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.

Many of these assessment strategies can be easily adapted to a remote learning environment. Check out the tools that can help you implement them.

 

10 Questions, 10 Answers

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Instructor: William Archambault
Course: Pharmacology for Nursing 1 & 2 (NUR1 300 & 301)
Department and Faculty: Ingram School of Nursing, Faculty of Medicine

Summary: Students read 4–7 assigned scientific articles to find answers to 10 questions.

Supplementary resources

Laubepin, F. (2013). How to read (and understand) a social science journal article. Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research. https://www.icpsr.umich.edu/files/instructors/How_to_Read_a_Journal_Arti...

Orlando, J. (2016). Teach reading skills with student-generated questions. https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/online-learning/teaching-strate...

Scanning, skipping, skimming … skimping? Harvard course in reading and study strategies. https://bsc.harvard.edu/files/bureau-of-study-counsel/files/scanning-ski...

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

Brief Communication

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Instructor: Gigi Luk
Course: Theories of Human Development (EDPE 502)
Department and Faculty: Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, Faculty of Education

Summary: In 400–500 words, students summarize a course reading for a target audience of their choice and add their own interpretation of the main ideas.

Supplementary resources

Bodish, R., & Spencer, E. (2018, May 10). 10 Strategies for promoting accountability and investment in reading assignments. The Teaching Professor. https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/teaching-strategies/motivating-...

Huang, L-S. (2019, March 15). Three ways to promote student ownership of reading assignments. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/thre...

Summary, analysis, synthesis definitions. (2012). University of Utah, Electrical and Computer Engineering. https://www.ece.utah.edu/files/2012/10/Summary-Analysis-Synthesis-Defini...

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

Hands-on Creative Project

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Instructor: Catherine Bradley
Course: Special Topics in Theatre History: History of Costume from 1800 to 1970 (ENGL 486)
Department and Faculty: Department of English, Faculty of Arts

Summary: Students have the option to do either a creative project or write an academic paper that expands upon and further explores an aspect of course content. The creative project illustrates a concept or thesis through various physical media that may be technology-based, craft-based, or graphic, and includes a 3–5 page written report.

Supplementary resources

Haugnes, N., & Russell, J. L. (2016). Don’t box me in: Rubrics for àrtists and designers. To Improve the Academy, 35 (2), 249-283.

Mader, J. N. (2020). The unessay experiment: Moving beyond the traditional paper. Faculty Focushttps://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/course-design-ideas/the-unessay-experiment-moving-beyond-the-traditional-paper/

Orlando, J. (2010). Education remix: Unlocking creativity to boost learning. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-with-technology-articles/education-remix-unlocking-creativity-to-boost-learning/

Wiggins, G. (n.d.). Rubric for assessing creativity. https://grantwiggins.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/creative.pdf

In-class Debate

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Instructor: Sergio Burgos
Course: Carbohydrate and Lipid Metabolism (ANSC 551)
Department and Faculty: Animal Science, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Summary: In teams, students prepare arguments, supported by evidence, for and against a controversial topic. The position students argue is decided by a coin toss. Audience members participate in polling, discussion, and evaluation.

Supplementary resources

Hunt, B. M. (2018, August 1). Unpacking the critical thinking conundrum. The Teaching Professor. https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/preparing-to-teach/assignments/...

Oros, A. L. (2007). Let’s debate: Active learning encourages student participation and critical thinking. Journal of Political Science Education, 3(3), 293-311. https://doi.org/10.1080/15512160701558273

Strategies for knowledge application. (n.d.). https://www.mcgill.ca/tls/instructors/strategies/knowledge-application

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

Letter to Stakeholders

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Instructor: Kellina L. Higgins
Course: Ecosystem Management (ENVB 415)
Department and Faculty: Department of Natural Resource Sciences, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Summary: In groups of two or three, students draft letters to members of government to persuade them to adopt a policy. Students write from different stakeholder perspectives (e.g., economic, social, environmental).

Supplementary resources

Bean, J. C. (2011). Engaging ideas: The professor's guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. John Wiley & Sons. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/mcgill/reader.action?docID=697914&... (See pp. 40-46.)

Design Assignments. (n.d.). Teaching and Learning Services. McGill University. https://www.mcgill.ca/tls/instructors/strategies/writing-assignment-tool...

Gooblar, D. (2017, May 17). We keep ignoring the audience. The Chronicle of Higher Education Community. https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1801-we-keep-ignoring-the-audience

The Writing Process: Knowing your audience. (n.d.). Hunter College Writing Centre. http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/rwc/handouts/the-writing-process-1/invention/... (Resource designed for students.)

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

Weimer, M. (2014). Adding choice to assignment options: A few course design considerations. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/course-design-ideas/adding-choices-assignment-options-course-design-considerations/

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

Presenting Papers Conference-Style

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Instructor: Stephen Peters
Courses: Critical Discourse Studies in Education (EDEC 627)
Department and Faculty: Department of Integrated Studies in Education, Faculty of Education

Summary: During an in-class mock conference, students present the content of their final paper prior to the due date. They receive feedback from the instructor and peers that they can use to further organize their thoughts and refine their work.

Supplementary resources

Citing sources in an oral presentation. (n.d.). Bucks County Community College. https://www.bucks.edu/academics/department/lang-lit/conference/citing/

Handling questions and answers. (n.d.). Northern Illinois University. https://www.niu.edu/presentations/questions/index.shtml

Wineburg, S. (2004). Must it be this way? Ten rules for keeping your audience awake during conferences. Educational Researcher, 33(4), 13-14. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/0013189x033004013

Review and Reading Journal

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Instructor: Sarah Turner
Courses: Development and Livelihoods (GEOG 310), Geographies of Developing Asia (GEOG 409), and Urban Field Studies (GEOG 494)
Department and Faculty: Department of Geography, Faculty of Science

Summary: In journal entries for a selection of classes, students review class materials and assigned readings, and critique and reflect on their takeaways.

Supplementary resources

Chapnik, A. (2013). Reporting, reacting, and reflecting: Guidelines for journal writing. The Teaching Professor. https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/teaching-strategies/active-lear...

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

Van Walraven, C. (2017). The benefits of reflective journal writing. Teaching for Learning @ McGill University. https://teachingblog.mcgill.ca/2017/04/11/the-benefits-of-reflective-jou...

Weimer, M. (2018). Using reading prompts to encourage critical thinking. Faculty Focus. https://www.teachingprofessor.com/topics/teaching-strategies/motivating-...

Scientific Source Evaluation: Short Written Assignment

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Instructors: Sarah Woolley and Tamara Western
Course: Essential Biology (BIOL 115)
Department and Faculty: Department of Biology, Faculty of Science

Summary: Students choose recent, biology-related news articles. In 200 words, they evaluate the reliability of the media source and content.

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

WAC Clearinghouse. (2006). Using writing in large classes. https://wac.colostate.edu/docs/tipsheets/largeclassesSB.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

Video Demo Showcase

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Instructor: Eve Lee
Course: Physics of Fluids (PHYS 432)
Department and Faculty: Department of Physics, Faculty of Science

Summary: Students work in pairs to create an educational video that demos a topic related to the course.

Supplementary resources

Erickson, A. (2017, January 18). Increase student engagement with video assignments. Life at Excelsior College. https://www.excelsior.edu/article/increase-student-engagement-with-video...

How and why educators are including video assignments in their courses. (n.d.). WeVu blog. https://wevu.video/how-and-why-educators-are-including-video-assignments...

 


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