Chapter 28 - Guidance for Group Work

  1. Introduction
    1. The University of Exeter acknowledged the importance of group work activities as an important part of a student’s learning experience.
    2. This guidance document aims to provide advice to academic colleagues and students regarding group work activities. It is not the intention of this document to provide an institution set of rules to follow, but rather to suggest ways of working, and examples of best practice.
    3. The University expects staff and students to take note of the University’s Dignity, Respect and Inclusion policy, which aims to create a working and learning environment that respects the dignity and rights of all staff and students and where individual have the opportunity to realise their full potential.
    4. Further details on how to ensure that group work is conducted in an inclusive environment can be found in Appendix A.
  2. Purpose of Group Working
    1. Teaching and learning in a group has a number of educational benefits:
      1. Working collaboratively has been shown to enhance learning as it enables a variety of ideas to be discussed and encourages active learning.
      2. Enables students to develop a range of interpersonal skills including communication, negotiation and leadership. In turn this enables our students to become more employable as they can exhibit the skills required by employers.
      3. Research inspired and inquiry-led learning is at the heart of the University’s approach to learning and teaching. Working collaboratively with both staff and students allows students to actively engage with current research.
  3. General Guidance
    1. Programme Directors should ensure that students have the opportunity to carry out group work within their programme, to satisfy the requirements of the Graduate Attributes. In addition, the quality and relative weighting of group work assessments should be reviewed.
    2. The above should be reviewed as part of the Annual Quality Review process, during the Discipline Level Scrutiny.
    3. It should be clear to students how the group work activity contributes to the intended learning outcomes of the modules, and their programme of study.
    4. Clear guidance should be provided to students about their role within a particular task, whether this will be assigned by the module lead or to be decided within the group. Expectations should be set by the module lead about how they expect the group to work together.
    5. Basic ground rules for the conduct of an assessed group work activity should be established at the onset of the activity, including the means of any conflict resolution (what students should do if there is conflict within the group) and what is expected of the group members in terms of treating others with dignity and respect.
    6. In order to provide the above details in a consistent manner, it is suggested that module leads use the template assignment brief under Appendix B, or an equivalent.
    7. The assessment brief should clarify to students whether ‘process’ and/or ‘outcome’ is being evaluated. This should also be supported by appropriately worded Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs). Some examples of ILOs are provided in Appendix C.
    8. Students should also be informed about who will take part in the evaluation (the lecturer, students, or both) of their work.  As with every other form of assessment, the marking and evaluation criteria should be made available to students in advance.
    9. It is recommended that time is allocated within classes for group members to get to know each other prior to group work commencing. 
    10. All students who are new to the University may require more detailed guidelines about the possible roles and expected contributions of group members. This is useful to help guide their behaviour and contributions.
    11. When a new group work assessment is introduced, the External Examiner for the module should give approval on the nature and content of the group work prior to the assessment going ahead.
    12. As stated under 5.3 of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook, all assessments should be anonymous. Where assessment cannot be anonymous Faculties (or delegated Schools) must ensure, and be able to demonstrate, that marking is fair, reliable, consistent and transparent.
    13. If one or more of the learning outcomes of a module is to be assessed by group work activities, it should be identified how the group work component will be assessed if a student has opportunity has mitigation approved which leads to them making an individual submission at a later date. Wherever possible, reassessment should enable a student to demonstrate the same intended learning outcomes as the first assessment.
    14. Where group assessment makes up 100% of a modules mark, the students should be provided with an opportunity to complete an individual reflection on their experiences.
    15. It is recommended that module convenors carefully consider the optimum group sizes bearing in mind the nature and type of assessment being set. 
    16. In order to prevent academic misconduct, staff are advised to:
      1. Be clear on the scope of the task and expectation of what the group work is expected to produce. For example, if students are to collect data as a group but conduct and analysis and draw their own conclusions separately explicitly state this. This is to prevent allegations of collusion further along the process.
      2. Be clear on the definitions between acceptable collaboration and collusion, e.g. set expectations for students clearly when it is acceptable to work in a group, and when is it expected that they should be producing individual work, when should they be working as part of group.
      3. Be clear on the ownership of the work and the responsibility of all members of the group towards the finished product, if the product is being assessed.
      4. Set out expectations of how the groups should work together, this is to prevent individuals becoming responsible for parts of the finished piece of work, without oversight of the rest of the group.
      5. Be clear on the responsibilities of all members of the group, to ensure that individuals are not left to struggle, this is when plagiarism or poor referencing can occur, due to one individual being left to struggle with the work.
    17. Where there is evidence that academic misconduct has taken place within a group assignment, staff should follow the guidance in Chapter 12 of the Assessment, Progression and Awarding Handbook to investigate the case.
  4. Valid and evidenced Mitigation applications received for Group Work assignments.
    See also Chapter 10 - Mitigation: Deadline extensions and deferrals In the Assessment Progression and Awarding: Taught Programmes Handbook.
    1. When setting group work assessments, staff should be mindful of the possibility that a student may need to apply for an extension to the assignment and should aim to make the assessment resilient in the face of mitigating circumstances which may prevent individuals from being able to contribute.
    2. When valid and evidenced mitigation applications are received for a deferral of a piece of group work by one member of the group, deferral should be approved but it is important that any impact on remaining group members is considered. The convenor will need to consider if any adjustments need to be made for remaining group members in terms of expected contributions or if allowance can be made in marking process to take into account that the group size had decreased.
    3. When valid and evidenced mitigation applications are received for extensions to group work, consideration must be taken about whether the process and product of the assessment can be divided into individual contributions to allow for one student to be granted an extension. This should only be considered if the assessment can be divided without negatively impacting the experience of the rest of the group.
    4. Extension to the deadline for all group members can be considered but care should be taken to ensure that all group members are in agreement with the revised deadline and that it does not cause any disadvantage to any other member of the group.
    5. If an extension cannot be accommodated the student should be offered a deferral of the assessment. The convenor needs to consider if any adjustments need to be made for remaining group members in terms of expected contributions or if allowance can be made in marking process to take into account that the group size has decreased and the related impact on the product of the group work.

Appendix A – Inclusivity

As mentioned in the introduction to this guidance, the University acknowledges the importance of group work in a student’s learning experience. Due to this we would like to create an environment which enables all student to take part in group activity.

There are many benefits to students when undertaking group work including:

  • Group work offers a great opportunity to build community among peers with similar interests (reduces the isolation often experienced by disabled students)
  • Opportunity for disabled students to gain confidence in their ability to develop skills in collaboration, communication, time management and presentation that are transferable to the workplace.  These skills may be particularly challenging for disabled students.
  • The range of alternative teaching formats/methods of assessment  in group work give  alternative forums for the students with disabilities to be able to show their abilities.
  • The different role possibilities within group work gives individual students an opportunity to play to their strengths.
  • Some students with disabilities may struggle with more didactic teaching methods and learn more effectively in a peer group setting.
  • Group work is one way of enhancing inclusive practice within the curriculum and other non-disabled students will benefit from an alternative teaching format.
  • Alternative methods of assessment within a group work module give a further illustration of how the institution delivers an inclusive learning experience and can benefit disabled students who struggle with more conventional examination approaches.

This said the University appreciates that this is not always possible as students with certain disabilities may find aspects of group work very challenging.

In cases where a member of a group has a disability (as noted in an individual learning plan) module leads should ensure reasonable adjustments are made to ensure that the student can actively participate in the group activity.

Strategies for Learning and Teaching

In order to provide an inclusive experience for all students module leads are encouraged to:

  • Consider using the full range of group work activities where the outcome is not always dependent on a verbal presentation. Wiki pages, Posters, video and audio radio style outcomes, group essays etc. all allow students different ways to contribute.
  • Give consideration to all personal differences among the learning community.  Individual differences are often a source of anxiety and stress, and sometimes hostility. (e.g. ethnicity, disability, age, religion, previous educational experience.) Anyone who is in a minority within a group can feel excluded or unwelcome.
  • Be vigilant and pay attention to reports of peer bullying. If a student reports being bullied be prepared to offer support to help them address the issue with their peers.
  • Consider offering an online forum or other virtual support group for each group adds greatly to the inclusivity of the task by providing an alternative forum that students can contribute to.
  • Consider supporting a peer mentoring scheme for students doing group work. 
  • Give thought beforehand to how diverse learning groups be achieved at the start of the module/programme.
  • Staff allocating students to small group activities prevents reliance on friendship groups – this allows learners with lower levels of social interaction to feel included rather than potentially excluded as they may not feel a part of any friendship group among the class. Students often report they find having to seek peers to work with a major factor in them choosing not to contribute to such tasks.
  • Consider if there is flexibility in group work attendance.
  • Give early notification of group work activities to allow student to prepare
  • Is a process in place to ensure, where necessary, other group members have an awareness of the needs of the disabled student. Please note that this must be checked with the student with disabilities first. It may be more appropriate to support the student to discuss their support needs with their peers.
  • In every case, no matter how visible the disability, do ask the student how best they can be supported. 
  • Remind the group to speak in turns, and check that all have heard what is said and able to contribute.
  • Monitor progress in group tasks regularly to ensure disabled students are not disadvantaged. Many students with disabilities may perceive the academic staff as an alternative resource they can turn to and actively seek out staff support. In addition to appropriate academic support they may need some support on ensuring fair access to the task. It may be helpful if staff could consider offering such a resource when students are developing their group work skills at university.  Setting out opportunities for students to check in with staff at various stages are often beneficial and can often reduce anxiety in group tasks. 

Strategies for Assessment and Feedback

When assessing group work, module leads should consider:

  • Is there scope to modify expectations of the disabled student. Group members need to understand that a disabled student may not be expected to perform/contribute in the same way.
  • Ensure fair assessment and marking, particularly where peer assessment is used. It is important to clearly state how students may track and record their own and others’ efforts.  Judging individual effort is problematic in all group work and even more so where disabled students participate, especially if peer assessment is used.
  • Is there recognition that some students may require alternative/modified assessment formats  
  • What role does the disabled student need to play in presentation to class?  Can the group in which the disabled student has been working speak text prepared by the disabled student, or make their group presentation first?
  • Be mindful that, although each student’s experience of disability is unique, certain disabilities do share common characteristics. Students with autism are likely to find the unscripted aspect of questions after a presentation extremely daunting whereas students with dyslexia who generally excel at verbal communication may welcome the opportunity to perform here.

Example reasonable adjustments that can assist group work

  • Repeat discussion questions and statements made by other students.
  • Write discussion key points, questions, and answers on a white board or smartboard.
  • Consider seeking permission to record sessions.
  • note takers
  • A laptop computer in class for note taking
  • Options for electronic discussion via email where there is sufficient time to formulate responses
  • Sign language interpreters
  • Real-time captioning where words are immediately transcripted and presented on a computer screen
  • Captioned video presentations
  • Assistive listening devices (ALDs) which, combined with a student's personal hearing aid, can augment and amplify sound in a group setting. Microphones for these devices can then be accessed by the person who is speaking
  • Preferential seating during the discussion for optimal listening and/or lip reading
  • Options for electronic discussion

Appendix B - Group Work Assignment Brief

Module Code:                         Module Title:                                                
Name/Title of Assignment:                                                   Deadline:
1. Instructions/ Guidance: This section should provide a description of the assignment, including the form it should take and whether they are to produce one project as a group or in individual segments.
This section should also include any guidance on how to complete it which does not fit under the below headings.
2. Group Work Guidance: This section should include information about the group work element of the assignment. For example group size, how groups will be allocated, and group work expectations.
Guidance should also be given to students about how group conflicts should be reports and how they will be dealt with.
3. Intended Learning Outcomes Assessed: The intended learning outcomes which this assignment assesses should be listed here so it is clear to students the knowledge and skills that they need to demonstrate.
This should include how Group Work will be assessed, including whether the mark is based on the product or if the group’s process is also being taken into account.
4. Word Count (where appropriate): This should be one set figure, and it should be clear to students what is included. For example, references, titles, tables etc.
5. Referencing Style and Guidance: The referencing system which the students are expected to use should be listed here. If departmental referencing guides are available then they should be linked to here.
The University’s Academic Misconduct guidelines may also be linked to here to remind the students about the importance of referencing.
6. Style and Formatting Guide: Details about the style and formatting expected should be provided here.
Where a department does not have a specific style guide there should be a link to the generic guide for taught students.

Submission Method: The required submission method should be explicitly stated. Where there is more than one submission method, it should be clear what will happen in the event that the student/group only submits to one.
In the case of group work, it should be explicitly stated whether all students must submit, or just one per group. If one per group students should be advised that late submission penalties will apply to all students in the group, regardless of who was responsible for submission.

This is also an appropriate place to outline the University’s guidelines about late submission.


8. 8. Marking Criteria: The marking criteria should be specified here. A link to the University generic marking criteria may also be provided. This must include whether the marks will be allocated individually or to the group and how they will be allocated.
If peer assessment is used, the criteria for this should also be included, as well as how this will contribute to the overall mark.

Appendix C - Setting ILOs for Modules with Group Assessments: TQA Guidance

The form and purpose of any assessed group work in a module should be dependent on the module’s ILOs. Specifically, ILOs relating to assessed group work should distinguish between evaluating the product and evaluating the process of group work.

If ILOs claim to develop students’ team work ability (as part of personal/transferable skills), the assessment brief and criteria should enable markers to evaluate the process through which the group assessment was achieved, as well as the product.

Where the assessment brief and criteria do not test/evaluate the process by which group work has been carried out, the ILOs should also focus only on the outcome/product.

Examples of ILOs evaluating process (Personal and Key Skills):
1. Apply collective problem-solving skills to a team challenge (evaluates collective problem-solving skills)
2. Apply teamwork skills to complete a group report (evaluates teamwork)
3. Manage competing team member schedules to deliver a group assessment (evaluates collective time management)
4. Collaborate effectively in writing a group report (evaluates effective teamwork)

Tricky skills to assess:
5. Resolve group conflict and disagreements (evaluates conflict management, but it’s hard to guarantee that conflict will be present in a group)

Examples of ILOs evaluating outcome or product of group work (Personal and Key Skills/Module Specific Skills/Discipline Specific Skills)
1. Present findings as a team (evaluates presentation and findings)
2. Collectively analyse a business strategy based on case material, desk research and research in the marketplace (evaluates strategy)
3. Identify strategic recommendations in written reports (evaluates strategic recommendations)
4. Compare, through group collaboration, business and working styles around the world. (evaluates module content)

Designing and Delivering Group Work Assessments to support Process-based ILOs
Assessment Means
Care should be taken to employ appropriate means for evaluating group work process (team work / leadership skills). These include:
1. Peer evaluation of team work process (BEM3054: Digital Marketing Theory, Culture, and Practice)
2. An individual reflection on group work experience (BEM2020 Organizational Behaviour),
3. Appending minutes of group meetings to the assessment submission.

Last reviewed August 2022

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