Using cloud based collaboration software for effective group based assessment

Aonghus Sugrue 
IT Analyst, Academic Syste...

This paper reports on the use of a widely available cloud based collaboration software as part of an approach to address the issue of evaluating individual contributions within team projects, a perennial problem confronting the use of group or team based projects in higher education.

Collaboration in education plays an important role in delivering effective learning and experience to students. On one hand collaboration can be an important approach for delivering effective learning while on the other it presents an opportunity to design situations that resemble the goal-oriented structure of team-based work in organisations, something that can bring a practical work place like focus to the student experience. Mirroring the organisational complexity of managing and recognising varying levels of both effort and collaboration among team members it is no wonder these team based projects are fraught with challenges. Perhaps the most notable challenge confronting group based work in the higher education context is that of free-riding - i.e. some individuals contributing significantly more than others but each receiving the same overall group mark. Indeed, this problem is not new and has been cited as a significant challenge confronting group based work for many years.

Contemporary ICTs each with their own range of functionalities present users with opportunities to potentially redress such challenges. This paper reports on the use of a cloud based collaboration application - namely the collaboration apps from Google’s Apps for Work ( to facilitate the effective administration, running, and marking of a group based project in a third level education. Most importantly, the approach adopted here facilitates the effective and efficient evaluation of individual contributions to group or team based projects conducted through this software.

The software within the Google Apps for Work collection provide a ‘revision history’ feature provided by the application which is ordinarily used to restore documents to previous versions and view the changes made by people (i.e. contributors) over time organised chronologically. This feature along with the group based collaboration that each of these apps afford users were instrumental in the approach adopted for this initiative. This audit trail functionality provides visibility surrounding the contributions of individuals to the group based project as it evolves from a blank canvas to a completed document ready for project submission. This accountability offered as a result of the visibility of individual contributions facilitated individual based marking, a form of marking not typically achievable when considering group based projects. Moreover, the contributions were not only assessed in terms of quantity (i.e. frequency of contribution) but rather the quality of contribution (i.e. substantiveness) was also assessed given the ability see exactly what content a given individual had contributed at each time.

This approach of using ICT for a non-typical use case illustrates the potential for educational and research institutes to leverage any one of the ICTs readily available to empower change. Although there is a wide range of ICTs that are rigid, inflexible, and serve a discrete range of purposes (e.g. an ERP system), there is an equally wide range of ICTs available that may be adapted for a range of purposes other than what they were designed for. Clear definition and articulation of problems within the domain (i.e. in this case the perennial problem of evaluating individual contributions in group based projects), whether education or research, coupled with the vision and desire to experiment are important ingredients required to empower such change.

Mr Aonghus Sugrue
IT Analyst, Academic Systems Administration, University College Cork, Ireland; PhD candidate, Business Information Systems, University College Cork, Ireland

Dr Rob Gleasure
College Lecturer and Co-Director MSc eBusiness, Business Information Systems, University College, Cork, Ireland.

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