How do I evaluate teamwork?

Collaborative Learning activities commonly have several goals, including individualized learning, success in the team’s work and having a collaborative product. Since the support of peers in learning the course materials is the responsibility of each of the students involved, collaboration and individual opinion are two of the main assessment requirements in almost all projects. This includes, participating in class, attendance, individual preparation and cooperation, which includes helping others in learning the course materials.

 

An important role for the Professor is observation and monitoring of said groups.

 

By observing these groups of students, allows the professor to understand the quality of interaction within a group and see the progress in particular tasks. When you’ll observe these groups in a classroom setting, look for examples in which students are paying attention, having a serious discussion and progressing towards a common goal through collaboration by each of the members of said team.

Make use of technology to keep track of all the individual or group activities. The use of emails or learning softwares may be used in order to communicate progresses, plans or even decisions to the professor.  Monitoring teams that meet outside of the classroom may be done through drafting a group report in advance, with a list of such meetings, and all documents submitted during the project. Some professors will ask students to submit daily reports in order to verify that the team is fulfilling the work plan and progressing individually and in cooperation with the other team members.

You may assess individually, by team or by having a combination of both.

If the students are given time to work in groups during the lesson, they only socialize and don’t do the work.

If there is a high level of organization and self- responsibility, is not a problem to keep the students interested in the activity. The teams that finish their activity early can help each other on the following activity or task, speak silently or leave early. When the activity is exciting and interactive, the students will be so involved in it that the debate will continue even after the class is finished, as it observed Doug Duncan, astronomy and astrophysics professor at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Duncan gave a weekly challenge to small groups. The week he spoke about dynamics he challenged the students to predict what would happen if he let a bowling ball and metal marble fall. “I was informed that on that week many students were throwing objects from their room’s balcony. So at least something had occurred: I achieved one of my objectives. The students got interested on science and they enjoyed it, regardless of whether their prediction was correct or not.” he said.

The misprints’ maze: the many levels of correction

The word correction is usually related with straightness. It gives us the idea of making straight something that is not yet so, literally “rectifying”. Straightness is measured with a rule, the tool that at the same time serves as a point of comparison and measurement. Without the rule as our reference point, we cannot determine if we are missing “straightness”.

Correction as an activity related to the word, has inevitably, its own rules or reference points from where we can determine whether something is missing straightness; something that therefore, needs “correction”. The rule, as a reference point, should not be mistaken for rigidity and a lack of judgement. A rule should be firm enough so it fulfills its function appropriately, and flexible enough so it doesn’t break in the process. The huge amount of rules of a language has contributed to view the editor as a “police of the word”, as if an error would be the equivalent to a misdemeanor, that can be judged and punished.

Correction, within the field of printed communication, has many levels, at the end all of them related to the word, the writing and the letter itself (or graphic signs). Before start correcting, the terms of the task should be very clear: Is it necessary to check the way the ideas are organized, the design of the information, the development of the topics, or the selection of the contents itself? It is necessary to correct the communication, the expression or the way of exposing the information and the ideas? It is necessary to sort out the writing according to the general rules of sentence, phrase, word and paragraph construction used in the specific language (syntax and morphology)?

The teachers cannot cover all the syllabus

The teachers cannot cover all the syllabus because the activities of collaborative learning take too much time.

Many teachers fear that they will lose part of their content when using collaborative learning methods, because group activities normally require more time than the traditional methods. The students need time to work together, come to an agreement, form opinions, present the information and do research. It is true that at the beginning, while they learn to work as a group, teams work slower, they need to analyze what works and what doesn’t and get training on conflict resolution. Once the students adapt to each other in the process, their level of retention and critical thinking improves to the point that they can move forward in the contents of the syllabus faster (Prescott, 1996).

This has been observed in the Elementary Algebra classes of Ted Panitz in the Cape Cod Community College. During the first sessions, the students work in pairs to solve exercises and practical problems. Panitz reviews the problems asking the pairs to write the solution on the board. After using this method for many classes, he feels the students are ready to form groups of three to four members. The students feel better each time when working together. Every team is responsible for solving a group of five problems and write their answers on a list on the board. Every team writes their answers at the same time. They determine the way of finishing the activity, either each solves a problem or all solve all the problems. Before writing their answers they are asked if they have reached an agreement. While the teams are working, Panitz walks around the classroom and observes each student, motivating them and giving them hints to solve the problems. “The students finish around 50 problems in class, which would be impossible if they would do it under the traditional method.” says Panitz. “When they have answered around 30 problems, some students feel they have already worked too much and start complaining. However, their expectations and self-esteem increase when they realize what they have achieved in such a short time. They help each other, discuss and debate their answers, talk about their methods and come to an agreement. From this point, the class is every time more focused on the use of collaborative learning techniques”.

The role of an editor

And what is the editor’s role if that other is also a student?, someone that comes to the text because he wants/needs/has to learn, and even more, to self-learn?

In these cases, the responsibility is even higher. An error in a book is duplicated not only once, but many times, as used to say the monks from the middle ages when, nostalgic from their scriptorium, refused to accept the novelty of the typewriter. They would wonder «How will we know now the truth?», «now that we cannot compare the differences between the manuscripts to know which one is the real one, the error will be repeated no only once, but many times; to amend it will be impossible»

The error of an editor, dedicated to book production, has, in any of its levels (scholar, varied or university teaching), concrete repercussions: it affects the others’ learning, their academic performance, their grades, their dreams. The editor is risking the various efforts that the person does  for his studies, and that a State, viewing public spending in education as the best investment for the future of the country, supports.

Therefore, those working in the edition of academic works have at the same time a great opportunity and a great responsibility: the responsibility of doing everything to create the best possible work for their students; the opportunity of contributing the germ in the formation of the future generation of citizens and leaders of the country.

Students should self-assess their work

Aside from the professor’s assessment, students will be able to self-assess their work and contributions to the rest of the team.

 

For example, after performing a project activity, students are asked to write a list of three things that have been useful to them and one they would like to improve. Students are then encourage to analyze the results of their peers, and not just their personalities, making this a clear effort to identifying the behaviors that may help improve teamwork and what might be weakening the team. This information may be shared among small groups or with the whole class.

 

Students are encouraged to be constructive and communicative, as opposed to judging the behavior of others. The most common responses are:

-“ I think it is useful that Marta is bringing several articles because this helps the flow of the discussion and allows us to have a variety of resources to work with”.

-“I like how Joel writes down all of our comments. They say exactly what I want to say, but in a better way than I say them”.

-“I feel encouraged by the way we talk about certain topics. It makes me feel engaged”.

-I feel frustrated whenever someone comes unprepared” (Enerson, 1997).

 

Students can also submit their lists to the professor, who will analyze this information and share with the rest of the class. The professor may group suggestions for improvement into two categories:

  1. Behaviors for which the professor is responsible
  2. Behaviors for which the students are responsible.

 

You may ask students to fill out self-assessment forms and also assess their peers, thus, distributing points among the team members and writing confidential comments regarding each member’s contribution to the team. The student must self-assess him or herself. A type for evaluation may include items such as leadership, collaboration, communication, work ethic and work quality.

Dr. Robin Eanes for the University of St. Edwards in Austin, Texas, used a type of peer evaluation during the completion of an activity during a class called “Educational Reform in the United States”. This type of evaluation asked students to evaluate aspects of each of the team members, their skills within the group and knowledge of the content in a scale from 0 to 3: unfit, acceptable, good and excellent. Students were assessing themselves following these criteria:

-The ability to express personal opinions and points of view

-The ability to defend your point of view

-The ability not to control a discussion

-The amount of help provided to all the members of your team

-The ability to teach course material to the rest of the team.

The available techniques to evaluate teams

  • Class presentations
  • Group presentations
  • Group examinations
  • Applying concepts in a pre-determined situation
  • Professor’s observations for the work done by teams
  • Evaluating the members of a team, and the contribution submitted by each of them during the project.
  • Extra credit when a team has completed a previous evaluation, o when a team member has surpassed in terms of effort.

 

If you will evaluate a team, you ought to make sure that the individual effort is also included in the evaluation, through:

  • Examinations
  • Assessments
  • Homework
  • Team collaboration and contribution

 

In some activities, students will work in teams, whereas projects might be evaluated separately. For instance, a team from an architecture class will work together in designing and building a new building for the campus. This project will require the team to research the needs, assess the actual space and foresee the possible changes in terms of budget and time. The final product will include the building design and a document explaining the different research areas performed by the students. A way to assess such a project, in an individual manner, is that the team divides tasks into sections identifiable and assigned to each member, and thus becoming the responsibility of a particular member of the team. For example, a student will research and get to know the possibilities and limitations of a space, another will write the report and another draft a design. Instead of evaluating the overall project, the professor may grade each section separately, and thus grade each of the students.

 

Another way to assess separately in a project is to ask students work as a team during research and planning, and then each student must submit their own design of the building. The team will work as a common resource, whereas students will work on their personal designs, and evaluated separately on their final product.

A couple of myths about learning

Collaborative learning means less work for the teacher.

Quite the contrary, the collaborative learning activities require a lot of preparation. To select and design activities or questions are essential elements, as well as guiding the students to use appropriately the working abilities in small groups.

 

Teachers don’t do their work when students learn by themselves.

The teachers that use the collaborative learning methods assume that knowledge is created through interaction and not from teacher to student. Therefore, teaching starts with the knowledge, experience and understanding that the student has (and not the teacher has). This requires that the teacher leaves part of the traditional authority- and responsibility- that implied acting as an exponent.

The role of the teacher in collaborative learning is to create the environment in which the students discover the knowledge through interaction.

 

Teachers should change the whole syllabus to use the collaborative learning model.

Not all the activities are appropriate to work with collaborative learning. Individual and competitive tasks and activities should also be included to support the collaborative learning activities. If there isn’t a reason to do a collaborative learning activity, then the teacher should not change it.

When one considers using collaborative learning for a task, it should first be decided whether collaboration is an essential part of what is being taught. For example, when the students work in teams to write research reports, the teaching method is not separated from the content, because the students are learning not only to write, but to write collaboratively, which requires a different combination of abilities (Enerson, at al., 1997). When considering using a collaborative activity, teachers should ask themselves the following questions (Enerson, 1997):

  • What is the goal or objective of this task, project or activity?
  • How does it help the objective asking the students to work in a team?
  • Is the project complex and challenging enough so it is not possible for the student to do it individually?
  • Does the project requires that the students summarize their work in a collaborative way instead of doing the work individually and then putting it together to handle it in?

What ideas arise when teachers use collaborative learning with their students?

Although collaborative work has demonstrated to be an efficient learning strategy, for those who have not lived this experience yet, working in a collaborative way has caused certain mistaken concepts, such as:

 

Explanation is forbidden in the classrooms on COLLABORATIVE LEARNING.

Explanation is not forbidden in the collaborative learning groups. It is still an useful resource to present the information that is not available somewhere else, saving time to the students in the search of information, awakening their interest on the topic and teaching them to learn in an auditory way (Johnson and Johnson, 1999).

Nevertheless, the explanations in collaborative learning are modified versions of the traditional explanations. Here, short, active and collaborative activities alternate.

David and Roger Johnson, authors of Learning together and alone: cooperative, competitive and individualistic learning (Boston. Allyn and Bacon, 1999) suggest to use the following method when planning an explanation in order to keep the students intellectually interested:

  1. Group the students in pairs. Give from four to five minutes to carry out a cooperative activity that develops the knowledge about the topic presented. The purpose of this activity is to provide the beginning of a discussion.
  2. To explain the first 10 or 15 minutes.
  3. To give three or four minutes to let them discussed about the material presented. The discussion activity should answer to the question proposed by the teacher, offer a response to the theory, concepts or information exposed and relate the new material with previous learning. The pairs should respond in the following way:
  4. a) every student formulates their answer
  5. b) share their answer with their partner
  6. c) everyone hears the answer of their partner
  7. d) They form a new answer, better than the initial answers.
  8. To select two or three student randomly, so they can present a summary of their discussion in thirty seconds.
  9. To explain the following 10-15 minutes.
  10. To present another discussion activity about the second part of the explanation, for three or four minutes.
  11. To repeat this sequence explanation-discussion until the topic is concluded.
  12. To present a final discussion activity to summarize what they’ve learned on the                             topic. The students should have around four to five minutes to summarize and discuss                 the material.