ELT 7008: Activity 7 - Assessing Collaborative Projects Discussion

Discuss the challenges involved in assessment of online collaborative projects and activities. Be specific and give examples. 300 - 400 words

Collaborative projects and activities provide learners with an interactive way to explore and learn course content as part of a curriculum with which to support the course goals and objectives (Bender, 2003). Assessment as described by Bender (2003) "should be performed to detect the present state of the learner in achieving those goals" (p. 186). As discussed in the video by Saint-Germain (2009) learner performance is assessed to (a) set high standards and help students meet them, (b) improve student learning, (c) improve student success, and (d) improve faculty teaching. The development of assessments to evaluate learner performance of collaborative projects and activities is complex and is more convoluted in the online environment. In reference to whether instructors truly value collaboration Swan, Shen, and Hiltz (2009) noted "as an instructor, you need to find ways to motivate students and to assess collaborative activity. However, in most online courses, traditional instructor-centered examination remains the primary means for assessing student performance, and collaborative learning is undervalued and so marginalized. (para. 2).

The initial challenge faced by instructors centers on assessment processes as "online instructors need to understand assessment processes and the factors that influence assessment for learning" (Vonderwell, Liang, & Alderman, p. 324). According to Swan, Shen, and Hiltz three issues are involved when developing assessments: "the variety and kinds of goals for online collaboration, the complexity of assessing both individual and group behaviors, and collaboration on assessment itself" (para. 6). Assessing collaborative projects is no easy task as there are so many variables to consider as an instructor develops collaborative projects. The variables discussed by Bonk (2010a) in the video include:
  • Ask yourself can the activity be reasonably assessed
  • Are learning outcomes clearly identified from which to base the assessment
  • Should the activity be assessed
  • Use of qualitative or quantitative or a combination of methods
  • Formative or summative evaluations
  • Self-assessment, peer, or expert
  • What is assessed - process or product
  • Will assessment be cumulative or activity-by-activity
  • What are the skills of the learners
  • Use of feedback to guide versus graded assessments
  • How to assess within the chosen content management system
  • will the assessment be individual or group or a combination

The myriad of variables associated with assessment of collaborative activities is a challenge for instructors as they develop collaborative projects and activities. In order to determine which assessment type and method to use to evaluate learner performance instructors must understand why learner performance is assessed and develop assessments accordingly in order to provide evidence of the quality of learning (Saint-Germain, 2009). The difficulty lies in appropriately matching the activity to assessment practice (Bonk, 2010a). The following assessment tips provide a guide for instructors as collaborative projects and activities are developed for online learning:
  • Identify the learning outcome - the activity drives how to assess (Bonk, 2010a; Swan, Shen, & Hiltz, 2006)
  • Explicit instructions which are clear and easy to understand - learners must know the expectations (Bonk; Palloff & Pratt, 2005)
  • Post guidelines and structure of the assessments with procedures - learners must understand what is valued (Bonk; Swan, Shen, & Hiltz)
  • Provide sample work (with permission) - a guide for learners to see and understand the level of work to be accomplished (Bonk)
  • The type of assessment depends on the size of the group - participation or content or both (Bonk)
  • Use rubrics - explicit evaluation criteria based with assigned values based on levels of participation and content (Bonk; Ko & Rossen; Palloff & Pratt; Swan, Shen, & Hiltz)
  • Grade early - value learner work from the very beginning (Bonk)
  • Provide a tool for learners to comment and evaluate themselves and other learners on a weekly basis - formative, diagnostic, and summative assessment environment (Raban & Litchfield, 2006)
  • Use quantitative ratings and qualitative comments - influence behaviors and contributions of learners (Raban & Litchfield)
  • Incorporate reflection into the process - learning occurs at a deeper level (Bender, 2003; Bonk; Palloff & Pratt)
  • Use self-assessments and group assessments - determine the quality of the contributions (Bonk; Palloff & Pratt)
  • Allow learners to develop portfolios - serves as an incentive for participation based on an understanding of how learners will be assessed for individual and group work (Palloff & Pratt)
  • Share your lessons learned with your colleagues - everyone gains from their experiences (Bonk)

Assessment of collaborative projects and activities are essential to the learning process and the key is to provide a road map to guide the activity as well as inform learners how the activity will be assessed and evaluated (Palloff & Pratt, 2005). According to Vonderwell, Liang, and Alderman (2007) "instructors should structure a feedback mechanism that will encourage student inquiry, collaboration and metacognitive feedback and self-assessment strategies" (pg. 311). Palloff and Pratt (2005) simplified the challenge of assessing collaborative projects and activities in the statement: "a simple rule to remember when assessing collaborative work is that collaborative activities are best assessed collaboratively" (p. 44).

Why Assess Student Learning by Michelle Saint-Germain

Assessing Student Learning by Curtis Bonk

Personal Resource
Peer Assessment Challenges


Beaudin, B. (1999, November). Keeping online asynchronous discussions on topic. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 3(2), 41-53. Retrieved from http://sloanconsortium.org/system/files/v3n2_beaudin.pdf

Bonk, C. (2010b, July 31). Fostering online collaboration and teams [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xetoek6hxjc&feature=BFa&list=PLB6672E016DCDEB5B

Hou, H., Chang, K., & Sung, Y. (2007, December). An analysis of peer assessment online discussions within a course that uses project-based learning. Interactive Learning Environments, 15(3), 237-251. Retrieved from

Saint-Germain, M. (2009). Ten Assessment Quickies located at:http://www.youtube.com/user/MASaintGermain#p/u


Bender, T. (2003). Discussion based online teaching to enhance student learning: Theory, practice and assessment. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Bonk, C. (2010a, September 21). Assessing online student learning [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0nfDOPaw_8&feature=BFa&list=PLB6672E016DCDEB5B&lf=BFa

Ko, S., & Rossen, S. (2010). Teaching online: A practical guide. New York, NY: Routledge.

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2005). Collaborating online: Learning together in community. San Francisco: CA; Jossey-Bass.

Raban, R., & Litchfield, A. (2006, December). Supporting peer assessment of individual contributions in groupwork. Paper presented at the 23rd Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from

Saint-Germain, M. (2009, May 8). Assessment quickies #10: Why assess student learning. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HZPBM8AkLE&feature=related

Swan, K., Shen, J. & Hiltz, S. (2006). Assessment and collaboration in online learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks 10(1), 45-62. Retrieved from http://scholar.googleusercontent.com/scholar?q=cache:uoVpSX9ElYgJ:scholar.google.com/+assessing+collaborative+online+activities&hl=en&as_sdt=0,38

Vonderwell, S., Liang, X., & Alderman, K. (2007). Asynchronous discussions and assessment in online learning. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 39(3), 309-328. Retrieved from