The contemporary e-learning research continually points to the importance of small group/team collaboration in order to ensure effective constructivist learning environments and higher order learning (see Dale’s Cone & Learning Pyramid), but group work doesn’t always work.
Often group or teamwork fails because either the participants haven’t gained the requisite skills and knowledge like netiquette, brainstorming or an understanding of group dynamics; or they become resentful of a perceived lack of effort from their fellow group members.
The latter is common where there are few mechanisms for peer review and reflection. However, peer review in a distributed, or online learning environment can be complex and time consuming for the teacher/facilitator.
Thankfully, some colleagues of mine from Sydney University of Technology put their heads together and came up with an innovative automated product that allows students to continually self and peer assess themselves throughout the course of a subject. The modifier factor produced is then applied differentially to the marks attributed to group assessment products/deliverables.
They call the product SPARK, Self And Peer-assessment Resource Kit.
Apart from providing a better level of fairness with mark distribution, the approach develops and enhances generic graduate attributes (see generic graduate attribute listed in my paper) such as inter-personal skills, communication and teamwork.
It also permits a more streamlined marking approach where a single group deliverable is marked with SPARK automatically attributing that mark according to the peer review score.
The news is even better now as UTS have just undertaken, in a joint venture with a number of other Australian universities, to move the SPARK to a BlackBoard (and perhaps a WebCT) Building Block. This will mean that universities using these mainstream learning management systems will be able to integrate the use of SPARK seamlessly into their LMS courses.
Congratulations to UTS for this initiative.
Stay tuned more to come soon.