The Graduate Diploma in Business Administration (GDBA) program at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, is delivered entirely online. Students interact with their instructors and other students in Canvas, the university’s preferred online learning platform. Course modules consist of multi-media learning objects, online reading materials and regular synchronous interventions using Blackboard Collaborate.
The GDBA is based on a collaborative learning model. Balanced teams are constituted at the beginning of each course and these teams remain together for that course.
An important learning outcome for the program is how to operate effectively in virtual teams, a critical competency in modern distributed businesses. However, the research literature indicates that many business students do not like studying in a team, especially where their efforts are likely to be graded. The research literature also indicates that business students are generally not especially good at reflection, synthesis and consensus building.
To address these issues, Tom Brown, the program’s academic director, borrowed from the Team-Based Learning (TBL) literature to develop a structured process of within-team peer evaluation. This process holds team members accountable to each other, while surfacing issues that may be affecting team performance. While the output of the process does contribute to the student’s final grade, the principle goal of the peer evaluation is formative. The design of the overall assessment scheme in the program reflects the commitment to provide students with the opportunity to work on individual and group assignments. An example of such an approach from a course is illustrated in this diagram.
The GBDA has seven courses delivered over three semesters, aimed mainly at part-time students. During the program students are required to work on group assignments. The assignments themselves are graded by the instructor, but students are also required to evaluate the other students in their group on their contribution to the group work.
After piloting a manual process over several semesters in a large face-to-face undergraduate class, Dr. Tom Brown, his teaching team and two colleagues from the Centre for Online and Distance Education collaborated in introducing structured team peer evaluation as an integral part of the online learning environment. This work included the customization of a database driven tool which is:
- seamlessly integrated into the LMS (assignments, submissions, gradebook, and reports for feedback); and
- designed on the logic of team-based learning i.e., in group projects, the highest score that an individual student can earn is equal to or less than the highest team average score in that group submission. In other words, no student can perform better than his or her team.
The tool collects student feedback data and uses it to adjust the grades for the group assignments using the logical structure of team-based learning (TBL).
In the peer evaluation assignment students assess their group members on teamwork dimensions that are pre-identified by the instructor for example, “preparation”, “contribution” and “collaboration.” Students evaluate each of their teammates on a Likert scale and provide written comments that surface practices which are perceived to help or hinder team performance.
The final grades for group assignments are automatically adjusted by the feedback from the group members received through the peer evaluation assignment(s) using the team based learning logic.
After screening by the instructor, each student receives an anonymized summary of qualitative comments from group members and the instructor receives a compiled report for the whole class.
Finally, to close the loop, students write a short, graded reflection on what they have learned from the process of giving and receiving feedback.
This approach to peer assessment is now used in all seven courses on the GBDA, and a some early adopters are trialing the methodology in other MBA and UG courses.
Benefits and outcomes
Peer assessment and evaluation in other contexts has often been problematic, as many MOOC providers have found. Separating the assessment of an assignment itself (done by the instructor) from the assessment of teamwork skills contributing to the assignment (done by individual team members) gives greater confidence in the final assessment, and avoids criticisms from the students of unfairness or arbitrary grading.
This model of peer assessment enables the development of teamwork skills to be measured not only by the instructor, but, importantly, by students themselves. In their journal entries following the evaluation, students highlight the value of learning from the feedback they’ve received, which alone might be justification for this assessment model. More importantly students acknowledge learning from having had to analyse and assess the teamwork skills and performance of other students. Giving and receiving constructive feedback is the work of management, a skill that can only be learned by doing, and this exercise provides a low-risk, practice environment
Challenges and enhancements
Experience in teaching these courses and this program has indicated that students need lots of practice to develop effective teamwork skills.
It was essential to identify the different skills needed for teamwork in order to develop the rubrics for peer evaluation; the Team-Based Learning Cooperative and ListServ were invaluable resources in this regard.
The next step is to find ways to reduce the amount of administration and further customization of the technology tool to better support this assessment process, and provide more frequent feedback to the students.
A further challenge is to find a way to scale up this method so it can be used in a wider range of courses and programs by other instructors.
Teamwork skills are important in a wide range of discipline areas, not just business. Group work is not only valuable in itself, but is also a cost-effective way of assessing students, requiring less overall time from an instructor than individual student assessment. However, peer assessment needs to be carefully managed, to ensure reliable and valid assessment.
This methodology enables peer assessment to be applied effectively and reliably in an online and blended-learning contexts.
Dr. Tom Brown
Director, Part Time MBA & GDBA Programs
Segal Graduate School
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Email: [email protected]
Dr. Ranga Venkatachary
Program Director, Centre for Online and Distance Education
Simon Fraser University