Student projects: 3 tips to improve directions and grading criteria

by Julie Dodd

In Mass Communication Teaching, the students are developing materials for an undergraduate communications course. Those materials include:

  • Course proposal – Updating the proposal that you wrote at the beginning of this project.
  • Syllabus – This is the version of the syllabus that you would provide your students. Be sure to follow UF’s guidelines and our discussion of best practices for the content. The syllabus should include a timeline of each class meeting, with the topic for that class, any readings or other homework, due dates for major assignments, and dates for exams.
  • Class-by-class listing – For each class meeting, you need a brief explanation: objectives for the class and class activities (i.e., you presenting, minute paper, pair/share activity, small group work, student presentations, case study analysis, etc.). I would expect to see a variety of appropriate teaching and learning approaches.
  • Sample lesson plan – For the equivalent of two hours of instruction, develop a lesson plan. The plan should include all needed materials — readings, case studies, presentation slides, and your presentation notes for yourself. This should be a class where you are guiding the instruction and not a class with guest speakers or student presentations.
  • Assessment tool – This should be a major evaluation for the course — a major project or a major exam. For the major project, include the directions (with timeline that indicates small-stakes grades) and the grading rubric. For an exam, include the exam and the grading criteria (which could be an answer key and rubric for essay answers).

The class recently submitted the draft of their assessment tools. They could either develop an exam and answer key or a major project with grading rubric. Based on the courses they are developing, they all decided to create a project and rubric.

Here’s feedback that I provided on the project and rubric. Some of these suggestions might be useful as you are evaluating your teaching materials:

Tip #1 – Include deadlines throughout the project.

You don’t want to assign a big project and set a deadline a month or more later and hope/expect the students will manage their time well in working on the assignment. Some will be using their time well, but others will wait until days before the final deadline to start the project. That’s a problem whether the project is a team project or a solo project.

Determine what would be logical check-ins along the way. You can look at it from a workplace perspective. If you were paying someone to be completing a project for you, what would be the stages you’d want to be providing input and checking to make sure the work was being done and to your expectations.

Having these mini-deadlines both helps improve the quality of the final product and helps avoid academic dishonesty that can happen when student procrastinate.

Tip # 2 – Provide an overview to the project with a sales pitch.

Your opening to the directions should be an overview to the assignment with you explaining the value of the assignment. As we have discussed throughout the course, students do better work and are more engaged when they see the value of what they are doing for class. So be sure to sell the value of the project – developing a portfolio piece, demonstrating software skills, learning to manage a big project, showing you can work as a team, etc.

Tip # 3 – Utilize the rubric to explain your expectations.

Your rubric will be divided into different elements, but be sure to include specifics to help students know what you expect. For example, what is meant by “effective presentation”?

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