Organizing Assignment-Design Work on Your Campus: A Tool Kit of Resources and Materials

 

In 2013, as part of our role in documenting campus experience with the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP), the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) began working with faculty to create an online “Assignment Library” of faculty-designed and peer-reviewed assignments linked to DQP proficiencies.

Our goal in this work has been to promote an embedded approach to assessment–through the assignments that faculty require of their students–that is integral to the teaching and learning process and therefore more likely to lead to improvement than “add-on,” compliance-driven approaches.  Thoughtfully designed assignments can support learning-centered curricular and pedagogical reform and create clearer, more powerful pathways for students.   And for faculty, working together on the design of assignments has turned out to be a powerful professional development experience.

Through the Assignment Library Initiative, NILOA has organized and sponsored a series of assignment-design “charrettes” (a term borrowed from architecture education denoting a collaborative design process) for faculty from around the country who have applied to participate.

But what has become increasingly clear is that campuses (and sometimes systems and states, and even disciplinary societies) are interested in organizing their own such events.  That is the purpose of this toolkit: to provide tools, materials, and resources that can be borrowed and adapted to local circumstances.  We hope you find them useful and we invite your feedback (niloa@education.illinois.edu) on how to add to and improve them.

Download the Let’s ‘Face It’: Striving for Fair, Accurate and Transparent Assessment presentation to guide you on how to start assessment conversations on your campus.

Download the full Organizing Assignment-Design Work on Your Campus: A Tool Kit of Resources and Materials.

Download the “Unfacilitated” version of the Toolkit with guidelines for unfacilitated assignment-design charrettes.

 

Background 

Catalyzing assignment design activity on your campus: Lessons from NILOA’s assignment library initiative.  This 2015 NILOA report makes the case for the value of a focus on assignment design, and highlights features of powerful assignments.  It describes the NILOA “charrette” model as well as adaptations and examples from campuses.  In addition, Designing Effective Classroom Assignments: Intellectual Work Worth Sharing, further explores the assignment design process for campuses.

 

Organizing around Shared Learning Outcomes 

A critical principle behind NILOA’s work on assignment design is the idea that powerful assignments advance (and assess) the learning outcomes the institution cares about.  This means organizing work on assignments around shared frameworks for learning.  These may be institutional or program outcomes developed by your campus and/or proficiency frameworks developed beyond the campus, including the following:

  1. The Degree Qualifications Profile:

Ewell, P. (2013, January). The Lumina Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP): Implications for Assessment. (Occasional Paper No. 16). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University,   National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

  1. The Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Essential Learning Outcomes is another possible framework–one that overlaps in many ways with the DQP
  1. For a discussion of alignment between learning outcomes and the practices (including assignments) that advance them, see Hutchings, P. (2016, January). Aligning educational outcomes and practices. (Occasional Paper No. 26). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).

 

The NILOA Charrette Model and Materials

 

Guidelines for Charrette Facilitators

 

The Quality Question

The NILOA Assignment Library Initiative did not begin with a sharp delineation of the features of effective or powerful assignments; we chose to turn to the field to answer that question in more organic ways.

You may be interested in the list of features identified by the first charrette group, and What Makes an Assignment Effective? Tentative Set of Features for Discussion, a set of principles adapted from a NILOA/AACU webinar.

Campuses may want to take up this question locally, or even build it into the charrette process as an opening or closing point of discussion.

Central to the quality question is the relationship between the design (and use) of an assignment and the quality of students’ response.  Here are reports from two research projects that speak to this issue–and reinforce the importance of effective design in facilitating the success of all students:

Anderson, P., Anson, C. M., Gonyea, R. M. & Paine, C. (2015). The contributions of writing to learning and development: Results from a large-scale multi-institutional study. Research in the Teaching of English, 50(2), 199-239.

Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (TILT Higher Ed).

The Disciplines

American Historical Association

 

Models and Materials from Campuses and Related Initiatives

Transparent Assignment Design, UNLV.

The Transparency in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (TILT Higher Ed) project is housed at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Its goal is to help faculty to implement a transparent teaching framework that promotes college students’ success equitably. Assignment design plays a key role in the project.

For an overview of the TILT Higher Ed project, its methods, findings and publications, see: http://www.unlv.edu/provost/teachingandlearning

For research results and faculty reflections from the Transparency and Problem-centered Learning Project, in partnership with the Association of American Colleges and & Universities, see: http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/2016/winter-spring

Materials to support the development of transparent assignments:

 

Washington State University

As part of an effort to advance and assess institutional learning outcomes, and to embed assessment in existing classroom work, WSU organized a two-day workshop focused on the design of assignments for senior-level, integrative learning in capstone courses. Faculty from 4 campuses, 9 colleges, and 22 departments participated; together, these 30 instructors brought assignments from a wide range of disciplines, including capstones in the major and in general education. Each instructor shared an assignment, participated in a charrette, and committed to revising the assignment based on feedback from colleagues.

Participants reported they traded ideas about teaching (96%) and came away with concrete ideas about how to strengthen their assignment and make those changes later (100%). Nearly all faculty said they revised their assignment based on capstone principles (96%) or integrative learning design (89%), for example, by being more explicit about the assignment’s purpose, task and evaluation, or by improving the connection and extension of prior learning. Faculty expect the workshop and charrette experience to impact their teaching in other courses as well, including how they design assignments and how they grade student work.

WSU’s Sample Materials

 

Presentations and Webinars

Also helpful as an overview of the assignment-design initiative are two webinars:

December 17, 2014: Pat Hutchings & Natasha Jankowski, NILOA

December 17, 2015: Pat Hutchings, NILOA, and Susan Albertine, AAC&U

Finally, here are the presentation materials to serve as a guide for unfacilitated assignment design charrettes: