Malcolm Eley

  • How valid are group marks as a proxy for the individual learning that comes from group assignment and project work?

    Malcolm Eley, Paul Lajbcygier, Christine Spratt

    Research paper

    Themes: Assessment, Learning & teaching methods


    Group assignments, now common place in university teaching, typically result in some group project or report that is then marked as a single entity. To translate that collective project mark into separate marks attributed singly to the individual group members, a common approach is to derive ‘weighting multipliers’ for each group member, based on those members’ contributions to the group product. Those multipliers are applied to the collective mark, resulting in individual student marks for the group project.

    However, if group work is incorporated into our teaching primarily as a learning experience rather than as an assessment device, then issues of assessment validity arise. As part of any teaching strategy, group work provides a vehicle through which individual group members might attain substantive learning objectives related to the content material within which the project is sited. The validity question then becomes:

    To what extent is an individual mark derived from ‘contribution weighted’ modifications to the product’s mark, an indicator of a student’s attainment of those content related objectives?

    The present paper reports a study carried out in the context of teaching a subject in Business Systems. In that subject students complete a group project related to investment decisions and asset performances. A number of measures were derived that related to that group project. First, each student rated the influence of the overall group experience on their learning, expressed as ratings against specific indicated content objectives, which were the project’s teaching intent. Second, each student rated the contributions of their group peers to their own learning, as a result of interactions during the experience, again expressed as ratings relative to attaining the same content objectives. Third, each student rated the contributions of their peers to the performance of the group, expressed as ratings relative to a list of specific group processes and responsibilities. Finally, after the project’s completion each individual student was tested for his or her attainment of those same specific content objectives.

    The three rating measures were used, separately, to derive ‘weighting multipliers’ for each individual student, which were then applied separately to the mark for the group project to yield individual marks. In the analyses the individual marks resulting from the three different forms of ‘multiplier’ were compared to each other, and to each student’s performance on the individual test of the objectives’ attainment. Variation amongst these four measures provides an indication of how well various forms group marks might indeed be valid proxies for individual learning within a group project context.