Assessing online collaborative work

Kear, Karen and Donelan, Helen (2016). Assessing online collaborative work. In: ALT-C Annual Conference 2016, 6-8 Sep 2016, University of Warwick, UK.



Skills in communicating and collaborating are highly valued by employers. However, a significant challenge facing educators is convincing students that collaborative learning activities are worthwhile.

This session discusses research that explored student and tutor perceptions of online group projects. The context is an undergraduate module in communication technology, where groups of part-time distance learners collaborate online to create the content for a wiki, and a website for a particular scenario (e.g. a walking club or a cafe). The group work is supported and marked by students’ tutors. Marks are given for the products students create and the process of the collaboration; some marks are individual, and some are for the group as a whole.

The research explored students’ and tutors’ experiences of the following key areas:
• The collaboration – how students connect with each other, and how they use online tools to plan and carry out the collaborative work.
• The task – what students are asked to do, and to create, and how this relates to their learning and professional practice (Herrington et al., 2010)
• The assessment– how the activities and outputs are marked, so that contributions are fairly assessed (Roberts & McInnerney, 2007; Strauss et al., 2014).

An online survey was used to obtain feedback from 74 students on the wiki element of the group project, and online focus groups were conducted with 27 students to explore the website element in detail. Discussion forums were used to gather feedback from 18 tutors. Thematic analysis was applied to the qualitative data collated via these methods, and the findings were organised around the three aspects highlighted above.

In terms of the collaboration, the findings show that most students found this challenging yet rewarding; however, the group work caused anxiety for some students. In terms of the task, there was a tension between giving students the opportunity to explore technically challenging solutions; and ensuring that their time was focused on the key aspects. In terms of the assessment, students were divided about the fairness of having group marks; tutors thought group marks did not fairly reflect the division of work among group members.

Based on these findings, an assessment framework is proposed that can be applied to the design and assessment of online group work. The framework promotes consideration of how marks are divided between:

• the collaboration process, and the final products created;
• group marks and individual marks.

Participants in the session will be invited to consider how this framework can best be applied, so that online group projects are engaging to students and are fairly assessed.

Herrington, J., Reeves, T.C. and Oliver, R. (2010) A Guide to Authentic eLearning. Routledge, New York.

Roberts, T.S. & McInnerney, J.M. (2007). Seven problems of online group learning (and their solutions). Educational Technology & Society, 10(4), 257-268.

Strauss, P. U-Mackey, A. & Crothers, C. (2014). ‘They drag my marks down!’ – challenges faced by lecturers in the allocation of marks for multicultural group projects. Intercultural education, 25(3), 229-241.

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