RESNA 27th International Annual Confence

Technology & Disability: Research, Design, Practice & Policy

June 18 to June 22, 2004
Orlando, Florida

Individual Accountability Within Assistive Technology Cooperative Learning Groups

Aimee J. Luebben and Rick Hobbs
University of Southern Indiana
Evansville, Indiana, 47712


This paper presents a retrospective study that used an integrated quantitative-qualitative approach to investigate accountability of individual students working within assistive technology groups. The study showed that a self-peer assessment proved effective in improving positive team interdependence for five of six cooperative learning groups in a professional preservice training program. Cooperative learning is a learner-centered pedagogical strategy that can help develop entry-level practitioners with strong critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork abilities to function effectively.


cooperative learning, assessment, assistive technology, collaboration, teams


Although much of higher education is predicated on traditional teacher-centered approaches, which can result in graduates having difficulty generalizing their knowledge to real world contexts and/or students lacking social skills necessary to function in the workforce, many professional preservice training programs have adopted learner-centered strategies that develop entry-level practitioners with strong abilities in the areas of critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork. One of many learner-centered strategies commonly used is cooperative learning, which utilizes small groups of students working together as teams to accomplish a common educational objective and a collaborative relationship among team members. Even though "positive interdependence is the goal of cooperative learning" (1), the group product often forms the basis for faculty assessment of group learning outcomes.

Webb (2) differentiates among four group-work assessment purposes (2); "measuring students' collaboration abilities" (p. 203) is the only purpose that taps into assessing social skills necessary to function effectively in the workforce. Assessing group contribution is important because students may not take responsibility for equal group participation: social loafing occurs when students sit back and let others do the work (2) and free riding happens when students believe instructors have no mechanism for checking group participation (3). To guard against free riders and provide accountability for individual contributions in groups, Brooks and Ammons (3) advocate developing a peer assessment system that features early implementation, multiple evaluation points, and specific evaluation criteria.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the extent to which one cohort of students in a professional preservice training program achieved the cooperative learning goal of positive interdependence during two assistive technology (AT)-based learning content units-physical accessibility and electronic accessibility.


This retrospective study used an integrated quantitative-qualitative approach to investigate a self-peer assessment (SPA) designed to measure student ability to collaborate in teams. The investigation involved analyzing SPAs of a 30-member student cohort (28 females and 2 males: a typical program and profession gender ratio) for two AT-based team assignments: Physical Accessibility Project (PAP) and Electronic Accessibility Project (EAP).

At the PAP beginning, students learned background content in a problem-based learning format to determine outcomes for 30 entities requesting ADA consultation. Once they showed proficiency applying basic concepts, students learned to use standard accessibility equipment, locate ADA standards on the Internet, make decisions about accessibility compliance, and develop conformance recommendations. Each team produced an accessibility report, using a specified format, for two public university buildings and one privately owned entity offering services to the public. The EAP unit was self-contained and student-directed: they constructed their own content knowledge first by completing a background analysis (consisting of basic information about key legislation and web site evaluation tools) and then by applying their new knowledge to evaluate assigned university websites according to accessibility error classification, instance, and location, and to provide recommendations for accessibility standard compliance. Since both AT assignment scenarios involved student teams being hired as consultants, the SPA value was not course points, but dollars: each team was paid a consultation fee that averaged $100 per student member. Each SPA was comprised of a section for each team member; each section consisted of name, salary assignment and salary justification.

The SPAs generated quantitative (salary assignments) and qualitative (salary justifications) data which were reduced, analyzed, and compared. For each AT assignment, team SPA salary justifications were analyzed to determine the percentage of positive salary justifications supplied by team members. The salary assignments were categorized into two groups: self-assigned salary (SAS; individual-retained salary) and team-assigned salary (TAS; average salary earned from the team). Descriptive statistics reduced the SAS and TAS categories and independent t-tests were used to compare SAS and TASs for each AT assignment. To determine social loafing/free riders as well as the "appropriators" (students who take over assignments), z-transformation was used to standardize PAP and EAP TAS across the student cohort. Z-scores of greater than +1 and less than -1 were used as cut scores to identify "appropriators" and free riders respectively. An alpha level of .05 was set for statistical analyses.


Table 1 shows that when comparing PAP and EAP SPAs, the percentage of positive salary justifications supplied by team members for an individual improved in all but Team 5.

Table 1. Percentage of Positive Salary Justifications Supplied by Team Members

AT Assignment

Team 1

Team 2

Team 3

Team 4

Team 5

Team 6


















The mean, standard deviation (SD), and standard error (SE) values for SAS and TAS categories in Table 2 provide descriptive information; the mean and SD and served as the basis for z-transformation. In the PAP, students significantly overestimated their own contribution to teams, t(58) = +2.77, d = .25, p < .05 whereas they underestimated their team worth in the EAP, but the difference was not significant, t(58) = -.771, d = .10, p > .05.

Table 2: Descriptive Statistics for PAP and EAP Salary Assignments

AT Assignment

SAS Mean (SD)

TAS Mean (SD)



105.80 (23.61)

100.00 (16.43)



97.55 (28.83)

99.56 (19.41)


Note. SAS = Self Assigned Salary, TAS = Team Assigned Salary; PAP = Physical Accessibility Project, EAP = Electronic Accessibility Project

For both AT assignments (student number/team number are provided in parentheses), the first two of eight students (S19/T1, S26/T5, S23/T1, S22/T2, S6/T2, S5/T4, S7/T5, and S29/T5) who overestimated their team worth did so by more than 1 SD, yet only the first of four students (S30/T5, S18/T2, S14/T4, and S27/T4) who underestimated contribution to the team did so by more than 1 SD.

Standardization of the cohort (z-scores follow student number/team number in parentheses; * indicates statistical significance, p < 05) showed that five students were rated as appropriators by their teams in the PAP: S1/T5 (+3.17*), S9/T1 (+2.43*), S12/T4 (+1.34), S6/T2 (+1.02), and S18/T2 (+1.02) and one student as a free rider: S29/T5 (-1.89). In the EAP four students-S1/T5 (+3.65*), S18/T2 (+1.52), S3/T1 (+1), S15/T1 (+1)-were appropriators and two were designated free riders: S17/T2 (-2.25*) and S26/T5 (-1.81).


The implementation of AT assignment SPAs, with the purpose of measuring students' collaboration abilities (2) supported Brooks and Ammons' (3) recommendation that peer assessments should include three key features: early implementation (students received SPAs early and mid-semester) , multiple evaluation points (students completed two SPAs ) , and specific evaluation criteria (students provided salary assignments and justifications). Although SPAs did not show absolute positive interdependence (1) (NB: in the perfect case, the mean and SD would be 100 and 0 respectively), teams showed improved group functioning for the EAP, compared with the PAP. Of the six teams, five (83%) were functioning effectively. Team 5 was dysfunctional, indicated by one student (S1/T5) who was an appropriator for both AT assignments and also by one student S26/T5, designated by her team as a free rider in the EAP, who overestimated her contributions to the team for both AT assignments.

In a professional training program, peer assessments proved effective in providing individual accountability of preservice students working within AT cooperative learning groups. Cooperative learning is a learner-centered pedagogical strategy that can help develop entry-level practitioners with strong critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork abilities to function effectively in the workforce.


  1. Goodwin, MW. (1999). "Cooperative learning and social skills: What skills to teach and how to teach them" [Electronic version]. Intervention in School & Clinic, 35(1).
  2. Webb, NM. (1997). Assessing students in small collaborative groups." Theory Into Practice, 36(4), 205-213.
  3. Brooks, CM, Ammons, JL. (2003). "Free riding in group projects and the effects of timing, frequency, and specificity of criteria in peer assessments." Journal of Education for Business, 78(5), 268-272.


Aimee J. Luebben, EdD, OTR/L, FAOTA,
Professor and Director, Occupational Therapy Program,
University of Southern Indiana,
8600 University Blvd., Evansville, IN 47712-3534,
812-465-1179 (voice),
812-4655-7092 (fax),

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