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Challenges of Collaborative Learning and its Assessment

Marisa Graser - Sep 06, 2021

Collaborative learning is a concept that takes an important place in higher education. By having students learn and work together, they can develop a variety of soft skills that are relevant to succeed in today’s team-based work environments. However, according to Meijer et al. (2020), one of the main challenges for teachers and students is the assessment of collaborative learning activities. Three types of assessment are commonly used: Group assessments, personalised assessments, and a combination of peer and group assessment.

Group assessments

In group assessments, one grade is assigned for all students in the same group. This fosters teamwork and positive interdependence, meaning that students believe working in a group benefits their own learning experience and outcomes. However, individual efforts exceeding or falling below the overall mark become indistinguishable. Additionally, the outcome of the assessment is strongly dependent on the performance of fellow students: A student placed in a high-achieving group might get a better grade than a student with the same abilities in a low-achieving group. Students might also rely on others to carry out their part of the work instead of investing individual effort.

Personalised assessments

When choosing to provide a personalised assessment instead, some of the negative effects of group assessments can be mitigated. Individual accountability and a better validity can be achieved. Nevertheless, marks will still be influenced by the group environment, like the behaviour of fellow group members. Furthermore, students might not perceive genuine collaboration as important to get a good mark.

Combination of group and peer assessment

Lastly, intra-group peer assessment, where each student assesses fellow group members, can be combined with a group score by the teacher. The peer assessment can stimulate students’ participation in the group and the group assessment promotes positive interdependence. However, this form of assessment focusses on the quality of the collaboration rather than the outcome and fails to acknowledge individual abilities.

In summary, Meijer et al. point out that all assessment approaches face challenges with regards to individual accountability and positive interdependence, and thereby might contradict the original objectives of collaborative learning like knowledge exchange and social support.

Ideas on how to design the assessment of collaborative learning successfully

Adherence to individual accountability and positive interdependence

To avoid the pitfalls of assessing collaborative learning, Meijer et al. present two approaches. Firstly, they suggest adhering to both individual accountability and positive interdependence through the thoughtful design of the assessment. One way could be to assess collaborative learning in a formative rather than a summative frame, for example by having students prepare and present content (Kagan 1995), or work in tutorial groups (Opdecam et al. 2014), all under supervision and with feedback from the teacher. Another option could be to provide the students with guidance on collaborative learning to practice important skills prior to the group activity, i.e. with the aid of lectures and interactive training like role plays (Rebollar et al. 2010).

Alignment of eight core components for collaborative design – the GLAID framework

Secondly, Meijer et al. suggest the use of the GLAID framework as a guide for teachers to design the assessment. This framework consists of eight components:

  1. Interaction,
  2. Learning objectives and outcomes,
  3. Assessment,
  4. Task characteristics,
  5. Structuring,
  6. Guidance,
  7. Group constellation,
  8. Facilities (De Hei et al. 2016).

Using this framework when designing a collaborative learning activity can help the teacher to align all eight core components. For example, when teamwork is the main learning outcome (2), the assessment (3) can take the form of a group assessment if the group constellation (7) is taken into account, i.e. all students in the group have similar abilities.

Impact of good assessment design

By designing and aligning a collaborative learning activity thoughtfully, two goals can be achieved: The intended objectives and outcomes, like improving motivation and communication skills, can be reached; and the assessment truly measures the learning objectives without promoting misaligned student behaviour.

Successful implementation of these principles shows for example when using a combination of group and peer assessment in a formative setting (Sridharan et al. 2019). Meijer et al. predict that individualised feedback both by peers and the teacher can be provided, whilst collaboration is promoted, and misaligned student behaviour might be discouraged without the pressure of a final mark in the background.

When choosing to support the collaborative learning activity with prior lectures and interactive training, students will be more proficient in collaboration and communication, which can improve the results of the following group assessment (Rebollar et al. 2010).

And by aligning the group exercise with the GLAID framework, group dynamics can be influenced positively, which has been shown to increase the perception of a "fair" assessment by the students (Ohaja et al. 2013).

Overall, increasing the awareness amongst both teachers and students to the interplay of factors that influence the design, execution, and assessment of group activities from both points of view is key to a successful implementation of a collaborative learning approach.


[Source] Hajo Meijer, Rink Hoekstra, Jasperina Brouwer & Jan-Willem Strijbos (2020) Unfolding collaborative learning assessment literacy: a reflection on current assessment methods in higher education, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 45:8, 1222-1240.
DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2020.1729696

[1] De Hei, M., J. W. Strijbos, E. Sjoer, and W. Admiraal. 2016. "Thematic Review of Approaches to Design Group Learning Activities in Higher Education: The Development of a Comprehensive Framework." Educational Research Review 18: 33–45.
DOI: 10.1016/j.edurev.2016.01.001

[2] Kagan, S. 1995. "Group Grades Miss the Mark." Educational Leadership 52 (8): 68–71.

[3] Ohaja, M., M. Dunlea, and K. Muldoon. 2013. "Group Marking and Peer Assessment during a Group Poster Presentation: The Experiences and Views of Midwifery Students." Nurse Education in Practice 13 (5): 466–470.
DOI: 10.1016/j.nepr.2012.11.005

[4] Opdecam, E., P.Everaert, HVan Keer, and F. Buysschaert. 2014. "Preferences for Team Learning and Lecture-Based Learning among First-Year Undergraduate Accounting Students." Research in Higher Education 55 (4): 400–432.
DOI: 10.1007/s11162-013-9315-6

[5] Rebollar, R., I. Lidón, J. L. Cano, F. Gimeno, and P. Qvist. 2010. "A Tool for Preventing Teamwork Failure: The TFP Questionnaire." International Journal of Engineering Education 26 (4): 784–799.

[6] Sridharan, B., J. Tai, and D. Boud. 2019. "Does the Use of Summative Peer Assessment in Collaborative Group Work Inhibit Good Judgement?" Higher Education 77 (5): 853–870.
DOI: 10.1007/s10734-018-0305-7