Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Oops. Another poorly implemented assignment

For a graduate class I asked grad students to prepare for a Monday class by reading a text book chapter and writing down two research ideas complete with a very short literature based rationale. In class on Monday they began collaborating, and for Wednesday's class they wrote 2-3 page preproposals. In class on Wednesday, they reviewed each others' preproposals. I had given them more guidance (see Week 12 in the linked document), but this was the gist of it.

The preproposals were horrible. Although the grammar was fine, and some of the ideas might have been adequate, but the ideas were not well-supported by the weekly readings nor based on deep thinking about the material I had assigned. I think some of their ideas came from their own research projects, but they did not construct convincing arguments as to why anyone would invite a full proposal.

I need to break down the assignment into smaller, more explicit pieces. For example:
"From the material that you have read for this week,
1. What are the important topics in this area of this sub-discipline of ecology?
2. Of the important topics that you identified (for this week, within this area of this sub-discipline), which topics have a sufficient literature upon which you can build, that is, to build a convincing case that your new idea will also be important? [Cool ideas are cool, but they have to be based upon evidence, and evidence is presented in the literature. Mere cool ideas don't get published or funded. A well-reasoned cool idea gets both published and funded.]
3. How do you convince a reader that (a) this area of ecology is important and interesting, and (b) our research idea(s) is likely to bear fruit (i.e., become an important contribution)?"

I had students work in fairly large groups 3-5, and I think it is hard for each member to contribute in a substantial way to the writing. I think the groups should be 1-3 students in size. I will have to pick a size for next week. Perhaps individuals....

When I asked for feedback, students expressed the concern that, while they enjoyed it, they would have gotten more out of lecture. I think that is because they are used to being lectured to by bright, engaged faculty (my colleagues), often on topics not well covered in the reading. In contrast, I am letting Peter Morin lecture (through his text book), and I want the students to grapple -- get sweaty -- with the reading. That is why I assigned both exploratory and formal writing exercise, in order to enable them to dig into it. They did a poor job of it, because I did not give them enough guidance.

I think that they each need to do their own next week, and bag the group work. We will use class time for that. Maybe I will make pairs (but not 3's) optional....

No comments:

Post a Comment