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Groupwork as a form of assessment: common problems and recommended solutions

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This paper reviews some of the literature on the use of groupwork as a form of assessment in tertiary institutions. It outlines the considerable advantages of groupwork but also its systemic associated problems. In discussing the problems, the paper considers issues such as “free riding” and the “sucker effect”, issues associated with ethnic mix in groups, and the social dilemma problem—in which students face conflicting demands between altruism and self-interest. The paper then outlines several models of effective groupwork and makes suggestions for implementing groupwork tasks. The paper also looks at the key assessment tasks which are commonly employed—namely, additive, conjunctive, disjunctive and discretionary tasks—and assesses which are most suited to groupwork. The paper considers the related issues of task complexity, recognition for effort, and strategies for minimising issues concerning group size. The paper also briefly considers strategies for implementing incentives for groupwork members, and outlines the issue of penalties for unproductive group members. The paper concludes by providing recommendations for how to maximise the advantages of groupwork while trying to minimise the disadvantages.

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The author would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for this journal for comments on earlier versions of this paper.

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Correspondence to W. Martin Davies.


Appendix 1: Outline of group contract proforma

Source: Curtin Business School

Other contract proformas are available elsewhere (Anderson et al. 1996; Stephenson and Laycock 1993).

[To be altered or adopted as each group considers appropriate and with flair and imagination!].

  1. 1.

    Parties to the contract

    This contract is made between the following students of [insert unit].

    [Insert student name, addresses, and contact details and student numbers]


    [Student 2]


    [Student 3 etc]

  2. 2.

    Course Controller and/or Tutor

    This contract is made for the purpose of completing assessment (the project) in [insert unit] and is to be handed in to [insert tutor/course controller as case may be].

  3. 3.

    Objectives of contract

    The objectives of the project are to [insert here what you wish to achieve for example;

    1. (a)

      Distinction standard project

    2. (b)

      Completion on time without extension

    3. (c)

      Project capable of publication in a journal at a later date etc.].

  4. 4.

    The date ofcompletionandhanding in for the project is [insert date].

  5. 5.

    Allocation of work

    The allocation of work for the project shall be [insert description of how the group will carry out the work, the division of research, writing, editing]

    [NB. This is a significant clause in your contract - give it lots of thought. You may insert a separate clause for each issue i.e. Research, writing etc. You should avoid doing a project that simply allocates parts of the project to each student, it is preferable that all students have a role in each aspect of the project or at a minimum in the editing of the project].

  6. 6.


    The group will meet to discuss the progress of the project on the following dates

    [Create a schedule attached to the contract of the days that you will meet].

  7. 7.


    Where a dispute arises as to the following matters [for example

    1. 1

      Work load

    2. 2.

      Quality of work

    3. 3.


      The dispute will be resolved in the following manner [insert your dispute resolution clause—you may find that some awards, workplace agreements or contracts may be useful for this clause].

  8. 8.

    Unequal contributions

    Where the group determines that the contributions of the parties have not been equal the group may

    [insert the means of resolving this problem].

    [NB: The course controller or tutor is not to be involved in the disputes in relation to workload, it

    is for the members of the group to resolve these issues internally].

  9. 9.

    Schedules of Research

    Attached to this contract is a schedule of the Research techniques employed to complete the project.

    [Attach schedule].

  10. 10.

    Self Assessment of Group

    Attached to this contract is a schedule setting out the manner in which the group assessed its

    progress and whether it had achieved the objectives of the project.

  11. 11.

    Any other relevant clauses or schedules.

    In this clause include any other matter that you think is important for the completion of the contract

    and project.


Student 1:


Student 2:


Student 3:


Student 4:


Appendix 2

See Table 1.

Table 1 Groupwork checklist

Appendix 3

See Table 2.

Table 2 Rubric for evaluation group/team members

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Davies, W.M. Groupwork as a form of assessment: common problems and recommended solutions. High Educ 58, 563–584 (2009).

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