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Peer Evaluations In Teams Of Predominantly Minority Students

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



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Page Numbers

5.489.1 - 5.489.7

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Richard Layton

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2330

Peer Evaluations in Teams of Predominantly Minority Students

Richard A. Layton, Matthew W. Ohland North Carolina A&T State University / University of Florida


This paper presents an analysis of student peer evaluations in project teams where the majority of the students are African-American. Peer evaluations were used to assign individual grades from group grades for design projects in a junior-level mechanical engineering course taught by Layton for three semesters in 1997-99. This study is similar to and complements a 1999 study by Kaufman, Felder, and Fuller. The results of the two studies—one at a majority-black institution (NC A&T) and the other at a majority-white institution (NC State)—are consistent, showing no effects relating to gender, but significant effects relating to race/ethnicity. We concur with Kaufman et al. that, while racial prejudice cannot be ruled out, a more likely explanation of this result is that students tend to give low ratings to those who are weaker academically. Students seem to base ratings on perceived abilities instead of real contributions. To overcome this ten- dency, we suggest that instructors teach the behavioral characteristics of good teamwork and fo- cus student peer evaluations on those characteristics.

I. Introduction

A well-known drawback of group projects in engineering is the possibility that one or two stu- dents will do most of the work and that one or more students will “hitchhike,” that is, fail to do their share of the work but get the same high grade as the rest of the group. This problem can be addressed in part by using the peer-evaluation or “autorating” system described by Brown1 for assigning individual grades based on a group grade. For this technique to be effective, groups should be assigned and coached by the instructor according to the established practices of coop- erative learning.

In a recent study, Kaufman, Felder, and Fuller2 examine the incidence of hitchhiking and other aspects of group work with the aim of addressing common concerns about the validity of peer evaluations. (The acronym “KFF” is used here to refer to this paper.) Their results include: 1) no gender bias in peer evaluations was detected; and 2) minority students on average receive lower ratings and give higher ratings than non-minority students, with the differences being statistically significant in one class but not in another class. They conclude that racial bias could be a factor, but alternative explanations are considered more likely. “Minorities” includes African-American, Hispanic, and Native American students; “non-minorities” includes students of all other ethnic backgrounds. Most of the students in the KFF study are non-minorities.

Ohland, M., & Layton, R. (2000, June), Peer Evaluations In Teams Of Predominantly Minority Students Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri.

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