Grading & Assessment

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Assessment is the process of gathering information about how well a student is achieving specified course and program level learning outcomes. Through assessment, faculty gather information about student performance, provide students with formal or informal feedback, and guide students to improve their learning and skill development. In grading, educators evaluate a students performance on an assessment against specified criterion. Rubrics can be used to provide consistent feedback on an assignment or project. and ensure that the assessments are reliable and valid. Well-designed assessments throughout a program ensure that students are meeting the program learning outcomes by program completion.

Topics of Discussion



Assessing Discussions


Although discussions take place in the face-to-face learning environment, it can sometimes be challenging to introduce a variety of assessment methods into online teaching and learning spaces. Online discussions are a great way to engage learners, build student community, and promote learning.

Beyond a tool for growing social presence and creating community within a course, online discussions can: measure active participation; gauge comprehension; encourage analysis; focus on evaluation; encourage reflection; and/or prompt synthesis.

How Discussions Work

MyCanvas includes an integrated system for class discussions, which allows educators and learners to start and contribute to discussion topics. Discussions can be created as a graded assignment because of the integration with the MyCanvas gradebook or can simply be used for class participation. Discussions can be organized as focused or threaded discussions:

Focused discussions allow for 2 levels of nesting, the original post and subsequent replies.

Threaded discussions allow for infinite levels of nesting.


Uses of Discussions

Focused Discussions

  • Answer a single question.
  • Share resources amongst peers.
  • Collect results from a simple research activity.
  • Share solutions to a single problem.
  • Correct misconceptions.
  • Clarify course policies.
  • Get feedback on a work in progress.
  • Share insights about a single reading.

Threaded Discussions

  • Post and answer multiple related or unrelated questions.
  • Organize results from a complex research activity.
  • Share and iterate upon ideas shared by each student in the course.
  • Debate the pros and cons of a single issue or multiple issues.
  • Ask multiple questions of a single discussion leader.
  • Refine ideas between multiple discussion leaders and multiple learners.
  • Facilitate group discussions around multiple topics.
  • Facilitate discussions around a discussion (fishbowl conversations).
  • Explore at length the feasibility of different solutions to a complex problem.

Questions for Discussion posts can be created by the educator, or the learners can create discussion questions to be answered by their peers.

Functionality within Mohawk's MyCanvas LMS facilitates your creativity when crafting discussions. Options and restrictions allow you to:

  • Start a post before students can read and contribute.
  • Create, edit, and delete discussion topics with varied due dates.
  • Create spaces for smaller group discussions.
  • Create graded discussions for everyone, individual students, course selections, or course groups.
  • Require submission of a post before reading and responding to other posts.
  • Subscribe to a discussion to be notified of replies.
  • Pin discussion threads at the top of the discussions page.
  • Allow learners to share not only text but images, video, and audio.

From the students' perspective, Discussions in MyCanvas offer robust editing features - students can see the same WYSIWYG editor that they are used to using in Word and can enhance their contributions with images, hyperlinks, embedded videos, etc.

In-Person/Synchronous Discussions

Discussions can also take place in in-person or synchronous online classes. These discussions can be completed in small groups or breakout rooms, where individuals from each group are selected to report the discussion findings of their smaller group. The debriefing method is important to ensure that students are summarizing the most important aspects of their discussion. Some debriefing techniques include: verbally, newsprint/flipchart, whiteboard, screen sharing, etc. Large group discussions can also be used with some classes, but the educator should be mindful of ensuring that the group stays on task.


Assessing Discussions

Learners may have distinct ideas of what a quality discussion is, so it is important to clearly outline course expectations. You can attach a score to an individual thread, multiple contributions by a learner or associate a rubric with the topic. A discussion rubric can be used to ensure that all learners are on the same page and build learner accountability. Another method of assessing discussion participation is having the learner keep track of what they have learned in the class discussions, both in person and virtually, and submit a reflection on their learning. Either score can link directly to Grades.

Assessing in-person discussions can be challenging, especially with larger groups. In this case, assessment can be based on participation, contribution, peer grading, etc. Another way to assess participation in class discussions is to have learners submit a reflection on the discussion topic and the ideas presented in class.


Use at Mohawk

Discussions are a widely used assessment method at Mohawk College. Many educators use them in all modalities of learning; Hybrid, Online Asynchronous, Online Synchronous, in-person and HyFlex. When used appropriately discussions can be an effective assessment tool. Consider adding variety in your discussions, especially those posted in the LMS. For example:

  • Challenge students to find an article contradicting the main focus of that week's content.
  • Require students to summarize the next week's content in one word and write a paragraph of 50-75 words as to why they chose that word.
  • The following week, ask students to compare and contrast two different approaches/experts' opinions.

Consistent use of the tool is wonderful for learner experience of online learning, but varying how the tool is used is equally important for engagement and ensuring that the task does not become monotonous.


Additional Resources

Brank, E., & Wylie, L. (2013). Let's discuss: Teaching students about discussions. Journal Of The Scholarship Of Teaching And Learning, 13(3), 23-32

Not specifically detailing online discussion, but an interesting article exploring how to approach the importance of discussions with students. Connects the engagement with discussions to deeper success in the course. The list of references are also a sound springboard to more information.

Lai, K. (2012). Assessing participation skills: online discussions with peers. Assessment & Evaluation In Higher Education, 37(8), 933-947. doi:10.1080/02602938.2011.590878

A comprehensive analysis of a specific example for an online discussion forum. The highlight on students' critical thinking skills and how to assess and evaluate them will be of particular interest. The author provides exemplars of the different levels of performance as well as various marking guidelines from checklist to rubric.

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Assessment is the process of gathering information about how well a student is achieving specific outcomes. Through assessment, faculty gather information about student performance, provide students with formal or informal feedback, and guide students to improve their learning.

Evaluation is an assessment of learning - where students demonstrate their learning through a performance task that faculty can use as evidence of student achievement. This evidence is how we determine whether a student has met the learning outcomes for a lesson, unit, course, or program.


Feedback and Assessment

Assessments are a critical part of every course. They are the way we measure whether students have met the course learning outcomes and should earn the credit.

Any course assessment must align with the learning outcomes. After all, assessments should measure whether learners demonstrated they have met the course learning outcomes. The graphic below demonstrates how Learning Outcomes, Teaching & Learning Activities, and Feedback & Assessment are connected.

Learning Outcomes, Teaching and Learning Activities, and feedback and assessment are all linked, and all are informed by situational factors. Underpinning it all is Universal Design for Learning, or UDL.

You'll also note in the graphic that Universal Design for Learning (UDL) underpins all elements in course design. Considering the diverse learners in a course, feedback and assessment opportunities should be carefully designed to reduce barriers, while allowing students to demonstrate their level of achievement of the course learning outcomes.

Applying UDL to assessments and feedback can be as simple as allowing students to choose a project topic from a list or allowing students a choice in the way they will demonstrate their learning, as long as the choices align with the course learning outcomes.


Use at Mohawk

Mohawk's Student Assessment Policy explains that faculty develop assessments based on the outcomes students will achieve as part of their course. Program areas work together to determine how the assessments from each course contribute to the overall learning outcomes for the program.

These assessments should provide an authentic representation of students' abilities, reflect the outcomes (VLOs, EESs, and CLOs) and strike a balance between providing a realistic student workload and providing multiple opportunities to demonstrate learning and receive feedback.


Diagnostic, Formative, and Summative Assessment

As mentioned earlier, assessments are opportunities to provide students with feedback on their progress within a course. They allow students to understand their development of the Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs), Vocational Learning Outcomes (VLOs) and the Essential Employability Skills (EESs). Assessments are not only used for educators to assess students, but they provide students with the opportunity to evaluate their personal learning journey. There are three types of assessment; Diagnostic, Formative and Summative.


Diagnostic assessment is used at the beginning of a course, instructional unit or topic to gauge what learners already know about the content. Diagnostic assessment also assists the educator with the direction to take for a lesson.

"If students know that the purpose is to diagnose strengths and weaknesses and provide meaningful feedback instead of assigning a grade, they can take risks to reveal weaknesses." (Aitken, N, 2011, p. 182) As such, diagnostic assessments are used FOR learning.

Examples of Diagnostic Assessment
  • Mini quizzes
  • Surveys
  • H5P activities
  • In-class games
  • Think-pair-share
Characteristics of Diagnostic Assessments
  • Ungraded
  • Used before the learning process
  • Provides feedback before learning


Formative assessment has been defined as "activities undertaken by teachers and by their students in assessing themselves - that provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities" (Black & Wiliam, 2010, p. 82).

Formative assessment is evaluation AS the learning occurs. It is used to gauge student learning, as such formative assessments are used FOR learning.

Examples of Formative Assessments
  • Module quizzes (for few or no marks)
  • H5P activities
  • Discussions
  • Research or essay proposals
  • Peer reviews
  • Polls
  • Surveys
Characteristics of Formative Assessments
  • Ungraded or low-stakes
  • Used throughout the learning process
  • Provides feedback during learning


"Summative assessments should not only give students the chance to demonstrate their conceptual understanding, but also give students the opportunity to think critically as they apply their understanding under novel conditions to solve new problems" (Dixson, & Worrell, F. C, 2016, p. 156)

Summative assessment is evaluation OF learning. It is used to determine what has been learned at the end of an instructional unit or topic.

Examples of Summative Assessments
  • Quizzes/tests
  • Essays
  • Labs
  • Major projects
  • Presentations
  • Group assignments
Characteristics of Summative Assessments
  • Graded and high stakes
  • Used at the end of the learning process
  • Evaluates student learning against a standard or benchmark

Summary of Diagnostic, Formative, and Summative Assessment Characteristics

Diagnostic, Formative and Summative assessments "are complementary and the differences between them are often in the way these assessments are used" (Dixson, & Worrell, 2016, p. 153). At Mohawk College, we recommend a blend of the three to provide learners with a more balanced approach.

  • To gauge learners' prior knowledge
  • To improve teaching and learning
  • To diagnose student areas of weakness
  • Evaluation of Learning Outcomes
  • Placement/promotion
FormalityInformalUsually informalUsually formal
TimingAt the beginningOngoingCumulative
Questions to ask
  • What knowledge is missing?
  • What topic content do I need to cover that I hadn't planned on?
  • What is working?
  • What needs to be improved?
  • Is the learner ready for the next level?
  • Has the learner achieved the learning outcome of the instructional unit or topic?


Deciding Which Assessments to Use

Faculty have a wide array of assessments to choose from for their courses, including written assignments, group projects, presentations, case studies, lab activities, simulations, real world projects, quizzes, exams, and student-driven projects. To decide which assessment fits best, consider:

  1. What do I want students to know, do, and be?
  2. What is acceptable evidence to show that students have achieved those outcomes?
  3. What experiences will help learners demonstrate their achievement of those outcomes?

From: Drake, S. (2007). Creating Standards-Based Integrated Curriculum: Aligning curriculum, content, assessment, and instruction. (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin - page 8.

These questions will help you to choose an assessment task that is aligned with the outcomes learners will meet in a course.

Check out some of these examples from courses at Mohawk:

  • Outcome: Develop a business plan for a small business
  • Assessment: Students write a business plan for a specific business
  • Outcome: Apply conflict resolution strategies in a variety of settings
  • Assessment: Students demonstrate strategies during a series of simulations in class
  • Outcome: Analyze situations that lead to the perpetration of fraud
  • Assessment: Students examine case studies and present their analysis

As often as possible, you should select an authentic assessment task. That is, the task students perform in the course should:

  • Directly measure students' performance of an outcome
  • Relate to specific vocational skills
  • Reflect current practices in the industry/field


Additional Resources



Aitken, N. (2011). Student Voice in Fair Assessment Practice. In: Webber, C., Lupart, J. (eds) Leading Student Assessment. Studies in Educational Leadership, vol 15. Springer, Dordrecht.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2010). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(1), 81-90.

Dixson, & Worrell, F. C. (2016). Formative and Summative Assessment in the Classroom. Theory into Practice, 55(2), 153-159.

Queen's University. (n.d.). Diagnostic assessment. Queen's University Canada.…

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Authentic Assessment

Defining Authentic Assessment

Authentic Assessment is important in higher education because it can help prepare students with the skills and tasks they will need in the workplace. As Authentic Assessments involved real-world tasks that are relevant to students.


Traditional Assessment vs Authentic Assessment

What is the difference between traditional assessments and authentic assessment?


  • Selecting a response
  • Contrived
  • Recall/Recognition
  • Teacher-Structured
  • Indirect


  • Performing a task
  • Real-life
  • Construction/Application
  • Student-Structured
  • Direct Evidence of Learning

"Authentic assessment drives the curriculum" (Meuller, 2018) versus traditional assessment where the curriculum drives the curriculum. In Traditional Assessment the assessment is completed to ensure learners have gained the required skills and knowledge. In Authentic Assessment the goal is to ensure that when learners graduate, they are able to perform in the real world, therefore Authentic Assessment tasks learners with real-world examples. In essence, assessments are created to ensure students can demonstrate mastery, then the curriculum is created to support the assessment. This is also called backwards design.

Authentic assessments are direct measures. We want students to be able to use their acquired knowledge and skills in the real world, after they graduate. Authentic Assessment can capture constructive nature of learning, by having them demonstrate capability instead of just answering questions about capability. The same task used to evaluate learning, is also used as a vehicle for the learning. Authentic assessment allows for multiple paths to the same result, other words students will demonstrate their learning of a concept in different ways.

Note: Authentic Assessment complements traditional assessment, a combination of both can be used to ensure students have achieved the learning outcomes of a course.



  • Reducing the ease of "finding the right answer" -- a common problem, especially in online courses
  • Reducing the tendency of "cramming" the night before an exam
  • Providing opportunities for "Non-Disposable Assignments," which students can take with them and use or share after the end of your course
  • Introducing variety into a students' learning, increasing interest and engagement
  • Incorporating opportunities to support the variable interests, levels, and needs of learners


Four Steps to Creating an Authentic Assessment

  1. Identify the learning outcomes.
  2. Select an authentic task. (What will learners do to demonstrate they have achieved the learning outcome?)
  3. Identify criteria needed to achieve the learning outcome.
  4. Create a rubric to measure performance.

"Authentic tasks do not have to be large, complex projects. Most mental behaviors are small, brief "tasks" such as deciding between two choices, or interpreting a political cartoon, or finding a relationship between two or more concepts. Thus, many authentic tasks we give our students can and should be small and brief, whether they are for practicing some skill or assessing students on it. (Mueller, 2018)"



Learning Objective: Write original code to demonstrate the use of a programming concept.

Task: Make a captioned video that uses code you've written to explain a programming concept with a real-world application. Post the video link in a MyCanvas discussion. Review and provide feedback on two peers' videos.


What the researchers say

Jon Mueller

"A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills" (Mueller, 2018)

Grant Wiggins

"...Engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field." (Wiggins, 1993, p. 229).

Richard Stiggins

"Performance assessments call upon the examinee to demonstrate specific skills and competencies, that is, to apply the skills and knowledge they have mastered." (Stiggins, 1987, p. 34).


Additional Resources


UDL and Assessment



Mueller, J. (2018). What is authentic assessment? (Authentic assessment toolbox).

Online Network of Educators. (2020, June 17). Authentic assessment guide.…

Stiggins, R. J. (1987). The design and development of performance assessments. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 6, 33-42.

Wiggins, G. P. (1993). Assessing student performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

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Designing Multiple Choice and True/False Questions

When designing and creating quality multiple choice and true/false questions, educators need to be purposeful in all aspects of questions and answer design. Please use the guidelines below to assist in designing quality multiple choice and true/false questions:

  1. Use clear and concise language to avoid any ambiguity or confusion. Make sure the questions are easily understandable and do not contain unnecessary jargon or complex sentence structures.
  2. Ensure that the questions are directly related to the course learning materials and cover the key concepts. Avoid including irrelevant or trivial information that could distract or mislead the students.
  3. When possible, frame the questions within authentic scenarios or contexts that reflect real-world situations. This helps students see the practical applications of the concepts they are learning and enhances engagement.
  4. The questions should align closely with the course learning outcomes. Each question should assess specific knowledge or skills that students are expected to acquire within the modules.
  5. For multiple choice questions, provide conceivable distractors that closely resemble the correct answer. This ensures that students must understand the content fully to select the correct option, making the question more challenging.
  6. Randomize the order of the answer choices to avoid any unintentional patterns or biases. This ensures that students cannot rely solely on the position of the correct answer and encourages them to carefully evaluate each option. It is strongly recommended, when possible, to randomize question order as well.
  7. Clearly state the instructions at the beginning of the assessment to guide students/learners on how to respond to the multiple choice and/or true/false questions. Specify whether the question is multiple choice (single correct answer) or multiple answer (multiple correct options) for multiple choice questions.
  8. Include questions that assess different cognitive levels, such as recall, understanding, application, analysis, and synthesis. This allows students to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the content and promotes critical thinking skills.
  9. Apply universal design principles by considering the needs of diverse learners. Ensure that the questions are accessible to students with disabilities and provide alternative formats if necessary, such as providing a text-to-speech option for visually impaired students.
  10. If the question is a multiple answer question, ensure to clearly specify all learners should select all answers that apply to the question. For example, add "select all the apply" to the question.


Example Questions taken from Yale University Centre for Teaching & Learning.

In the following examples of effective and ineffective MC questions, students explore potential energy, or the energy that is stored by an object.


#1. Good Stem, Poor Distractors

Potential energy is:
a) the energy of motion of an object.
b) not the energy stored by an object.
c) the energy stored by an object.
d) not the energy of motion of an object.

In this question the good stem is clear, brief, and presents the central idea of the question through positive construction. However, the distractors are confusing: b) and d) are written in negative constructions that force students to reinterpret the stem, while c) and d) have overlapping, inconsistent content that confuses and tests reading comprehension over content recall. Finally, choices do not move logically by grouping content, failing to visualize and test larger concepts for students.



#2. Poor Stem, Good Distractors

Potential energy is not the energy:
a) of motion of a particular object.
b) stored by a particular object.
c) relative to the position of another object.
d) capable of being converted to kinetic energy.

In this question the poor stem contains the word "not," which fails to identify what potential energy is, and tests grammar over student understanding. However, the good distractors are written clearly, cover unique content, and follow a logical and consistent grammatical pattern.



#3. Good Stem, Good Distractors

Potential energy is:
a) the energy of motion of an object.
b) the energy stored by an object.
c) the energy emitted by an object.

In this example both the stem and the distractors are written well, remain consistent, and test a clear idea.



Additional Resources

The University of Waterloo provides additional information on designing Multiple Choice questions.



Yale Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Designing quality multiple choice questions. Retrieved from:

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Learner Reflection

In 1933, American psychologist and educational reformer John Dewey noted that we do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.

Having learners participate in reflection activities solidifies the connection between the experience and what they learned. If a student does not reflect on an experience, it is difficult to assess what they have learned. It helps develop critical thinking skills by allowing learners to examine their strengths and explore areas for improvement in their future learning.

Reflection is a key component of experiential learning. According to Ontario's Ministry of Colleges and Universities' Guiding Principles for Experiential Learning, all Experiential Learning must include student self-assessment - in other words, a graded reflection.

Adding reflection to student assessment

Reflective learning can either be added to existing assessments or be stand-alone assignments. It can include larger assignments such as reflective journals, portfolios, goal setting, and more.

Reflection can be done using a reflective framework, such as the Reflective Cycle (Gibbs, 1988) that has six stages:

  1. Description: What happened?
  2. Feelings: What were you thinking and feeling?
  3. Evaluation: What was good and bad about the experience?
  4. Analysis: What sense can you make of the situation?
  5. Conclusion: What else could you have done?
  6. Action Plan: What would you do next time?

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Implementing Group Work in the Classroom

Adapted from University of Waterloo.

Group work can be an effective method to motivate students, encourage active learning, and develop key critical-thinking, communication, and decision-making skills. But without careful planning and facilitation, group work can frustrate students and instructors, and feel like a waste of time. Use these suggestions to help implement group work successfully in your classroom.


Preparing for Group Work

  • Think carefully about how students will be physically arranged in groups. Will it be easy for groups to form and for all students to be comfortable? Also think about how the layout of your classroom will impact volume. Will students be able to hear one another clearly? How can you moderate the activity to control volume?
  • Set clear guidelines on professional, civil conduct between and among students to respect people's differences and create an inclusive environment.
  • Talk to students about their past experiences with group work and allow them to establish some ground rules for successful collaboration. This discussion can be successfully done anonymously through the use of note cards.


Designing the Group Activity

  • Identify the instructional objectives. Determine what you want to achieve through the small group activity, both academically (e.g., knowledge of a topic) and socially (e.g., listening skills). The activity should relate closely to the learning objective(s) and class content, and must be designed to help students learn, not simply to occupy their time. When deciding whether or not to use group work for a specific task, consider these questions: What is the objective of the activity? How will that objective be furthered by asking students to work in groups? Is the activity challenging or complex enough that it requires group work? Will the project require true collaboration? Is there any reason why the assignment should not be collaborative?
  • Make the task challenging. Consider giving a relatively easy task early in the term to arouse students' interest in group work and encourage their progress. In most cases collaborative exercises should be stimulating and challenging. By pooling their resources and dealing with differences of opinion that arise, groups of students can develop a more sophisticated product than they could as individuals. See teaching tip "Group work in the Classroom: Small-Group Tasks" for some ideas. (From University of Waterloo)
  • Assign group tasks that encourage involvement, interdependence, and a fair division of labour. All group members should feel a sense of personal responsibility for the success of their teammates and realize that their individual success depends on the groups success. Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (2014) refer to this as positive interdependence and argue that this type of cooperative learning tends to result in learners promoting each other's success. Knowing that peers are relying on you is a powerful motivator for group work.
    • Allocate essential resources across the group so that group members are required to share information (e.g., the jigsaw method). Or, to come up with a consensus, randomly select one person to speak for the group, or assign different roles to group members so that they are all involved in the process (e.g., recorder, spokesperson, summarizer, checker, skeptic, organizer, observer, timekeeper, conflict resolver, liaison to other groups).
    • Another strategy for promoting interdependence is specifying common rewards for the group, such as a group mark. See the teaching tip "Methods for Assessing Group Work" for more information. (From University of Waterloo)
  • Decide on group size. The size you choose will depend on the number of students, the size of the classroom, the variety of voices needed within a group, and the task assigned. Groups of four-five tend to balance the needs for diversity, productivity, active participation, and cohesion. The less skillful the group members, the smaller the groups should be (Gross Davis, 1993).
  • Decide how you will divide students into groups. Division based on proximity or students' choice is quickest, especially for large and cramped classes, but this often means that students end up working together with friends or with the same people.
    • To vary group composition and increase diversity within groups, randomly assign students to groups by counting off and grouping them according to number.
    • For some group tasks, the diversity within a group (e.g., gender, ethnicity, level of preparation) is especially important, and you might want to assign students to groups yourself before class. Collect a data card from each student on the first day of class to glean important information about their backgrounds, knowledge, and interests. Alternately, ask students to express a preference (e.g., list three students with whom they would most like to work or two topics they would most like to study), and keep their preferences in mind as you assign groups.
  • Allow sufficient time for group work. Recognize that you won't be able to cover as much material as you could if you lectured for the whole class period. Cut back on the content you want to present in order to give groups time to work. Estimate the amount of time that subgroups need to complete the activity. Also plan for a plenary session in which groups' results can be presented or general issues and questions can be discussed.
  • Design collaborative work in multiple forms: pairs, small groups, large groups, online synchronously, online asynchronously, etc. Some students might be better at contributing after they have had time to digest material, while others might be better at thinking on the spot. Other students will defer to others in large groups but actively contribute in pairs. All roles should be valued and included.


Introducing the Group Activity

  • Share your rationale for using group work. Students must understand the benefits of collaborative learning. Don't assume that students know what the pedagogical purpose is. Explicitly connect these activities to larger class themes and learning outcomes whenever possible.
  • Have students form groups before you give them instructions. If you try to give instructions first, students may be too preoccupied with deciding on group membership to listen to you.
  • Facilitate some form of group cohesion. Students work best together if they know or trust each other, at least to some extent. Even for brief group activities, have students introduce themselves to their group members before attending to their task. For longer periods of group work, consider introducing an icebreaker or an activity designed specifically to build a sense of teamwork.
  • Explain the task clearly. This means both telling students exactly what they have to do and describing what the final product of their group work will look like. Explaining the big picture or final goal is important, especially when the group work will take place in steps (such as in snowballing or jigsaw). Prepare written or visual instructions (e.g., charts, sequential diagrams) for students. Remember to include time estimations for activities.
  • Set ground rules for group interaction. Especially for extended periods of group work, establish how group members should interact with one another, including principles such as respect, active listening, and methods for decision making. Consider making a group contract. See Group Decision Making, a teaching tip prepared for students working in groups, and Making Group Contracts.
  • Let students ask questions. Even if you believe your instructions are crystal clear, students may have legitimate questions about the activity. Give them time to ask questions before they get to work.


Monitoring the Group Task

  • Monitor the groups but do not hover. As students do their work, circulate among the groups and answer any questions raised. Also listen for trends that are emerging from the discussions, so that you can refer to them during the subsequent plenary discussion. Avoid interfering with group functioning — allow time for students to solve their own problems before getting involved. You might consider leaving the room for a short period of time. Your absence can increase students' willingness to share uncertainties and disagreements (Jaques, 2000).
  • Be slow to share what you know. If you come upon a group that is experiencing uncertainty or disagreement, avoid the natural tendency to give the answers or resolve the disagreement. If necessary, clarify your instructions, but let students struggle — within reason — to accomplish the task (Race, 2000).
  • Clarify your role as facilitator. If students criticize you for not contributing enough to their work, consider whether you have communicated clearly enough your role as facilitator.


Ending the Group Task

  • Provide closure to the group activities. Students tend to want to see how their work in small groups was useful to them and/or contributed to the development of the topic. You can end with a plenary session in which students do group reporting. Effective group reporting "can make the difference between students' feeling that they are just going through their paces and the sense that they are engaged in a powerful exchange of ideas" (Brookfield & Preskill, 1999, p. 107).
    • Oral reports: Have each group give one idea and rotate through the groups until no new ideas arise. Or have each group give their most surprising or illuminating insights or their most challenging question. You can record ideas raised to validate their value.
    • Written reports: Have each group record their ideas and either present them yourself or have a group member do so. One variation on this is to have groups record their conclusions on a section of the blackboard or on flipchart paper that is then posted on the wall. Students then informally circulate around the room and read each other's answers. Alternately, you can ask students to move around the room in small groups, rotating from one set of comments to another and adding their own comments in response. Another variation on written reports is to have students write brief comments on Post-it notes or index cards. Collect them, take a few minutes to process them or put them in sequence, then summarize their contents.
  • Model how you want students to participate. When responding to students' answers, model the respect and sensitivity that you want the students to display towards their classmates. Be ready to acknowledge and value opinions different from your own. Be willing to share your own stories, critique your work, and summarize what has been said.
  • Connect the ideas raised to course content and objectives. Recognize that groups might not come up with the ideas you intended them to, so be willing to make your lecture plans flexible. Wherever possible, look for a connection between group conclusions and the course topic. However, be aware that misconceptions or inaccurate responses need to be clarified and corrected either by you or by other students.
  • Don't provide too much closure. Although the plenary session should wrap up the group work, feel free to leave some questions unanswered for further research or for the next class period. This openness reflects the nature of knowledge.
  • Ask students to reflect on the group work process. They may do so either orally or in writing. This reflection helps them discover what they learned and how they functioned in the group. It also gives you a sense of their response to group work.


Additional Resources

Teaching Tips

Other Resources

  • Journal on Excellence in College Teaching (2014). Special Focus Issue: Small-Group Learning in Higher Education - Cooperative, Collaborative, Problem-Based, and Team-Based Learning.
  • Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., and Smith, K.A. (2006). Active learning: Cooperation in the university classroom (3rd edition). Edina, MN: Interaction.
  • Silberman, M. (1996). Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  • This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Implementing Group Work in the Classroom. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.



Brookfield, S.D., & Preskill, S. (1999). Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Gross Davis, B. (1993). Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Jaques, D. (2000). Learning in Groups: A Handbook for Improving Group Work, 3rd ed. London: Kogan Page.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (2014). Cooperative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 85-118.

Race, P. (2000). 500 Tips on Group Learning. London: Kogan Page.

Roberson, B., & Franchini, B. (2014). Effective task design for the TBL classroom. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 275-302.

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Defining Rubrics

A rubric is an assessment tool that explains marking criteria for course assessments. They divide assessments "into component parts" and describe the expected level of performance for each part (Stevens & Levi, 2013). Rubrics can be used for a variety of assessment types, such as essays, projects, presentations, discussions, and reflections.

One can define the term rubric as:

Relevant User-friendly Benchmarks Reinforcing Instruction and Cultivating Success

This concise definition was crafted as an acronym but it provides a concrete description of the purpose of a rubric.

A rubric is a table that provides performance criterion (left hand column) and levels of achievement (top row) to better communicate assignment expectations with learners for assessment and evaluation.

"At its most basic, a rubric is a scoring tool that lays out the specific expectations for an assignment" (Stevens & Levi, 2013, p 3).

How Rubrics Work

A rubric should accompany each assessment in a course. Rubrics can take on many forms; however, usually there are four levels of achievement (4, 3, 2, 1) that correspond to four grades A, B, C and D starting from the highest to the lowest level, reading left to right in the table. In some cases, there may only be 3 levels of achievement.

Criterion outline what part of the assessment the levels of achievement are referring to. For example, you may want to focus on Grammar and Spelling in one criterion and content development in another.

For each criterion, the educator crafts a description for each level of achievement, from acceptable to unacceptable (or level 4 to level 1). For example, each cell or box of the matrix has a unique entry that explains what is expected in order to achieve the specified level (i.e. level 4, 3, 2, or 1).

The educator uses the rubric to assess and evaluate learner work. Rather than having to write lengthy feedback/comments, the rubric speaks to areas of strength and weakness. A learner can easily identify assessment expectations in order to be successful. Overall, learners receive a more comprehensive assessment of their contribution/learning and recognize the alignment of the assessment to important outcomes, skills, and abilities.


Faculty Benefits:

  • Clearly identifies assessment expectations
  • Student submissions are more focused on assessments outcomes
  • Provides fair and more consistent grading
  • Reduces grading time
  • Can reduce appeals and student questions/confusion of assessment results

Student benefits:

  • Clearly identifies instructor expectations for assessments
  • Identifies breakdown of grading criteria
  • Provides greater clarity on areas for improvement
  • Detailed description of rational for grade received

Common Missteps

Educators tend to over-conceptualize their descriptions, causing difficulty for the learner to connect their levels of performance to learning outcomes and identify areas for improvement. Among the different levels of achievement, the following qualifiers are used in order to ensure that the outcome is clear:

  • Always, Often, Sometimes, Rarely
  • Virtually error-free, With few errors and/or omissions, With some errors and/or omissions, With many errors and/or omissions
  • Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, Progressing Well, Developing

Use of the terms above makes progression along the continuum easier to discern for both educators and learners.

Use at Mohawk

Rubric use is encouraged at Mohawk College and the Centre for Teaching & Learning Innovation is available to assist with the creation of your rubrics. A Curriculum and Program Quality Consolation (CPQC) can assist with the creation/wording of rubrics.

In addition, MyCanvas has a built-in Rubrics tool that allows educators to build digital rubrics directly into the Learning Management System. Any rubrics created in MyCanvas can be associated with assessments making online evaluation and feedback seamless. An Instructional Designer (ID) can support faculty with implementing rubrics in the LMS.


Queens University. (n.d.). Rubrics and marking schemes. Queen's University Canada.…

Stevens, Levi, A., & Walvoord, B. E. (2013). Introduction to rubrics: an assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning (Second edition.). Stylus.

Western University. (n.d.). Grading with rubrics. Centre for Teaching and Learning - Western University.

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