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ASSIGNMENT DESIGN

by Robert (Woody) Woodruff, Adjunct, English Department

As an instructor, I have spent some time thinking about "meaningful" and "substantive" assignments for my students at Prince George's Community College. Typically, it's my definition of meaningful and substantive that governs the list of assignments, not theirs. I've had some, not a lot, of luck trying to keep the assignments local and familiar. This plays into my prejudices as a working journalist, of course. But I have found that students who research and write about issues as they apply to their immediate environment—the college itself, Prince George's County, Washington metro region, or urbanized suburbs in general—do have more success and are less likely to falter, on a research assignment in say, English 101, for an all-too-common example.

There's more emphasis than ever for us on not only meaningful assignments, but "service learning," college-level learning activities that have real, positive effects. I have no doubt that many teachers at PGCC have engaged this challenge by making similarly concrete, close-to-home assignments.

I'd like to propose that a "local angle" approach be formalized. Our students are, or will be, citizens of Prince George's County. At Prince George's Community College academics should be about building a body of knowledge—about the county and its unique role in the life of the region and nation—that can be tapped by government, media, and the public-at-large. And we should be engaging students in this process by making assignments that explore and enrich this ongoing body of knowledge. Such assignments would provide a concrete and useful environment for student exploration and success.

What's in it for me? Quite a bit. As faculty advisor to the OWL student newspaper, I am eagerly anticipating the prospect of students who have already done the work of researching and writing about the college and are looking for a place to publish it.

To give it a label: I'm proposing we should formally and as an agreed-on aspect of our mission, becoming a think tank for Prince George's County.

How close are we to that already? Closer than we think, perhaps. Success would require resources and a faculty/staff consensus that it would be a good idea and a benefit to our students and to the college.

I'd welcome responses to this idea, which I do not see as a radical departure but a formalization of a process that's already informally under way. I think the new emphasis on service learning and meaningful assignments provides a useful enhancement of, and impetus to, this notion.

 

The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 17, No. 1

Fall 2001