Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Fairness of Group Grading

Collaboration is a skill to be learned. Most of us, who has been on this program, has been through at least one difficult experience of working on a team project. Despite the difficulty, major scholars and practitioners in the field of online education emphasize the importance of group activities and the necessity for students to learn how to work as a team. “Collaboration has been the most powerful principle of online course design and delivery” (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, p. 257). We’ve come some way from “I win if you lose” individualistic paradigm of competitive learning (Oosterhof, Conrad, & Ely, 2008) to “when I succeed, we succeed” of collaborative teamwork (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, p. 157).

How do you assess such important collaborative activities? According to Oosterhof, et al. (2008), instructor might be partially excluded from the team activities and cannot directly observe all what transpires between the team members. What the instructor can objectively judge is the product of the team collaboration. Therefore, most commonly, the project gets graded and that’s the grade that goes to each member’s individual record, despite the differences in the workload and the intensity of participation from member to member. Many consider this practice unfair and think each team member should get two grades – one for group effort and another - for individual work.
Consider the following questions:

  • Under what circumstances can the group grading work and be fair?
  • If team collaboration is such an important skill and an individual’s success is dependent on the group effort, why not cultivate collaboration by grading identically each team member? Wouldn’t it prompt the team to come up with some original plan for equally involving all members and making it fair for all to receive the well-deserved grade?
  • What mechanism, in your opinion will make individual grades based on group collaboration fair?
By Friday, please, summarize your thoughts on the topic of fairness of group grading. Try to go beyond your initial reaction to the questions above and come up with arguments both for and against this practice. Return later and read your peers’ responses.

By Sunday, reply to at least two of your classmates’ postings by asking questions, expanding on their ideas, or suggesting a new solution. Please, don’t forget to cite your sources. Please, see Discussion Rubric for information on what’s expected from your work.


Oosterhof, A., Conrad, R.-M., & Ely, D. P. (2008). Assessing learners online. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


  1. I agree with most of this week’s resources in the importance of group work. If for no other reason group work is the best simulation of the workforce. Regardless of the industry everyone at some point has to interact and work with coworkers to complete a larger project or goal.
    Yet I also agree that the grading system of group work can make or break the experience for students. Our resources this week have given us several resources for resolving this issue, such as:
    • Having all group members grade themselves and their group members based on the collaboration rubric
    • Designating specific roles for each group member
    • Tracking edits to the project when utilizing a wiki or document tracking system

    I think that the benefits of group work outweigh the challenges and the challenges are slowly being eliminated with new instructional techniques.

    Thank you.


    Oosterhof, A., Conrad, R.-M., & Ely, D. P. (2008). Assessing learners online. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

    Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. (Palloff, R., & Pratt, K., Promoting Collaborative Learning, Building Online Communities). Copyright 2007 John Wiley & Sons Inc. Used with permission from John Wiley & Sons Inc. via the Copyright Clearance Center.

    Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., &
    Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

    Laureate Education. (Producer). (2011). Assessing Interaction and Collaboration in Online Environments [Online]. Retrieved from Walden University eCollege

  2. Fairness of Group Grading

    Collaborative interaction has been termed the “heart and soul of an online course”, (Draves , 2002). This being true the online learning experience isn’t much without collaboration. Therefore what impact is this having on the grades of the team members? It is easier for the instructor to grade the project rather than try to grade the individual grade within a group project. Our text stated this is the preferred method for many instructors. However is this method fair? We have read that some of the learner will opt out of the collaborative process leaving their work to others to complete. This in itself is a detraction toward the process. When others are called upon to do the work of others and they will get the same grade, morale is not much within the group. That within itself is not fair.
    In giving the members the same grade based on the success of the project, members will do their best but the overall grade will not reflect the impact the individuals had on the project. In setting up a process whereby each member has their portion to perform, the instructor can grade each aspect of the project by having the learners submit their work to the instructor has well. Here the individual grade is provided and coupled with the group grade, this will ensure that each member is being acknowledged for their work as an individual and as a group member. I believe the goal is to become a holistic environment, where the student learning context is incorporated. The collaborative process should provide a positive experience to the learner.
    Karl McKinney

    Oosterhof, A., Conrad, R.-M., & Ely, D. P. (2008). Assessing learners online. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

  3. I think when we did the ADDIE project the grading process was pretty far because each week one of us was in charge and we were able to do a peer evaluation at the end of the week. Anyone remember? I like to do peer evaluations when I have my science students do projects. This works great because they know their peers are going to evaluate them so they rise to the occasion. I recommend it and think it works great online also.

  4. But the fact that some students would shy away from peer evaluation is also true (Oosterhof, et al. 2008) - back then, I had mixed feelings about it - it almost felt like I had to give everyone a good grade to show support. The rubric was good, though - it asked about objective facts (like whether this team member participated in a discussion - something like that, I don't remember exactly), so there wasn't much left for subjective interpretation. Also, there was something wrong with the system, by which peer evaluations were submitted to the instructor - it was supposed to be hidden from others, but it wasn't, so I could easily open and see how others graded me.

    There is much to do to improve about the practice of online group projects, but I think there is little doubt that they have to be there, don't you think?

  5. I also like the use of peer evaluations when facilitating a group collaboration content but it has not been successful with my online high school students. The online high school I am currently working with gets a large population of students with social disorders and social anxieties. These students have come to online for the lack of social interaction, they see social interaction as a distraction or hindrance to their academic goals/needs. Any ideas on how i could still utilize these discussion and collaboration tools but in a way that works for my students??

  6. Elizabeth, for some reason I couldn't find the way to reply directly to your first post so I'll start with it here.

    Challenges of online group work are abound, especially for newcomers: they don't know each other well, don't know how to handle distributing responsibilities in a non-threatening, appropriate way, how much to demand from each other, how to deal with those who don't contribute adequately, and a host of other details that only come to be known with experience.

    I like the idea of a group contract that spells out team members' responsibilities. In their book (2007), Palloff and Pratt suggest a lot of flexibility in the way this contract is handled based on the group's level of creativity. I think this should be more or less restricted depending on the learners' experience working in a team. If they are novices, the instructor should take over creating the rules and give them more structure for their work (they will have enough to deal with). With experience, the students have to be allowed more flexibility in handling their own group.

    Given the necessity of mastering the group collaboration skills for the future workplace and judging by my own single and unfortunate experience in a group project here at Walden about year ago, I really think Walden needs making group projects a regular occurrence in the EIDT program.

    As of your second post, Elizabeth - you don't tell us what strategies you already use. The things that first come to mind based on what you're telling us (socially awkward teenagers trying to focus on their academic goals) are: to make the discussion very structured and focused on a single question;n to carefully emphasize and praise helping each other - making discussions more like study groups (this could become a learning community of people with similar weaknesses and interests); maybe, to encourage off-topic conversations on a special discussion board because they need to learn how to communicate with others, so there should be still built a sense of belonging to some supporting community. Praising them for participation? Involving them based on their personalities? Giving them questionnaires?

    Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

  7. Karl, thanks for your "to the point" post! You did look at both sides of the issue, and proved your point for both the collective and the individual grade being awarded each member of the team. I think it's the best and fairest way.

    Coming from the former Soviet Union, I was brought up in the ideology of foregoing individual good for collective good. After all these years, I'm still feeling the effects of this cultural perspective every time I think how American society more and more concerns itself with accommodating as many individuals as it is logically, emotionally, physically and technologically possible. Therefore, it was no problem for me to accept the idea that if the focus of the project is to learn how to collaborate within a group (if that IS the focus), then receiving one group grade makes sense, because it is up to the individuals comprising the group to figure out how to make everyone contribute equally for the good of the project, and if not - bear the consequences either by receiving a worse grade or by having more work to do (whoa, sounds quite socialistic; I can totally remember having to deal with this approach at school and even in my family). It's quite efficient, too: less grading and more result (many unhappy personalities, though). Besides, I was bugged by this:

    How would it affect the whole project if everyone worked hard for his/her own part to receive a good grade? Is there a possibility that the project would feel fragmented?

    Perhaps, the answer would be yes, sometimes. That's why we need a leader, someone who would oversee the whole project and fix discrepancies. Anyway, there is a difference between school and work. At school, a good grade is important. When looking for a better job, it is important to be a part of a great project, and not a team member of a failing project - nobody would dig deep to see that it wasn't your fault.

    So thanks, Karl, for taking a neutral position and showing me how two grades would be the best solution.

  8. Hi Alexandra,you are welcome. I think the idea of a group collaboration is good from the view point of getting the individuals to work as a team. The work environment will often call on these skills to be put forward. However, even in those setting we will have to push other to do their part. I think however people pay more attention to be fired than getting a bad grade. So I agree projects need a leader, someone that will keep the team moving in the right direction.