Assessing Student Work Completed as Teams

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OLIVIER DE WECK: Assessing student work as a team has different challenges. Of course, the first thing you do is assess the output of the team's work, whether that's a requirements set, whether it's a set of initial concepts, whether it's a presentation that's given at a preliminary design review, whether it's a physical prototype that they present as a team-- so that always should be the first thing that is assessed is, what is the net output that the team has produced? Within that, it is not always easy to discern what has been the individual contribution since the whole purpose of the team is that the sum that comes out is greater than the individual parts.

So in the best-functioning teams, there is a magic that happens. There's a synergy that happens. There's an output that's only produced by these synergistic interactions of all the team members. In a sense, trying to dissect, what's the individual piece that everybody did, is countering this idea of team synergy.

That being said, we also need to assess individually the contributions and the learnings of students. And we do this through a couple of mechanisms, for example, a peer review. So you can do a peer-review process.

It's trickier in smaller teams than in larger teams. But if it's done properly, peer review can be very effective in not only helping one understand, who are the contributors? And who are the free-riders?

This is always a big issue in teams, is that the free-rider syndrome, where some team members contribute significantly less than others. And this often can be a source of conflict. And so understanding this is important.

But also, have other mechanisms in the class, such as an individual final exam, and then the other written exam, which is administered online. And the other thing we started doing is oral exams, which seems old-fashioned. But I have to tell you, in 15 to 20 minutes of a one-on-one conversation with a student at the end of the class, you really learn a lot. You learn a lot about what they've learned, where they may still have confusion or misconceptions, and also the feedback that they give you. So I highly recommend to do oral exams if it's possible.

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