Assessment and Evaluation of Online Collaborative Writing


How should instructors assess online collaborative assignments?

Student assignments representing the work and knowledge of a lone individual keep departmental and institutional assessment mechanisms well oiled. Even f2f course with collaborative/team assignments can throw a spanner into these works. When teaching at the U of Winnipeg, I received at least one or two memos a year from our university’s academic standards committee inquiring why average grades in courses with teamwork (mine or others) exceeded the bell-curve. My standard responses (though often lengthy) can be boiled down to this: knowledge sharing and collaborative writing are pedagogically and philosophically valid forms of inquiry, and putting them into practice often improves the quality of student work.

Having said that, it's important (and some departments make it a requirement) to provide student teams with clear marking criteria and/or rubrics. Here are some sample standards for evaluating online writing assignments:

➢ A (85 – 89%): Shows extensive development and in-depth knowledge of subject. Demonstrates clarity and professionalism in style, word-choice, and formatting (including visuals/media where applicable). Content, development, and style/approach are appropriate for the intended audience and serve the assignment’s main goals. May also be creatively and engagingly presented. An A+ (90% or higher) is awarded for work that greatly exceeds expectations.
➢ A – (80 – 84%): Shows comprehensive development and knowledge of subject. Demonstrates high level of clarity and professionalism in style, word-choice, and formatting (including visuals/media where applicable). Is generally attentive to the needs of the intended audience and serves the assignment’s main goals. May also be creatively and engagingly presented.
➢ B + (75 – 79%): Shows full understanding of subject and appropriate coverage of content. Usually demonstrates clarity of style, word-choice, and formatting (including visuals/media where applicable). Is attentive to the needs of the intended audience and serves most of the assignment’s main goals. Shows an appropriate coverage of content, and may also be creatively presented. May have a few minor problems or inconsistencies of vocabulary, expression, organization, or argumentation.
➢ B (70 – 74%): Shows fairly complete understanding of subject and appropriate coverage of content. More often than not, demonstrates clarity of style, word-choice, and formatting (including visuals/media where applicable). Is somewhat attentive to the needs of the intended audience and serves most of the assignment’s main goals. May have a few minor problems or inconsistencies of vocabulary, expression, organization, or argumentation.
➢ C + (65 – 69%): Shows basic understanding of subject and serves some of the assignment’s main goals. May need further development in content or understanding of concepts. May show lapses in style, word-choice, formatting, organization, and/or argumentation.

(Criteria for C work or below are not included here. It's extremely rare for collaborative writing teams to receive such a low mark.)

How should students assess each other?

Learner-centred assessment (Palloff and Pratt, 2005) is a recommended practice for evaluating online work. This practice involves asking students to complete a self-reflective exercise (built in to the assignment or given separate credit) as a "capstone" for their collaborative work. "At the very least," suggest Palloff and Pratt, "students should be asked to reflect on their participation in the activity and their contributions to the group." Instructors benefit as well from "important formative and summative information that can be incorporated into future iterations of the assignment" (2005, p. 43).

In face-to-face classes requiring team presentations, I typically ask students to evaluate each team's performance using written comments (not scores) ... and I consider those evaluations seriously when compiling my own. In Rhetoric and the WWW, students were required to participate in student-moderated discussions ("seminars") based on each team's collaborative project; however, I didn't ask students to assess their peers' projects or presentations. Palloff and Pratt (2005), on the other hand, point out that students "often have far more information about the workings of a small group than does the instructor" (p. 48). They recommend that while instructors "should certainly retain the determination about what to assess, how to assess it, and how to respond to any evaluation material," nonetheless, collaborative projects should be collaboratively assessed, preferably using a clear rubric (pp. 45-47).

The following student comment suggests that peers should have a more direct say in not only evaluating but disciplining team members during an online project:
Future teams should be required (with grade consequences) to keep in contact for group assignments, or groups should be allowed to oust non-participatory members. Also, if members knew that they were to be evaluated by their peers after the assignment was done, and their mark would reflect their level of contribution, there would be more motivation for offending members to work and get along.
~Kimberley Burron
This comment underlines the usefulness of instructors considering peer evaluation as part of the grading process. However, Palloff and Pratt warn that instructors need to "guard against possible scapegoating ... wherein students grade a peer far lower than deserved due to interpersonal difficulties in the group" (2005, p. 48). Indeed, while creating their team Code of Ethics, one student group suggested they should have the power to "fail" a non-participating student. Having students submit peer evaluations not as scores or grades but in writing, guided by rubrics or clear questions/criteria, would appear to be the 'best practice" for avoiding peer scapegoating while still giving students a legitimate voice in the assessment process.



References:

Palloff, R.M., & Pratt, K. (2005). Collaborating online: Learning together in community. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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