Projects that include class, field, and home components prompt students to independently engage with course material over the course of the semester and leave the class with material evidence of lessons learned. Projects give student something to show for dedicated study. The key project in my Freshman Writing Seminar “European Modernism: Style in Architecture, Literature, and Film” includes three different editing stages (peer-editing, graduate tutor editing with the Knight Institute Walk-In Service, and teacher editing). Collectively, these revisions serve two purposes: first, they encourage students to embrace writing as a regular practice, and second, they help students to build their cumulative project: an ePortfolio and presentation showcasing their writing development over the course of the semester. Similarly, as part of “Edible Political: Understanding Fascism through Food,” students work on successive brainstorming, research, writing, editing, and presentation stages of a multimedia project to demonstrate their original approach to our course themes. Project preparation must be built into the syllabus to ensure that students complete the work over time rather than all at once. This method provides safety nets via frequent peer editing and professor feedback. By staggering the workload, potential issues can be handled early. Students have time to correct mistakes, and can then apply the revised solution to the next stage of the project.
Projects and Papers
I prefer to assign projects rather than final papers in my classes for the same reason that I advocate extensive incorporation of technology: students personally invest in projects, so learning remains salient after the course’s conclusion. That said, final papers can be an excellent learning tool provided that the professor contextualizes their utility to the student within the syllabus framework. When I assign “final” papers, they are never the last assignment of the year, and I am never the sole audience. As part of “European Modernism,” students write a 10-page analytic essay on “The Language of Modernism,” where they compare and contrast the idea of Modernism across 2-3 different mediums. This essay goes through a six-step draft process in pairs, groups, and with the teacher. I frame this paper, the longest that the students will write, as part of the process of learning to write rather than a cumulative review by a) placing the due date two-thirds of the way through the semester, and b) allotting only 15% of the final grade to this paper. By de-emphasizing this paper through timing and grading, I underline the importance of the ePortfolio, of which this paper is part, as the most important project of the semester. As with projects, I build the steps to paper completion into the syllabus. Along the way, students peer edit and rewrite, but they also identify popular and academic venues for publication, solicit feedback from online communities, and finally, if they choose, submit their paper to a chosen publication for review. With the prospect of gaining a wider audience for their work, students commit to writing well.
ePortfolios to Demonstrate Writing Range, Technique, and Development
Over the course of “European Modernism,” students build an ePortfolio of their best written work. In addition to teaching students how to construct a basic website using WordPress, this assignment will gives them the opportunity to play with audience, voice, and technique – both during our course and after its conclusion. This platform allows them to control the level of privacy for your work at every stage of the project’s development, and allows them to demonstrate how they have honed your writing skills and style. This multimedia project also includes a 10-minute “Presentation in Progress,” where students present their unfinished ePortfolio to the class, and work with their classmates to refine its contents and style. Ultimately, the ePortfolio is meant to give students the chance to showcase your best writing to the class and to the wider world.
Below you can find sample pages from my student Daniel Kim’s ePortfolio. If you would like to read more, he has kindly given me permission to link to his site as well.
In previous years, Cornell’s Intermediate Italian class included an essay component, which I have changed to a blog format. As part of my research for Teaching as Research in Higher Education, I tested the efficacy of switching to an interactive blog format to increase student interest in second language writing and retention of cultural content. This project involved explicitly teaching Italian writing skills while implicitly demonstrating Italian Internet norms in terms of language and culture. Michela Baraldi, who has supplemented the Italian language program technology with Skype language exchanges and Facebook groups, served as my mentor for this project. My study found that blogging fostered a sense of autonomy and authenticity that enticed students to increase their weekly use of the target language. I make no secret of this project’s goals: in the students’ Blog Assignment I explain why we are now writing blogs rather than essays, detail the technology set-up, provide time for independent exploration of the technology, as well as guided trouble-shooting. Making my pedagogy clear to the students by linking each activity to specific learning outcomes promotes good will in the classroom. To see samples of student work for this project, please see “Blogghiamo!” under “Teaching and Research.”