project, but in some cases just before the final presentation for assessment and before the students knew their marks. The questions asked reflected the main features identified by Chadwick ( 1994) in her guide to group project work given to students at the University of Aberdeen.
It was notable that group projects where students experienced the most problems resulted in lower perceived levels of skill acquisition. Group projects where more problems were cited were also the projects with lower levels of recognising the incorporation of maintenance features within their group project work.
Three of the main problem areas identified have been used to help design the functionality of a group support agent: lack of skills, lack of time and members not contributing.
Agents are self-contained, concurrently executing software processes, that encapsulate the current state in terms of knowledge, and are able to communicate with other agents through message passing ( Wooldridge & Jennings 1995). Software agents, such as interface agents, may be based on knowledge based systems, and able to react autonomously within their own domain, to observe progress and offer suggestions to the users when a potential problem is recognised.
An agent that can support the maintenance aims of group project working for students is proposed, called a Group Support Agent (GSA). The agent will autonomously monitor the progress of the group project, suggest ways in which the students can act to improve its progress and enhance the communication between members of the group.
The agent might recognise that lack of time is becoming a problem when monitoring progress on the project against a plan of the work to be completed, and a variety of solutions might be suggested. Similarly, lack of skills could be recognised by the appearance of errors in the work, or students asking how to do a particular task. The particular problem chosen for expansion in this paper is that of members of the group not contributing. The agent will monitor postings by each member of the group, any member not contributing adequately, or late will be flagged. Whilst this problem was not cited by a majority of the students in all of the studies, it is a problem that results in difficulties when assessing the students and can cause friction between group members so is worthy of more detailed consideration.