Monitoring Group Work Assessments

One Tip for Tracking the Learning Process

Background

LECTURER: Michael Farrell, Michael.Farrell@dcu.ie

DISCIPLINE: Accounting & Finance

SUBJECT: AC220 – International Accounting Theory & Practice

LEVEL: Undergraduate

CLASS SIZE: 100 Students – 2nd Year Undergraduate

MODE OF DELIVERY: Classroom based lectures

Overview

Applicable to lecturers who set group assignments that require the submission of a final report, this case study suggests adding an additional requirement to the assignment where groups are required to record the minutes of all group meetings held and to submit these minutes as an appendix to the final group report.

By adding this relatively simple requirement, a lecturer will get documented evidence of how a group proceeded with the assignment. This provides two significant benefits:

  • The meeting minutes act as additional tool for highlighting potential plagiarism issues as the lecturer can rationalise the group report answer components against the development of those components; and
  • Instead of just viewing the outcomes of group work i.e. the final report submission, a lecturer now has oversight of the learning process the group went through. This provides valuable corroboratory evidence when deciding on final grades.

Academic integrity risks are similar to fraud risks in the business world. Fraud risks are often conceptualised through the fraud triangle: There must be a pressure to commit fraud, an opportunity to commit fraud, and a rationalisation for committing a fraud. Similarly, in an academic environment, students have pressures, opportunities, and rationalisations that could negatively impact academic integrity.

As an individual academic, I cannot significantly reduce the pressures on students. However, I can affect the opportunities for cheating by strengthening the internal controls of my assessments. In addition, but to a lesser extent, it is possible for me to affect students’ rationalisation processes.

What Was The Teaching & Learning Challenge?

I currently run a group assessment for second year Accounting & Finance degree students. The group assignment is a case study report of a stock-exchange listed company operating in Ireland. All groups report on the same case company and I change the case company every year. The average group size is four students per group and groups typically have eight weeks to complete the assignment.

All groups report on the same case company and I change the case company every year. The questions set for the assignment are very challenging but given the nature of the subject, and the level these students are at, the answers tend to be relatively objective which therefore increases the risk of plagiarism.

The questions set for the assignment are very challenging but given the nature of the subject, and the level the students are at, the answers tend to be relatively objective. Therefore, this increases the risk of plagiarism. After some careful thought, I concluded that a key weakness of the assessment was that I had no visibility over the process that students went through in developing their final answers. The assessment was predominantly focused on outputs with nearly all the requirements & marks going towards the students’ final answers. I required an assessment deliverable that allowed me to examine the process students went through in developing their final answers so I could rationalise those answers against their development.

Addressing The Challenges

I added a requirement to the assessment whereby groups were required to submit a copy of “minutes of groups meetings held” with their final report. I now had a mechanism to review the process that students went through in their assignment. This allowed me to correlate the assessment answers with the minutes submitted. The wording of the requirement was as follows:

“Include, by way of appendix to your report, a copy of all minutes of meetings held to complete this project. Your minutes should clearly indicate the number of meetings held and who was in attendance. The minutes should include interesting findings, the big issues encountered, and how those issues were dealt with.”

I had very little experience with this type of requirement and I expected my students to be in a similar position. In the interests of equity and fairness, I took what I deem to be a “light” approach in how I marked the requirement. The requirement was only worth 10% of the overall assignment and did not form part of the overall word count (3,000 words). I did not formally indicate to students how often they should meet but I did suggest that they should meeting five to six times over the eight week assignment window.

Identifying What Worked

Each group averaged about five meetings (over the eight week assignment window) and the better groups tended to write at least 300 words for each meeting. Therefore, the requirement added about 1,500 additional words to a 3,000 word assignment. However, the minutes were fast and easy to read through so I definitely did not feel that the requirement increased my marking time too significantly.

Anecdotally, the students reacted well to the requirement. They saw the benefit of a requirement that forced them to meet up and discuss the assignment constantly over the assignment window. They also saw the minutes of the meetings as documented agreements of how workloads had been allocated among their group.

The requirement worked very well as a plagiarism control for the simple reason that it is far more difficult to plagiarise a process than an outcome. The lack of detailed meeting minutes alerted me to be more vigilant for potential plagiarism when reviewing a report, particularly where students had provided good responses that did not seem to match up with their process for developing their answers.

Furthermore, the requirement provided me with an extra dimension with which to justify the marks awarded to each group for their report. For most groups, the quality of the report answers correlated with the quality of the minutes provided. In addition, for situations where a group’s report was between mark bands, the meeting minutes provided me with additional indicator/justification for my final grade decision.

Tips For Implementing This Practice

I am very glad that I gave this requirement a “soft launch” i.e. I did not make it a major part of the assignment. I am always wary of the unintended consequences associated with making changes to assessments and for this reason I generally prefer to make smaller incremental changes to assessments where possible. Some specific issues I encountered were as follows:

  • A few groups correlated the marks on offer for the requirement (10%) with the word count (3,000 words). I had told the groups the requirement did not form part of the word count but I should have provided more tips on what I expected from the requirement.
  • Some students used excellent templates for their meetings, some not so. I should have provided the students with a standardised template as this would have made the minutes easier to write for the students and easier for me to review.

Therefore, looking ahead to next year, I plan to make the following changes to this requirement:

Provide more detailed information on the requirement in the assignment brief

Provide a minutes of meeting template in the assignment brief

Increase the marks on offer for this requirement from 10% to 20%. I think a 20% marks allocation is a fairer reflection of the effort required. I also think that with a higher marks weighting, students will give more appropriate consideration to the requirement.

Reflections & Future Plans

First off, I plan to implement the suggested tips I outlined above! I also plan to increase the number of marks on offer for the minutes from 15% of the assignment to 25%. I think the control works effectively and I am more than happy to increase its weighting for next year so that students give the requirement even more time. However, I am still glad that I went with a 15% value for the past yea; as a lecturer, I am always mindful of the potential unintended consequences that may arise when a decision is taken to change part/all of an assessment. It is often a lot less stressful to “leave well alone” but making small incremental changes is a “happy medium” as far as I am concerned.

    1. Interesting article relating the fraud triangle to student cheating: student cheating and the fraud triangle
    2. The specific wording I used in my assignment brief to students for the minutes of meetings was as follows:

“Include, by way of appendix to your report, a copy of all minutes of meetings held to complete this project. Your minutes should indicate the number of meetings held, who was in attendance, the issues discussed and how issues were dealt with. The minutes should include interesting findings, the big issues encountered, and how those issues were dealt with.”

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