Group work and professional skills modules

Today I’ll talk about group work in modules, specifically the professional skills modules in the math department (I’ve heard other departments also have a professional skills module but the content varies depending on the department).

During the second semester I took the professional skills module. It was a very different module from all the rest I took during my first year. There were several reasons a week, some were practical sessions (eg Excel and MATLAB labs), some were talks about presentation skills, essay writing etc and we also had team building activities. Our grade consisted of two exams (one was an Excel test and the other one was a MATLAB test, the Excel test involved completing a list of tasks using excel and submitting the spreadsheet with our answers and the MATLAB test was a multiple choice test where we had to select the right answer which we were meant to acquire through writing MATLAB code), a report on a topic relating to our group project topic, a grade for peer reviewing classmates’ reports and the rest of the grade (45%) consisted of the group project grade.

My team got assigned the UK general election as the topic, my report topic was mathematician’s contribution to election method design. For the group project we were given a dataset with the election results for the 2010 and 2015 elections and we were meant to do some analysis of the data using both Excel and MATLAB, a consolidated group report containing all of our individual topic reports as well as a writeup of the Excel and MATLAB analyses, a project plan that was made using Microsoft Project, minutes for our group meetings, a personal log about the activities involved in the group project, a group presentation and a wiki containing everything involved in the project. We got a set of guidelines for the analyses and all of the other components but the specifics of it were up to us, we met and worked on the project primarily on our own time (however, we did have timetabled sessions for Excel, MATLAB, the tests, the group presentation and the peer review).

For the peer review we were given a list of guidelines to help us give a numerical grade as well as a number of questions to provide more in depth feedback for the report’s author. The grade for our report was the average of the grades obtained from the peer review (we each peer reviewed 3 different reports and obtained 3 peer reviews for our report), the grade for the peer review came from postgraduate students grading the peer reviews we did based on a set of guidelines we were given beforehand. For the group project each component of the group project had a specific weighting and we got an overall group mark assigned. After being given our group mark we were told to assign grades to individual group members. How the grade assigning worked is that we got 500% of our total grade (71) to distribute among everyone (5 group members) and we had to decide what percentage of the grade to assign to every member based on their contributions to the project. We ended up deciding to split the grade evenly (everyone got 100% of our group grade, so everyone got a 71).

Overall the professional skills module was a very interesting module and the project was enjoyable. I think there were a few parts of the module I wasn’t very fond of but I guess that’s expected when teamwork and such a large group of students with different interests are involved. I hope this post was helpful in helping explain what the professional skills modules are like and how grades are handled when group projects are involved (again, they might vary from department to department, not to mention from faculty to faculty). If you’d like to see our group wiki you can check it out here: (however, I’m not sure if I’ll continue hosting it long term, so I apologize if the link doesn’t work in the future).