Jones, J. and Smith, A. (2008) Facilitating group work: leading or empowering? Paper presented to: Fourth Biennial European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) /Northumbria Assessment Conference, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany, 27 - 29 August 2008.
Year two students of the Foundation Degree in Learning and Teaching, study a module relating to special educational needs/inclusion. Assessment is through a collaborative group project and a personal project diary with a reflective statement. We felt that the assessment strategy did not sufficiently discriminate between students: virtually all achieved very high grades. Concern was further prompted by awareness of recent research into issues of the fairness, justice and reliability of group work (Maguire and Edmondson 2001, Barnfield 2003, Knight 2004, Skinner et al 2004) and of motivational factors including the effect of rewarding the group product or the individual contribution (Chapman 2002) and issues of inter-relationships in groups (Arango 2007)
Reflective statements and evaluation feedback from the 2006/7 cohort identified concerns relating to some students acting as ‘passengers’, but being awarded the same high grade for the module as those members who completely engaged with the work. This is a well documented problem identified by others (Ransom 1997, Parsons 2002, Hand 2001, Cheng and Warren 2000). In addition the Course Team found tutor guidance was a complicating factor: it was felt that it was a major contributor to the high grades awarded. There was a concern that this facilitation encouraged some students’ lack of engagement by allowing them to be led rather than, as was intended, empowering them to develop their own projects. These observations prompted a reformulation of the assessment strategy for the 07-08 cohort. The weightings were altered from 80% to 60% for the group assessed project and from 20% to 40% for the individual elements. In order to assess the effects of this and to gain insight into issues such as empowerment, especially those involving tutor facilitation, data was collected on the following: How the group:
• formed and decided upon the project focus • sustained motivation and whether this was linked to a perception that individual contributions supported the group assessment or individual assessment, or both • managed inter-personal professional working relationships • managed equitable sharing of the work-load • their perceptions and use of the guidance available from the module tutor This involved: • analysis of 2007-08 students’ diaries and reflective statements • interviews with 2007-08 students • analysis of diaries and reflective statements from the 2006-07 cohort • interviews with students from the 2006-07 cohort asking them to reflect retrospectively on their experiences. • A reflective dairy written by the facilitating tutor for 07-08 From this comparative evaluation we will explore firstly whether the amendments to the assessment weightings made a difference in students’ perceptions of the fairness of the assessment strategy and secondly the effect the level and nature of tutor facilitation had on group dynamics, especially in the areas of, communications, task sharing, empowerment and ownership.
It is expected that the research will have implications for tutors’ thinking about assessment weightings and will throw light on the ethical dilemmas surrounding the issues of the guidance and facilitation of group work