In this research, the author, Dr. Elana Reiser, proposes a model for assessing cooperative learning models as well as individual student learning. The cooperative learning model the author describes is essentially a course where students are placed into permanent groups and learn and work together throughout the semester. Research she cites,* identifies three key benefits of group work “(1) academic gains, (2) improved race relations, and (3) improved social and affective development.” (Kagan & Kagan, 1994 as cited in Reiser, 2017). The question then is how to assess student learning, in particular individual student progress. Under the collaborative learning model, emphasis on individual progress and achievement may signal to students that group interactions are not valued (Boud, Cohen, and Sampson, 1999 as cited in Reiser, 2017). On the other hand, an assessment that only measures group performance, sometimes fails to measure an individual’s progress and achievement. The author thus argues that neither the purely individual nor purely group assessments are appropriate for collaborative learning models.
Dr. Reiser proposes a blended assessment that mixes group and individual assessment. She tested the effectiveness of the blended assessment as well as students’ perceptions of the test in two section of a discrete mathematics course. Throughout the course students worked in groups of three. For the final exam, students in each group were given “parallel versions” of the exam where students had similar questions and were thus able to talk about the exam, but still had their own problems to complete. Later, students answered a questionnaire and two groups were interviewed about their perceptions of the exam.
The results of this study showed no significant difference in blended assessment vs. individual assessment portions of the exams, and the scores on each part were highly correlated (r = 0.63). Students’ perceptions of the exam were primarily positive and included the benefit of being able to discuss the questions themselves, which led to better question comprehension. As can be expected, concerns about the process were linked to ideas about being responsible for one’s own learning rather than relying on others or being forced to be responsible for others’ learning. Other concerns were related to distraction from group conversation and how long the blended portion of the exam took.
This study was an interesting read for me as I have started incorporating more group work and cooperative learning elements into my courses. In addition to the research described in the article, the author also describes some of the activities she did in her classroom to achieve a cooperative learning environment that were new ideas for me (and hopefully you). I liked the idea of blended assessment a lot, but was left with an unclear picture of how the exam worked as I could not determine how she determined a “blended score” and an “individual score” to compare. Overall, however the research itself as well as several concepts she describes have me rethinking how I grade group work generally, but also how I can further develop the group-work based learning that I am using in my own classes.
How do you approach grading for group work?
Written by Ciara Kidder
*link only shows the table of contents for the text…here is the text on Amazon in its most recent edition (2015).