Thursday, October 29, 2015

Grading Collaborative Writing in the College Classroom

We’ve all witnessed the reactions to mention of the dreaded group project.  Worse still, the deafening collective gasp of shock when talk of a collaborative paper is thrown in the mix.  It’s no secret that college students fear group assignments, and with the difficulties of scheduling meetings, separating work, and relying on complete strangers to do their portion of the project with as much vigor and studious focus as one would do it individually?  Well, needless to say, it can be a stressful concept.

In fact, I can remember back to my first college group paper, and the ultimate betrayal I felt when I stayed up night after night researching, organizing, and writing, only to find out that my other group members waited until the day before it was due to do their own portions.  Then, it’s like some sort of unwritten code among the student body (especially in freshman level courses, mind you) to make sure that everyone gets an adequate grade on the peer evaluations.  The peer pressure in that alone is enough to make one question why they didn’t just do the entire project on their own from the get-go.

So, amidst all of this struggle, one question remains:  how is it possible to adequately and fairly grade a collaborative group project or paper?

An article released by Carnegie Mellon listed the different options concerning individual grading on a group scale.  One of these options was to have each student write a reflective journal piece to hand in with their group work.  This journal includes the things they struggled with individually with the project and how they overcame those struggles, and then also discusses the overall contributions of each group member, how often the group met before handing in their project, and any other details students might like to share with you concerning the completion of the project.  If you are planning on utilizing this type of assessment, make sure students know that their responses in these journals will remain confidential, and only you will be reading them.  Other ideas included individual quizzes or exams after group papers have been handed in to make sure all members of the group were equally fluent on the content their paper or project addressed.

If you’d like to be a little more personal with your assessments, and the class size isn’t too daunting, have students schedule individual conferences with you to discuss how the collaborative side of things went.  That way, you can take notes, and it enables you to discuss the importance of group roles within your classroom beforehand.  If students enter a project knowing that they will have to face you with information on their contribution, and that others will be telling you directly about their contributions as well, chances are they will be at least slightly more motivated to put their fair share of effort forth.

It's also strongly recommended that you never give a flat group grade to every person within the group.  Since students tend to split work among themselves in order to then bring their pieces together to create a larger cohesive piece, it might be beneficial for group members to label portions they personally are able to take credit for before handing in the finished product.  That way, you are able to better assess individual portions as well as take into account the finished product as a whole.  Utilizing a rubric that hosts point values for both the collaborative and individual aspects separately will help make grading and providing feedback seamless and consistent.

Tip Provided By:  Jessica Moser

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