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I am a TA for a freshman course in the humanities at a US university. Due to pandemic restrictions, the class is entirely online and the medium through which students learn is Canvas. Lectures are pre-recorded by the instructor and posted to the course site, as are any reading documents or assignments. Students contact me in "real time" through email, course messaging, and virtual office hours (held via Zoom).

Students complete some individual assignments and upload their work to the course site, but they have also been broken up into project groups and complete group work. It is their job to contact their group members and work together to submit assignments.

I am not sure how to grade group work when:

  1. It is clear that only one or two students did all of the work
  2. Each student receives the same grade as everyone else in their group (something I cannot change per my instructor's request)

I cannot force students to learn and I cannot change how learning outcomes are assessed. But how can I reward students for meeting objectives while not punishing them if students in their group do not contribute?


Restrictions:

  • Changing the course gradebook and ways that assignments are graded is not a viable option because the instructor has asked me not to.
  • The instructor is very clear that neither they nor I are to intervene in group disputes. According to the instructor, "Students need to learn to work with difficult people."
  • I do not see the value of group assignments in this course because (in my opinion) students aren't meeting the learning goal if they only think about certain parts of the assignment. I also think it is unhelpful and difficult to put the burden of communication on the students during a pandemic with asynchronous learning.
  • I do not want to encourage the "good" students to do all of the work for the group just to get a good grade because I do not think that promotes healthy behavior toward group work.
  • The instructor is not open to negotiating how the course is run.

Freedoms:

  • I am the only one grading assignments, meaning that I can come up with whatever grading scheme I want and have the entire class graded with the same metrics.
  • I can create content (handouts, etc.) and post to the course site as much as I please.

Note: I've looked at this question, which does not answer my question here but might help when I run a course as the instructor.

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  • Are you allowed to have an oral viva? – Captain Emacs Feb 13 at 19:43
  • @CaptainEmacs The instructor hasn’t been very open on allowing changes to the course, but it hasn’t been explicitly disallowed. – Kevin Miller Feb 13 at 20:11
  • If you are the only marker, all you need to ensure is consistency. If the instructor has not resolved the issue of unfair marking in a group, then you have either the option of getting precise instructions as how to mark, or else introduce a viva (if that is permitted). However, the instructor may indeed want to give equal marks. If that is so, there is nothing you can do. As a student I detested groupwork precisely because I ended up doing the whole work if my fellow group members did not pull their weight. One does not have authority over them, and so essentially all "teamwork" talk is moot. – Captain Emacs Feb 13 at 22:04
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    Can you explain how is it “very clear that only one or two students did all of the work”? – Dan Romik Feb 14 at 4:03
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    Please note that who edited a Google Dovs document says nothing about who contributed to the document (exept you made a rule that everybody should edit the document as often as their contribution is. – user111388 Feb 14 at 15:41
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I suggest that you grade "the project" for its value and assign every student the same grade. If any student objects, refer them to the instructor. This recognizes an important fact.

You may not recognize all "contributions", but the students might value some things more than others. Not every student needs to contribute to a "team" project in the same way. The same is true for real world projects.

If you try to change things or devise some "scheme", then you will be the bad person, disrespected by everyone.

The work is the work. Grade it.


I actually think that "dividing up" the work makes it harder since the integration adds another step. I think that the so called "best" students do everyone a disservice if they do all the work. But if I give a project to a team and don't instruct them otherwise on process, then the team process is up to them. Respect that.


I gave a lot of team projects. One thing I did was have peer evaluations of the form "Who were the two most helpful members of your team and why". That would be for a team of four or so. I once had the experience that the team was unanimous in praising one person who I thought was slacking because their contributions weren't visible to me. But he actually kept the team functioning and moving forward. It may be that you wouldn't want to hire him for is technical skills, but you almost certainly would as a manager of a technical team. But that is mere supposition on my part, so don't read too much in to it.

Don't expect every student to learn exactly the same thing from a course.

I once had another student in a class who I predicted would eventually be the manager of all the "geeks" since she asked the right questions. She focused more on "why" instead of "how". There are a lot of skills.

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  • Some contributions (or lack thereof) are obvious to me because of the virtual format. For example, I can see who makes changes/contributes to a Google Document, where is is unlikely that students are working on the same computer due to gathering restrictions because of the pandemic. I also want to clarify that I mean “scheme” as a noun (plan of grading) rather than the verb (with the connotation of devising something underhanded). – Kevin Miller Feb 13 at 20:27
  • I think the peer review forms that you used might be a useful way for me to assess “participation” for the course and I will keep that idea in mind. Thanks for your input! – Kevin Miller Feb 13 at 20:28
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    They may have other communication mechanisms that you don't see, of course. – Buffy Feb 13 at 20:28
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    Notice that peer evaluation isn't peer grading. Important distinction. – Buffy Feb 13 at 20:29
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The students, and you, should know how work will be graded before the assignment is assigned. If you did not tell them that their grade will be based on factors other than the quality of the submitted work, then it is unfair to grade them on such factors. This is true regardless of your professor's requirements.

On the other hand, if you tell them now that future work will be marked down if all teammates do not make a roughly even contribution, it is totally fair to enforce this on future assignments. Given your professor's requirements, you would have to assess the team for its ability to divide the work, and assign all students the same score.

That said, personally, I would not recommend this. Fairly assessing the (dys)functionality of a team from the outside is not easy. Further, I would hate to put a good student in a situation where they have to choose between delegating to their incompetent teammate (and getting a bad grade for quality) or doing it all themselves (and getting a bad grade for teamwork). Sometimes the optimal distribution of work is uneven.

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I'll address the scenarios you described in a comment:

sometimes I can see explicitly who contributed to or edited a document (as in Google Docs).

This sounds like an unreliable method to determine who did what. Maybe the students had a meeting to work on an assignment collaboratively and only one of them uploaded the resulting edit? Maybe one student doesn't like using google docs so they emailed the file they worked on to their teammate, who uploaded it from their own google account? The only acceptable thing to do seems to be to ignore such information.

Other times students (individually) submit pieces of their work, but if not all group members submit work, the result is a partially finished assignment.

Again, you are making assumptions that if someone submits something then they are the only ones who worked on it. That doesn't sound like a good idea to me. Credit for any submissions that have the names of all group members should go to the group regardless of who is doing the actual submission, unless the students are given specific guidelines to the contrary.

I’ve also had students turn in work with only 3/4 group member names on it. In one such case, a student whose name was left off asked me which group they were in a week after the assignment was turned in, suggesting they didn’t contribute to the assignment they got a grade for.

This student should get a 0 for their assignment since they did not do any work and their name wasn't even on the assignment. If they ask for their name to be added to the assignment when there is clear evidence they didn't contribute, they are committing academic misconduct. You should report them to the instructor and ask what to do.

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  • I think it’s fair to limit my assumptions, but I’ll respond to a few points. For the Google Docs, I’ve only checked the edit history after already having suspicions (ex. name left off), though it’s not infallible. For partial submissions, the situation is like this: there is part a, b, c, d to the assignment, and student 1 submits a, student 2 submits b, etc. but part d is left unfinished and student 4 didn’t submit anything. For the student who you say should get a zero, the problem is that the instructor has been unwilling to budge on group grades; but I will take your advice and ask anyways – Kevin Miller Feb 14 at 16:41
  • @KevinMiller if there are four parts and each student in the group is assigned a specific part, in what sense is this a group project??? Anyway, the grading policy should specify clearly what each student’s responsibility is and what happens with their grade if they don’t meet it. I’m sorry to say it but this course sounds like it has a poorly thought out grading policy, and is generally a mess. Ultimately it’s the instructor’s responsibility and your power to fix things is very limited. You can discuss it with the instructor but if they are unwilling to budge, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. – Dan Romik Feb 14 at 17:38
  • In the four parts assignment, the professor's instructions were to complete all four parts as a group. It seems that the students decided to divide the work by having each person work on one part only as opposed to working on all of them as a group. I agree that the assignments in this course are poorly thought out, and I can confirm that the course as a whole is, unfortunately, generally a mess too. I think based on your answer and others, the best I can do is try to reason with the instructor and be as fair as I can in any event. Thanks for your input. – Kevin Miller Feb 14 at 18:10
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    @KevinMiller you’re welcome. Another small piece of advice: it’s probably not a good idea to criticize your professors from an account associated with your real name. – Dan Romik Feb 14 at 18:15

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