January 8, 2004, by Teaching at Nottingham

Assessing practical work

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Audience: “I take your point about a group project being individually marked and who didn’t really pull their weight and who didn’t comprehend it. However it still allows students to just latch on to groups and come out with the data. When I mark a project I can only mark what they submitted.

“They have a set of data which they haven’t written the program for, they haven’t run the fiscals through, they haven’t done any of this, but I can’t say Well I notice that you didn’t pull your weight so I’ll fail you

“I still have to give them a grade for passing, and I still think that is unfair on the others students who have had to do a lot more work to get to this stage than on those who don’t.”

Chris: “Again, it’s subject-dependent, but one thing I would say to that is perhaps you can have mechanisms for picking that up as it’s going on. If you know it has happened, and if you don’t do anything about it this student is going to come out with an equivalent set of data to everybody else and then make what they can of it in their own time, is have a mechanism for marking what they have done on the way up.

“We do this on the field course, and the field course is a prime example. They have a ten day project, they can lie out in the sun on their towels then they get the data at the end and off they go. So 40% of it is on actually what they did and how well they participated, did they chip in on discussions ? Were they out there in the belting rain holding the ruler up?

“And it counts and they know it and so they don’t get away with that. Usually, even if they come out of it with the same data they are not going to make much of it if they haven’t understood it. They may in some cases because the end task is not desperately challenging, it was getting it that was the challenging bit, in which case I would say it is the challenging bit that you would need to assess and then they can’t do it or at least get away with it.”

Audience 2:“How can you regulate this because I am also faced with having problems of marking individual project reports that have been the result of work from within a group and in some cases it is easy enough to spot that there are some people in the group either because they arrived late or don’t always attend all the practicals who are not pulling their weight.

“Are you saying instead you want me to use student based assessment of how much they are actually putting in or how much the other students are putting in, and how do you regulate that?”

Chris: “Well, you can use student based assessment but it is within the parameters of what you assess the project worth to be. So you don’t say “OK you guys go off and mark it, they would come back with 95%!

“You assess the project, you define the parameters and then what they do is contribute to the distribution of that effort. I use that for some things but not all things and I tend to use it for relatively self contained small practicals where it’s more the kind of principal of getting the idea of team work together and gelled in their heads that I use it for.

“When I get onto bigger things like final year projects and field courses I use the approach of knowing what the hell people are doing and making sure that those who are not doing it, know that I know they are not doing it, and know that I will mark down for it.

“It is regulating, it’s a mixture of two things, it’s either on the spot regulation which in an ideal world is the best way of doing it, but you can’t do it every time for everybody in all contexts. The other is judiciously to use some student peer judgment within your parameters of marking.

Kathy: “I think to some extent the world is not fair, I guess all of us who have worked in industry or on a project have been in the position where other people have not pulled their weight and we are probably the people that we are, we are the ones who did pull our weight and did put in 105 and 110%, and to some extent if we are training people to go out into the big bad world, it is like that, people have to learn how to cope with situations where either the job is going to get done only if they put in extra work, or they have to somehow motivate other members of their group to do the work.

“So although we do have to intervene sometimes and we do have to set up structures so that people can’t come out with good marks on the basis of no work I think to some extent, particularly in group work, we have to let people sort it out for themselves, to a limit, because they are going to have to deal with those issues, that is the world isn’t it!”

Chris Barnard
School of Biology
Michèle Clarke
School of Geography
Kathy Simmons
Department of Mechanical, Materials & Manufacturing Engineering.

Extracts from a panel discussion on teaching in practicals at the January 2004 PGCHE Introductory Event. Produced January 2004.
This video was originally published as part of PESL’s Teaching at Nottingham collection.

Posted in Design and loadingPracticals and labs