3 Evaluating Groups

To many teachers, the very notion of their teaching being evaluated induces a defensive reaction. It is often seen as an all-or-nothing judgment, "good" or "bad", and they are rightly sceptical that the intricate network of their experience in groups can be gauged in any way which produces clear and unambiguous answers. Evaluation of any teaching, particularly in groups, is of greater value to all concerned when it can be processed by those contributing to it such that they take joint responsibility for the outcomes. The evaluation can thus become a creative source of learning that informs both students and tutor about their respective parts in the work of the group. Students in group discussion are not consumers: they are participants in, and contributors to, an evolving process of learning.

The most effective kind of evaluation for group teaching is, therefore, one which develops the students' awareness of the way groups work, and increases their sense of responsibility for each other and for the quality of work they do together. In this way the evaluation itself can become a vehicle for the students to learn many of the valued social aims of group work.

3.1 Evaluation Methods

  • There are some fairly simple methods of evaluating groups in this way.
  • Questionnaires. Students (and tutor) complete a process questionnaire or checklist of the kind shown in the following pages, share and discuss the results in the group, and decide on what needs to be done to effect improvements.
  • "Do-it-yourself" checklist. Use the "Pyramid" or "Snowball" technique (see 53 Interesting Things To Do In Your Seminars And Tutorials) in asking individual students to write down three statements about the class, which, with successive pooling as the groups combine, are written on a board and given a rating in turn by everyone.
  • Reporting back. At the beginning of each meeting, devote 5 minutes to a critique of the previous meeting. Discussion evolves naturally from this.
  • Diaries. Students and tutor spend a short time towards the end of each meeting to record impressions, feelings, and what they learned about the dynamics of the group. Diary comments are shared at a later, designated meeting.
  • Fishbowl. Students from another group are invited to sit round and observe the group in question as it conducts a discussion and to reveal their observations afterwards. A questionnaire or checklist may be used. If subsequently the inner group and outer group reverse positions,the evaluation can be made reciprocal.
  • Self-made evaluation. Two or more subgroups devise an evaluation technique to use on the other subgroups, and then administer it.
  • Video or audio playback. The camera may be obtrusive, but the recorded playback does give the opportunity to witness live action and for members to contemplate their own behaviour. For any of these techniques to be really productive there must be a shared commitment to them, and to acting on the results, by all members of the group and they must be employed at a time which is neither too early for the group to have "gelled" nor too late for it to benefit from any resulting improvements.

This paper was first published by OCSLD 1989

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