A Fairer Way to Grade Group Presentations

Adam Sanford, Undergrad Made Easier

One of the reasons that students hate group work is that they don't want a free rider or someone who didn't do very well to drag down their grade. This is one way to counteract that problem. 

Divide the group's score into two parts: individual scores, and the group score. Each part is worth 50% of the grade, or 50 points.

On the day of the presentation, provide students with a sheet to tell you who did which part of the group presentation. For example: John did the research, Jaime did the presenting, and Jorge created the powerpoint slides. 

Tell the students that they have to introduce themselves with their full names before they start presenting. As they present, assess how well John did his research by seeing if he's cited the sources and given them correct credit; assess Jamie's ability to present well; and assess the quality of Jorge's powerpoint slides out of 50 points. (Remember that a 44 would be a B+, a 35 a C-, and so forth.) 

After the presentation, add up each individual score and average the total across all scores. This is the group score. Each individual's grade is now individual score + group score out of 100. 

To ensure that free riders do not get credit, give anyone who was listed by the group as "didn't do anything" or "came to meetings but never contributed" the group score only, and an individual score of 0. (Do not include the 0 in the group's overall grade average.) This controls for free riders, and is fair to the rest of the group.

Use studio pedagogy to help students see

Ariel H. Bierbaum, University of California, Berkeley

For those of us in interdisciplinary social sciences, it can be a challenge to engage students deeply in conversations about the complicated interactions among policy, economy, politics, and culture. As a teacher of urban studies, facilitating these conversations has an added complexity – unpacking the ways that these interactions manifest in and structure our physical environments.

 Learning to “read” the physical city and understand how it represents the layered and cumulative effects of policies and politics can be difficult to teach through traditional pedagogies of lecture and seminar discussion. I thus turned to studio pedagogy from planning and design disciplines, which emphasizes visual thinking and experiential learning.

 Studio pedagogy in seminar class has proven to be a powerful tool for my students to hone their visual thinking, spatial understanding, and critical analysis skills. The studio space offers production of visual representations not merely as a final product, but also as an iterative process to analyze, deconstruct, and reimagine our environments and the policies that create them. This pedagogy has worked in seminar classes of 10 to 15 students and in larger sections with upwards of 30 students, and enabled meaningful discussions, supported students’ diverse learning styles, and engaged students with different depths of content knowledge.

 For example, I structured an exercise for students to design exclusionary and inclusionary spaces as a way to conduct spatial analysis and prompt critical discussion about themes from readings. Before class began, I set out nine blank pieces of poster-sized paper and markers. When students arrived, they counted off by nine, creating teams of three. “Shuffling” students in this way ensured that they worked with new peers and mixed my quieter and more verbal students. First, each group determined the scale at which they would design (e.g., building, neighborhood, city, region) and identified a demographic dimension on which to focus (e.g., age, race/ethnicity, gender/sexual orientation, ability). Students divided their paper in half, and spent 10 minutes drawing an exclusionary space and 10 minutes drawing that same space as an inclusionary one. At the end of the 20 minutes, each team hung their posters around the room, and a spokesperson presented out key elements of their designs. After each team presented, I facilitated discussion and challenged all students to articulate the links between the visual representations and themes in readings and lecture.

 The energy in my classroom during these exercises is lively and jovial (even at an undesirable Friday morning time slot). This visual and tactile exercise successfully engages the diversity of my students, and inspires leadership in different ways: many of my more verbal students seemed a bit shy about picking up markers and crayons, while my quieter students often took the lead in drawing. In the follow-up discussion, students were able to articulate concepts from readings that they included in their designs, and also cogently critiqued and updated the scholarly theories. Students report that they enjoy these exercises and the ways they inspired thinking about the readings.

Teach important terms with vocabulary bingo

Dayna Quick, College of Marin

As a way for students to recall important vocabulary terms, students can form groups (perhaps 4-5) to play a game of "Bingo". The instructor provides bingo cards with the course vocabulary terms - using several different arrangements of the terms on the cards depending on the group size. One student per group volunteers to be the 'caller', and receives a call list from the instructor that includes clues (based on definitions) and the appropriate terms. The caller calls out the clue for their group and the students work to identify the term on their bingo cards. This creates discussion and learning among the students. Students mark the correct term on their bingo cards until someone yells "Bingo!". 

I have used this in Geography courses as "Geo-Bingo" for basic terms related to the Geographic Grid and Earth-Sun Relationships. There are free programs online for creating bingo cards.

What do your students know about the topic?

Here’s another straightforward technique from Angelo and Cross’s Classroom Assessment Techniques: what they call the “Background Knowledge Probe.” Whenever beginning a new topic or working on a new task, ask students to list, in groups, or as a class, everything they know about about the topic or task. You might have the students do this in writing, or have them call out answers for you to add to a master list on the board.

After gathering everything the students know, think they know, possibly know, etc., begin the work, as a class or in student groups, of sharing and organizing the information. What is accurate and what is not? What is important and what is not? What is commonly known about the topic and what do only one or two students know? This can work really well as a discussion that begins in groups and then expands to the whole class.

The technique allows students to discover that they already have knowledge of the subject, encourages them to share their knowledge and grow as a learning community, and provides a natural way for you to begin your discussion or presentation of the topic at hand.  -DG

Source: Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993. 121-24.

Model research with "the lifeboat problem"

James Clements, American University of Dubai 

The biggest challenge I face when teaching research methods to first-year students is that they tend to understand research only as "support" for an argument. In other words, they insert research into their papers to back up preconceived opinions, rather than use it to help them form their arguments in the first place.

To help them understand that research should precede the formation of an argument, I often begin the course with the following in-class group assignment, which also helps students get to know each other in the early stages of the course.

I break the class into groups of four or five, and present them with a very basic list of about twelve "types" of people: an elderly grandmother, a captain, a lifeguard, a nurse, teenage twins, and so on. I then ask each group to choose which eight individuals will make it onto a lifeboat.

I let them discuss it for ten minutes or so. Most often, the students ask no questions at all, and simply proceed to make their decisions based on the very limited information at hand. After they've made their choices, I then ask them to explain how they reached their decision. I follow this by asking them how their decisions would have changed if they'd had additional information: ie. one of the twins is pregnant, the captain was not responsible for the accident, and so on. It usually leads them to significantly change their decisions. In the remainder of the class, I ask them to reflect on the ways in which the game parallels the process of forming any moral argument: acquiring additional information changes the parameters of the conversation.

While the exercise is simple, I have found that it helps redefine students' understanding of the purpose of research early on in the course, and sets a precedent for the remainder of the semester.

Encourage attention and discussion with "listening teams"

Here is an easy strategy to encourage students to listen critically to your lectures and to encourage discussion afterward. In both variations, you begin by dividing up students at the beginning of class.

Variation 1: divide students into four teams, each of which has a specific assignment for that day's lecture and discussion. 

  1. Questioners - After the lecture is finished, this team has to ask two questions about the material.
  2. Nay-Sayers - After the lecture is finished, this team comments on two points with which the team disagrees. 
  3. Yea-Sayers - After the lecture is finished, this team comments on two points with which the team agrees. 
  4. Explainers - After the lecture is finished, this team has to give two specific examples that explain the lecture. 

After the lecture, allow the teams to confer. Let each team then report to the class the results of their discussions.

Variation 2: divide students into groups of four students each. Each student will play a specific role within his or her group. 

  1. Example-Giver - This student listens for examples or applications of key concepts.
  2. Questioner - This student asks two clarifying questions about the material presented in the lecture. 
  3. Devil's Advocate - This student comments on two points with which he or she disagrees.
  4. Team Player - This student points out two areas of agreement with the lecture material.  

The groups confer after the lecture, with each student presenting his or her contributions according to his or her role.  

In both variations, the exercise serves to encourage students to follow the lecture more closely, as well as structure the discussion so as to reinforce the material presented in the lecture.  -DG

Source: Variation 1 from Mel Silberman. 101 Ways to Make Training Active. Johannesburg: Pfeiffer, 1995. 101-103. Variation 2 from Mel Silberman. Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1996.


 To reinforce ideas within a lecture, it’s worth pausing between big concepts and asking students to reflect and interact on what they’ve heard. Here’s a structured way to do that.

   "1. Think—Pose a question either as review (‘What has been the main point so far?’ ‘Why do the Balinese regard death lightheartedly?’) or as a transition” to your next big idea “(‘Given what you’ve heard…?’) Give them sixty seconds to write an answer.

   2. Pair—tell students to confer with a neighbor (for two or maybe five minutes) and compare answers.

   3. Share—Ask one pair to report their answer. Ask whether other pairs have different answers. After a brief discussion, move on…”  -DG

Source: Filene, Peter. The Joy of Teaching : A Practical Guide for New College Instructors. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2005, 54-55.