Last year, I decided to restructure my Introduction to Information Literacy course with a “build your grade” structure that would provide freedom to choose assignments while ensuring that students learned the core concepts. The results were very positive, and the format can be applied to other courses as well.
The class is six weeks long, with each week on a different topic. Students are expected to go through the online “lecture” and other required material such as videos and articles each week. They are also given optional materials to supplement their understanding.
The “build your course” element comes in by allowing students to choose which assignments they will do each week for points toward the grade. I include a wide variety of assignments: multiple-choice/true false quizzes on the syllabus and course vocabulary and concepts, discussion board prompts, research journals, a brainstorm mapping exercise, guided tutorials, summarizing exercises, guided research worksheets, personal assessment quizzes, and infographic creation. Students pick the assignments that they will do to demonstrate understanding. There is also a final exam and final research project.
Some examples of these assignments are:
1. Media literacy advertisement quiz (30 points)
This quiz asks students to find an advertisement and evaluate the advertisement. This assignment builds on readings on bias (unit 4) and media literacy evaluation (unit 5).
2. PiktoChart assignment (30 points)
This assignment asks students to read one of three provided articles on productivity and pull important content from the article. Students create and submit an infographic with the important content included from the summarized article. This assignment builds on visual literacy readings (unit 5); summarizing content (unit 4); and quoting, paraphrasing and summarizing (unit 3).
3. Research journal (15 points)
This assignment asks students to respond to previous activities earlier in the course, such as the “Are You an Expert?” evaluation of something they believe they are an expert in; how they will be able to use media literacy on a daily basis; differences in summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting; and how important it is to evaluate different sources. The journals are focused on individual learning because students are responding to previous work they chose to do in the “Are You an Expert?” quiz (unit 4), summarizing quiz (unit 4), website selection and evaluation discussion board (unit 4), and media literacy readings (unit 5).
The student can do as many of these assignments as he or she wishes. The final grade is based on a 400-point scale, and there are 510 total points available, so the student needs to choose enough assignments to reach an adequate final grade. Also, students can work ahead on the assignments after the first two weeks of the course, as I want them to begin with a set schedule while they are getting used to the structure. But students cannot fall behind.
The student can even skip all of the assignments for a particular week, which raises the obvious question: How do I ensure that students are learning everything I want them to learn? The answer is that each unit builds on previous units. If the student chose not to do the assignments for unit 4, assignments for unit 5 would still require knowledge of unit 4 material. Even if students do neither, they are still required to complete a final research project to get a satisfactory grade, which requires knowledge of all prior material to complete. Thus, knowledge of all course concepts is eventually required to succeed in the course, though the path to demonstrate that knowledge is up to the student.
Of the 30+ sections of the course I have taught at this institution and others, this semester was by far the most engaging and creative for myself and my students. I developed the curriculum first and then the assignments, so I was in a focused assignment creation period that allowed me to incorporate many new assignments. I made it clear to students they were expected to learn all the material but could do the assignments they chose, so they entered each assignment with the enthusiasm of having picked that work to complete, and the quality even on scaffolded projects was high. What also surprised me were the students who continued to work after they had received 400 points (which would have been equivalent to a 100 percent grade). Ten of the 30 students in my fall section continued to do assignments and participate in discussion boards beyond the point of already having received an A. The energy in the course was at a high level; students clearly appreciated the options they were given to choose their own course path.
One thing I learned is the importance of assigning the right point value to assignments. This can require some trial and error. I will need to reshift my point system based on what I learned so that assignments that are more valuable and take a longer amount of time to complete have higher point values. I originally assigned points based on potential time to complete; however, by weighting some of the earlier assignments as more important, I believe students will be more inclined to complete them. Overall, the experiment of creating a “build your own grade” course was highly successful and will be easily refreshed with new assignments and new learning models in future semesters.
Sami Lange is an outreach and exhibits librarian at Santa Rosa Junior College.