Teaching Spotlight – Valentine’s Day Card Assignment

Bridgette Clarkston received lots of love from her BIOL 121 students this term in the form of biology-themed Valentine’s Day cards. Students were tasked to create a set of Valentine’s Day cards that incorporated concepts from the course, and as you can see from the display on her door in the pictures above, they definitely rose to the challenge! Keep reading to learn more about this assignment and to see some examples of the cards below.

What was your thinking behind this assignment?

The idea was to do something small, creative, possibly silly, that applied the course concepts. Students could earn participation credit for the assignment. To earn full points, they had to explicitly connect their card to a course learning outcome and create original work. Those that earned full points became eligible for candy prizes in class on Valentine’s Day and also eternal glory on my office door.

What was your response to the students’ submissions?

I was immediately overwhelmed by the number of submissions that earned full points. I had 377 students across my two Biol 121 sections and expected most would take the “easy” route: find a biology-themed Valentine on the internet and earn partial credit if they connected to our learning outcomes and gave proper credit to the source. However, about 60% of the class submitted original work with a clear learning outcome connection. That was over 200 submissions to consider for posting on my door! In the end I put up about 50 cards. I tried to include a variety of biology topics, doodles and more sophisticated artwork, as well as my favourites.

What were the students’ reactions to the assignment?

I had a lot of positive feedback from students who were excited to participate and invested in knowing if their cards would make the cut to be on my door. There was also the added bonus of having the Biology Office ask to post some of our cards on the Biology Office door. When I asked a selection of students for permission to post their card, I received numerous replies that they were “honoured to be selected”. The assignment might have been small and silly, but I was struck how much pride it gave students. Up until we transitioned to working remotely, I frequently overheard students outside my office pointing out to friends that their card was on my door.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I think it’s really important to include a variety of ways for students to engage with the content in our courses. A holiday cards like I used or fill-in-the-blank memes like Rachel Germain and Laura Parfrey used in Biol 230 this year are two examples of low-stakes and relatively easy-to-assess assignments that also inject fun, creativity and a freshness to thinking about the topic from a new perspective. Plus, now I have (well, had) the most talked-about door in the hallway.

Individual cards

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