Online system solves major problems

  • More time for reflection & action
  • Improved access on or off campus
  • Anonymity ensured (password protected access)
  • Accuracy of data (students enter data directly into the database online)
  • Unlimited scale ability
  • Automated data collection, collation and calculation
  • Sophisticated calculations based on educational research
  • Unlimited number of criteria allowed
  • Flexibility of team formation and re-formation

Educational rationale

  • Graduate attributes include teamwork
    • Ability to work in teams is a key professional requirement
    • Personal communication skills vital for all graduates
    • Exploration of team roles enabled in a University context
    • Awareness of key criteria for successful groups
    • Ability to critically assess own work and work of peers
    • Appreciation and ability to respond to formative and summative feedback
  • Peer learning - valuable learning strategy
    • Boud, Cohen &Sampson (2001)
    • Michaelsen (1994)
  • Assessment drives learning and MUST be aligned
    • Ramsden (1992) Biggs (1999)
  • Self and peer assessment adjustments
    • Conway, Kember, Sivan & Wu (1993) Lejk, Wyvill & Farrow (1996)
    • Goldfinch (1994)

Extract from Freeman and McKenzie (2002)

“Group and team work are commonly used in higher education to facilitate peer learning and encourage students to develop their capacity to work as part of a team. There seems little argument about the value of teamwork, but its assessment has proved considerably more problematic (Conway, Kember, Sivan & Wu, 1993; Lejk, Wyvill & Farrow, 1996). One author has likened group assessment to a game, maintaining that the rules of the game advantage some students and disadvantage others, and that factors such as teamwork and contribution to a team are “essentially impossible to assess fairly” (Pitt, 2000, p. 240). However, assessment strongly influences students’ learning (Ramsden, 1992; Biggs, 1999). If courses include objectives about students’ capacity to work as part of a team, and we value peer learning then we need some means of assessing teamwork in a fair and meaningful way which promotes peer collaboration (Sampson, Cohen, Boud and Anderson, 1999).

Peer assessment of individuals’ contributions to assessed teamwork isn't a new idea, although the addition of self assessment is relatively innovative. While there is some debate about the inclusion of self assessment (Lejk et al 1996), we believe it encourages students to reflect on their own contributions and capabilities. In fact, Boud, Cohen and Sampson (1999) favour self-assessment informed by peer feedback on specific criteria, in preference to peer assessment per se.

SPARK was intended to have benefits for both students and staff. It was intended to encourage students to negotiate the way they will work in the team to achieve the best task result with equal contributions by all students. Using self and peer assessment encourages students to develop the capacity to reflect on and evaluate their own and others’ contributions, develop awareness of their own strengths and needs as a team member and develop their teamwork skills. For staff, the intention was that they would gain satisfaction from seeing improvements in learning and have fewer problems with complaints about the fairness of team based assessment tasks.

SPARK is based on a well-designed and evaluated paper-based peer assessment system in which students rated each other's contributions and the lecturer used the ratings to calculate adjustments to individual marks (Goldfinch 1994). While Goldfinch's system was reasonably effective in adjusting team marks to reflect individual contributions, it involved a series of time consuming calculations to generate adjustment factors. This created a disincentive for lecturers and delayed the provision of feedback to students, particularly in large classes.

The SPARK software deals with this problem by automating the processes of collecting the student assessments and completing the calculations. This was a major efficiency benefit, in addition to the learning benefits. Compared with paper-based systems SPARK was also intended to improve student confidentiality and reduce data entry and calculation errors.

A further intention was to enable dissemination. SPARK was created to be a relatively generic template which can be easily adapted to any learning context where group or team work and/or self and peer assessment are used.”


Group projects aren't fair

  • Students common complaint
    • Equal marks for unequal contributions
    • 'Free-riders' known also as 'social loafers' and 'passengers' not penalised
    • Better students inadequately rewarded and demotivated
  • Staff common concerns
    • Group work complaints evidenced in subject experience and satisfaction surveys at local and national level
    • Staff dilemma of developing collaboration and peer learning without undesirable side effects
    • Paper-based attempts in self and peer assessment unable to overcome confidentiality concerns
    • Paper-based self and peer assessment impossible workload if large classes (i.e. huge data collection, collation and calculations)
    • Innovations too risky in current resource-constrained environment unless generic, easy and reliable