Signing Off On Group Problem Submissions?

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In one of the engineering courses I'm working with, students are grouped into teams of four and asked to submit one joint homework assignment (usually with at least four problems). The instructor likes this structure because 1) students are able to learn from each other (i.e. peer-to-peer learning) and 2) she has fewer problems to grade.

But as some researchers have noted, there can be problems. One is "freeloading" (the slacker student who never appears and never turns anything in), but another is that students probably don't have experience working every type of problem. In most teams assignments of this format, students divvy up problems (one per student)...even if the instructor doesn't want them too.

Is there anyway that students can learn more from all the problems, even if they have been divvied up? Why not borrow a technique professionals actually use in joint assignments - the signoff sheet.

That is, you can make it a requirement that problems are completed early enough so that students can review content and then sign off their approval or suggest corrections if they see an error. Some students may not give problems a thorough review, but it will be with the understanding that they can't blame a poor performance JUST on a teammate.

This may seem very obvious, but I don't recall it ever being mentioned in collaborative learning literature, yet is very common practice in real-world team work. I think it's good way of symbolizing that everyone is responsible and that members are responsible TO everyone.

I can't claim credit for this idea - a signoff sheet has already been implemented in at least one database design course at Arizona State and another technology course at the University of Texas

The only disadvantage is that students might have to finish assignments earlier than the night before they're due (unless the instructor allows students some time to review).

2 Comments

TK Lee Author Profile Page said:

I think this is a wonderful idea. Finishing assignments in advance should not be a problem. If students work together through several questions, they can quickly sign off lots of the questions at the end of their discussion. If they split up the whole assignments into bits and work separately, they should actually have more time left to review others' answers.

At work, my due day is earlier than my boss's due day, which is earlier than my boss's boss's due day. It is designed so to leave enough time for supervision, or signing off. I think it's the nature of team project. They simply have to learn time management.

ELIZABETH J PYATT Author Profile Page said:

Good observations of work in the real world. Students definitely need help with time management, but explaining what happens out there is a good way to help them understand the implications of their lateness.

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