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Read part 1 first!

In this post, I look in more detail on how Tyson Seburn and I collaborated in designing assignments in our respective courses to improve learning and develop critical thinking. In his post this week, Tyson explains the process from his perspective. I’ll talk about it from my perspective and also discuss some of the technological issues I faced.

Skills transferability

One of the lessons I learned over my years at the IFP is that having students use skills they developed in one course in another course is not an easy feat. Direct collaboration with the EAP instructors in our program allowed me to know what students were learning so I could make direct reference to it in my assignments and in class discussions. When it came to designing the Lecture Notes Assignment, Tyson and I met many times and discussed our goals in terms of learning outcomes – I wanted students to pick up what were the most important points in a lecture and make connections to assigned readings and visuals. As Tyson explains in his post, in his Critical Reading and Writing class, students do in-depth reading of texts through his Academic Reading Circles which have students rotate playing certain roles when reading a text. Many of these tasks were similar to what I was asking them to do. I made direct reference to them in my assignment instructions:

Image of the section of the assignment instructions in which direct mentions to an assignment in another class are mentioned.

In purple: references to the assignment in Tyson’s class

Being able to make these direct references allowed students to understand better what was expected of them since they already performed those roles many times in the previous semester. Talking about the assignment with Tyson also allowed me to understand better what might be stumbling blocks for my students. As a historian, I can easily evaluate their writing skills but most of us going through PhD programs were never taught how to *teach* writing. I often defer to the language instructors in the program when it comes to issues like that. I believe colleagues in other departments could benefit immensely from consulting writing instructors and ELL specialists in their university when designing assignments. I have avoided many pitfalls over the years by listening to their experience.

Using Google Docs

When I first used the Lecture Notes Assignment in a third year class, years ago, the tool for collaborative writing at the time was the wiki. Each lecture had a page on a PBwiki site for the course and students edited the page to put their notes and the other tasks I asked of them. This time I wanted to use Google Docs since I rely on it so much for all my collaborative writing and it would be a useful tool to learn to use. My challenge is that the class is fairly large – I have 300 students this year, broken up into 19 tutorial sections, led by 7 TAs. My solution was to create a Google Drive folder for each of my TAs with a Doc for each of the lectures and a sign up sheet.

Here’s what the folder looked like:


The students would be sent a link to the sign up sheet, which looked like this:

When students clicked on the topic, it would take them to a google doc with the template for the assignment.

Click on the image below to see the full document:

I have to admit it was a lot of work creating the folders and ALL the docs at once. I wish Google Drive allowed copying and pasting of multiple files. I think this year I’ll share the sign up sheet and then create the docs only for the topics the students sign up for. And maybe I create one folder and my TAs then create their own folders based on it so they too can learn some new skills if they are not used to working with Google Docs?

The year before, I shared the whole folder with the students but that was a bit more messy. Students ended up not using the templates or even creating doc inside the folder. Instead, they would upload word documents that were not collaborative in nature and on which TAs could not leave comments unless they then imported it to google drive as a doc. Working with Tyson on these issues has been great since we both believe in teaching more digital literacy and like figuring out ways of doing it.

Next post I’ll discuss more the results of this experiment and perhaps try to outline more explicitly the benefits of this king of collaboration. Stay tuned!