Friday, October 12, 2012

Assessing Collaborative Efforts

The thorn in the side of teachers and students since the beginning of education has to be group projects. At least this is how I felt as a student and as a new teacher. I was the type of student who liked to do things by myself and my way because I wanted it to be on my terms (which usually meant last minute but very well done). When required to work in a group, I usually took on most of the responsibility and would even delegate to others. Personally, it didn't bother me when others didn't do work because I assumed I could do it better myself anyway. I wasn't letting anyone mess with my GPA. As a new teacher, it was a nightmare assessing group projects between determining individual and group achievement and listening to complaints among group members. In both positions, group work and assessment did not come naturally to me. I assume I am not the only one who feels this way.

One of the problems is that the same methods of assessing individual work are being applied to group work. Teachers do this because they are accustomed to it. Students complain because they know something is wrong and they, too, have gotten used to standardized grading, or grading for every child based on the exact same criteria (content knowledge, skills, behaviors, etc). We cannot assess this way because if everyone in a group does the same exact thing, it is nothing more than independent work done in the company of others.

So the question becomes, according to Seimens (Laureate, 2008), "How do we change an assessment model based on individual learning to a model based on collaborative learning?" This is a question asked and answered by Andrew K. Miller on his blog. His ideas include summative assessments like portfolios and podcasts that reflect the work as a whole and the individual's progress and learning outcomes. Palloff and Pratt (2005) wrote, "creating a portfolio that includes both the individual contributions of the student and the final product is a good way for the instructor to assess how much work the individual student did" (p. 43).   Miller also talks about formative assessments like journals that reflect student growth throughout the project. His ideas seem to suggest that, for him, assessing collaborative efforts means identifying the individuals growth as well as input into the group. He reminds us that, "you cannot assess what you do not teach, and good teaching includes useful, ongoing formative assessments."

While I agree with much of what Miller writes, I do not think he fully answers Seimens' question. He is still proposing assessing the individual and not the collaborative effort. Also, I wish he would have elaborated on something he hinted at in his blog entry. He talked about assessing an individuals participation in the group. Then he mentions you can only assess what you teach. It is important to teach students how to collaborate with one another. Then, as you monitor their involvement in the group, you can begin to assess students based on the collaboration skills that were taught in class. 

This may seem difficult. How can you possibly monitor every child's collaborative involvement?  The task  seems daunting. George Seimens (Laureate 2008), however, reminds us that if we use online collaborative tools, such as wikis, individual involvement is recorded. Teachers have access to records for everything from times logged on to changes made. Seimens also suggests peer rating and student work placed in open communities for feedback from all kinds of people, including professionals and other students.   Palloff and Pratt (2005) agree.  They believe learners should not only reflect on their peers work but also engage in self-reflection.  

Seimens explains that Assessment has broadened. It is beyond receiving a mark in a subject. Assessment should be based on authentic outcomes using authentic situations, because education itself has entered a larger environment: one that encompasses one's career, school and personal life. If education has changed, so should assessment. As life becomes more and more collaborative using digital technologies, education, and therefore assessment, should as well.


Laureate Education, Inc. (2008). Principles of distance education: Distance Education: Assessment of 
Collaborative Learning.

Palloff and Pratt. (2005). Collaborating Online:  Learning Together in Community.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

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