Creating Conversation; Creating Assignments

In yesterday’s post, I shared some syllabi policies which are adaptable to most humanities courses. The title of the post, “It Starts With Pedagogy,” was meant to show that, for many graduate students, writing their syllabus is the first opportunity to put their pedagogy into words.

Although policies are fairly standard (e.g. plagiarizing is bad, don’t demean your fellow students) the way in which you phrase them is an opportunity to subtly illustrate your pedagogy. For instance, the policies shared yesterday use collaborative language to show the students that they are considered partners in shaping the direction of the course.

Similarly, the types of assignments you create are opportunities to illustrate your pedagogy in dozens of different ways: what sort of texts are worthy of study, are students learning practical skills, are you emphasizing memorization, what critical thinking skills will students leave your class with?

Below are two assignments I really like and a brief discussion of their pros and cons.

25 QCQ Cards at 5 pts./ea. (125)

Quote—A quote you selected from the reading.

Comment—A comment you have about either the quote you chose or the reading as a whole.

Question—A question you have about the reading.

All three of these should be written on a 3×5 card and brought to class. Cards will be turned in at the end of each class period. Out of roughly 30 days of class you are responsible for 25 QCQ cards. Cards will receive a grade of “0” for cards that are not turned in or cards that are missing an element. Cards which contain all elements will automatically receive at least 3 points. Cards will receive the full 5 points if they exhibit critical thinking which seeks to make connections between the text and a meaningful part of your life and/or other texts from this or other courses.

Occasionally, we will have days when several texts are assigned. On these days students are only required to turn in a QCQ card relevant to one reading due to the constraints of the medium. However, students retain the option of engaging with both texts and turning in a QCQ card for each if they choose. What students may not do is receive credit for more than one QCQ card per reading.

I love QCQ cards! I was introduced to them by Dr. Adrianna Ernstberger. QCQ cards have a lot of pros. They keep students engaged and accountable for the readings. In the early days of class when you are still building community and students are shy about sharing their opinions on the readings you can simply call on people to share something from their QCQ cards. QCQ cards also teach students good study skills. I know several students who got in the habit of doing them and continued doing them long after they’ve earned full points for the assignment. Some students have told me that they started doing QCQ cards for readings in their other classes. QCQ cards are also easy to grade. Although I hedge a little bit in the assignment description above I basically give students 0 points if the card is missing an element and give them 5 points if they have all 3 elements. 

There are two cons to QCQ cards. The first is that they can get out of control really quickly if you don’t stay on top of them. For instance, if you’re teaching a class of 40 students 3 days a week you will accrue something like 100 QCQ cards a week. If you happen to let that get out of hand and don’t input points for QCQ cards for, say, half a semester then you can wind up with several hundred QCQ cards to input which isn’t difficult but is time-consuming. Please don’t ask me how I know. Related to that is the other downside of QCQ cards. They can very quickly take over a portion of your desk.

12 original blog posts at 10 pts./ea. (120) 

For twelve weeks out of our sixteen week semester you will be responsible for posting to our course discussion board. The primary goal of these posts is to promote class discussion and to assist you in refining concepts you want to include in your projects. For full credit posts need to reference one of the texts (an assigned reading or documentary) covered that week. Posts should be between 250-300 words and need to be on the blog by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday night. We will not have a blog due during spring break or the last week of the semester. For full points post on time, discuss one course text, and meet the minimum word count.

24 comments/responses at 5 pts./ea (120)

The rules governing comments are largely the same as those governing blogs. You will be graded on two per week. Individual responses should be between 100 and 150 words in length. They are due at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday and are governed by the respect clause of the syllabus. You do not need to post any comments on weeks that blogs are not due.

This one I got from Dr. Elizabeth Kissling. Although I use the term “blog” here this assignment format is interchangeable with using Blackboard, Moodle, or other university provided teaching platform with an online discussion board. 

I love this assignment because I’m an introvert. When I’m in class I never want to say things unless I feel that I’ve thought them out completely. I am, consequently, one of those people who thinks of what I should have said in class days later in the shower. The online discussion board gives a place for students like me to think through the material before commenting on it. As a teacher, I get some of my best material from the online discussion assignments when students share articles, videos, and memes I would never see in the course of my life as a person (as opposed to my life as a professor). I firmly believe that the course description board is the key to keeping a syllabus fresh. Like QCQ cards, the weekly blog post rewards students for staying on top of the readings but allows them to go into more depth using and critiquing the concepts. Finally, there are times that students really, really get a course concept wrong. When students get a concept wrong in the discussion board it provides a secondary place to help them understand it.

In theory, these posts are quick to grade. I always promise myself that I will grade them quickly–just scanning to make sure that students posted on time, mentioned the course reading, and hit the word count. Every single time, however, I get sucked into reading all the posts. What can I say? Seeing the students try out ideas is a lot of fun. I don’t know if that’s really a con, per se, but it is definitely something to be aware of when you’re planning out how much grading you want to do for the semester.

These assignments should be adaptable to almost any course. It’s up to you to decide how often you want students to do these things and how many points you want to assign them.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss research projects and on Wednesday we’ll discuss how to pick the writings for your course schedule.

If there is any teaching related question you want us to cover this month leave a comment!

3 thoughts on “Creating Conversation; Creating Assignments

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