Spotlight on the Assessment and Feedback Toolkit 8: Groupwork

The spotlight this week is on the Groupwork section of the Toolkit.

Some advantages of using groupwork

  • the development and enhancement of students’ social, interpersonal, intercultural and ‘networking’ skills;
  • the opportunity for students to discuss and develop concepts as well as exchanging and agreeing ideas;
  • the opportunity for a team of individuals to work together towards a common goal;
  • preparation for the ‘world of work’ and more immediately for those about to undertake a placement, secondment or year in industry;
  • the opportunity for students to critically reflect on their own and others’ performance and contribution,
  • the development and enhancement of students’ confidence and competence in providing feedback and ‘feed forward’ to their peers;
  • the opportunity to reflect on their own ‘social’ characteristics in terms of the group dynamic, the way the tasks have been apportioned and how they as an individual have responded both to the group and the individual tasks required of the brief.

Assessment design: things to consider

How does the groupwork task relate to the intended learning outcomes of the unit?

Are the students being assessed on the output/product of the task, the process (transferable skills), or both?

Is the task realistic in relation to the Unit credits and the level of study?

Are there a range of assessment types across the Level? Do other Units at this level use groupwork?

What alternative, individual assessment would be available to any student, who, for approved reasons (e.g. Mitigating Circumstances) is unable to undertake the group assessment?

Forming groups

The Assignment Brief should clearly set out how the groups are to be selected and managed. For example tutor-selected or self-selected?

Factors which might determine whether self-selection is appropriate include:

  • The unit’s intended learning outcomes and whether any statement is included within them about working collaboratively etc.;
  • Timing of issue of the assignment and the academic level of study;
  • The size of the group involved
  • The nature of the task and the level to which ‘process’ rather than ‘output’ is being assessed and
  • Whether other units at the same level are using groups and if so, how these groups are being created.

 Things to consider in relation to fairness and equity

Will self-selection disadvantage particular groups or individuals, for example international students, mature students and those with additional learning needs;

Is a balance to the group in terms of abilities, personalities, skills, numbers, diversity etc. important to the task?

If the tutor selects the groups, should it be done randomly or to mix the students in a particular way?

If the tutor creates groups alphabetically, there may be groups created which include a disproportionate number of students of a particular nationality;

Is there a case for tutor-selection in Semester 1 at Level 4 and 7, when the students may not necessarily know each other?

Should a group leader be appointed by the tutor or, should one be allowed to ‘evolve’, or should the group operate without a nominated leader?

Should individuals within the group have different roles assigned by the tutor? Is there equity between the roles?

How should roles be assigned? –By formal or informal ‘pitch’, interview or written application for each role?

Where student self-selection is adopted, the tutor will then need to decide how to assign any students who are ‘left out’ of the process.

Is there a ‘window of time’ during which any student can request to change their group and if so, what is the mechanism for this process?

Managing potential problems and conflicts

The Unit Handbook and Assignment Brief must state clearly the responsibilities of group members to work collaboratively and responsibly. This should also include guidance on how students might resolve problems and conflicts within the group themselves and under what circumstances these may be brought to the unit leader to resolve or to assist in resolving.

A unit-wide ‘Code of Conduct’ and ‘Group Agreement’ are also useful tools for encouraging students to understand their responsibilities towards one another.


This content has been adapted from Faculty of Management, (now the BU Business School), Guidance 2017. There is a link in the Toolkit to click to read the full Guidance document.


Anne Quinney

Principal Lecturer FLIE.

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