Tidbits, Resources, and Discussion for ELI Faculty

Monday, November 24, 2008

Favorite Assignments

This week my students are doing my favorite assignment of the semester--the "Hot Topics" project. After we've spent much of the semester establishing a shared foundation of concepts, facts, and theories, I give them a list of controversial issues that the shared course material doesn't explore in depth (for my class, on race/ethnicity, this includes things like illegal immigration, using Native American names and images as sports team mascots, etc.). They do some (fairly informal) research and write a couple of pages on what they found, posting it to a discussion forum. Then the fun part starts, as students read the reports and post their comments, reactions, and questions. We get some interesting conversations going between people who researched different topics, and between people who researched the same topic but learned different things or drew different conclusions. It's a fun exchange and students seem to get a lot out of it. (Last semester, a student told me in a reflective paper that he did not find the discussion forums useful. On his final exam, he used information from the Hot Topics discussion extensively in one of the essays, and he wrote a little note at the end of the exam that said he wanted to take back his claim that he didn't learn from the discussion forums. That was a nice comment to receive!)

I'm getting started now on developing a new ELI course. Share with me--what's your favorite assignment from your ELI class(es)?


Laura said...

My favorite assignment - ELI or on campus - has to be the field research I have students doing. Learning about religion from books and videos is one thing, but learning about a giving religion through direct, first hand experience AND through talking with people who follow the faith - experiential learning - has no substitute in my opinion. Students are to "Encounter & Dialogue" for a religion they have never experienced before. Students' initial response to this assignment tends to be hesitation, anxiety, trepidation. It is the thought of going beyond their comfort zone that seems most problematic as they anticipate the project. But that's a big part of the exercise - to press themselves past these emotional limits that keeps the "other" as "other". I give them most of the semester to get this done and most put it off as long as they can. I love reading their reports when they do finally come in. For ELI classes, I have them post these in the discussion board so that they can see what their classmates experienced (since they each may choose a different place to visit). In the end, many students say how grateful they are that I "made" them do this because they found it more valuable than anything else they did in the course. Some even say that they plan to do more of these visits even after the class is over (I don't know if any of them actually have done this). They say that we remember best what we do and this exercise of learning from a "real world" experience really helps to make these religions REAL for the students and they also get to see that people in other religions are ordinary people just like they are. You can review the complete directions for this assignment at my website (I'm including a link to the page with my message - I guess all you have to do is click on my name, above)

Meena said...

The English 112 has a debate activity in which students have to work with their groups to develop (a) an opening statement (b) defense (c) rebuttal for the other group) and (d) Instead of a closing statement, reflections on the whole activity.
The debate is about Pres. Bush’s form of American patriotism vs global citizenship. I love this activity for a number of reasons: Firstly, The subject is one for which most students have a strong opinion. However, they don’t get to choose their group or the side they will favor. I pick students at random and put them into groups; hence many of them end up having to defend an opinion they don’t believe. BUT, this teaches them to ‘listen’ to the other side carefully and be informed, not just about their own subject but also about the opposition’s arguments, so that they can write a forceful rebuttal. They learn from this that there are always other perspectives that are just as valid as theirs.
Secondly, working in groups is a whole different form of learning. I think this kind of team work is very similar to the real world. I see many students hesitate at first at the idea of working in a small group, especially outside the framework of the ‘class’, which they must do. However, once they get started and exchange phone numbers and e-mails and schedules, they just take off. Within a week, I see 50-60 postings in group forums that normally just have 4-5 students. Since this is a group grade, they all feel committed and accountable. I see postings in which they brainstorm, argue, fight, make up, appreciate, tweak, suggest, edit, and come to a consensus. It’s fantastic. (This happens in a regular class too, but we never really see the work that goes behind group activities. The online group forums give such a wonderful and insightful peek behind the scenes. )
Thirdly, the debate reflection allows the students to realize and formulate all that that have learned. They comment about understanding that their’s is not the only ‘right’ position. The opposition, too makes sense; they talk about learning to work in a team, about the weight of accountability, about putting their best into the work for their peers, etc.
Of course, there’s always the negative: Some groups just can’t seem to get it together. But, the majority of them work so well and learn so much, it’s worth it. It’s a great activity. I love it.