Resource Review: Accounting for Individual Effort in Cooperative Learning Teams

Resource: Accounting for Individual Effort in Cooperative Learning Teams
Authors: Deborah B. Kaufman, Richard M. Felder and Hugh Fuller
Published by: Journal of Engineering Education, April 2000 (v. 89, no. 2, p. 133-140).

Group work is an important part of many engineering courses. Many students (and instructors), however, resist such work in part because it reduces individual accountability, allowing some students to freeload off the work of others. This article describes the application of a method of restoring some amount of individual accountability to group homework assignments.

The method is a relatively simple addition to the grading scheme: Students in each homework group were asked to rate the effort (not the ability) of their teammates. A weighting factor equal to the ratio of a student's average rating to the average rating for all of his/her team members was calculated for each student.

Students' homework grades were the product of the group grade and the weighting factor, which allowed students who contributed a great deal to their group to improve their grades.

Changes to the fourth floor of Wendt Library have made it a focal point for group study. The weighting method effectively reduces freeloading by penalizing students who do not participate, and rewarding the other members of groups that have to work without the support of one of their members. It is both reactive (reducing the grade of those who do not participate) and proactive (students know they are being rated, and so adjust their behavior accordingly). The authors also found that students were unlikely to inflate their own scores with improper ratings; when asked to rate themselves, students were more likely to underrate rather than overrate their own effort relative to the scores given to them by their peers.

While useful, the weighting scheme only seems applicable for certain circumstances. Because the weighting relies on an overall rating by fellow students, this method should be applied only when the group grades are a relatively small portion of the overall course grade (as they were in this article). For courses centered on group work, such as design project courses, guided student ratings on multiple characteristics combined with more objective measures would be more appropriate.

A few further caveats are noted in the article itself. Overall, the grading scheme helps account for individual effort in a team setting, without introducing any significant new problems or inconveniences.

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Tags: Resource, Teamwork, Assessment

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For more information about the ideas in this article:

This article was based on a longitudinal study of student performance, so those who are interested may also wish to read the other articles focused on different aspects of the larger study. The Journal of Engineering Education is available electronically through UW-Libraries.

R. M. Felder, K. D. Forrest, L. Baker-Ward, E. J. Dietz, and P. H. Mohr. (1993). A Longitudinal Study of Engineering Student Performance and Retention. I. Success and Failure in the Introductory Course. Journal of Engineering Education, 82(1): p. 15-21.

R. M. Felder, P. H. Mohr, E. J. Dietz, and L. Baker-Ward. (1994). A Longitudinal Study of Engineering Student Performance and Retention. II. Differences between Students from Rural and Urban Backgrounds. Journal of Engineering Education, 83(3): p. 15-21.

R. M. Felder, G. N. Felder, M. Mauney, C. E. Hamrin Jr. and E. J. Dietz. (1995). A Longitudinal Study of Engineering Student Performance and Retention. III. Gender Differences in Student Performance and Attitudes. Journal of Engineering Education, 84(2): p. 151-163.

R. M. Felder. (1995). A Longitudinal Study of Engineering Student Performance and Retention. IV. Instructional Methods. Journal of Engineering Education, 84(4): p. 361-367.