Beyond Grading: Strategies from McGill Instructors

How can you design assignments that enhance students' learning and motivation to learn? Take a look at these examples from McGill instructors for inspiration.

 

Admission Ticket Assignment

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Instructor: Laura Madokoro
Course: Canada Since 1867 (HIST 203)
Department and Faculty: History and Classical Studies, Faculty of Arts

Summary: In preparation for class discussion, students write thought-provoking questions (max. 150 words) about assigned readings and submit them at the beginning of class as “admission tickets.” The instructor selects questions from exemplary admission tickets to include on the midterm and final exams.

Supplementary resources

Hall, M. (2016, April 1). How do you get your students to do the assigned reading? [web log]. Retrieved from https://ii.library.jhu.edu/2016/04/01/how-do-you-get-your-students-to-do-the-assigned-reading/

Schell, J. (2012, September 4). How one professor motivated students to read before a flipped class, and measured their effort [web log]. Retrieved from https://peerinstruction.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/how-one-professor-motivated-students-to-read-before-a-flipped-class-and-measured-their-effort/

Schwartz, M. (2019). Best practices: Student reading. Toronto, ON: Learning & Teaching Office, Ryerson University. Retrieved from https://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/learning-teaching/teaching-resources/teach-a-course/encouraging-student-reading.pdf

Collaborative Quizzes

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Instructor: David Titley-Peloquin
Course: Physics 1 (AEPH 113) and Physics 2 (AEPH 115)
Department and Faculty: Bioresource Engineering, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Summary: Collaborative quizzes are an exam preparation activity with an opportunity for immediate feedback. Students attempt a quiz independently and then work in groups of 2-3 students to re-attempt the same quiz. This process allows students to check their understanding with peers.

Supplementary resources

Collaborative/cooperative quizzes in the literature. (n.d.). Iowa: Centre for Teaching, University of Iowa. Retrieved from https://teach.its.uiowa.edu/file/462/download?token=dp8FoYlC

Two-Stage Exams [web log]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://blogs.ubc.ca/eoassei/two-stage-exams/

Weimer, M. (2019). Collaborative testing improves higher-order thinking. The Teaching Professor. Retrieved from https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/teaching-strategies/collaborative-testing-improves-higher-order-thinking/

Fake News Assignment

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Instructor: Elena Obukhova
Course: Managing Globalization (MGPO 469)
Department and Faculty: Strategy and Organization, Desautels Faculty of Management

Summary: This assignment addresses the concept of “fake news,” a term that refers to bias in the media and the purposeful misleading
of media consumers. Using one actual news article, students write a biased news story from a specific stakeholder perspective that illustrates the bias in their story. The focus on bias teaches students to interrogate their sources.

Supplementary resources

Johannessen, H. (2017). Teaching Source Criticism to Students in Higher Education: A Practical Approach. In S. Ingvaldsen & D. Oberg (Eds.), Media and information literacy in higher education: Educating the educators (pp. 89-105). Cambridge, MA: Chandos Publishing, an imprint of Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-100630-6.00006-0

Najmabadi, S. (2016, December 12). How can students be taught to detect fake news and dubious claims? [web log comment]. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-Can-Students-Be-Taught-to/238652

Group Term Project with Detailed Instructions and Rubrics

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Instructor: Sébastien Jodoin
Course: Sustainable Development 3.0 (LAWG 502)
Department and Faculty: Faculty of Law

Summary: In this course, students complete a Group Term Project (3-5 students per group). They choose one of three options for the project: (1) create a business plan or model for a new social enterprise; (2) draft an innovative policy proposal; or (3) draft a memo outlining a new avenue of strategic public interest litigation in the field of sustainable development. The course outline contains specific instructions and unique grading rubrics for each project option. Groups submit a 1-page brief early in the term and receive feedback from the instructor before moving forward with their projects.

Supplementary resources

Brookhart, S. M. (2013). How to create and use rubrics for formative assessment and grading. Alexandria: VA: ASCD. Available from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/mcgill/detail.action?docID=1123215

Stevens, D. D., & Levi, A. J. (2013). Introduction to rubrics: An assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus. Available from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/mcgill/detail.action?docID=1108395

In-class Simulation

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Instructor: Pierre Forest
Course: Total Compensation and Rewards (CORG 562)
Department and Faculty: Career and Professional Development, School of Continuing Studies

Summary: This in-class activity simulates a common work situation: asking for a raise or responding to an employee’s request for a raise. Students work in teams to prepare for both roles in the simulation, as they don’t know in advance which role they will assume. In a post-activity debrief, the class reflects on the instructor’s feedback and makes connections between the activity and course content.

Supplementary resources

Hertel, J. P., & Millis, B. J. (2002). Using simulations to promote learning in higher education. Dulles: Stylus. Available from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/mcgill/detail.action?docID=4438618

Paquette, L. (2012). Using role play simulations to promote active learning. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/course-design-ideas/using-role-play-simulations-to-promote-active-learning/

University of New South Wales Sydney. (2016). Assessing with role play and simulation. Retrieved from https://teaching.unsw.edu.au/assessing-role-play-and-simulation

Lay Translation Assignment

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Instructor: Terry Hébert
Course: Research Topics in Pharmacology (PHAR 508)
Department and Faculty: Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine

Summary: Students read a piece of scientific scholarship and write a one-page essay in the style of a New York Times article that makes the content understandable to lay readers. A panel of lay readers provides students with feedback on the effectiveness of their communication. Students revise their work based on this feedback and then submit their revised writing to the instructor.

Supplementary resources

Brownell, S. E., Price, J. V., & Steinman, L. (2013). Science communication to the general public: Why we need to teach undergraduate and graduate students this skill as part of their formal scientific training. Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, 12(1), E6–E10. Retrieved from https://www.funjournal.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/june-12-e6.pdf?x89760

Duke, M. (2012). How to write a lay summary. Edinburgh: Digital Curation Centre. Retrieved from http://www.dcc.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/publications/HowToLaySummariesDec2012.pdf

Salita, J. T. (2015). Writing for lay audiences: A challenge for scientists. Medical Writing, 24(4), 183-189. https://doi.org/10.1179/2047480615Z.000000000320

Mineralogy Paper

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Instructor: George McCourt
Course: Geosystems (SOIL 300)
Department and Faculty: Natural Resource Sciences, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Summary: Students complete a written assignment about a mineral or rock of their choice. This assignment can take any written form that the student wishes: research paper, narrative essay, newspaper opinion piece, or poem. The instructor provides students with three specific points that they must address, regardless of the form of the written assignment, along with detailed instructions and assessment criteria.

Supplementary resources

Dahlstrom, M. F. (2014). Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(Supplement 4), 13614-13620. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1320645111

Januchowski-Hartley, S. R., Sopinka, N., Merkle, B. G., Lux, C., Zivian, A., Goff, P., & Oester, S. (2018). Poetry as a creative practice to enhance engagement and learning in conservation science. BioScience, 68(11), 905-911. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biy105

Multi-Stage Assignments: The "Explainer Article"

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Instructor: Diane Dechief
Course: Communicating Science (CCOM 314)
Department and Faculty: McGill Writing Centre, School of Continuing Studies

Summary: Students develop their writing and critical thinking skills through multiple stages of feedback. As the first step of the “Explainer article” assignment, each student chooses a peer-reviewed journal article in their area of interest. The student then “translates” key aspects of this article into a 500-600-word newspaper-style explainer article, targeted for a general audience. Students submit their writing in four stages and receive feedback at each stage either from peers or the instructor.

Supplementary resources

Anderson, L. (2014, April 25). Get ready for college writing by learning to revise. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/

Grandy, T. (2016, February 18). Make a better writing assignment by design [web log]. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/gradhacker/make-better-writing-assignment-design

Peer Assessment

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Instructor: Lawrence Chen
Course: Introduction to the Engineering Profession (FACC 100)
Department and Faculty: Electrical and Computer Engineering, Faculty of Engineering

Summary: Using software that supports peer assessment, students submit their writing, review peers’ work, receive feedback from peers, and use the feedback to revise their writing. In addition, students provide feedback on the feedback they received (known as “back evaluation”).

Supplementary resources

Liu, N. F., & Carless, D. (2006). Peer feedback: The learning element of peer assessment. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(3), 279-290. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/13562510600680582

Orlando, J. (2016). The benefits of peer review. The Teaching Professor. Retrieved from https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/student-learning/peer-self-assessment/the-benefits-of-peer-review/

N.B. McGill has a subscription to The Teaching Professor. If accessing the publication off campus, connect to the library via EZproxy or VPN.

Teaching and Learning Services. (2018). Designing peer assessment assignments: A resource document for instructors. Montreal: Teaching and Learning Services, McGill University. Retrieved from https://www.mcgill.ca/tls/files/tls/pa-resource-doc-rev-aug-2018.pdf

Performance-based Assessment (PBA)

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Instructor: Claire Trottier
Course: Laboratory in Immunology (MIMM 385)
Department and Faculty: Microbiology and Immunology, Faculty of Science

Summary: Performance-Based Assessment (PBA) promotes the development of discipline-specific “soft skills,” such as properly using equipment and communicating respectfully with peers. In this course, students have multiple opportunities to practice skills that are relevant to both the course and future work environments. Students complete three PBAs throughout the term, receiving detailed feedback and comments on each one.

Supplementary resources

Mintz, S. (2015, April 29). Performance-based assessment [web log]. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/higher-ed-gamma/performance-based-assessment

Poster Presentation Assignment

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Instructors: John Stix and John Gyakum
Course: Natural Disasters (ATOC 185/EPSC 185)
Department and Faculty: Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences/Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Faculty of Science

Summary: Students summarize and communicate scientific information in a setting that simulates a research conference. In groups of 6, students prepare scientific posters to present at scheduled sessions throughout the semester. Students receive feedback from peers and from the TA, who also assigns a grade.

Supplementary resources

Vollaro, M. B. (2005). More than science fair fun: Poster session as an experiential learning activity in the classroom. Proceedings American Society for Engineering Education: The 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0b18/75bdd9953d182c3b27d8547056b658ca37a4.pdf

Video Assignments

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Instructors: Sun-Young Kim and Alejandra Barriales-Bouche
Course: German Language - Intermediate (GERM 307); Spanish Language - Intermediate (HISP 219)
Department and Faculty: Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, Faculty of Arts

Summary: Students video record themselves giving oral presentations that are 1-3 minutes long. They share the videos in myCourses. Instructors view the presentations and provide feedback directly in the video. Students view peers’ videos and record 1-1.5 minute commentaries on selected videos, which they also share in myCourses.

Supplementary resources

Aksel, A., & Gürman-Kahraman, F. (2014). Video project assignments and their effectiveness on foreign language learning. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 141, 319-324. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.05.055

Malisius, E. (2017). Creativity takes courage: Integrating video assignments into academic courses and blended programs. In S. L. Grundy, D. Hamilton, G. Veletsianos, N. Agger-Gupta, P. Márquez, V. Forssman & M. Legault (Eds.), Engaging students in life-changing learning. Victoria, BC: Royal Roads University. Retrieved from https://learningandteachingmodel.pressbooks.com/chapter/creativity-takes-courage-integrating-video-assignments-into-academic-courses-and-blended-programs/

Prof. Hacker (2013, March 29). 6 tips for successful mobile video assignments in the classroom [web log]. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/video-and-teaching/47821

 


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