Posted in Peer Focus
Name of Academic: Dr Sarah Midford
Team member names: Sarah Midford, Sara James, Zoe Thomas and Quinn Eades
Briefly explain the challenge/issue faced by yourself/students and why this was important to address.
HUS1FAS ‘Re-thinking our Humanity’ is a degree core subject in the Bachelor of Arts. The subject is designed to be taken in a student’s first semester and supports the development of their academic skills, setting them up for success in the Bachelor of Arts. The challenge was to teach and assess the speaking and teamwork Graduate Capabilities in a way that built the cohort and didn’t alienate students through a negative group work experience. BA students often only attend university once per week, which makes it difficult to meet people and make friendships. The BA also has 27 majors, so having classes with the same people is rare and this can breed feelings of isolation. The lack of cohort experience can lead to high levels of anxiety, loneliness and disconnection. In order to mitigate this anxiety the group work project was designed to facilitate student to student interaction.
What was done, who was involved, how difficult was it to implement? What were the critical success factors? Try and keep this as simple as possible. If you have templates or images to include please list them in the resources section below.
The subject has constantly been reviewed since it was first taught by the teaching team in 2014. It has been designed to give the whole cohort a foundational skills base in research and collaboration. The Group Project includes individually and group assessed components and totals 20% of students’ final grade. The division of marks allows students to retain personal control over a proportion of their grade while remaining invested in collaboration for the group component.
Each group has to formulate and research a specific topic which has to be approved by their seminar leader. Students then work to research a topic over several weeks, participating in scaffolded discussions and collaborative research tasks, producing an e-poster presentation and leading a 10 – 15 minute class discussion before submitting a group workbook. The group workbook clearly sets out assessment instructions and weekly tasks for the Project. It includes a list of roles that students can choose from. Each student chooses a role and decides who is responsible for which aspect of the project before commencing their research. Each role comes with specific responsibilities and students are encouraged to choose their role based on their individual strengths. The roles are flexible and can be adjusted according to each group’s needs. Students who aren’t confident presenting to an audience can choose a role that doesn’t involve speaking to the class, while those with strong communication skills might take on the role of communications coordinator and those who have design skills might choose to be responsible for the e-poster. This mimics what happens in the workplace.
As part of the assessment revisions, the role of researcher has been changed so that all students have to undertake research rather than it being the responsibility of only one or two members of the group. This change was made because it was found that quieter students were doing all the research. Over the years the group component of the final grade has also been altered so that individual contributions to the collaborative result are valued more highly (currently 50/50 individual/group). This makes students feel they are being more fairly compensated for the work they contribute, especially among higher achieving students. Individual work is recognised not ignored or absorbed and when a student does not pull their weight they lose significant marks in the individual category.
Research skills are built through a series of staged tasks from library skills to source analysis. Earlier assessment tasks contribute to the knowledge and skills assessed in the group project so students can build on prior learning.
The Group project is designed, structured, timed and scaffolded over 3 weeks. Each week specific tasks are assigned in the workbook so students have a clear idea what is expected of them. They are also expected to sign and adhere to a code of conduct as part of the project as a way of managing expectations and behaviour. Other than the dress rehearsal component of the assessment task, all group work is undertaken in class so that the students have access to their seminar leader for questions and guidance. This also means that group behaviour and dynamics can be monitored and students not participating appropriately can be dealt with.
What was achieved? How well did it address the challenge? Any feedback from students?
Would you do anything different next time? Did anything unexpected occur or other challenges that came up?
Group work is often perceived very negatively by students. This assessment has led to quite positive experiences of collaboration through scaffolding. By giving students the ability to play to their strengths, choose their own topics and work collaboratively in a controlled environment the group work experience has been refined and improved. It is common for students to comment favourably about their group work experiences in the SFS, although the occasional negative comment means that there is still room for improvement.