Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Using webPA, by Michele Bourne

Using WebPA

Group projects offer many well documented benefits to students (Astin, 1997; Tinto, 1998; National Survey of Student Engagement, 2006). However, in group projects, members of the group don’t all make the same contribution to the project, and so marking the group project with a single mark for all students is not a fair way to mark the work. A single mark can lead to some students freeloading on the work of others, feelings of resentment from those doing the work and can lead to the potential benefits of group work becoming lost.

In group projects in the Foundation year, we originally allowed the whole group to submit one percentage grade for each member of the group which would be used to adjust their mark. However, this offered no real incentive to the students to do anything other than give each person 100%

We therefore changed this system, giving each student 100 points which were to be shared among the other students in their group. This method meant there was much more reason for students to be fair in the marks that they allocated. It was quite complex to administer this system using paper forms and fairly blunt.

WebPA is an open source, online system which can be used by students to allocate individual marks to members of their group. It is installed and run on a server, and students and staff access it via a simple web interface. Originally, Keele University agreed to install and support WebPA for a year.

The teacher interface for WebPA was quite simple and straightforward to use. It is accessed through Blackboard, where a WebPA assignment can be set up. The University of Loughborough who created WebPA had a test set up, so it was possible to try things out first. As a tutor, when you first log on, you see three options, my forms, my groups and my assessments.

My forms

This area allows you to create the forms that students will fill in. There is the choice of using a Likert scale or to split 100 points. We always choose to split 100 points, as when the students use a Likert scale there is not real reason for them not to allocate the top marks to everyone in the group, which ends up with the final scores not being as fair.

You can also create the assessment criteria that you will use. You can have as many of these as you like. We chose to have five criteria and made these available to the students at the start of their group project with the assignment instructions and the mark sheets, so that they would know how they would be assessed by their peers. The criteria that we used are given in Appendix 1. We also warned them at this stage that those who didn’t complete the peer assessment would lose 10% of their mark for the assignment.

We really liked being able to have a range of criteria, as it encouraged the students to think about the different types of contributions that each of the group members had made and allowed them to be fair in assigning marks to people who they may be friends with, but who hadn’t done so much work.

My Groups

Clicking on syncdata on the left of the screen will populate WebPA with any students in the module. When we first used WebPA, although WebPA was able to pick up our students from the module lists on Blackboard, it couldn’t pick up the groups that we had already created, and so we had to make these manually in WebPA. However, in a later version, it picked up groups from Blackboard, which was great. On looking at it just now, I am not sure if this automatic group creation is currently working. However, it is quite straightforward to create the groups manually.

My assessments

This is where you actually say the rules for how particular students will use a particular form. The assessments area has four areas, pending, open, closed and marked. When you first create an assessment, it will be in the pending tab, and will move from one location to the next, depending on its status (so don’t panic and think it has vanished if you no longer see it in the pending tab! Just look in the other tabs).

When you create an assessment, you can say which dates it will be open and give it a name and an introduction. You also have advanced options on these tabs, so make sure that you check those. We chose not to allow students to give comments. We also chose that the student would assess their peers but not themselves.

When the assessment is open to students, you can see who has completed WebPA, although you can’t at this point see the marks that were given. We did e-mail students to remind them that if they didn’t complete the assignment by the given time, then they would lose 10% of their assignment mark. We also put a statement in the introduction to the WebPA assignment to warn them that they should not collude when assigning marks and that we reserved the right to adjust marks if necessary.

Once an assessment moved into the closed tab, you will see an icon for a ‘new mark sheet’. Here, you can choose what weighting WebPA will have (what percentage of their group project mark will be affected by the peer review). We chose 100%. You can also choose to have a penalty for any student that doesn’t complete the WebPA assessment. We chose 10%.

Once you have created your mark sheet and input your own marks, one for each group projects, the assessment will move into the marked tab, and you will be able to see various reports showing individual marks for each student. There are lots of different reports which show you the information in different formats, so you can look at marks for individual criteria, who gave who which marks, what time they completed the WebPA and several other formats. We do reserve the right to alter these marks if there is a problem, and you can use your normal academic misconduct channels if this happens, but we have never had a problem. On the whole, students seem to be very fair minded.

After the first year of WebPA, the University decided to permanently implement WebPA. We were very glad not to have to go back to our old paper based systems! Using WebPA was much more professional looking. The students were able to be peer assessed using several criteria, rather than just on their overall contribution. We could let them know these criteria in advance. The interface was simple for both students and staff to use and didn’t require us to work out complicated formulae on spreadsheets to account for students who hadn’t participated in the peer review – WebPA did that all for us. Students could do the review in private, in their own time. We could easily look over the data to pick out any incongruities in the peer marking. Students were much happier doing the group projects and felt much more that their final marks were a fair assessment of the effort that they had put in. Students who had worked really hard on projects could get a high mark, which is particularly important for students who need high marks for progression. This encouraged students to have a higher involvement in group projects and discouraged the idea of some students getting a free ride. WebPA has become an essential part of our teaching.


Astin, A. (1993). What matters in college? Four critical years revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

National Survey of Student Engagement Report. (2006).

Tinto, V. (1987). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Appendix 1

Criteria that you will use for peer assessment of the contribution of others in your group towards the group project assignment.

During week 12, each member of the group will mark every other group member on their contribution to the project using set criteria. These marks will be used to determine each individual student’s mark for the group project report. You can see the criteria that will be used for this peer assessment in the assignment 2 folder on Blackboard. Any student who doesn’t carry out the peer assessment will lose 10% from their individual mark.


How well did each group member keep in touch? Did they let everyone else know what was happening? Did they make their work available for proof reading and editing?

Planning and Organisation

Did each group member help to create a work plan or Gantt chart for the project? Did they help to organise meetings, by booking rooms or by chairing the meeting? Did they help to plan who should do each part of the project?

Written Material

Did their writing tie in with the overall aim of the project? Did they use high quality sources, such as journal articles in their research and did they reference correctly? Did they produce a good volume of written work? Was spelling and grammar good and did the written work read well?


Was the group member on time for meetings? Was their attendance good? Did they meet deadlines and do jobs that they said they would do?

Contribution to the group

Did the group member support others in the group? Did they have a positive attitude and listen well to others? Did they do extra jobs within the group, such as putting the final report together, acting as team leader or helping with proofreading? Did they give positive contributions to meetings?

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Using webPA by Michele Bourne, from Keele University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at