College student writing assignments

Writing Assignments: A Self-Assessment for Faculty

Do your writing assignment focus on the product or the process? How about your students? Where do you think their focus is?

At the end of the day, our students aren’t going to take from our courses the products they developed and use them in the future. But they certainly will use and refine the skills they needed to develop that product—as they move on to other courses and well into their respective fields.

When working with online instructors, I found that many will de-emphasize the writing process. They tend to assign a major project or a final paper and all eyes are on the end goal of where students need to ultimately get. But they don’t oftentimes spend a whole lot of time breaking that process down in the same way that they might in a face-to-face class.

Below you’ll find a self-assessment to help you step back and reflect on how you approach writing assignments. It can serve as a helpful reminder of the various steps along the writing journey and how you can help guide students along that path.

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Writing Assignments: A Self-Evaluation for Students

I teach online at an open enrollment institution, which means I get students at all levels of writing ability. Many of them are solid writers with a good understanding of the different steps of the writing process. But I also have students who are just learning to write at the college level. Either they’ve have been out of school for a while or they’re newly minted high school graduates with little experience writing anything other than some kind of standardized writing test.

Rather than make assumptions about what my students might know, I try to demystify the writing process and break it down into individual steps. By forcing them to slow down the process and focus on each step, we can improve the process and, ultimately, the end product.

Below is a self-evaluation that I use with my students. You are welcome to adapt the questions to fit the needs of your courses and students.

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Brainstorming Questionnaire for Designing or Improving a Course with Increased Faculty Presence

Faculty presence is a component of the online classroom that’s sometimes overlooked or underestimated by new online instructors, but it is often the most important determining factor for a student’s success and overall satisfaction in a course.

Instructor presence influences the ways that your students interact with the course content and how they interact with you. So, if you're not there, why should they be?

One of the things I like to think about with my classes is how do I form a better learning community? That's something that a lot of instructors do in a face-to-face classroom. But when it comes to online instruction it's a little more challenging.

I’ve outlined below some opportunities for increasing faculty presence. These are moments during the class when you can reach out to students and demonstrate that you're a real person who's there for them. You’ll find opportunities before the course begins, at various checkpoints, during follow up and interventions, beyond the classroom, and as part of the course wrap-up.

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Checklist to Evaluate Faculty Presence in an Existing Class

▢   Do you reach out to students first before the semester begins? ▢   Do you send a welcome email outside the course, perhaps to college email or another email provided by the student? ▢   Do you post...

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Teacher Behaviors Checklist

Master teacher. The idea is a bit of a misnomer. It sounds intimidating. It suggests a long, protracted process—maybe even an elite status. But that’s not what it is at all.

There are no years of required experience. No official credentials. Rather, it is far more aspirational, as it refers to a set of behaviors that distinguish the great teachers from the rest.

Below is a list of 28 traits taken from a study conducted by Buskist & Keeley (2005). Both faculty (N=118) and students (N=917) had to agree for a trait to be listed. Students provided examples of corresponding behaviors (listed in parentheses). Asterisks indicate the top 10 traits rated by students. Caret symbols indicate the top-10 traits rated by faculty.

Master Teacher Traits

^ Accessible (Posts office hours, gives out phone number and e-mail information)

* ^ Approachable/Personable (Smiles, greets students, initiates conversations, invites questions, responds tolerantly to student comments)

Authoritative (Establishes clear course rules, maintains classroom order, speaks in a loud, strong voice)

Confident (Speaks clearly, makes eye contact, and answers questions assertively)

* ^ Creative and Interesting (Experiments with teaching methods; uses technological devices to support and enhance lectures; uses interesting, relevant, and personal examples; not a monotone presenter)

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Checklist for Online Discussion Design and Facilitation

1. Do you ask discussion questions that promote critical thinking?

2. Do you engage students in different types of discussion activities?

3. Do you clearly explain your expectations?

4. Do you provide exemplary and poor discussion post examples to students?

5. Do you handle desirable and undesirable discussion behaviors effectively?

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Creating a Climate for Learning: A Survey for Students and Teachers

How well a class functions is the result of both what the teacher does and what the students do. The way we solicit course evaluation feedback reinforces students’ tendency to see the teacher as the one who’s responsible for whether it was a good class. Teachers do play a significant role, but they don’t make or break a class without a lot of student input. We need to be using evaluation activities that make clear that what happens in class is a shared responsibility.

Here’s a feedback activity that highlights the roles played by teachers and students. It can be configured in a variety of different ways—three options are recommended here.

  • Students can provide input on the conditions for learning created by the instructor.
  • The instructor can provide input on how well students are functioning as a community of learners.
  • The students can evaluate the course in terms of how it functions as a learning community.

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A Checklist for Better PowerPoint Presentations

We've all sat through some pretty horrific PowerPoint presentations. Too much text. Tiny font. Confusing graphs. Dizzying slide transitions and effects. Cheesy clip art. Poor color combinations. The list goes on and on.

But don’t blame PowerPoint just because some slide shows are bad. Blame the presenter. When used appropriately, PowerPoint is an effective tool for increasing student attention and participation.

Here are a few basic guidelines for creating more effective presentation slides:

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30 Tips for Writing Good Multiple-Choice Questions

Multiple-choice tests don’t get much respect. Maybe it’s because they’re associated with memorization, old-fashioned standardized tests, and other situations in which the answer is likely to be “C.”

Yet when properly designed, multiple-choice tests can be a vital addition to your testing tool box. Outlined here are 30 tips for writing good multiple-choice questions.

All the suggestions that follow stem from two basic precepts:

  • Remove all barriers that will keep a knowledgeable student from getting the item right.
  • Remove all clues that will help a less-than-knowledgeable student get the item right.

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Creating a Curriculum Map for Survey Courses

Introductory survey courses offer an overview of a broad topic or field of knowledge. They form the backbone of undergraduate education at most colleges and universities, and they also serve as the foundation courses for their disciplines.

An introductory survey course may be the only college-level course that non-majors take in the field, as well as the courses on which potential majors may base their decision of whether they will choose to major in that field. Despite their critical role in the higher education landscape, introductory survey courses are notorious for low rates of student achievement and satisfaction.

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