According to Dee Fink, significant student learning has 6 levels that progress in complexity: Foundational Knowledge, Application, Integration, Human Dimension, Caring, and Learning How to Learn. When students integrate the knowledge accumulated in your course with their perceptions of the world around them their learning has deeper context and is more lasting.

One way you can help students to do this is to ask them to maintain a journal (either online or in paper) about contemporary issues that relate to their course work. This assignment takes very little preparation on the part of the instructor and gets students in the habit of reading news, and popular articles through a disciplinary lens. You can choose how frequently you’d like the students to write and reflect, and put those dates clearly on your syllabus.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Choose your desired medium: online (through a blog, or in Canvas). You could even use the Canvas discussion board feature to make this an assignment that all of your students can share with each other.

2. Give students a brief rubric that outlines what an acceptable entry looks like. For example, you might want to include details such as:

+ A topic sentence that clearly expresses the student’s view on the connection between the issue, event, or article and course content

+ Sources cited in your desired citation format

+ Length of entry (in number of words)

3. Explain to students why you want them to do this, and give them time to ask questions about the process.

4. Grade student entries using a ✔ or – system, using the rubric that you distributed. If your course size allows it, select a random sample during each grading period to read more closely so that you can get a sense of the contemporary issues that students feel most strongly about. This will help you frame your course materials in a way that taps into what students care about the most.

To learn about about this assignment, or to get ideas about others, check out Learning Assessment Techniques by Elizabeth F. Barkeley and Claire Howell.

Learning Assessment Techniques by Elizabeth F. Barkley and Claire Howell Major, p. 7.


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