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)?