Group Work: Part 1 – Making Marks Fair

Students often comment that their group work partners do not always contribute equally; deadlines are missed, communication is lacking, and quality is poor.  On the other end is students that complain they have done considerably more work for the same grade; these are the students acting as the ‘assembler’ for the project, fixing up everyone else’s contributions, handling the missed deadlines, to get the project turned in on time.

One way instructors can handle this is by building in a caveat in the course outline’s methods of evaluation area that says “The instructor reserves the right to adjust individual marks to reflect contributions to the group assignment.”

This provides instructors with the ability to adjust marks when students are not contributing fairly to the team’s objectives, or to recognize that member that has gone above and beyond to make the project work.

Grade adjustments should always be justified.  By having frequent check ins with the team, reviewing an individual’s draft component if needed, checking group meeting notes or correspondence, can all be used to check on contributions.

Building this message into the grading component, and checking in on both team and individual contributions, can help students navigate the stress of team work and make the experience more productive.

Four Powerful Teaching Tools

One of the podcasts on education that I enjoy listening to is the Cult of Pedagogy.  In a recent episode, the host provided four tips for making teaching more powerful.  They center on the concept that, as educators, our role is to help students be able to recall information; essentially move learning from short term memory to long term memory.  The four practices are things that many of us use already, the point of the podcast was to suggest being more deliberate and planned so that they are more effective in their purpose.

The concept to use them more deliberately all come from a book called Powerful Teaching, where the authors present ideas to improve student performance based on: retrieval practice; spaced practice; interleaving; and feedback-driven meta cognition.

Retrieval practice is the point of building time into each lesson to have students recall what was taught.  Plan mini-quizzes, ask questions, do anything that is beyond just repetition.  Instead of just repeating materials for students to pick up, this tip is aimed to plan time for students to recall information that was shared.  As the information is recalled, it pushes students to move the learning from short term to long term memory.

Spaced practice is similar, but done over a longer term.  Retrieval practice is about what was covered recently, in spaced practice, the instructor is planning when to have students recall information that was taught further back.  This calls for planning when to link information back to earlier classes, deliberately leading students to make connections between current materials and earlier concepts.  Ideally, students recap the information and recall it, again reinforcing the long term memory of the earlier materials. It’s important to realize that there may be gaps or errors in this information, instructors need to be prepared to help and correct students.

The third power tool is interleaving.  This is also related to recall, but now instructors are asking students to recall information that is not related.  When having students recall information, it’s easy to fall into patterns or habits.  Students pick up on this and can anticipate where the questions and recall is going, they are no longer thinking but just reciting ideas.  Instructors can mix up the recall of information so that there are only limited patterns, pushing students away from recital and into thinking.

Feedback-driven meta cognition is about planning recall on information that students are struggling with.  Most students find it easy to study materials they know, they review what they are good at and shy away from stuff they are struggling with.  As instructors, we can review the mini quizzes we use in class, the formal quizzes and tests from a course, to see where errors are occurring.  They bring that material up in class for review and recall, pushing students to look at areas where they are struggling, taking them out of their comfort zone.

These four tips are likely things that are already in your lesson plan without realizing it.  Putting some thought into them can make them a more powerful part of your teaching day.  If you want to know more, check out the podcast here:



Nexus Tip of the Month: Email

Nexus has it’s own email function and email addresses, separate from the Outlook email address.  This email system has the ability to do a mass email with no fear of missing students or getting addresses wrong.

To send an email to a group of students or a student in the full time programs:

  • Log in to Nexus, go to your program, on the ribbon bar select CLASSLIST.
  • When the page opens, there are three tabs, select the tab labelled STUDENTS
  • Scroll to the bottom of the page, ensure that you are viewing the whole class by selecting a view setting of 100+.
  • Scroll up, select all (just below the word email), and then press EMAIL.
  • A page will open that is an email message to the class, with everyone’s Nexus email addresses filled in.
  • Change the subject line and write your message.  Send is in the top left corner of the email message.

If you want to send to an individual student, just click on that student’s name.

When you have received a Nexus email message, you will see an orange dot on the envelope icon at the top of the screen to the right of centre.

This email feature is contained within Nexus.  It does not send or receive emails outside of the Nexus system.  Especially in our full time programs, it is great way to communicate with the class en mass, and Nexus becomes a one stop shop for sharing content, receiving assignments, and communicating.