Category Archives: Classroom Activities and Exercises

My Public Relations Class Participated in the Ketchum Mindfire Challenge. Here’s How It Helped.

Last semester, my Principles of PR class had the opportunity to participate in the Ketchum Mindfire Challenge for the first time.

The program was a great learning experience for students and a ton of fun. From what I understand, the program has been around for several years. But, after slowing down for a few years, Ketchum has been working recently to re-build it.

Still, I haven’t heard many professors talking about the program. So I want to give an overview how it works and how I used it in my class last spring.

What is Ketchum Mindfire?

I first heard about Ketchum Mindfire during a presentation at the PRSA Educator’s Academy Super Saturday last year in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, I don’t recall who was talking about it. But I was intrigued by the possibility of students coming up with creative solutions for real-world clients.

The Ketchum Mindfire program crowdsources university students in public relations courses to come up with creative solution to the needs of Ketchum clients.

Students submit their ideas through an online portal. There, they can see the other ideas that have been submitted. The winning ideas are chosen by the client. The students who win get recognized through the program and receive a prize. Persons who get honorable mention are also recognized.

It is my understanding that, by participating in the program, Ketchum can use the idea the student submits in working with the client.

The challenges are sent to the students through the portal on a regular basis. The challenges we had last semester provided students with a variety of opportunities to come up with creative campaign ideas. The students submit a summary of their idea, explaining how their idea addresses specific requirements from the client. The background for a challenge might include a brief overview of the company (or it may describe the type of company it is but omit the company name), the problem or opportunity the client is facing, the goal, and important contextual factors such as audience, market conditions, etc.

The program is described on the Mindfire portal website this way: “When you share ideas on Mindfire, you receive career coaching and training from Ketchum, along with other prizes and compensation if your idea is selected.” You can read more about Ketchum Mindfire.

How I Integrated Mindfire into my Public Relations Principles Class

One objective I had for improving my PR class was to get students a taste of the sort of client needs that they might face in their careers. I felt that the class had a lot of information about what PR was, its history, what working in PR could be like, and so forth. And I had created small activities and large assignments to try and emulate what the experience of PR work might look like. For example, I gave students a mock PR problem and had students work on a solution which they would pitch to the class as a large project.

Still, nothing prepares students to understand what a career in PR might be like and the types of creative problems they may be tasked with solving than seeing first hand what the real problems an agency is working on.

So I jumped at the opportunity and got my class signed up.

Here’s how I integrated the program into my class:

At many of the universities that participate in the program, the students work individually on their ideas and submit them to the Mindfire portal.  Students come from a variety of different classes at these universities, from intro classes like mine up through senior-level campaigns courses.

Because my students work in teams all semester on other activities and assignments, I wanted the students to work in teams on the Mindfire challenges. I also thought that, because the students were all new to PR and probably hadn’t worked on coming up with creative solutions for clients like this before, the students would learn a lot from brainstorming with one another. And I think that teamwork aspect really helped. There were those students that ‘got it’ quickly and those that needed to observe their teammates to understand what we were trying to accomplish with each new challenge.

On the days that students would work on the Mindfire challenge, we would work in the computer lab. We’d start the class with students reviewing the challenge and identifying the due date. Then, I’d give students 20-30 minutes to work on the project and provide them a little guidance where needed. It was important to me that I did not provide the students with ideas because I’ve noticed that students have a tendency to think that the professors idea is the ‘good’ or ‘right’ idea and they end up going with that. Instead, I would nudge them or give them things to think about with their ideas.

Once time ran out, students would have to work on the challenge outside of class if they weren’t done so they could submit their proposed solution by the challenge deadline.

In terms of the graded assignment, I required teams  to complete 5 challenges over the course of the semester.  This number was chosen based on the amount of time in class I felt we could reasonably set aside for the project and my expectation that there wouldn’t always be a challenge each week. I was flexible with how I set aside class time as I found that some weeks there were several and some weeks there was one challenge and a few weeks there weren’t any available during the times I had classes.

Additionally, I wanted to encourage students to also go out and complete challenges themselves individually. So, I provided an extra credit opportunity for students wanting to go above and beyond. Students could do an extra 8 challenges on top of the 5 from class.

In review, I think 8 was a bit too many. In the future, I will cut it down to 5.

I’ve posted a copy of the assignment below.

How It Went

I was super excited and proud when I found out that one of my students won one of the Mindfire challenges in our first semester ever participating. Sophomore Sarah Burke’s idea was selected from over 1,000 participating students at over 50 universities. She won first place for her idea in a paint challenge for a major brand.

Several weeks later, another student won honorary mention for her idea in a different challenge.

I believe the project brought a creative and competitive atmosphere – an energy – to the class that was not there in past semesters. Having students get recognized in the program helped the entire class see the merits of their work and what they as students are capable of.

In closing, I believe participating in the Ketchum Mindfire program made a big difference in helping my students understand what working in PR can be like. The project showed students how exciting and creative the job can be. The students seemed to enjoy working on the challenges and I got the sense that they felt closer to and more familiar with the field than any group I’ve had in that class before. I’m looking forward to participating again next semester when I teach the PR principles class.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it. It helps a lot.

The assignment is below. See all of my assignments and syllabi on SlideShare.net/profkushin

-Cheers
Matt

 

 

How to use Melwater social intelligence software to teach social media listening

Last week I wrote about the social listening activity and the social media audit that students in my social media class (2017 syllabus) conduct. Both the activity and the audit assignment are done this year using Meltwater.com social intelligence software.

If you have not done so, you may want to first read about the Meltwater university program in my first post.

In the below post, I will briefly share how students in my social media class will also be using Meltwater to do some social listening for our class project. The class project involves taking on our department as a client and managing the department’s social media.

As part of that project, students are in charge of monitoring the conversation around our department’s social media. Last year, my students used Microsoft Social Engagement which is a great piece of software that we also use in my Comm 435 Communication Research class (all posts about that class). This year, my social media class students will use Meltwater to do the social media listening.

I will keep this post short because you can read the full blog post series that I wrote last year about how students are taught to do metrics and social listening in my social media class. Please note that the below post can be seen as an update to the second post in that series, “How to use Microsoft Social Engagement software to teach social media listening (Post 2 of 2).

Social Listening with Meltwater

Students in my class use this spreadsheet to track metrics and do conduct their social listening. I’ve updated it from the 2016 spreadsheet to correspond with Meltwater.

Students will use Meltwater to work on the “social listening” tab of that spreadsheet.

The other tabs in the spreadsheet are about tracking our own performance. The social listening tab is for seeing what is being said about our brand every week. So, students go into this spreadsheet and fill out the below questions from weeks 9-15 of the semester. Specifically, the spreadsheet asks the students to answer 5 questions each week. I modified the questions slightly from last year because the last question from last year could not be answered with Meltwater. You can see this year’s questions below. A hint is provided to students on where to look to find this answer by mousing over each question.

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Even though students will have experience using Meltwater by the time we start doing the social listening about our brand about 8 weeks into the semester, I created a lab guide (about lab guides) to help students walk through the steps of answering these questions. My hope is that after they use the lab guide once, they’ll know what to do to be able to answer the questions.

The lab guide is linked in the spreadsheet. You can also access it directly here. If you are new to using Meltwater, the lab guide walks you through how to do some basic social listening. I encourage you to check it out.

In summary, I’m super excited about the growing opportunities my students have had to work with industry software like Meltwater and Microsoft Social Engagement to get real world experience with social listening. I know many of us have worked hard in the last few years in seeking out opportunities like this. And I am extremely pleased that companies like these are making their software solutions available to our students.  It matters a lot! I know that my students will leave Shepherd with hands on experience using the same industry software used by many of the largest brands.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please share it. It helps a lot.

– Cheers!
Matt

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How to use Microsoft Social Engagement software to teach social media listening (Post 2 of 2)

This post is part 2 in a two-part series on how I currently teach social media metrics and social listening. You can see the previous post, which provided a spreadsheet that I use to empower students to track metrics for the social media accounts they manage in my social media class (2016 syllabus; and all articles about this class).

We’ll be using that same spreadsheet, though a different section of it, in this blog post. You can access it here.

In this post, we’ll discuss Microsoft Social Engagement and how I integrate it into the the social media class so students can engage in social listening.

About Microsoft Social Engagement

Microsoft Social Engagement, sometimes also called Microsoft Social Listening, is part of the Microsoft Dynamics Academic Alliance program via the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software package. In short, Microsoft Social Engagement is one of the pieces of software bundled into the full CRM. It appears the Microsoft Academic Alliance program has recently gone through some changes since when I signed up last spring.  The website itself is quite different. However, I’m not personally familiar with the nature of any changes to the program.  The language on the website aimed at educators reads: “Demonstrate thought leadership and differentiate your institution by integrating Microsoft Dynamics CRM and ERP solutions into your curriculum. DynAA helps you innovate and remain relevant when working with prospective students, current students, and potential employers interested in hiring new graduates. Your free DynAA membership provides access to software, support, resources, and community-building opportunities that will prepare your students for exciting careers. ”

Through the Microsoft Academic Alliance program, I have been very fortunate to get my students access to the Microsoft Social Engagement software.

So what is Microsoft Social Engagement? In short, it is a social listening tool that enables users to track metrics for public social media accounts or posts (e.g., keywords or hashtags) such as posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  You can also track mentions forums and blog.

You do this by programming different ‘analysis focuses.’ That is, I can have 1 that searches one or a set of topics, keywords, social media accounts – say, my brand – and I can have another analysis focus that focuses on my competitors accounts, keywords, etc. From what I can tell, you can have as many as you want so long as you don’t go over your monthly quota of social data units.

For example, in the social media class we follow our social media accounts and mentions of them, and specific keywords surrounding our department’s brand, such as our hashtag.

The software enables you to quickly visualize several things such as key phrases, sentiment, social platforms or accounts that posts are coming from and their sentiment, posts across time, sentiment across time, geo-location, and geo-location across time. Below is a quick look at the main hub you see when logging into Social Engagement. In it, you can see sentiment in the top left. You can see the sentiment for each platform below that. In the center, you see the volume of posts across time for the keywords we are tracking. In the top right you can see the phrases being used related to those keywords. And in the bottom right, you can see the proportion of the posts that are being analyzed in this instance from each platform.

Click to enlarge.

There  are 4 main sections of the software: Overview (the page shown above), conversations, sentiment, location and sources. They are pretty self explanatory.

When you click on a pie chart or graph or keyword, it is interactive. What I mean by that is, it creates a filter in the app.

So, if I click a specific keyword in the phrases word cloud, I am filtering for only those posts that used that keyword.

For example, in the below GIF I am in the Conversations section of the software. I see all of the phrases surrounding our department’s social media accounts and blogs in the last month. That is, every post that mentioned 1 of our social accounts, our hashtag or our blog (Note: This is what I’ve selected for this analysis focus). I then click on the #shepcomm hashtag which filters for only those posts that contain that hashtag. So, I can see the other phrases that are in posts containing #shepcomm. You’ll see that the blog source gets filtered out because the 1 blog post does not contain the hashtag. Next, I click Twitter. Thus, only posts containing the hashtag and Twitter are being shown.  Lastly, I click on the neutral (gray) sentiment and we filter down to the 1 Twitter post that has neutral sentiment containing the #shepcomm hashtag. While not shown in the below GIF, in order to see what the 1 post was, I could click on the “posts” tab in the right-hand side of my screen to see the original Twitter post.

Click to enlarge.

For the sake of keeping this post length manageable, I will stop there. Suffice it to say, I am just touching the tip of the iceberg on how you can use this software. I will go into 5 key ways that we use the software in my class below which will further demonstrate its utility. And, you will get instructions on how to use the software for those 4 ways in the lab guide I provide my students which I will link to below.

Before doing that, a few notes: The reality is, there is a lot more than can be done with Social Engagement by linking it to other software within the Dynamics CRM. For example, as I understand it, it can be linked with other software for social media customer relations management. But I have not gone down that path yet.

One limitation of the software is that you have to program in what you want it to track ahead of time. Then, it begins tracking. For example, it isn’t like a Twitter search where you can go in and look into past 2,500 posts on a topic after the fact. If I know I’m going to want to track a hashtag or social media account, I have to program it and then I’ll get the data going forward from the time I programmed it. A second limitation is that it is not real time meaning that while you are looking at the software you don’t see the data changing if new Tweets are coming in.

How I integrated Microsoft Social Engagement into the social media class

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

As noted previously, students in my social media class are divided into teams and each team is in charge of running a social media platform for our department’s social media.

As I mentioned above and went over in depth in the prior post in this series, the students use a spreadsheet to track metrics for the social media content they create and post. Here is a copy of that spreadsheet as it was distributed in my Fall 2016 class.

Social Engagement is used to work on the “social listening” tab of that spreadsheet. In short, the other tabs in the spreadsheet are about tracking our own performance. The social listening tab is about, well, social listening – seeing what is being said about our brand. The spreadsheet asks the students to answer 5 questions each week. You can see them below. A hint is provided to students on where to look to find this answer by mousing over each question.

Click to enlarge

To help students learn how to answer each of these questions, I developed a lab guide (about lab guides). The lab guide teaches students how to use the software.

That lab guide can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/FSM_microsoftsociallistening

You will find that reading through it can teach you a bit more on how the software works and how it can be used to answer the above 5 questions.

In summary, these posts have provided an overview of how I taught social media metrics and listening my fall 2016 social media class. In my research class this spring we will be diving deeper into Microsoft Social Engagement and a few other tools for learning about social data. I am always looking to improve. I’m also looking to find new, cost-effective software solutions to expand social media measurement learning opportunities. If you have any suggestions, leads, or want to chat or collaborate, please Tweet me.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please share it. It helps a lot.

– Cheers!
Matt

An Assignment and Spreadsheet for Teaching Students to Track Social Media Metrics in my Social Media Class (Post 1 of 2)

In the social media education community, there has been a lot of discussion about teaching social media metrics and analytics to students. This has been a challenge and frustration for myself and many others. Access to industry tools is cost prohibitive for many universities, making it difficult for us as educators to prepare our students for this aspect of their careers.

I’ve worked hard over the last few years to try and enhance how I’m teaching these concepts. And I’m not where I want to be. But I know there are many fellow educators also on this journey with me. So, I’d like to share how I teach students to track social media metrics as part of a semester long assignment and a few modifications I have recently made to enhance that aspect of my teaching.

I’ve split this topic into two blog posts for length purposes. In both of these posts, we’ll focus on my social media class (2016 syllabus; and all articles about this class). In this post, we’ll talk about the spreadsheet for tracking metrics. In the follow up post, we’ll discuss Microsoft Social Engagement and how I integrate it into the metrics assignment portion of the class.

Update: The follow up post on Microsoft Social Engagement is now available.

My aim in my social media class is to introduce metrics to students both in lecture & discuss (which I’ve been doing for some years) as well as by use of software. Then, when students get into the Communication Research class (2015 syllabus; articles about this class), they will get more in-depth learning about analytics. I’ve increased/improved my focus on this area in that class for next spring. And my long term hope is to really build that part of the class out. During the upcoming spring semester, I will write a blog post about what we will be doing with analytics. And, at that time, I will share all of my assignments and handouts.

Okay, back to my social media class. In past years we’ve used Twitter Analytics – which has been the best, free tool. Unfortunately, other platforms have been limited in their analytics. We’ve used a slew of free tools that have been here today, gone tomorrow.

This year, we still faced the challenges of relying on Twitter Analytics and whatever free tools we could find. But I also added a brief introduction to Microsoft Social Engagement (which will be discussed in the next post in this series).

But first, let’s discuss how I teach students to track performance metrics in my social media class.

In my social media class, students are divided into teams. Each team is in charge of running a social media platform for our department’s social media. In the past, I had my students use a spreadsheet developed by Jeremy Floyd to track metrics. At the time, I modified the spreadsheet for our purposes. At the start of this semester I modified the spreadsheet further simplify it and to add a section on Microsoft Social Engagementƒ (again, which I will discuss in the next blog post).

Here is a copy of the spreadsheet as it was distributed in my Fall 2016 class which you can use in following along with the below post. You can also download a copy for yourself to modify and use as you prefer. Again, credit goes to Jeremy Floyd for the original incarnation of this spreadsheet.

In lecture, I teach students about the activity, engagement and performance metrics discussed in Kim’s book, Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing. I also emphasize the importance of choosing metrics that are tied to goals. (You’ll see a tab in the spreadsheet discussed below, where students are to determine their objectives and what metrics would be important to those objectives).

Student teams begin with the planning tab, then they establish their metrics goals to use the spreadsheet to establish benchmarks and KPIs for their platform and track metrics over the semester. They then move over to reporting tab to track weekly metrics.

Tip. You can see tips by mousing over the small triangles in the upper right corner of some cells, as shown below. I’ve created these to help students when working on their spreadsheets in groups.

In the image below, you can see the ‘reporting’ tab of this spreadsheet. We start tracking in week 9 of the semester, but you can modify this as you like. After each week, you’ll see the percentage change. Of course, you can also modify what you are tracking. I throw in a number of potential metrics to track for different platforms. But, students can delete all the rows they don’t need and modify the individual metrics for that platform as needed. The metrics identified in the spreadsheet are just a guide.

I’ve also divided the spreadsheet up into different platforms so each team can pick their platform (as shown in image below) for tracking the success of their posts. The idea here, is that by tracking these posts across time, students can begin to analyze these metrics for trends (though, I don’t have any ways to quickly analyze and visualize this data at this time). This could help them learn when the best time to post is. However, you could also add variables about the post that can help them identify which is the type of content that is most successful. Other spreadsheets I’ve seen track variables such as whether an image was used, what hashtags are used, if links are used, etc. So, again, you can modify the optimization section as you see fit. I discuss other variables to track, but focus on the ones in this spreadsheet so as to not overwhelm students. I’ve found if I ask students to track too many things, nothing gets tracked as they get overwhelmed. So choose what you want them to track, and stick with it.

I’ve relied on Kim’s metrics categories for metrics students can track. Also, please know the metrics I have identified isn’t perfect and modification of what I’ve identified may be needed – some of my initial metrics may not work, or changes have occurred.

Integrating The Metrics Into the Semester-Long Assignment

As noted above,  across the entire semester of my social media class, students are strategizing, building and executing social media for my class. As a part of that, they present their content to the class for approval at intervals throughout the semester.  In the latter half of the semester, the students present their current metrics to the class alongside the content they are proposing for the next content time period. At the end of the semester, we discuss their metrics, whether they met their KPIs and during what week they did, and what they learned from them.

While the above enables us to track interaction with our social content and extract some insights, it doesn’t account for listening to competitors, following trends, etc. It also doesn’t take deeper analytics and the extraction of insights into consideration. We don’t do anything to plot or discern specific insights – I am saving that for the Communication Research class this spring. Said another way, the assignment and use of this spreadsheet in my social media class, as I executed it in Fall 2016, was really more about tracking metrics, following change and teaching students  to see the impact (outcome) of their efforts on social media, while connecting those back to objectives and KPIs.

In the next blog post, I go into the “social listening” tab of the spreadsheet and discuss how students got a little hands on use with Microsoft Social Engagement in my social media class during fall 2016.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or suggestions or resources you’d like to share about teaching metrics to students, please share them with me and the readers via a comment in the post or Tweet me. This is an important journey for all of us as we work to enhance hands-on metrics learning for our students.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please share it. It helps a lot.

-Cheers!
Matt

Should Students Be Able to Fire Teammates in A Class Project? (Part 3 of 3)

In the previous two posts in this series, I talked about steps I take to set teams up for success in group class projects.

The first post looked at group contracts. The second post looked at peer evaluations of one’s team.

In this final post, let’s look at the more dramatic tool that I use to set teams up for success in group class projects: The ability to fire teammates from a group.

Photo CC by Sean MacEntee
Photo CC by Sean MacEntee

As I said in my first post in this series, you may be thinking that this letting students fire teammates is fraught with danger. Some of you may think it is too harsh. Others of you may be thinking this is only natural, as being fired is a real possibility for failure to do one’s work in any job.

I understand all of these sentiments. My approach is that students should have the right to expect great work from their peers. They should be empowered to hold their peers accountable and that one should be accountable to their peers. By learning these lessons as young adults, students are learning to advocate for their interests in a professional manner when the actions of others adversely affect them in a work environment.

I recently received an email from a faculty member wanting to know more about the firing process, as I had mentioned it in passing in a blog post a while back.  So, there may be more people out there that are curious about what it means to let our students fire each other.

The purpose of this post is to explain to you how and why I choose to use this tool. I’ll also explain a minor modification I’ve made since then.

How Firing Works and Some Safeguards:

Students cannot fire a teammate at any time or for any reason.

As I said, the reasons that a team could fire a member are derived from the group contract, discussed in post #1. Of course, there are other circumstances where one could warrant firing a teammate even thought teams might have failed to put it on the contract. But, I try to stick with the contract as much as possible.

In terms of timing, getting fired at the end of the semester before a major project is due would be a major blow to a student’s grade. So, a few safeguards are in place.

At the start of the semester, I briefly explain the process of how to fire a teammate which I will outline below. The documents discussed below are on the course website where students would download them and fill them out. The documents themselves provide the instructions students would need, if they forgot.

First, I set a deadline in the semester that students have to first issue someone an official warning by before they can fire the person. Another way to do this, is simply tell students that they have to give someone a warning, say, 2 weeks before they can fire them.

What is a warning? A warning is simply a written complaint that a team files with me that makes a complaint against an accused student. It serves to officially put that student on notice that if he/she does not change their behavior, then he/she will likely be fired.

The reason I believe in the warning first, is that it usually solves the problem without the drastic measure of firing the student, because it gives the accused a chance to right the ship. I find that, just like in most conflicts, people often just want the other person to know how they feel. The grievance has been aired and everyone in the group is aware that the warning exists. I keep a copy of the warning and give a copy to the accused.

In order for a team to be able to issue a warning, the majority of the remaining teammates must agree to issue the warning. So, if there are 4 students in a group, 2 of the remaining 3 students would have to vote in favor of issuing the warning.

Here is a copy of the Issue a Team Member a Warning document.

Requiring the majority of teammates agree to a warning helps reduce ‘he said, she said’ scenarios where two people are simply not getting along and one is using the group as an outlet for what is really an interpersonal conflict. However, it could result in a student feeling ganged up on.

Once a warning has been issued, if the team decides that the accused hasn’t changed, then they can file a Petition to Fire A Team Member. The process is similar to what is used in the warning. The majority has to vote for the firing. A specific reason has to be given as to why they are electing to fire this teammate. I make the final decision to ensure the cause is justifiable.

Here is the Petition to Fire A Team Member sheet

How Does This Affect The Person Who Got Fired?

In short, if the person gets fired, he/she keeps all grades that their team earned during the time they were a part of that group. The student’s choice going forward is to, either find a new group (time permitting and assuming another group will take them in) to work on any remaining assignments, work alone on the project, or fail the remaining assignments.

Some Thoughts

The process seems a bit litigious. But, it makes firing a teammate procedural and takes some of the emotion, potential for perceived favoritism, and conflict out of it. And, because it is a bit of work to fire someone, teammates are not firing one another left and right. Said another way, the process protects teammates from each other.

It isn’t so much that students can fire one another that is empowering so much as it is the knowledge that they have the right to fire someone who is not doing their work.

In fact, what I’ve noticed is that students often don’t want to fire another student, at least in our department because it is small. So, they know that they will see this student in another course and that would be awkward.

As such, I have since added the ability to come to me as a group and request that a student does not receive credit, or receives only partial credit on a team assignment, but is not fired for the rest of the semester.  I’ve noticed our students tend to feel better about doing this. They aren’t casting a fellow student off the island, but they’re also aren’t allowing any freeloaders. I don’t have an official form for this. But, I make it known on the syllabus and group contract form on post #1.

Summary:

In summary, there are 4 tools students have to control outcomes in their group and ensure everyone is getting credit or not for their group involvement. They are:

1) The group contract – setting norms & expectations from the group (see post #1 in this series).
2) Team evaluations – which I range in value from 12-18% of their final grade, depending on how much group work there is (see post #2 in this series).
3) Ability to fire a team member (after a warning) – this is the most drastic step.
4) Ability to request that a team member’s grade be reduced or that the student doesn’t receive any credit on an assignment that the student didn’t do any or sufficient work on. This is the middle ground.

How Often Do People Get Fired?

It happens only in the most drastic of circumstances. I’ve seen #4 done twice last year and once this year since I introduced it. I’ve seen #3 done one time in my 3.5 years here at Shepherd and twice in the two years before that.

I hope this series of posts provides some insight in how I seek to set up my classroom for success in group projects. It is not a perfect model.  There are still some people who slack off and others who are frustrated by their teammates. And I will continue to tweak with an effort to reduce these issues and maximize group effectiveness.

How do you empower students to take control of their teams and build success?

 

A Guide To Setting Up Classroom Groups for Success: Team Evaluations (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second post in a 3-part series on how to set up teams to be successful.

I started this series with a question:

Should Students Be Able to Fire Teammates in a Class Project?

Again, in my classes, the answer to that question is “yes.”

setting-up-class-teams-for-success-peer-evaluation
Creative Commons Hernan Pinera

The first post looked at group contracts. If you haven’t read it, please go back and read it. If you have read it, let’s jump into the second, vital instrument I use to set groups up for success: Team evaluations (which I refer to in my classes as group report cards, but I will use the term team evaluations here).

A significant chunk of a student’s grade in my class is based on the evaluations made by her peers.

The more group work, the more I make these worth. A quick point about these before explaining how they work:

I do not release this grade to the students.  This is important because if a student thought her peers would know how she evaluated them, the student is less likely to be candid in her evaluation.

Team evaluations are based on research on team-based learning and the work of Larry Michaelson. I saw Michaelson present on this a few years ago during a pedagogy event held at Utah Valley University and have used this system ever since (note: the team-based learning approach I learned from Michaelson has had a big impact on how I approach teaching. For example, his work inspired my 2014 post on enhancing teamwork and in-class discussion). This is how I do it:

I provide students with a simple sheet of paper (an example to a similar scoring sheet can be found on p. 7 of this document) that includes instructions and scoring guidelines. They fill them out confidentially, and return them.

You can do team evaluations after each team assignment, or halfway through the semester and at the end, however you wish. The thing that makes these team evaluations unique and powerful is the unique math approach of the evaluation.

Usually, when you ask students to evaluate one another, there is a tendency to score everyone fairly well.  I’m not sure the reason why. Maybe it is that either they don’t want to be mean to someone else, that they simply don’t think too hard about it, or something else. Whatever the reason, a team evaluation where everyone receives about the same mark isn’t helpful to you, the professor.

In the way I do my evaluations, a student evaluates everyone but himself.  The student takes the total number of people in the group and subtracts himself. If there are 5 people total in the group, the number is 4. There is 10 points per student to distribute. So, in our example, multiply the number of students that one student would evaluate in a group of five, which is 4 (everyone but himself), by 10. There is a total of 40 points.

The student must distribute the 40 points among the 4 other students in his group (i.e., the students he is evaluating). And there’s only 1 rule: at least 1 student must get a 9 or lower, and at least 1 student must get an 11 or higher.

Why? This forces the students to really think about who did the most work, and who did the least. Giving points to one person is to take points away from someone else. This scarcity gets the students to take the evaluations seriously.

But your students probably won’t be happy about this. They’ll say, “Well that’s not fair.” So I explain them how and why, from my perspective, it is. A person who did more work deserves a better grade. And, I’ll explain that when I didn’t use a system like this, the students gave inflated scores to everyone in their team that did not reflect the reality they experienced. Importantly, I make a point to tell them that by giving someone a 9 you are not banishing that person to the Land of Bad Grades (this will make sense when you see the below).

Here’s how it works. In each example below, the team has 4 people in it. So each person is evaluating 3 other people:

If everyone did about the same work, students will score each other very closely.

Example:

John 11, Sally 10, Jim 9 (Jane is doing the evaluation)

But if someone was clearly doing a lot, or a little, it shows up:

John 7, Sally 10, Jim 13 (Jane is doing the evaluation)

Students get to explain their scores if they like.

Once collected, I add up the scores (from each evaluation of a student in a group) and divide by the highest score. Example: The highest score was John, he got a total of 28 points. Jim got a total of 22 points. So, John got a 100% (he did the most work, and went above and beyond others) and Jim gets 22/28=78%. That is, students are compared in relation to the person who does the most work. The person who does a lot of extra work, sets the bar high. Other students suffer if they also do not work hard. This is fairer to the student who does a lot of work.

If the work is distributed fairly evenly, then everyone is probably happy and they scored everyone like this:  John 11, Sally 10, Jim 9 (In fact, some very happy groups will conspire so that in the end everyone has the same score. I don’t stop this).

In this case, let’s say John has 33 (he got all 11s from the 3 people evaluating him). Jim ended up with 27 (3 9s, which is the lowest score possible if no one dipped below 9). He still got a B-, at 81.8%. And it is very unlikely that 1 person gets all the 11s and 1 person gets all the 9s in a group like this. And, if so, it’s because the team is saying Jim did less work.

In summary, this team evaluation approach is the fairest and easiest to conduct team evaluation I have ever done. The math takes care of itself and what emerges is a clear picture of who really did the extra work and who did not.

To me, using team evaluations throughout the semester on multiple projects is one of the most powerful tools i have. It is the ‘great equalizer’ that empowers those who did extra to level the playing field when it comes to grades. And, it is a shot in the arm to the students who did not pull their weight.

To see a sample evaluation form similar to what I use, see page 7 of this document from the team-based learning website.

Depending on how much of the grade you make team evaluations worth, it can sway students grades a one half of a letter grade, a full letter grade, or possibly more.

Now that students have the power to evaluate one another, they are also given the power to fire a teammate who is not doing his fair share of the work. In the next post, I’ll show you how firing a team member works. And, I’ll explain the modification I’ve made to offer students more options than just firing someone.

– Cheers!

m@

References: The above-mentioned pedagogy speaking event at Utah Valley University by Larry Michaelson used information drawn from his (2004) Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching. As stated above, the evaluation method described above is derived from that presentation and this book. I highly recommend checking out the website.

Here are 2 approaches to team evaluations from the team-based learning website.  Also, here are some criticisms of the zero-sum approach to team evaluations, such as that which I use.

 

A Guide To Setting Up Classroom Groups for Success: Group Contracts (Part 1 of 3)

Spoiler alert: The final blog post in this 3-part series about how to set up your class for success when working with groups will be titled:

Should Students Be Able to Fire Teammates in a Class Project?

In my classes, the answer is “yes.”

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If a student is not doing their share of the work in a group project, their teammates are empowered to fire that person.

I know what you’re thinking. “Are you serious!? What is this, The Apprentice? My students would be firing one another left and right.”

Put simply, my classes live and die by the success of groups. Every class I teach relies heavily on group work. That’s why I put a great deal of effort into team building and establishing avenues, assignments, and protocols to hold groups accountable.

The good news is that I have only had a group fire a team member a very few times in the 5.5ish years I’ve been using this (2 at UVU, 3.5ish here at Shepherd). And I do a lot of group projects.

To me, there are two reasons why I haven’t seen a lot of instances of a student being fired from a group. They are:

1) The way I set up groups in my classes

2) The fact that I teach in a small program where students will see each other in many classes and thus may not want to risk social ties in an intimate learning environment.

In the below post and in two follow up posts, I will explore both of these concepts. First, let’s look at how I set up groups for success:

Setting Up Groups For Success

At the beginning of the semester, when we form our groups, I start with an ice breaker. I use something fun. But the key is that everyone in the group has to arrive at one answer for the group. For example, I’ve had students write a group haiku on how they spent their summer. Or, I’ve had them come up with their collective answer for the greatest movie, TV show, and album of all time.  I’ve had them come up with the one meal they would all eat if they were stuck on a deserted island and the survival tools they’d agree to bring. With this in place, some of the walls have been broken down and the group environment is relaxed and welcoming.

Next, I have students write group contracts. It’s group building 101. These set group norms and empower the group to set expectations and a culture of inclusiveness.

What goes into group contracts:

  1. Names and contact info
  2. The dates they are available to meet outside of class – to eliminate excuses.
  3. Group rules

In terms of group rules, I tell the students that the rules they set in these are the basis of what they have to fire someone else. For example, if they say “don’t miss meetings without letting others know,” and someone repeatedly misses meetings, he/she could be fired for that offense. If someone is doing something in the group and it wasn’t in the contract, then did they really break a rule (save, not doing their work, of course)? In a lot of ways, this essential step mitigates the likelihood that we will have any group problems in the future.

Therefore, in making their group contracts, students are keenly aware that the contract is directly tied to their ‘survival’ in the group.

Students spend a good 10 minutes or so talking these things through. The really powerful thing is that students will express what frustrates them about group work BEFORE it becomes an issue. I hear things like, “I really hate it when people ignore your texts and a project is due the next day. Even if your reply is simply to let everyone know you are sick and can’t do the work or be at the meeting, just reply. Be honest. And tell everyone. That way, we can make a plan.”

The students are, in short, putting their cards on the table in an open, collaborative environment where they aren’t being judged because no one has broken a rule. This open communication lets everyone know the things they could do that would bother or harm a fellow teammate. Armed with this information, they have greater respect for group members and an opportunity to reflect on how their behavior could impact others. This simple 10 minute exercise can reduce the likelihood that such behaviors happen. That saves your students time, produces better work, and saves you time and headaches.

I collect all of the group contracts and make a photocopy so everyone has one. I keep the original, signed contract for each group.

The group contract  sheet is below! I’ll be discussing items #2 and #3 in upcoming blog posts. Item #1 is a department-wide policy. Note that the term “group report card” in the sheet below is synonymous with team evaluations.

The second instrument I use is team evaluations. A significant chunk of a student’s grade in my class is based on the evaluations made by their peers.  In the next post, I’ll talk about group evaluations and the unique way that I use them.

Then, in the third post, I’ll get into the drama – how I empower my students to fire one-another from their teams and what happens when they do.

In the meantime, remember: “Empowered students do powerful things.”

— Cheers

m@