Best Practices for Group Work Evaluation

NC State students report that one of the ways faculty could improve online courses is through building in more student-to-student activities (DELTA, 2015). Benefits of group work (Johnson & Johnson, 2005) include:

  • Long-term knowledge retention
  • Time on task
  • Higher-level reasoning and metacognitive thought
  • Affinity for other students and instructor
  • Idea generation
  • Willingness to support peers
  • Ability to transfer learning
  • Ability to take another’s perspective
  • Positive attitude towards the subject being studied
  • Psychological health (greater social competencies and higher self-esteem)

While group work can be daunting for online faculty, there are many tools that can make it an effective use of students’ (and your) time. A primary concern about group work in online courses is ensuring equitable contributions from all members. The best practices below can help group work be a fair and effective learning experience.

How to Get Started

Step 1: Design appropriate group assignments.

  • Many instructors often use Discussion Forums and occasionally a group project in online courses. Be sure to design tasks that make sense as group work rather than individual assignments; if the student would benefit more from doing the work alone, consider other activities for group work (Bart, 2010).
  • When designing the group work activity, consider whether or not it fits within one of three categories:
    • A debate or research on controversial issues for which there is no right answer
    • Analyzing current events or case studies that allow multiple perspectives
    • A “jigsaw puzzle approach”—when each student contributes one part rather than trying to evaluate a plethora of resources individually (Bart, 2010).
  • Consider which type of group (Johnson & Johnson, 2005) would best fit the assignment:
    • Formal groups are used for assignments lasting from one session to a few weeks
    • Informal groups are used for quick, intermittent assignments such as discussions
    • Ongoing groups last a semester or more and and include a commitment to each other’s academic and social well-being.
  • Ensure that the group is small enough to have all members participate (three or four is a good number).
  • Be sure to assess individual student learning and performance in addition to the group’s output. You might combine a short essay with a group presentation, for example, or add an individual quiz as part of the total project grade (Carnegie, 2015).

Step 2: Select a Group Evaluation Rubric or create your own.

  • Be sure this is displayed in the assignment description or rubric before the activity is underway. This way students will understand your expectations for group work.
  • Misunderstandings online are common (Zigurs, 2003) and most often online participants are quick to jump to negative assumptions (Cramton 2001; 2002). Be sure to name, process, and solve conflict when it arises and empower students to do the same.
  • Require confidential group evaluation forms after each group assignment to ensure accountability. 

Step 3: Assess the group.

  • There are numerous methods for assessing a group. You might ask for weekly individual progress reports for the duration of the assignment, or have a summative assessment at the end.
  • Key components (Chappelow & Gillen, n.d.) to consider include:
    • Achievement of goals
    • Time spent
    • Cooperation
    • Indication of problem
    • Identify non-contributing member(s)

Best Practices

  • Set clear expectations for each individual’s responsibilities and how they will be assessed. This includes general expectations for the group and their assigned activities, online presence in the course, how they are to report about their completed tasks, and how they are to get that information to you (Johnson & Johnson 2005). Clear boundaries and set expectations can greatly reduce student confusion and anxiety as they approach a group work assignment.
  • Use an assignment rubric to ensure clarity; see an example.
  • Assist online teams in building high levels of trust between group members (Poole & Zhang, 2005; Jarvenpaa et al., 1998, 1999). Just as with physical, face-to-face teams, online groups need to develop bonds and relationships with each other. Some ways that you can help students develop these bonds include such minor activities as selecting team names and mascots to having team members complete relationship-building exercises including ice-breaker and virtual getting-to-know-you activities.
  • Record a screen capture of you talking through how to use any new technologies that are required for the group assignment—this helps students see and hear exactly how to approach group work and helps decrease confusion if they are new to the particular learning tool.
  • Maintain a presence to let students know that you are aware of their activity, but don’t be overly active, as this can limit students’ active participation (Pearson, 1999; Rovai, 2007).
  • Google Apps offers numerous advantages for teaching and learning, including extensive sharing options, collaboration capabilities with editing and commenting features, an autosave feature, 30 GB of storage, viewable revision history, and core apps that are already integrated with Unity accounts (Gracieux & Giro, 2014).
  • Diversify groups to expand learners’ knowledge and sponsor alternative and forward-thinking solutions to problems and tasks.
  • Set a regular and revolving schedule to help group members get into a “rhythm” (Maznevski & Chudoba, 2000). This makes integrating the group meetings into their day-to- day schedules and lives much easier.


Group work evaluations can be quantitative, qualitative, or a mix of the two. The examples below could easily be altered to fit your needs:

  • A quantitative evaluation (Carnegie, 2015):
    • Please use this form to evaluate the contributions of each team member to the group effort. Consider attendance and participation in team meetings, individual contributions to idea generation and research, communication within the group, etc. These evaluations are completely confidential and will never be shown to your team members. Please respond as honestly as possible. Allocate a total of 100 percentage points among your team members, including yourself, with higher percentages going to those members who contributed most. In the case of equal contribution, points should be divided equally among team members. 
    •   Name Points
      Member 1    
      Member 2    
      Member 3    
      Member 4    
  • A qualitative evaluation (Carnegie, 2015):
    • In the table below, identify a major strength of each of your group members in relation to the group’s goals and processes. Provide one concrete example to substantiate your answer. Include yourself!  
      Group Member’s Name and Role in Group Strength Example
    • In the space below, identify approaches your group tried that worked well, and explain why they were effective.
    • In the space below, identify approaches your group tried that did not work well, and explain why they were ineffective.
    • What can you do to improve your own contributions to the group’s goals and processes in the second half of the semester?
  • A mixed evaluation (Carnegie, 2015):
    • Write the name of each of your group members in a separate column. For each person, indicate the extent to which you agree with the statement on the left, using a scale of 1-4 (1=strongly disagree; 2=disagree; 3=agree; 4=strongly agree). Total the numbers in each column.
    • Write the name of each of your group members in a separate column. For each person, indicate the extent to which you agree with the statement on the left, using a scale of 1-4 (1=strongly disagree; 2=disagree; 3=agree; 4=strongly agree). Total the numbers in each column.
      Evaluation Criteria Group Member: Group Member: Group Member: Group Member: Group Member:
      Attends group meetings regularly and arrives on time.          
      Contributes meaningfully to group discussions.          
      Completes group assignments on time.          
      Prepares work in a quality manner.          
      Demonstrates a cooperative and supportive attitude.          
      Contributes significantly to the success of the project.          
    • Were the behaviors of any of your team members particularly valuable or detrimental to the team? Explain.
    • What did you learn that you will carry into your next group experience?
    • Provide any other useful comments below.
  • Other examples include: