Best practices for assessing group work

Note that this guidance relates to the demonstration of foundational knowledge and competencies as well as concentration competencies in group assignments in a course setting. To date, CEPH has not been able to validate examples of individual student assessment of competencies in group assignments for the APE or ILE.

Faculty often find group assignments to be an effective instructional approach to prepare students for the public health profession—the profession requires strong teamwork skills. CEPH agrees! However, the accreditation criteria define some parameters: units are expected to “define methods to assess individual students’ competency attainment in group projects.”

Recently, we returned to the literature to confirm best practices and to identify some reliable resources for assessing individual students through group assignments in a course setting. The recommended assessment method remains a triangulation of student self-assessment, peer assessment, and instructor assessment. Here are some additional concepts that may be helpful:

  • Include milestones and increments: the group assignment can be designed to include milestone components with interim deadlines that integrate assessment throughout the process. Assessing process and product has been shown to be a more equitable approach to tease out and measure individual student contributions and performance.
    • Incorporating student self-assessment and peer assessment allows the instructor to provide feedback on the team’s process and progress prior to completion of the final work product.
    • The final assignment grade can factor in self-assessments, peer assessments, and instructor assessment of milestone components, as well as the final work product.
  • Assign weights: successful assessment strategies find the right allocation of points to motivate individual student contributions and minimize unequal contributions and learning. Peer assessments have been shown to be intrinsic motivators that promote accountability among team members.
  • Use rubrics: instructors should provide rubrics for the self-assessment, peer assessment, any milestone components, and the final work product. Well-designed rubrics are instructional tools that provide guidance and clarity, set expectations, promote equitable assessment practices, and help mitigate unconscious bias. Well-designed rubrics are also specific to the assignment and skills, not generalized assessments of feelings and perceptions.
  • Allocate in-class time: allocating time in class for group work promotes accountability and provides an opportunity for instructors to provide formative feedback in real time. For example, use class time for groups to plan, coordinate, and manage projects with the instructor and/or teaching assistant rotating among groups to observe and offer direction as needed.
  • Use technology: Google Docs and similar tools can allow instructors to see individual contributions to a draft and can provide transparency for non-synchronous observation of group dynamics.

The following websites have additional recommendations and rubric examples, as well as citations for further reading:

Finally, if your university has a center for teaching and learning or instructional design staff, those individuals may be able to assist—see what expertise is available to you close to home!

Written by: Aleta Gaertner, MPH