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Case 18
All for One and One for All or Every Student for Themselves? Using Group Posters in the Assessment of the Sociology of Health and Illness


Sylvia Huntley-Moore






School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin 2, Ireland.


Dr. Maria Lohan






School of Nursing and Midwifery Research Unit, Queen’s University Belfast, 21 Stranmillis Road, Belfast BT9 5AF, Northern Ireland.

18.1 Context

In October 2002, pre-registration nurse education in the Republic of Ireland moved to Universities and Institutes of Technology and became a four year undergraduate programme leading to a Bachelor of Science (BSc) (Nursing) Degree. A key aim of the degree is to produce graduate nurses who are equipped to work effectively in teams (ABA2005).

The Sociology of Health and Illness is a compulsory module in the 1st year of the BSc (Nursing) Degree at Trinity College Dublin. The student enrolment is approximately 200. The module is taught through a series of lectures where students are introduced to key themes and theoretical issues in the subject, and workshops, averaging 20 students each, where the students are assigned to project groups to plan, research and produce a poster on one of five set topics.

At the initial workshop some advantages of group work are discussed with the students, briefly these are:

Following on from this discussion, each project group is given three exercises to complete before the second workshop. This task serves several key purposes. Firstly, it provides an impetus to groups to begin to arrange meetings outside of class time, which will be necessary if they are to complete the project to the required standard within the timeframe. Secondly, the exercises encourage the students to talk to each other about their previous experiences of groups (likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses), what they can contribute to this group, as well as, what they want to get out of it and, finally, how they plan to divide up the project and allocate tasks between them.

In subsequent workshops, the students work on their projects while the teacher moves between groups to monitor progress, answer questions and to assist in solving any difficulties relating to the functioning of the groups.

18.2 Learning Outcomes being Assessed

On successful completion of this module, students should be able to:

18.3 Assessment Procedures/Details

The assessment for this module includes both formative and summative elements.

18.3.1 Summative elements

18.3.2 Formative elements

18.4 Contributor’s Reflections on the Assessment

Based on our experience of running this module over four years, the students’ initial response to the prospect of assessment by group project tends be polarised. Some will be delighted at the chance to engage in something different from the usual essay-type assignment or examination, while others are immediately concerned to know how their individual contributions will be assessed and what will happen if their group fails to produce a poster. These are legitimate concerns, which should be addressed from the outset.

As Graham Gibbs (1995b, p. 9) notes: ‘it is individuals who gain qualifications not teams and some way has to be found to allocate marks fairly to individuals within teams’. On the other hand, if students are assessed solely on their individual contributions, the more strategic among them are unlikely to put much effort into the project as a whole. One way around this problem is to allocate a group mark to the assignment product, which in this case is a poster, and individual marks for attendance at workshops and the quality of student’s contributions at the question and answer session. Students are also required, on submission of the assignment, to itemise their individual contributions to the project in writing and have their statement verified by the other group members. By these means, it is possible to assess group and individual contributions fairly and, for high achieving students working in low achieving groups to be awarded a significantly higher grade than the other group members.

As well as their initial concerns about the fairness of the assessment process, the students are often puzzled by the nature of the assignment itself. While posters are a common feature of academic conferences, they are new to most undergraduate students. At the first class, by providing detailed written assignment guidelines, including information on poster layout, content, structuring and referencing, we find that most misconceptions can be addressed. We have also found that displaying a selection of the best posters from the previous year on notice boards around the School gives students concrete examples of the expected standard and, also, gives them opportunities to practise in critiquing posters.

To prepare students for the question and answer session conducted at the conclusion of the module, indicative questions are provided in the assignment guidelines. According to Biggs (1999), students learn what they think they will be marked on. By giving students the questions in advance we hope to guide their thinking in appropriate directions. For this reason, one of the indicative questions asks the students to explain how their groups functioned and what teamwork and project management skills they may have developed during the process.

In 2005, we undertook a research project to explore the students’ attitudes to group poster projects and the extent to which students’ perceived that the projects promoted the development of their teamwork and project management skills. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with most of the 2005 project groups. The findings were extremely positive with the great majority of the participants reporting positive attitudes to this type of assessment to the extent that most of them, if given the choice again, would choose a group project over an individual project or examination. Of the minority of students who preferred individual projects or examinations, a significant number found it difficult to meet with their project group outside of class time.

Some students felt that forming groups with their friends would have promoted collaborative learning and helped them to produce better posters. From our perspective, allowing group self-selection would have defeated the aim of encouraging greater social cohesion and interaction, particularly as most respondents felt that getting to know students outside their circle of friends was a welcome project outcome.

During the interviews, we were particularly impressed by the students’ descriptions of the role of formative peer feedback in the development of their projects:

We came up with our own opinions and then came up with a generalised opinion … and we could teach each other as well.

It was good to look at other peoples’ ideas. Everyone had a different perspective on things so everything wasn’t black and white.

We learned more from working together and comparing ideas and different opinions.

You have to learn to take criticism and learn to be diplomatic as well.

With regard to their teamwork and management skills, most of the participants felt that they had improved as a direct result of the group project. In addition, many of the participants recognised what they would do differently, particularly in relation to time and task management, to improve the process and the products of future group projects. This finding led us to consider whether more group projects should be threaded through the degree programme to allow students to develop teamwork and project management skills in a more systematic way.

18.5 Bibliography