Marginalised students in group work assessment : ethical issues of group formation and the effective support of such individuals

Antony Mellor

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract

In this project we focus on our experience of group work assessment over a number of years on a 20 credit, year-long, option module Soil Degradation and Rehabilitation, which forms part of the final year of our BSc (Hons) Geography degree programme and has a cohort of around 30 students each year. The group assessment comprises 40% of the module marks and includes a group oral presentation and written report. We became concerned about a number of issues adversely affecting the student learning experience, such as marginalised individuals, adverse group dynamics and unequal contributions by individuals within groups (Mills 2003, Hand 2001). Of specific concern, however, were the ethics of group formation (Chang 1999, Knight 2004). Allowing self-selected groups inevitably leaves some students marginalised and in a position where they may be not only disadvantaged materially in terms of marks but also could be personally affected in a negative way. In this paper we explore to what extent is it our duty to address the needs of these students, as well as ways of maintaining equity and transparency in tutor-led support across the entire cohort. Using an action research approach (Carr 2006, Elliott 2007), we implemented four key interventions: •To make timetabled sessions available for the groups to meet and also to discuss progress with the tutor, thus addressing the practical problem of lack of opportunity to meet and facilitating group interaction early on in the process. •To allow groups to play to their strengths. We encouraged the students to think about their strengths in terms of the tasks required as part of this assignment to identify what their contribution might be and their role within that group. •To provide formative feedback on drafts of the written report. This enabled us to encourage and promote the need for a dialogue between group members where a synthesis of materials was lacking. •To include an individual critical reflection component as part of the assignment. We aimed to promote reflection on the learning inherent in the activity regardless of the form of the experience or the summative mark of the end product. Data were collected using a written teacher log, the students’ critical reflections, and a student questionnaire following completion of the project. Of the four interventions noted above, all had a positive role to play in supporting isolated and marginalised students with their experience of group-work. The fourth, that of individual critical reflection, was perhaps the least successful across the cohort as a whole because the students were relatively inexperienced in this way of thinking and writing, coming largely from a scientific background. It did however provide a platform for student grievances and issues to be raised, and facilitated their ability to develop different approaches to solving more abstract problems. Outcomes from this intervention will also be considered in the planning of this group assessment in future years.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2008
Event4th Biennial EARLI/Northumbria Assessment Conference 2008 - Berlin
Duration: 1 Aug 2008 → …

Conference

Conference4th Biennial EARLI/Northumbria Assessment Conference 2008
Period1/08/08 → …

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