Action Research

08/16/06

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Abstract

 

I have studied the different types of cooperative learning groups and the affects on assessments.  I have discovered my major problems with assessing group work have been with base or long-term groups for my students final project work.  In my study I have found aligning five major elements that make cooperative learning groups successful has been helpful in assessments of group work.  The study shows the need for an individual assessment along with a group assessment to provide equitable evaluation among all students.  Throughout the study I used many mechanisms for collecting data which included questionnaires, evaluation forms and an e-mail questionnaire to all faculty members at Southern Maine Community College.

Action Plan

InIn my research I have found many ideas which will help me implement a new paradigm to solve the problems of cooperative learning groups and how to assess them.  I have discovered my main concern is with the assessment of cooperative base groups or long-term groups for the students’ final projects.  I have experimented with the many ways to assess cooperative learning groups in my classroom.  I have found the experimentation with my students to be interesting and the data collected has been useful in evolving my current methods of assessment.  I know my methods of assessment will continue to evolve as each semester go on.  I know I have to keep asking myself what I am assessing as it might change from time to time.  When I think of what is important to assess I think first of skills learned by the group of students and then how well they performed as a group.  Then of how a student performs on an individual level within a group.  The last part that must be assessed is an individual’s skill level.  After thinking about individual assessments, I have come to the realization I am assessing how well students work with each other as well as the skills they have gained.  I think these skills are as valuable for students to develop as their programming skills.  In my experience this has been the skill which I have found to be lacking in the corporate world in the development of computer applications. 

InIn the first part of my Action Plan for the upcoming semesters I will align the five elements that make cooperative learning work successfully in base groups with what is to be assessed.  These five elements are shown in the preceding Analyst of the Data section of this document.  I will use these elements as a guide to assess how well my groups work together.   The following is an outline of each one of the elements that make cooperative learning successful and what method I will use to assess each element.  Each group will be a long-term or base group working on their final projects which will be fully functioning databases, web applications or computer programs.

 

Positive Interdependence  
(sink or swim together)

 Positive interdependence is imperative if a group is to be successful in creating a really great project.  The students have many opportunities to demonstrate how well their group is working together as they develop their project.  One of them is a design document which is done in the planning stages of their project before any of the coding is done.  I put a lot of emphasis on the design document making it clear how critical it is to have a plan of what you are to build and to demonstrate technical writing skills which will be used in a corporate environment.  The design document is especially important when students are working in cooperative learning groups where each element will be completed by different group members.  Each individual must contribute some part in the design document and the planning of the project.  The design document is done in the early stages and helps the students get started with their project.  I have created a rubric to use next semester to assist me in assessing the group’s efforts on the design document.

 

Design Document Rubric - Group

CRITERIA

Levels of Performance

Novice

 

Apprentice

 

Practitioner

 

Expert

 

Score

Format

Cover Page

Table of contents

Group sign-off

The design document is not in the proper format 

The design document may be missing a cover page or group member page

The design document has all of the elements required but there might be minor errors.  

The design document is neat with a cover page, group member sign off page, table of contents. 

 

Technical

Elements

Description of Project

Flow chart

List of files

The design document is missing two or more elements

The design document is missing one of the technical elements or all elements are there but poorly done.

The design document has all of the elements but there are minor errors. 

The design document has all of the elements and work is understandable

 

Shows work of all members

Sign-off page

No sign-off page

May have sign off page but incomplete

May have all members sign-off with work but one members work may be done poorly.

All members have signed off and work by all members is complete and understandable

 

 

Face-to-Face Interaction 
(promote each other's success)

This is the element that I have found to be missing in the teams I have worked on in corporate environment.  This is especially true among computer programmers.  They will not share or teach their code to others to promote success among the team in fear of job security.  I teach my students there is no benefit to the group if you keep everything to yourself, the only thing it will do is they will end up doing all of the work themselves.  The way I assess face-to-face interaction is by observations of how well my groups are interacting with each other.  It is easy to see if a group is not working up to their potential in this area.  Sometimes they do need my intervention to get started or guidance concerning how to break down task.  I will also use the Group Evaluation shown on page 16 in the Analysis of the Data section.  The Group Evaluation is done on a weekly basis to monitor the group member’s participation each week and to establish if their project is on task.   

 

Individual 
&
Group Accountability

(No hitchhiking! No social loafing)

This is one of the most difficult elements to instill in some of my students who just want to do the minimum to get by with a passing grade.  Although, the methods I have for assessing this category work very well to spot someone who is not pulling their weight, I do give my students the option of firing members who do not participate in the group’s discussions or who do not show up on the days scheduled for group work.  It is not in the best interest of a student to get fired near the end of the semester because now they would have to come up with a project on their own in a relatively short period of time.  I use the Group Evaluation on page 16, the Individual Evaluation Form on page 17 in the Analysis of the Data section as well as observation to assess each group and individual on this element.

Interpersonal &
Small-Group Skills

Social skills are extremely important for students to be successful in the cooperate environment.  I have found the leaders of the group emerge quickly and become the project manager and the liaison for the group.  I encourage this type of student not to take over but to delegate the work that needs to be done.  Most of these students are the higher achievers and take the position of the leader because they want to have a successful project.  For some of these students it is very difficult for them to delegate in fear of losing control of the project.  On the other end of the spectrum, I do have a few students who are very shy and have difficulty working in a group.  Although this is a very small percentage of students I am always watching out for them and assist them in getting involved.  I would use the Group Evaluation on page 16, the Individual Evaluation on page 17 in the Analysis of the Data section and observation for methods of assessment for this element. 

Group Processing

How well a group processes information from each other is another important skill to have.  The understanding of each others programming code is not easy for all members of the group to explain.  It may take a few attempts for a student to get their point across and it is a great way for students to practice their communication skills in a professional group setting.  They may have to demonstrate what it is they have in mind in various different ways.  I also encourage my students to reflect on their project as a group.  I have them discuss what went well and what areas they could improve.  For most of my students, this is the first time they have done a reflection exercise.  I use the method of observation along with the Group Evaluations to evaluate this element. 

In planning my assessments of long-term groups, I have to keep in mind what these grades mean to each individual.  Long-term group work is not used by many professionals in the college environment.  Students are used to individual project work on large projects and need time to adjust to this new paradigm.  For most students this is their first college experience where everything rides on an individual grade.  The overall grade in my class is extremely important to the majority of the students.  In the core classes in the Computer Technology Program a student must receive a grade of a “C” or better to stay in the program.  When I think of how much weight the final project has in my class, I feel it is important to base a large portion of the project grade on an individual’s effort.  In considering how important a grade in my class is to an individual student, the many different learning styles and the diversity of the groups I have developed a way to assess individual skill levels. 

I will also be assessing technical skills gained within the group and of the individuals.  I feel it is very important to assess the skill level of the individual separately because of how differently students learn.  Computer programming is very difficult for some students to learn and in some cases they have to take more than one programming class before the concepts become evident to them.  I have found it very difficult to teach some students the abstract ideas of computer programming and relational databases.  I have to find diverse ways of presenting the information to these students.  Other students may already have programming experience and may be bored with the lessons.  I have multilevel labs for the students who are already proficient in a skill enabling them to move on.  An assessment of the diversity in a group has become difficult.  In an effort to solve the problems of diversity within a group and equitable assessment I have created the following rubric to assess an individual’s skill level within a group.

Final Project Technical Skill Rubric – Applications in Software

For an Individual

  

CRITERIA

Levels of Performance

Novice

2

Apprentice

3

Practitioner

4

Expert

5

Score

Overall

Project

Understanding

Student does not have their own copy of the project

Student has a copy of the project but it might not be up to date and can not explain it.

Student has an up to date copy of the group project but may have difficulty explaining portion of it

Student has an up to date copy of the project and can explain all the elements 

 

Understanding

MySQL database

Can not explain the elements of the database.

May know the elements of the database but may only uses one table and information may not make sense.

Student has a broad understanding of MySql and understands SQL statements 

Student understands how SQL works and can explain the relationship of their tables.  Student may have used another type of database such as Access.

 

Code Design

Student can not explain the logical of the project

Student can explain a few code statements but doesn’t see how it fits together

Student can explain most of the code element of the program

Students has a good understanding of how the program is designed

 

Menu Options

Or Page layouts

Student does not know how the menu operates

Student may understand the menu options but fails to see relationships between pages

Student understands menu options and can explain most elements and relationships between pages

Student understands all the menu options and can change them with ease.  Understands all relationships

 

 

By setting clear criteria and monitoring group activity closely, I know my students in cooperative learning groups will succeed beyond their expectations and mine.  In my research I have found multiple ideas which will help me implement a new paradigm to solve the problems of cooperative learning groups and how to assess them in my classroom.  By outlining exactly what is to be assessed with the five key elements for making cooperative learning groups effective will be useful in my understanding of what I have been struggling to assess.  I now understand that I want to assess both the individual and groups efforts in long term or base groups.  I have learned the diversity of a group has also been a big part of the problems with the difficulty of the assessment of cooperative learning groups.  With the implementation of setting clear criteria and monitoring group activity closely, I know my students in cooperative learning groups will succeed beyond their expectations.  The methods of the Individual Evaluation and the Final Project Technical Skills Rubric for an individual I have created will help in making my assessments equitable and efficient for all of my students.

 

 

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