Tag Archives: disposable assignments

Non-disposable assignments in Intro to Philosophy

NoDisposableAssignments

Remixed from two CC0 images on Pixabay: trash can and No symbol

Disposable assignments

In the past couple of years I’ve really been grabbed by the issue of “disposable assignments,” as discussed by David Wiley here:

These are assignments that students complain about doing and faculty complain about grading. They’re assignments that add no value to the world – after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away. Not only do these assignments add no value to the world, they actually suck value out of the world.

A non-disposable assignment, then, is one that adds value to the world beyond simply being something the students have to do to get a grade. A similar idea is expressed by Derek Bruff in a post on the idea of “students as producers”–treating students as producers of knowledge, rather than only as consumers: Bruff talks about students creating work for “authentic audiences,” beyond just the teacher.

Wiley gives an example of a non-disposable assignment: students taking instructional materials in the course (which are openly licensed) and revising/remixing them to create tutorials for future students in the course. Other examples can be found in this growing list of examples of open pedagogy. One that I often hear about is asking students to edit or create Wikipedia articles. Or students could post their work more locally, but still have it be publicly visible, such as what Judy Chan does with her students’ research projects at UBC (click on “team projects” in the various years). Simon Bates has his physics students create learning objects to help their peers (see this story for more).

Students as producers in philosophy courses

I have already started to ask students to do some activities that could add value to the world, whether to their fellow students and/or beyond.

  • In a second-year moral theory course I asked them to sign up for 1-2 days on which to do “reading notes” on the class wiki page: they had to outline one of the main arguments in the text assigned for that day and write down questions for their small group to discuss. You can see those here (organized by group number).
  • In a first-year, introduction to philosophy course I have asked students to:
    • blog about what they think philosophy is, both at the beginning and end of the course–this, I thought, could provide some interesting information to others about what our students think “philosophy” is. I don’t have those blog posts visible anymore because I didn’t ask students if I could keep them posted after the course was finished (d’oh!!).
    • write a blog post describing how they see philosophical activity going on in the world around them, beyond the class–I thought this could be useful to show the range of what can count as philosophical activity. I do still have those posts up (but not for long, because again I forgot to ask for permission to keep the posts up after the course is finished…I will do that this term!): http://blogs.ubc.ca/phil102 (click on “philosophy in the world”)

 

But now that I’m working on my Intro to Philosophy course for Fall 2015 (see planning doc here), I’m trying to think through some other options for assignments with authentic audiences and that add value to the world. Here are some ideas (not that I’m going to implement all of these; I’m just brainstorming).

  • Editing Wikipedia articles on philosophy
    • This is a big task; it requires that students learn how to do so (not just technologically, but in terms of the rules and practices of Wikipedia), plus determining which articles need editing, etc.
    • I would prefer to start with students creating Wikipedia-style articles on philosophers or texts on the UBC Wiki first. Then other students (in future classes) could edit those, and then maybe eventually we could move to doing something on Wikipedia itself (the content would be good, and maybe students would be motivated to move some of it over to Wikipedia at that point).
  • Creating tutorials or other “learning objects” for their fellow students and for the public
    • As noted above, Simon Bates does this in his Physics 101 course, and I can pretty easily see how one might ask students to do so for basic physics concepts. But why not do so for some basic philosophy concepts too?
      • e.g., find something you find difficult in the course, and once you feel you have a handle on it, create something to help other students
    • could be done in groups (probably best, with a large class like Intro to Phil (150 students))
    • could be text based, but better if also incorporates some other kinds of visual or auditory elements (e.g., a video, or incorporating images, or slides or something)
  • Creating study questions or suggestions of “what to focus on” for the readings
    • students often get lost in reading primary philosophical texts, and I haven’t yet managed to write up study questions or suggestions for what to focus on for each reading. This would definitely be useful to other students.
    • But wouldn’t it be cruel to ask students to do this for later students when I haven’t done it for them myself? and do I have time to do this before the Fall term this year? Unfortunately not.
  • Creating lists of “common problems” or advice for writing, after doing peer review of each others’ work and self-reflecting on their own
    • I do provide quite a lot of writing advice to students, but I wonder if advice coming from students’ direct experience in my courses might be helpful to later students?
  • Creating possible exam questions
    • I ask students to do this informally, in groups, as part of the review for the final exam. But why not formalize this somehow so their suggestions are posted publicly? The course page on the UBC Wiki seems like a good place, at least to start. Then students could see them from year to year.
    • A number of instructors at UBC use PeerWise as a tool for students to ask and answer questions. It seems like an interesting thing, but:
      • It’s not public; but it could be used to generate questions and then the best ones could be made public somewhere
      • It’s limited to multiple choice questions, which I hardly ever use (and never on exams)

 

Those are my ideas for now. Have any others? Or comments on any of this? Please comment, below!