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The Positive Feedback Loop that Improves Team Effectiveness

The reinforcing effect of peer feedback on team effectiveness, academic performance and employability in student teams

Teamwork is often used in academic settings to help improve students’ academic performance whilst developing valued career-ready competencies such as teamwork, communications, project management and leadership[1]. These academic and employability benefits do not arise spontaneously just because students are working on a group project. In contrast, the teacher should take steps to encourage these benefits’ development through initiating peer assessment and peer feedback as part of the academic programme. We justified these steps in our three-stage model of the team peer feedback process [2]. Here we examine more closely the mechanism through which these benefits are delivered. Specifically, our Causal Loop Diagram illustrates the reinforcing effects of peer assessment on individual motivation, team performance, and, ultimately, employability (Maani & Cavana, 2000)[3].

Social loafing and the individual effectiveness loop

One risk that can arise with student team projects is social loafing or freeloading. The risk of social loafing is first reduced when students know that peer assessment will be used to determine their personal result, a result that may be materially above or below the result awarded to the team by the teacher, the team result (Gibbs, 2009 in Sprague, Wilson, & McKenzie, 2019, p. 2 [4]). Reducing the risk of social loafing both raises students’ feeling of fairness in the conduct of the teamwork, and raises all team members’ motivation and contribution to the team’s objectives and ultimate academic result.

Peer feedback and the team effectiveness loop

The quality of peer feedback is also important in raising both students’ motivation to contribute effort to the team and the development of the competencies needed to work more effectively with the team. These teamwork competencies compound the impact of individual contributions towards the team result. For example, meetings are better planned and executed, quiet students are proactively drawn into conversation, and team members help each other with their learning of course and project concepts (Carr, Herman, Keldsen, Miller, & Wakefield, 2005[5])

Turbocharging the employability loop

A student’s employability is raised as their academic achievement (personal results) and teamwork competencies are raised through effective peer feedback and improved team results. Ultimately, a positive, reinforcing effect turbocharges the entire system as students’ motivation for team work is raised through knowledge of their increased level of employability.

So, what’s the impact?

We find that quality peer assessment and feedback is associated with a 10 to 15 mark increase in a team’s result compared with teams who abdicate their responsibility for accurate, fair, honest and constructive feedback (on a grade scale of 0 to 100 marks). Examples of unconstructive peer feedback include: where a team member rates each their team members the same; where a team is inconsistent in its ratings; or when a team member’s self-rating differs significantly from the rating received from other team members.

Assuring quality peer feedback

The teacher plays an important role in ensuring that the quality of peer feedback provided by students to their team members is accurate, fair, honest and constructive. A quality result is achieved through the teacher rehearsing the students’ use of the peer assessment rubric before the peer assessment survey. During the peer assessment, the dashboard of an effective digital peer assessment system will highlight teams and individuals who abdicated their peer assessment activity. Finally, students need a safe space to receive and react constructively to the feedback they have received. Best practices for peer assessment preparation, quality assurance, and feedback receiving are presented in the video of our webinar Improving Group Assignments through Peer Feedback and Peer Assessment.

Author

Dr Peter MELLALIEU is Chief Technologist at Peer Assess Pro Ltd. He uses peer assessment as part of his team-based learning approach to teaching sustainable management, innovation and entrepreneurship, organisation development, operations management, and strategic thinking.

 

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1 (2018) Employers Rate the Essential Need of the Career Readiness Competencies. Job Outlook 2019. Figure 42, p. 33. Bethlehem, PA. National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Retrieved from https://www.naceweb.org/

2 Link to Peer Assess Pro BLOG POST: Better teams from peer assessment and feedback: How does peer assessment and feedback contribute to better team results and raised employability?

3 Maani, K., & Cavana, R. (2000). Causal Loop Modelling. In Systems Thinking, System Dynamics: Managing Change and Complexity (pp. 25–55, Chapter 3). Retrieved from http://www.sys-think.com/books.asp

4 Sprague, M., Wilson, K. F., & McKenzie, K. S. (2019). Evaluating the quality of peer and self evaluations as measures of student contributions to group projects. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(5), 1061–1074. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2019.1615417

5 Carr, S. D., Herman, E. D., Keldsen, S. Z., Miller, J. G., & Wakefield, P. A. (2005). Peer feedback. In The Team Learning Assistant Workbook. New York: McGraw Hill Irwin.

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