There are benefits and drawbacks for both staff and students in the use of group work in programmes. Benefits can relate to the opportunity for students to develop team-working skills or get to know other students through group work, or to undertake larger projects that would not be feasible for individual students. Problems are often encountered when student groups fail to achieve their set goals, perhaps due to uneven contributions by group members, and thus often relate to the assessment of group work.
In course design a clear rationale for the use of group work must initially be established. Then decisions about appropriate group formation, support, task and assessment can be made. There are no easy solutions to issues encountered in using group work for assessment, but there are a number of approaches that can be applied in order to maximise the potential benefits. An excellent starting point is the Assessing Learning in Australian Universities guide described below. This guide provides advice on establishing guidelines and managing the process of student group work.
The Assessing Learning in Australian Universities website provides a comprehensive practical guide to the assessment of group work. The information given on decisions regarding mark allocations is likely to be particularly useful.
Although not designed specifically for HE the ‘informal education homepage and encyclopedia of informal education' (infed) website which was established by YMCA George Williams College, London provides an excellent overview of theory and thinking relating to group work.
A good number of case studies which provide examples of how group work has been successfully used in HLST subject areas are available from the case study section of the HLST website.
Online systems that can be used to enable students to assess the work and contributions of other students are now being developed. See for example CASPAR (an HLST funded project) or WebPA which examples of open source online peer assessment tool.
Wimba produces a wide range of online collaboration tools designed for educational use, such as Wimba Pronto.