Proceedings of The Physiological Society

Europhysiology 2018 (London, UK) (2018) Proc Physiol Soc 41, C119

Oral Communications

Preparing physiology students for group assessed work

M. Sweeney1, A. Howard1

1. School of Biomedical Sciences, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom.


Stage 2 Physiological Sciences students at Newcastle University report that they enjoy working in groups during practical sessions. However, personal communication and module evaluation comments indicated the presence of well-documented problems with group dynamics and student dissatisfaction with related group assessment (Gibbs, 2009). As practical leaders spent substantial time informing students on the value of group work and providing guidelines on appropriate group behaviour this outcome was disappointing. In 2015-16, a peer-assessment component, using WebPA software (Loughborough University, 2006) to moderate the group mark, was introduced allowing students to evaluate self and peer attendance at group meetings, adherence to deadlines and provision of feedback. Module evaluation indicated that students appreciated use of this tool to moderate marks when problems were encountered but that students were unsure how to manage issues as they arose. To address this we created a Context Café workshop, aiming to prepare these students for group assessed work. During this workshop, held in the first week of the semester, students worked in small groups to discuss group characteristics and dynamics and to analyse case studies based on previously reported problems. Refreshments were provided and group members rotated to ensure students had the opportunity to meet all of their Physiological Sciences coursemates, having previously only completed common biomedical sciences modules in a cohort of ~400 students. Following the workshop, held in each of the last two years, students were asked to complete a brief questionnaire relating to how beneficial they felt the workshop had been and how it would influence their approach to group assessment. Two thirds of students (37/56) reported meeting the other people on the course and feeling better equipped to handle new and difficult situations encountered during group assessment as the most beneficial outcomes. Nearly half of respondents said that when approaching group assessment they would be more aware of effective group organisation (including setting deadlines, planning, making frequent contact) and how to improve group dynamics (including avoiding and solving problems early). The first Context Café workshop appeared successful as no problems with group assessment tasks were reported to practical leaders and only minor issues were indicated and accounted for in peer assessment using WebPA. In the second year some groups did encounter significant issues which they raised with practical leaders. However, in contrast to previous years, students felt confident managing these problems, ensuring they completed the assessment on time and were satisfied that peer assessment would result in fair allocation of marks. The benefits of these workshops were further highlighted in end of semester module evaluation comments indicating that students felt more confident in approaching group assessments.

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