Designing Assignments for the New Semester

Steven Volk, January 25, 2015


(Creative Commons; Amorparamipatria)

As we prepare to return to classes (speaking to my own institution), I’ve been putting some final thoughts into my syllabi, and particularly to the design of my assignments. I will admit that more than once over the years, I have “place-held” my assignments on the syllabus with a vague notation (e.g. “Midterm essay due on March 13”) and left the actual work of figuring out what it would consist of until, well, pretty late in the game.

For those who follow the good advice of backward design, assignments are a critical early step for overall course design: if we begin with the kind of learning outcomes we want to achieve in the course (and want to make those transparent to our students), than assignments are the necessary assessment tools by which we can determine whether they are achieving some mastery of those goals. (I’ll not address grading here, other than to say that there has been some interesting discussion lately generated by Linda B. Nilson’s Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time (Sterling, VA: Stylus , 2015). See, for example, here and here.) Continue reading