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I have an upcoming assessment worth 45% of our final grade which I do not think is fair.

We have been allocated into groups of twelve, which is further split in half. Each sub-group is to prepare a report on a topic which is broadly related to the other sub-group's topic. Material co-operation between the two sub-groups is optional.

However, the whole group receives the same mark. I cannot fathom why this would be and why the sub-groups wouldn't receive seperate marks. I think it is unfair that we will be given very limited opportunities to appropriately vet or contribute to the work of the other group yet are still marked for it.

I asked my professor to change it, and she refused. Should I escalate this to the department chair? I don't want to come off like someone who is complaining without merit, nor do I really want my professor to know I complained against her.

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Don't escalate to department chair

Upon closer inspection , this assessment is nothing special : You have 11 groupmates , report on 2 similar topics . The ‘sub-group’ part is just telling you to distribute the work .

Poor combination of the 2 topics , poor corporation etc. may lower your grade , like any other group work this should be no surprise .

The department chair is very likely to see you as a non-team-player if you complain to them .


General etiquette :

In general , you’re not in a position to "ask my professor to change it", which may even come off as rude .

It's your professor's job to decide how to evaluate your performance under university's policy .

You can escalate if there's obvious policy violation , be sure to collect strong evidence . False accusation may backfire on you .

If you're just uncomfortable , you may kindly address your concern to your professor/school counselor , don't make demands or accusations . You may also provide honest feedback e.g. via the "end-of-course evaluation survey" .

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It is an interesting grading concept, I think. It introduces a positive but competitive aspect, a goad to good work. Under those rules you do best by doing a superb job to make up for the possible failings of the other half of the "team". They have the same incentives. So, I find it hard to condemn.

Many competitive teaching aspects are, IMO, unethical, but this one doesn't seem to be, since you aren't graded against one another, assuming I'm reading it correctly. You each get to support one another by doing good work.

But, yes, if you think it unfair and the professor disagrees, then you can escalate it, though I doubt you would be successful. Most likely, the head or dean or whoever, would seek advice from the professor, using your name or not, and some of the above reasoning might come out.

If you do, escalate it, don't make it about the professor, but about the scheme itself.

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    I disagree regarding the first paragraph: Giving the same grade to twelve (!) different students essentially decouples the grade from each individual student's performance. Even if a student chooses to work extremely hard, it's more or less impossible for them to ensure by their individual efforts that they will receive a good or very good grade. (Very good advice in the last sentence, though.) Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 15:52
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    @JochenGlueck, grading all members of the team equally is common in some fields. It is the very meaning of a team. Of course, teams require guidance in how to work effectively together.
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 16:15
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    @Aolon Can you give an example of a task that 'can only be completed if all (or at least most) team members contribute and help each other'? All reasonable undergrad tasks for a group of 6 that I can come up with are usally done by 2 or 3 dedicated students (sometimes only one) plus minor input from the others.
    – quarague
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 11:09
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    If someone dominates a group, then that is a failure of the group as a whole, as it effectively isn't being managed by any of them. Grading group work is always difficult, anything that involves people rather than just computers is always asking for trouble ;o) Often even if the learning aims etc. have been explained and management issues taught, students are often very focussed on marks and getting the code working. I don't think there are any universally good solutions to this problem, but it is a very important set of skills in CS. Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 19:45
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    @DikranMarsupial I remember at least one group project in one CS class that required weekly reports from each group member on who did what this week, and an overly inequal division of work would result in reduced points. However, most of our projects were in groups of 3-4; the larger the group the more likely 1-3 people do all the work.
    – Esther
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 20:47
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This grading method is unfair and difficult to defend. Grades are meant to assess your individual work and abilities — that is their whole purpose. Now, it’s true that this principle can reasonably be compromised in a small way in some project-based courses that have as their secondary goals the acquisition of “soft skills” such as teamwork and collaboration. That means that it’s defensible to give the same grade to small groups of 2-3 students working on a project, since this is a situation in which a student can reasonably stay informed of what their team members are doing and help ensure that the final work being submitted by the group is at a good level (by cajoling their team members, or stepping in to help as needed) even if there are some differences in the abilities and work ethic of the team members. The ability to collaborate with others and bring a collaborative project to a successful completion is a very valuable real-life skill, and it’s reasonable for a professor to want to encourage developing it.

However, in a group of 12 students, there is no realistic chance for a single student, however talented and hardworking, to ensure that the final work of the group as a whole is at a satisfactory level. If all the students in such a group get the same grade, that means some of them will almost certainly be unfairly penalized for the lackluster performance of other students. And some of them will almost certainly get a grade that is much better than they deserve. For a professor to willfully implement such a grading system seems to me deeply misguided at best, and unethical at worst.

I don’t know if you should complain. If your university and department are reasonably well-managed, I’d say yes, since it does not take a genius to see that this is not an appropriate pedagogical practice. But plenty of places in academia aren’t as well-functioning as we would like.

Even in a well-run department, grading policies traditionally fall under academic freedom (up to some limits of common sense, which are not frequently tested), so if the professor is a senior faculty member and will stand by her grading system, it is not guaranteed that there’s anything the department chair can do about it. If a direct complaint to the department doesn’t work, you could perhaps explore other avenues, like complaining to the student union, university ombuds office, etc, but as some point a cost-benefit calculation may make such steps seem not worth the effort.

In the end, the only thing we can say for sure is that if you don’t complain, the situation will not change. Good luck!

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