- Peer assessment in motivating student team-based activities

Peer assessment in motivating student team-based activities

By David Griffin

Our use of virtual communication has increased dramatically in recent years. It has been facilitated through the development of reliable and versatile technologies which enable long-distance communication, often comparable to that offered face-to-face. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated this trend within education, business and social settings. With this increase in virtual communication has come a rise in our dependence on Global Virtual Teams (GVTs); groups consisting of team members scattered across different countries and time-zones. In education settings, GVTs are frequently used during team-based activities, enabling students to interact and collaborate more easily with colleagues of different nationalities and cultures.

However, there are also disadvantages to GVTs. Distance working can hinder collaboration and negatively influence members’ desire and ability to effectively work together. In any team setting, there also are individuals who contribute less than their teammates in terms of time and effort. So called ‘freeriding’ is even more of an issue in GVTs, due to the perceived decrease in pressure which accompanies communicating at a distance (Taras et al, 2018). In these scenarios, the ‘freeriders’ often benefit from the work of others while investing minimal effort themselves.

With this in mind, researchers at a Columbian university recently sought to investigate how the contribution of peer-assessment to grades affects student effort in GVTs (Román-Calderón et al., 2021). They attempted to determine whether being consistently and continually graded by teammates during a project would motivate those prone to freeriding. The authors chose the X-Culture International Consulting Competition to test this theory. This international competition is incorporated into many university business courses globally. Rules stipulate that the competition score achieved by students must make up at least 30% of their final grade for that course. Students are placed in virtual teams of six and presented with challenges reflective of those encountered in the modern corporate environment. These are then tackled over a ten-week period. The score received by students on completion of the competition are made up of three parts:

  • Peer assessment (PA) scores (20%)

  • Weekly milestone submissions (20%)

  • Final team report (60%)

Each team member is asked to rate their teammates weekly on a scale from one (poor) to five (excellent) under the headings of Work Ethic, Helpfulness, Cooperation and Leadership. Failing on two consecutive weeks to achieve a satisfactory PA score of 2.0 results in exclusion from the rest of the competition and therefore an overall score of zero for this aspect of the university course.

The study presented some fascinating findings. Results indicated that students who achieved low PA scores over time demonstrated increased efforts in later weeks. This, the authors concluded, demonstrates the merits of PA scoring. The threat of team and competition expulsion based on peer opinion acted as an incentive for students to work harder. In fact, over the course of the competition only 1.6% of students were expelled from their team due to receiving sufficiently low PA scores on consecutive weeks. Students who experienced sharper decreases in their PA scores over time also demonstrated more abrupt increases in efforts in subsequent weeks.

However, despite the positive correlation observed between PA score and effort in this study, the authors stress that this effect on motivation may not persist over longer time periods. Further work would be needed to determine this. They also stress that continuous peer-evaluation may have negative effects. It is possible it could have detrimental effects on normal social dynamics within a team and, though increasing individual efforts, may actually negatively affect collaboration and teamwork. Therefore, the educational goal may be paramount to whether PA scoring is suitable for a particular project or not. The expulsion of consistently low-performing students (or ‘freeriders’) from this study also means it fails to observe their patterns of work and effort. Though all members of a team may not be consistent contributors, it is possible that the sporadic contributions from freeriders may at times outweigh those of their more dependable teammates.


Q: How do students perceive the fairness and effectiveness of peer-assessment (PA) scoring in Global Virtual Teams (GVTs)?

A: The perception of students towards the fairness and effectiveness of peer-assessment scoring in Global Virtual Teams can vary significantly. Some students might find the PA scoring system to be a fair way to ensure everyone contributes equally and is held accountable for their part in the project. They may appreciate the transparency and direct feedback from their peers, as it can provide valuable insights into their work habits and teamwork skills. However, other students might feel anxious or uncomfortable with the idea of being continually evaluated by their peers, fearing bias or misunderstanding could affect their scores negatively. The concept of student voice is crucial here; actively seeking and incorporating student feedback on the PA process could help educators understand and address concerns, making the system feel more equitable and effective for all participants.

Q: What strategies can be employed to enhance collaboration and reduce the negative impacts of continuous peer evaluation on social dynamics within GVTs?

A: To enhance collaboration and reduce the negative impacts of continuous peer evaluation on social dynamics within Global Virtual Teams, educators and facilitators could implement several strategies. For example, establishing clear guidelines and criteria for peer assessments can help ensure fairness and consistency in scoring. Training sessions on constructive feedback and effective communication can also prepare students for the nuances of peer evaluation, helping them to give and receive feedback in a way that is beneficial and not harmful to team dynamics. Furthermore, incorporating regular reflection sessions where team members can discuss their feelings and concerns about the peer assessment process openly might foster a sense of understanding and empathy within the team. Encouraging student voice in these discussions can provide valuable insights into improving the process and maintaining positive social dynamics.

Q: What role does text analysis play in identifying and understanding patterns of contribution and interaction within GVTs, especially in relation to freeriding behaviors?

A: Text analysis can play a significant role in identifying and understanding patterns of contribution and interaction within Global Virtual Teams, particularly in relation to freeriding behaviors. By analyzing the content, frequency, and tone of communication among team members, educators and researchers can gain insights into how effectively team members are collaborating. Text analysis can reveal patterns such as who is contributing ideas, who is taking on leadership roles, and who may be less engaged. For instance, a lower frequency of messages or a negative tone from certain team members might indicate a lack of engagement or dissatisfaction with the team's progress, which could be signs of freeriding behavior. Incorporating text analysis into the evaluation process allows for a more nuanced understanding of team dynamics and individual contributions, offering a data-driven approach to addressing challenges and enhancing collaboration within GVTs.


Román-Calderón, JP., Robledo-Ardila, C., Velez-Calle, A. (2021). Global virtual teams in education: Do peer assessments motivate student effort? Studies in Educational Evaluation, 70 (2021) 101021.
DOI: 10.1016/j.stueduc.2021.101021

Taras, V., Tullar, W. L., Liu, Y., Pierce, J. R. (2018). Straight from the horse’s mouth: Justifications and prevention strategies provided by free riders on global virtual teams. Journal of Management and Training for Industries, 5(3), 51–67.
DOI: 10.12792/JMTI.5.3.51

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