Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

Group projects aren’t working.

Grading scheme does not promote meaningful teamwork.

It is common for faculty members to believe in and state explicitly to students the value and importance of teamwork, and yet not include this as a dimension of the grade.

This incongruity can result in behaviors that interfere with teamwork, as students tend to value what is rewarded, and act accordingly. For example, in some courses, lip service is paid to the importance of group processes, but the course grade is based mostly, if not entirely, on the final product. In such cases, students often do whatever it takes to get the job done, and teamwork falls by the wayside. A grading scheme that assigns a single group grade for the final product, moreover, can encourage free riders (who assume others will do the work) and allow individual overachievers to take over and control the entire project themselves.


Emphasize process, not just product, in your grading scheme.

Assess teamwork.

Emphasize process, not just product, in your grading scheme.

Your grading scheme reflects your goals for the course and communicates these goals to students. If both the output of the project (product) and how well the group functions (process) are important to you, both should be reflected in students’ grades -- although the weight you accord each will depend on your learning objectives for the course and for the assignment. If, for example, process is given equal weight to the final product in the grading scheme, it sends a clear signal to students about the need to build and refine teamwork skills.

Assess teamwork.

Create a grading scheme that includes students’ assessment of one another’s contributions to and behavior in the group. This serves several purposes. First, it gives you, as the instructor, a view into the group’s dynamics. Second, it holds students accountable to one another. Third, it makes the students doing the assessing more conscious of their own behavior within the group and thus helps them recognize and live up to their own responsibilities vis-à-vis the group. Students can also be asked to do a self-assessment of their own contributions to the group.

Assessment instruments, whether for self-reporting or evaluating team members, should identify those skills that promote meaningful teamwork, for example, respectfully listening to and considering opposing views or a minority opinion; effectively managing conflict around differences in ideas or approaches; keeping the group on track both during and between meetings; promptness in meeting deadlines; and appropriate distribution of research, analysis, writing. Team members should assess strengths as well as suggest areas for improvement.

Assessments of team dynamics should occur early and often enough over the course of the project so that students can learn from peer feedback and it can influence subsequent performance. Determine in advance if you will average all the assessments together as part of the course grade, or if you will weigh later assessments more heavily to encourage learning from earlier ones.

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