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Cogent Education





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Funded in part by the VCU Libraries Open Access Publishing Fund.

Date of Submission

November 2017


Students often say they hate group projects, because they don’t want their grade held hostage by someone else’s effort (or lack thereof) and/or because they’ve had the experience previously of having to do other people’s work for them. For the instructor, the challenge is to figure out how to provide students with the valuable lessons and learning experience of collaborative work while avoiding the common pitfalls. How should one, and how can one, balance individual accountability—one’s grade is a reflection of one’s own work—with the shared responsibility of meaningful collaborative work—one’s grade is a reflection of the group’s effort and ability to work together? To answer this question, this essay offers a tripartite ethical framework with which to critically evaluate the design of group projects and assignments. Building upon the foundation provided by the ethical philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas and Mikhail Bakhtin, and supplemented by a generalized account of accountability, this essay will argue that a fully effective collaborative assignment should implement strategies designed to foster three poles of ethicality: responsibility, answerability, and accountability. To clarify and illustrate this tripartite ethical framework, three principal best practices will be discussed: the assignment of precisely defined individual “captainships,” a requirement for students to complete a qualitative self-assessment, and the inclusion of a detailed “non-compliance policy.” Finally, a required peer-assessment, mandatory rehearsal presentation, and meta-cognitive classroom activity will also be discussed, both in terms of how they fit within the tripartite framework and how they complement and reinforce the aforementioned strategies.


© 2017 The Author(s). This open access article is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) 4.0 license.

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