Implementing and Assessing Collaborative Group Work

The term group work is most often associated with any form of learning activity where students work together. However, there are two approaches to group work. Cooperative learning is an instructional activity that involves students working together in ad hoc groups within a class period to achieve a learning goal (Major, 2015). Examples include the classic Think-Pair-Share, jigsaw, fishbowl and various in-class small group activities. In collaborative group work, students work together on a multifaceted project for an extended period of time. The task is too complex for one person to complete, so students work together in small groups to create new knowledge and by so doing contribute to each other’s learning.

The benefits of collaborative group work are well documented (Budhai, 2019; Freeman et al. 2014; Hodges, 2017). Yet, students and instructors tend to resist long-term group work. The resistance seems to hinge on a common conundrum. Students, especially the highly-motivated ones, are not happy about sharing a common grade with team members who may not pull their own weight in accomplishing the group task (Allan, 2016). Meanwhile, instructors are confronted with the question of how to grade group work equitably given the free riding problem (Anson & Goodman, 2014; Brooks & Ammons; Huang, 2018). This common concern is surmountable, and these two infographics show how.

In the first one, I provide a framework for planning and implementing a successful collaborative group work experience for students. Here, the structure of group work subsumes seven key components. Each component is illustrated with related workable strategies. The second infographic focuses on how to grade group work fairly and equitably using the principles of positive interdependence and individual accountability (Johnson, Johnson & Smith, 2014). In this format, the instructor uses a mechanism that includes a common grade and an individual score. The instructor assesses group product, but individual grade is predicated on confidential self and peer-evaluations of each member’s contributions to the project.

The goal of collaborative group work is not just to produce a product. Rather, the higher purpose is to inculcate in students pertinent teamwork, communication, leadership, problem solving and critical thinking skills which are highly regarded in the workplace. Therefore, constant monitoring and assessment of group process matter. Implementing and assessing collaborative group work may place planning, coordination and time costs on instructors and students, but the eventual benefit capital outweighs the costs.


Allan, E. G. (2016). “I hate group work!” Addressing students’ concerns about small-group learning. Insight: A Journal of Scholarly Teaching, 11, 81-89.

Anson, R., & Goodman, A. J. (2014). A peer assessment system to improve student team experiences. Journal of Education for Business, 89, 27-34.

Brooks, C. M. & Ammons, J. L. (2010). Free riding in group projects and the effects of timing, frequency, and specificity of criteria in peer assessments. Journal of Education for Business, 78(5), 268-272.

Budhai, S. S. (2019). Designing effective team projects in online courses.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., &Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, 111(23), 8410–8415.

Huang, L. (2018). Students riding on the coattails during group work? Five simple ideas to try.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (2014). Cooperative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory. Journal of Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 85-118.

Major, C. (2015). Choosing the best approach for small group work

Funmi Amobi is an instructional consultant in the Center for Teaching and Learning. She provides pedagogical support to faculty through 1:1 consultations, mini workshops (Sparkshops) on teaching-related topics, dissemination of infographics on evidence-based instructional practices and co-facilitation of faculty learning communities.

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