result proportional to contribution can be readily determined either using a peer assessed score, or a personal result based on combining the peer assessed score and TRAT result, as detailed later in this chapter. An example of this implementation is presented in Mellalieu & Quifors, (2018).

Action learning

The focus of action learning is to balance a group solving one or more real, organisational problems with the group members’ own personal and professional development. Unusually, the group is coached to learn from its own resources rather than relying on an external trainer or specialist to present new skills and knowledge. Crucially, an action learning facilitator coaches the group through identifying and defining the problem(s) to be investigated, and identifying the resources the group will use to learn how to solve the problem and implement the recommendations developed. Typically, the problem is chosen specifically to be valuable to the host organization and sufficiently ill-defined in its initial specification to demand exploration of diverse and creative approaches to its investigation and resolution.

Action learning comprises six components (Marquardt, 2004)

  • A significant, urgent problem, project, challenge or issue the resolution of which is important to an individual, team, or the organization,
  • An action learning group of four to eight individuals with diverse backgrounds and experience
  • A process of insightful questioning and reflective listening that takes precedence over a focus on finding the ‘right answer’
  • The expectation that action will be undertaken to implement the solutions recommended by the action learning group
  • A commitment to broad learning about the organization, problem solving under uncertainty, systems thinking, and personal development
  • A coach who helps the group reflect on its problem solving process and learning.

Action learning is more often associated with professional development in the workplace rather than in higher education, though examples in the latter are known such as the case example presented in Chapter 2 and Leberman & Mellalieu, (1996).

Implementing innovative group assignments

When adopting Tactic 3, as with Tactic 2, you deploy formative peer feedback early in your teams’ work. You conduct summative peer assessment at the conclusion of the group assignment. If the group assignment is conducted over a long period and/or contributes significantly to the weight of assessment grade for the programme, then consider several additional intermediate formative or summative peer assessments with feedback.

As with Tactic 2, your group assignment specification will announce the academic policies that will apply. Similarly, students will want to know the mechanism of peer assessment, and how the process impacts on their academic grades. These matters are detailed later in this chapter.

Assessment rubrics

When you introduce a revised or new group assignment you have the opportunity to examine afresh the rubric(s) that will be used to grade the group’s delivered outputs and teamwork processes undertaken by the group. Consider your options by reviewing the section Assessment of outputs delivered from group assignments, Chapter 1.

Coaching for teamwork and peer assessment

Pillar 3 and Pillar 4 assert that the full benefits of group work and peer assessment arise from training in both teamwork, peer assessment and peer feedback. The section Turbocharging teamwork, Chapter 2, illustrated how these full benefits arise. Consequently, ensure you schedule time in your teaching plan for these activities, which are discussed in later chapters.

TIP!Review and adapt good examples of group assignments presented in educational forums discussing project-based learning (PBL), team-based learning (TBL), and action learning.

Advise academic policies for group work

Check your institution or department’s academic policies for group assignments and peer assessment. Select and document those applicable to your teaching context and aims from the schedule described in detailed in Chapter 2.

  • Policy 1 – Individual contributions to group work must be identified
  • Policy 2 – Peer assessed grades are advisory
  • Policy 3 – Fair opportunity to adjust behaviour and outcome
  • Policy 4 – Failure is an option
  • Policy 5 – Three strikes and you’re out
  • Policy 6 – The power of one
  • Policy 7 – No last minute team arrangement changes
  • Policy 8 – Exclusion of self-assessment
  • Policy 9 – Limit on group work contribution
  • Policy 10 – Academic dishonesty in peer assessment

Personal results from peer assessment

Pillar 1 asserts that ‘awarding all group members the same grade is not valid, fair, nor motivating for students’. Furthermore, Pillar 2 asserts that ‘freeloading on group projects is less likely if students’ contributions will determine their grades’. To emphasise your commitment to these pillars, present Figure 3.1 to convince your students you ‘mean business’ through your intent to apply teammate peer assessment as illustrated.

As an example, let’s assume that 50/100 is the pass grade criterion for our class Ornithology 101 in which our teams are named after native and exotic birds of Aotearoa New Zealand. Figure 3.1 illustrates how ‘Failure is an option’, for one member in each of the teams Yellow Mohua, Grey Warblers and Black Robins. Someone in team Brown Kiwi is borderline. All the members of Team Red Ruru failed. However, that is due to the teacher awarding a fail team result.

Specifically, in team Black Robins teammate Kamryn Miller is identified clearly as a freeloader by their teammates! The team result awarded by the teacher was 95. However, when teammate peer assessment is used to determine a personal result, in this example Kamryn is awarded 42, which is 47 marks below the median of the team’s personal results, 89.

You’ll observe for team Grey Warblers the wide range of personal results spread from 100 through 5. You’ll infer that a wide range, as in both teams Grey Warblers and Black Robins, is symptomatic of serious team dysfunction and/or a freeloader poorly managed by the team!

Figure 3.1 Example of peer assessment used to determine personal result

The methods of calculation are defined and demonstrated mathematically in Further Resources: FAQ.© Peer Assess Pro. All rights reserved.

Extra for experts

More precisely, when the spread of personal results within a team presents a ‘long drop’ highlighted by the red-coloured bar beneath the team median, you should suspect a severe outlier underperformance in the team. This severe outlier is confirmed by the table of data for the same team. For example, the team median for Black Robins is 89, the boundary between the red and yellow bars, in contrast to the team result of 95. The median is defined as the middle-ranked value of a team when you have an odd number of teams members. However, the median in a team with an even number of teammates, as in the case of Black Robins, is calculated from the arithmetic mean of the two midpoint data, (100 + 78.6) / 2 = 89 as you inspect the data in the personal result table for the team. There will be more discussion of this topic in Step 5 – Manage the peer assessment and Step 6 – Courageous conversations, Chapters 7 and 8.

Calculation process for personal result

The basic process for undertaking the calculations required to produce a peer assessed score and personal result through using teammate peer assessment is

  1. Teammates rate each other using a teammate peer assessment survey rubric such as those illustrated in Gallery 3.1.
  2. Calculate a sub-total peer assessed score FOR each student in the team from the sum of the ratings on each survey rubric item FROM each student in that team. A calculation example is illustrated in Table 3.3.
  3. Calculate a total peer assessed score FOR each team member by summing the sub-total peer assessed score each has received FROM their teammates, Table 3.4.
  4. Find your set of team results. The team result is the grade the teacher awards for the total set of delivered outputs from each team, such as a report, presentation or performance.
  5. Calculate a personal result for each student in the class from their peer assessed score ‘mathematically combined’ with the team result.
  6. Collect self-ratings. The self-rating is used to calculate an Index of realistic self-appraisal (IRSA).

As an academic policy, self-assessment ratings are generally excluded from the calculation of the total peer assessed score. However, you collect self-assessments as they have value for risk managing the conduct of group assignments and counseling at risk and underconfident students.

You’ll conclude quickly that once your class size exceeds more than a few teams, you’ll need a digital survey system to gather your students’ peer assessment ratings. Furthermore, once you have the ratings, you’ll at least need a spreadsheet to produce your gradebook of peer assessed-based personal results for your assignment. The grade-book is derived from each student’s peer assessed score ‘mathematically combined’ with their team’s result as I explain later.

An example of a digital platform that conducts these survey management and gradebook calculation processes is presented in Movie 3.1.

Gallery 3.1 Example rubrics for teammate peer assessment



Table 3.7 Comparison of personal results calculated through several methods
MethodSymbolTeammates’ personal result
Alexander SAMPSON
Mikaela RAY
Peer assessed scorePA Score8577.550.829.1
Indexed peer assessed scorePA Index10091.159.834.3
Indexed personal resultIPR‡9586.656.832.5
Normalized personal resultNPR‡€1001008459.8
Normalized personal resultNPR‡fi10010078.642.2
Rank-based personal resultRPR‡1001007638
Standard peer assessed scoreSPAS±7265.241.221.6
‡Team result is 95. €NPR Scale factor is 1.0. fiNPR Scale factor 1.5 ±Standardized to mean 50 standard deviation 20, Team result excluded.

Table 3.8 suggests the typical applications for the alternative methods for determining personal result presented earlier.

Table 3.8 Typical applications for alternative methods of determining personal result.
MethodSymbolTypical applications
Peer assessed scorePA ScoreNo team result is available. When you want to see how honest and competent students assess each other according to the Likert or BARS ratings.
Indexed peer assessed scorePA IndexNo team result is available. When you want to give the best performer in each team 100. WARNING: invites collusion by students so everyone scores maximum 100.
Indexed personal resultIPRA team result is available. Used by teachers averse to giving any student more than the result achieved by the team.
Normalized personal resultNPRA team result is available. Used by most teachers. Works effectively and transparently to reward above average contribution and penalize freeloaders or counter-productive teammates. A scale factor adjusts the reward:penalty impact.
Rank-based personal resultRPRA team result is available. Used to apply a standard, very severe reward:penalty spread of personal results within each team. Amplifies minor differences in peer assessed scores between teammates based on rank within team.
Standard peer assessed scoreSPASYou want to compare peer assessments between teams, assignments, programmes, and years for the purposes of eduanalytic investigations.
© Peer Assess Pro. All rights reserved.

Explore a digital peer assessment platform

Gallery 3.1 presents two peer assessment rubrics in a form that could be used to conduct a paper-based survey. However, to conduct formative and summative teammate peer assessment and feedback for anything but the smallest of classes, you will conclude you’ll need a mechanism that, as a minimum

  • Surveys all students enabling them to rate each teammate using a peer assessment rubric
  • Collates the survey results calculating a peer assessed score for each teammate, a measure of each student’s relative contribution to the team’s work
  • Calculates a personal result for each student through combining every peer assessed score with the teacher-determined team result
  • Identifies dysfunctional and at risk behaviour by teams and individuals to enable proactive intervention by the teacher
  • Delivers feedback results to each surveyed student

Several of these minimum requirements are illustrated in the digital platform shown in Movie 3.1. As you work through the remaining steps in this book, you’ll discover additional requirements for peer assessment platform that will improve your practice and make life easier.

Movie 3.1 A digital platform to enable teammate peer assessment and feedback

How Peer Assess Pro helps

The Peer Assess Pro teammate peer assessment digital platform provides teammates with personal reports that encourage timely, constructive conversations around teammates’ strengths, and opportunities to improve contribution to their team’s future achievement. Table 3.9 summarises the key features that Peer Assess Pro contributes as you consider design of your group assignment.

Table 3.9 How Peer Assess Pro helps the assignment design step
Authoritative survey rubricRubric factors aligned with requirements of academic programmes, professions and employers.
Fixed survey rubricReduces the need for teachers to train students how to use the rubric to rate teammates accurately and fairly. Enables valid comparisons between different groups and programmes from year to year.
Survey administrationAdministers the distribution and collation of peer assessment surveys, and the feedback of results to students.
Team dysfunction alertIdentifies dysfunctional and at risk behaviour by teams and individuals to enable proactive intervention by the teacher.
Alternative result methodsA comprehensive selection of established methods for determining each students’ personal result combining their peer assessed score (contribution) with teacher-awarded team result.
Deferred selectionThe choice of personal result calculation method may be postponed until late in the survey’s deployment and management, after some initial survey results are available.
Knowledge baseComprehensive examples and explanation of the principles and mathematics underpinning each method of personal result calculation. Advice on when best to apply each method.
© Peer Assess Pro Ltd
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