Workplace lessons for assessing group work

“Is the way we think about groupwork assessment broken?”

My excursion to the Chartered ABS Learning, Teaching, and Student Experience conference in 2019 gave me the opportunity to take part in valuable discussions on a number of topics with a range of colleagues, especially regarding student experience of assessment design and practice. However, we found specific challenges of assessment came up again and again, and despite our diverse teaching experiences we repeatedly found ourselves discussing this one particular question.

As someone who is passionate about business and management assessment in higher education, I’ve always been interested to hear student feedback on how working with others on assessment is received. I’m sure many of you will agree that students are not only keen to talk about their experiences of group work, but will often tell you that it isn’t always the positive, employability-developing opportunity we would hope for. One consistent feature of student feedback on group work is the constant challenge of ‘equality without equity’ in assessing student contributions. Students often lament the free-riding, social loafing and conflicts that occur when credit-bearing assessment work is at stake, with many asking why they are expected to tolerate it. It’s a good question, and one which I posed to colleagues in the aforementioned discussions: why are we using group work assessments in the way that we do, when these challenges are so obvious? The obvious answer, of course, is that it is a necessary part of developing graduate attributes and is, appropriately, part of the benchmark principles guiding programme design. However, it’s also not unusual to hear a rationale based on the premise that it reflects ‘the real world of work’ for which we are preparing students.

This is an interesting premise indeed and in itself raises further musings around the nature of teamwork in the workplace and whether the way in which we work(ed) together yesterday or today will be the same in the future. Boudreau (2016), writing in a Harvard Business Review blog, pointed to a new way to consider the future world of work, driven by two key changes: work culture and technology empowerment. These are enlightening when we consider the first of these in parallel to the developments occurring across a variety of business sectors, with players such as AirBnB, Uber, and Club Workspace leading the development of the shared economy. A study by Ozcan et al (2017) for Warwick Business School highlights that sharing is becoming a way of life in the UK, with a new generation of consumers driving a model which champions a different level of interdependence between those with resources and skills. There is no reason to suspect that this pattern isn’t also emerging in the landscape of the world of work, with ‘The Hollywood model’ (Davidson, 2015), the gig economy and fissured work already making waves and reshaping how tasks in the workplace might be shared.

This leads us to the second of Boudreau’s changes, with technology enablers and AI changing the way in which we collaborate. AI solutions to project management are already set to monitor the achievement of tasks and prompt reviewing of work submitted by collaborators, taking the heat out of some of the conflictual aspects of working with others. More importantly, though, they offer shared platforms to maximise transparency and to highlight where key interdependence of collaborators could potentially compromise the workflow of any one individual. Of course, this is nothing new to a lot of our students. Many are already familiar with cooperative approaches to team tasks, having developed enhanced collaboration skills, with just such a sharing mindset, from video games such as Fortnite. A study by Petter et al (2018) found that most genres of online gaming resulted in development of key collaboration and teamwork skills as well as a high degree of results orientation.

So how can we use this understanding to develop better group work assessments? The key appears to be less emphasis on ‘group’ and more on ‘sharing’. Incorporating collaboration gives us the flexibility to design assessments that ask students to work together towards the same end, but not necessarily cooperatively on the same tasks. This allows the team members to have the same goal but not in a wholly interdependent way and with full transparency if the task is deliverable on shared platforms or software (such as OneNote, Teams, MSProject, Sway). Perhaps increasing emphasis on individuals sharing collaboratively rather than simply working as one amorphous group could offer us some opportunity to actually utilise student skills to prepare for the workplace of the future.

By Cheryl Gordon, Senior Lecturer at the Lancashire School of Business and Enterprise.

Boudreau, J. (2016) Work in the Future will fall into these 4 categories   Harvard Business Review    Available at:

Davidson, A., (2015) What Hollywood can teach us about the future of work.  The New York Times, 5.

Ozcan, P., Mareike Möhlmann, M. and C. Krishnamoorthy (2017) Who shares and who doesn’t? Warwick Business School   Available at:

Petter, S., Barber, D., Barber, C.S. and Berkley, R.A., (2018) Using Online Gaming Experience to Expand the Digital Workforce Talent Pool. MIS Quarterly Executive, 17(4).