Monday, August 31, 2015

Revise and Resubmit

This Fall I want to try something different with gradable assignment in my upper division social theory class. Let me explain in broad terms what considerations are on my mind.

Last time I taught this course I did so without a TA and so used it as an opportunity to experiment with open deadlines. Students had to write 3 papers but could submit them at any time. For some student this was a gift, but for most it proved to be a problem. Near 1/5th of the class didn't submit all their assignments. So they received an "N" for incomplete and didn't pass the course.

In principle I am ambivalent about this model. On the one hand it allows students to take ownership over their studies; but it can feel like abdicating one's role as an instructor. In practice however, near half of the students waited until the last couple of weeks to write 3 papers. For this reason the papers were generally awful and rushed. So many students learnt less than what they could. Given my ambivalence, I think it better to err in favor of students producing work, even if it is shoddy.

Fortunately, this term I have a TA. But this does mean that open deadlines are not suitable. However, I am contemplating a revise and resubmit model. This idea comes from the research methods class I teach. Here I have had great success with the revise and resubmit. I do primarily because students undertake field work, and so their are ethical considerations that require attention, Students knew that their work will not be accepted if it doesn't meet certain standards, or that it needs to be rewritten if it is plainly false or incorrect. After 4 iterations of this class, my experience and intuition (yes, I know...) is that the quality of the work improves and there is LESS remedial marking in the second half of the term. More investment upfront means that there is less marking overall. The difference however is in this class students are divided into groups, and so have more minds, skills, and expertise to draw upon when rewriting material.

In my social theory class I have normally require students to produce three 2000 word essays. There is no mid term, nor a final. If I decide to go for a revise and resubmit model, it is highly likely that the TA and I will end up marking papers several times, if mostly because social theory is difficult and students are not accustomed to thinking about abstraction: This is because our undergraduate program is designed to be the New Liberal Arts, not to groom social scientists.

All of this is to say that if we were to go to a revise and resubmit model I was thinking to reduce the assignment to two papers at around 2000 GOOD words. To offset this reduction, I would I like the students to keep their work in a file that includes an ungraded self-assessment report regarding their known weaknesses that they would complete in the opening weeks of the course. With each essay submission or revision they would have to write a paragraph or two outlining how they attempted to work on their weaknesses and how they might have improved. Similarly, for each revise and resubmit they would have to write a basic letter highlighting the major changes undertaken from the previous iteration.

My main goal is to have students be thoughtful about the work they are submitting. I don't want them to go through the motions. I understand the political economy of higher education, but it is precisely because of their indebtedness that I would like my students to leave class having applied themselves. Over the years I have become disenchanted by seeing students disenchanted by 'submit and forget.' They write 2000 words to jump through hoops then TAs and instructors jump through hoops when marking to just clear the due diligence bar. Students in turn do not implement the feedback, but because we know this we only pretend to offer fixes and suggestions. This contraption is performance without purpose. I would like to offer something different this term.

Those are my thoughts at the moment. I would welcome your feedback, even if you think I should undertake another course of action.