Thursday, May 14, 2015

Faculty Projects - Clear Assignments

Professor: Manuel Lopez
Department: Philosophy and Religious Studies
Name of Group: Successful Teaching Practices and Teaching International Students

It is an unfortunate reality of life that words often make much more sense in our minds than they do in written or spoken form. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told by my mother to retrieve the “dingy” on top of the “thingamabob” which, while undoubtedly clear in her mind, never lead to a successful retrieval of the item she needed. Sometimes additional clarity is needed even when the person giving the instruction is under the impression of being quite clear. Dr. Manual Lopez, from the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, speaks to imbuing clarity in his assignments as a result of attending CETL’s Successful Teaching Practices sessions:
"I felt my assignments were not as effective as I wanted them to be. Sometimes the general idea of the assignment was right but there was not a clear/focused goal. Sometimes I needed to clarify the presentation of the assignment (generally tended to be vague). I wanted to improve my assignments (their rationale, their goals, their effectiveness). I changed all of my assignments following ideas I learned during the Successful Teaching Practices workshop. I also implemented some ideas learned in the Teaching International Students workshop."
He lists the changes he implemented in order to create more effective assignments below:

  • I rewrote all of my assignments for World Religions (which I will use for the upcoming summer session) and made some changes to my current Religion and Popular Culture course. My assignments are now more focused and with clear goals.
  • I also added more variety of assignments testing different skills. It is not only about writing a paper (thesis, argument, etc.), but about helping them analyze a text, or expose them to world religions news, or make them think about what religion is (there is more scaffolding on the way I have designed the assignments).
  • I started using rubrics in a more systematic way. This has helped me reduce grading time and also make my grading more consistent.
  • In my Religion and Popular Culture class I had a final paper. During the workshop it was suggested that this is not always a very effective way of designing an assignment since, after the paper is done (especially if it is due at the end of the semester) all of my feedback is practically useless since there is no way for them to change their paper and, at that point, they do not care as much. I added the need to deliver a draft so I can give early feedback on the paper. They also have to come and discuss my feedback with them.
  • From the Teaching International Students workshop I have applied a couple of changes. The first is to write my assignments not as a narrative but as a list of requirements their papers need to have. I am doing the same with email responses to students. This has reduced student questions regarding the nature of assignments.

As a result of these more lineated assignments and the addition of organized rubrics, Dr. Lopez writes that his grading has become more “systematic and objective” in addition to taking less time, that his students have produced the “best” papers he has seen (despite the assignment being the same last semester), and that he receives less complaints for the reason behind a specific grade from his students.
 Write up by: Jon Pumper

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