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Thursday, June 19 • 3:00pm - 3:50pm
CON7.09 – Transforming Writing Assignment Prompts to Increase Student Engagement (Room A334) * SPONSORED BY: UNIVERSITY AFFAIRS *

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How can instructors transform the writing assignments typically given in a course into something a student might actually want to write? This workshop will begin with a short summary of research describing the range and type of writing assignments typically given to students at Canadian universities, categorized by discipline. In studies of writing assignments given in faculties of arts, science, engineering, nursing, physical education and recreation, pharmacy, and education (n=2011) we have found that the 10 most popular assignments account for 70% of all writing assignments given to undergraduates, with “papers” (27%), “presentations” (11%), and “essays” (7.6%) leading the way. Almost half of all writing assignments are nested or linked (44.6%), and more than half are worth 10% or less of the final mark in the course. More than 50% of all writing assignments are four pages or shorter. When we look at these statistics by discipline, however, we find that the genres of writing instructors ask students to write varies remarkably across disciplines. Students in nursing courses, for example, write very different kinds of assignments than students in political science courses.

With this data as a background and a context, we will work (either individually or as small groups) through a series of exercises to transform one of these typical assignments (or one that the participant uses in one of their own courses) into an assignment both students and instructors find more engaging. We’ll examine an assignment with a series of questions:

  1. What writing or text-based presentations do you ask your students to do in your class(es)? If you do not ask them to write or present, could you?
  2. Do you assign the same or similar assignments as other instructors? Can you assume students are familiar with the genre of writing you are asking them to produce?
  3. Do students really connect with those assignments? Asked another way, do students respond to them “authentically” or are they jumping through hoops here?
  4. Are you genuinely (don’t lie to yourself!) interested in reading what they wrote? Even a bit?
  5. Who do you ask students to write for?
  6. Who actually reads what they write: you, other students, some slice of the public?
  7. Do students write or present in groups? Could they?

We’ll use the answers to these questions to make changes to the assignments each participant or group is revising. At the end of the workshop we’ll talk as a group about the issues that arose as we made changes to the assignments, and we’ll end with information sheets that offer more guidance on how instructors can continue this work beyond the workshop and the conference.


Thursday June 19, 2014 3:00pm - 3:50pm
A334 McArthur Hall

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