Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Respondent Disengagement from a Peer Assessment Instrument Measuring Collaboration Viability

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Respondent Disengagement from a Peer Assessment Instrument Measuring Collaboration Viability

Article excerpt


A critical skill of modern employment is collaboration, which educational institutions attempt to inculcate through group projects (Cooper-Thomas and Anderson 2006; Smith, Ferns, and Russell 2014). Teams of students working on group assessments may experience difficulties from colleagues who are free-riders (non- or minimal contributors), or who possess poor technical and/or teamwork skills, any of which may cause interpersonal conflict (Levi and Cadiz 1998). To reduce dissatisfaction from students who perceive group work as unfair and/or onerous, there is a growing trend to adjust each student's mark based on reviews by their peers (Ohland et al. 2012).

Online peer assessment tools are time-effective for lecturers who have, in the past, manually compiled peer assessment ratings that had been entered on paper (Loughry, Ohland, and Woehr 2014). Triantafyllou and Timcenko (2014) conducted a literature review of peer assessment of engineering student projects, and identified SPARKPLUS, CATME and WebPA as widely accepted online tools. Whereas [SPARK.sup.PLUS] and WebPA expect the assessor to design their own peer assessment questions, CATME's questions are preset (Delaney et al. 2016).

The Self and Peer Assessment Resource Kit ([SPARK.sup.PLUS]) instrument is commonly employed in Australian university engineering departments (e.g. Daly 2014), and was the package used for this research. As with all online peer assessment tools, [SPARK.sup.PLUS] Is intended to identify free-riders through peer assessment, and downgrade their marks accordingly; or otherwise to upgrade the marks of those who contribute strongly (Willey and Gardner 2008). Its secondary purpose is educating students based upon others' perception of their teamwork behaviours, should they be markedly lacking.


When collaborating, each group member naturally makes not only assessments of each of their peers, but also of the team. If members perceive their team as fair, productive and friendly, engagement will follow (Costa, Passos, and Bakker 2014). This article terms collaboration viability (CoVi) as the basket of within-team factors that influence engagement (Costa, Passos, and Barata 2015). CoVi is similar to team viability, which measures members' perceptions of team prospects, and achievement of affective needs, such as for belonging and liking (Hackman 1986). Unfortunately, numerous biases are exhibited by respondents when asked for their own-perception of CoVi, which reduces the effectiveness of this approach. Please note that while self-perception is accepted nomenclature, it is defined by psychology and neuroscience as examination of the self (e.g. Pfeifer et al. 2009).

Potential biases when surveying Collaboration Viability

Numerous theoretical constructs are relevant to the aspirations of CoVi, prominent among them being psychological safety, group harmony and cohesiveness. Psychological safety is the extent to which a team feels safe for interpersonal risk-taking, such as suggesting an idea or admitting a mistake (Edmondson 1999). Group harmony refers to intra-group relationship quality, characterised by attribution of benign motives when disagreement is encountered, and an overall balance between individual needs and group unity (Chen et al. 2016). Cohesiveness considers liking, task commitment and group pride (Lott and Lott 1965). Each construct has accompanying instruments designed to assess a respondent's collaborative environment from their perception of its personal impact (Newman, Donohue, and Eva 2017).

Unfortunately, own-perception of the group may experience various biases due to a respondent's desire for self-enhancement (Mathieu, Gilson, and Ruddy 2006). If such a respondent feels they are insufficiently celebrated, or overly disadvantaged by the group, own-perceptions of CoVi may be unduly negative (Lonnqvist et al. 2008). Even for respondents aware of their deficiencies, self-reporting bias encourages survey respondents to hide potentially embarrassing aspects of themselves. …

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