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How to teach using group assignments

Introduction and Overview

See how we create better teams through better feedback

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Collaborative learning teaches students to work together when the stakes are relatively low, so that they can work together effectively later on when the stakes are high – Kenneth Bruffee (1999)

The benefits of collaborative learning have long been asserted by Kenneth Bruffee and others. In addition, group assignments have been deployed by teachers in higher education to realise several benefits such as enabling students to undertake more demanding academic challenges. However, there is debate about the validity and fairness of group assignments. Furthermore, educational and professional accreditation agencies increasingly view academic grades determined from group assignments with suspicion. Does this student deserve the academic qualification they have been awarded when a significant proportion. of their academic credit has arisen from group work? What level of teamwork capabilities has this graduate actually demonstrated?

Meanwhile, students often loathe the experience and prospect of group assignments. Fair-minded students wonder why the freeloaders and bullies in their team should get the same academic grade. Ambitious students wonder if they will receive recognition for the extra effort and leadership they have contributed. Perhaps they should prioritise their efforts elsewhere? Other students wonder how they could improve both their own and their teammates’ contribution to the teamwork and leadership processes required for success. Teacher assign students to groups and hope that their students will develop the teamwork capabilities students need for academic and professional success.

To respond to the these challenges teammate peer assessment is becoming recognized as contributing to fairer academic results and more valid assessments. Furthermore, when combined with timely peer feedback, students working on group assignments can adapt their behavior to deliver better contributions and achieve better academic results for both their team and themself. Students also learn and demonstrate measured capabilities in teamwork, leadership, communication and project management that are valued by the workplace and professions, improve their success in future academic group assignments, and better prepare themselves for leadership roles within the fourth industrial revolution.

Who is this book for?

This book is written for

  • Teachers who wish to improve the validity and fairness of the group assignments they currently use with their students
  • Teachers who wish to introduce or redesign their group assignments in a manner that maximizes the many benefits for students that can emerge from such assignments
  • Teachers who use contemporary teaching methods such as team-based learning and the flipped classroom who wish to improve their processes of teammate peer assessment and feedback
  • Teaching and learning advisors who wish to understand the factors relevant to supporting teachers in their use of group assignments and peer assessment
  • Teaching and learning technologists who wish to understand the factors relevant to the implementation of digital platforms that support teachers’ and students’ adoption of teammate peer assessment
  • Teaching and learning advisors who wish to understand the factors relevant to supporting teachers in their use of group assignments and peer assessment
  • Teaching and learning technologists who wish to understand the factors relevant to the implementation of digital platforms that support teachers’ and students’ adoption of teammate peer assessment



Chapter 1 examines the drawbacks of group assignments and the benefits beyond simply reducing a teacher’s assessment marking burden! We introduce five key pillars of research that underpin the rationale for deploying teammate peer assessment in conjunction with group assignments. The implications of these research pillars leads to introducing the seven step formula for delivering fair and effective team assessment, and the benefits from the formula’s application. Chapter 2 explores the role of peer feedback as a crucial process for yielding the full benefits of group work through delivering better teams, better academic results, and improved teamwork capabilities. Academic policies relevant to the conduct of group assignments and peer assessment are proposed for your adoption.

Chapters 3 through 8 present the aims, key tasks and detail required to implement each step of the 7 step formula. Chapter 9 explains how you can draw lessons from your first cycle of implementing teammate peer assessment to improve your future teaching and learning. These improvements include the design of the group assignment, your coaching for developing students’ teamwork capabilities, and your timing and process of peer assessment and feedback.

Digital platforms for peer assessment and feedback

In most cases, you will find the administrative task of conducting teammate peer assessment and feedback error-prone and burdensome. Consequently, throughout the book you’ll find discussion of several features you will find helpful when selecting a digital platform to support each step of your peer assessment and feedback process. Digital platform requirements are identified with relevance to the matters discussed in each chapter, then brought together for comprehensive consideration in Chapter 10. Finally, Chapter 11 illustrates how you can gain practice deploying one example of a digital peer assessment platform, Peer Assess Pro.

Get started

You need not wait until your next teaching semester to begin gaining the benefits from peer assessment! You could simply and immediately introduce teammate peer feedback through using your existing group assignment design. For example, you can add a formative peer assessment early in your students’ group work. Given early formative feedback, some students will be nudged towards improving their process of working together with improvement to the quality of their delivered outputs. You will also receive early warning of at-risk and dysfunctional behaviors by teams and individuals that you can address proactively. This experience will give you the confidence to embark on more ambitious integration of formative and summative peer assessment into your teaching program, and more challenging group assignments.

You and your students gain the more substantial benefits of group work when you deploy formative peer feedback early in your students group work, training for giving and receiving feedback, and, finally, summative teammate peer assessment. That means you determine fairly each student’s final result in proportion to their contribution to the team’s outputs combined with the result you award to the team as a whole for its delivered outputs. This second approach may entail your redesigning your assignment specifications and/or securing appropriate academic approval for the changes you propose. In contrast, the first approach can be undertaken with minimal risk at any point in your class teaching as a foundation for building your confidence to embark on a comprehensive peer assessment scheme.

I wish your students better teamwork through better feedback.

Peter J Mellalieu, PhD
Auckland NZ, August 2020

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