Assessment Case Study - Scaffolded Writing Assignments in Sociology
Ashley Weleschuk, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning
August 24, 2017
“Giving so much feedback is an investment in student learning that I am able to make.” – Dr. Annette Tezli
Dr. Annette Tezli is a sociology instructor at the University of Calgary. The assessment methods that she uses in each of her many courses are always thoughtful and designed to best fit the size, level and structure of the class. One of her courses is SOCI 313: Introduction to Social Research Methods. She provides her students with ample feedback opportunities as they develop their research and scientific writing skills throughout the course.
The main method of assessment in SOCI 313 is a research proposal project. Students have to write a formal research proposal about a topic in sociology of their choice. A proposal is a fairly substantial amount of work for students and can be intimidating for them at first. Dr. Tezli mitigates this by scaffolding it across the semester. It is broken into 4 different assignments, each requiring more work than the last. Dr. Tezli’s goal for the course is to see improvement in each component of the assignment, as they are learning more about research methods and receiving feedback on previous work. The project is divvied up as follows:
- Topic Proposal (5%): Students present the topic that they have chosen, the research questions they want to address, and the significance of their topic. This gives students a low-stakes feedback opportunity, as Dr. Tezli provides them with some suggestions and ideas to help them move forward on the more advanced stages of the project.
- Annotated Bibliography (10%): Students list relevant sources about their topic and critically analyze the information presented in them. They receive comments from Dr. Tezli on the quality of the sources they have chosen, as well as the format of the annotated bibliography. There are strict guidelines for how an annotated bibliography can be written, and the technical details are important.
- Research Design Discussion Paper (25%): Students write a short paper about the methodology, design, ethics, and sampling that would be carried out to research their topic. Again, they receive feedback. This time, it is about whether or not they have selected appropriate methods and if their design would be effective or needs some revising.
- Final Research Proposal (30%): The research proposal combines all three of the previous assignments and the feedback received throughout the course into one large paper. It details everything about the topic, existing research and literature, methods and research design. Although this is the largest part of the project, the majority of it is already written by the time students start working on it.
Students are expected to use the feedback that they are given on each component to help them improve. They receive feedback on their writing style, formatting and mechanics, as well as on the content. Dr. Tezli notes that a lot of time and effort is dedicated to providing specific feedback to each student, but it is an important investment in their learning. The students who apply their feedback always do better on subsequent assignments and come out of the course with strong writing skills. Some students are initially shocked when they see the number of comments written on their assignments, and it is easy for them to feel defensive or disheartened by it. Dr. Tezli reminds her students that the feedback is meant to be constructive and part of the learning experience. Having lots of feedback does not mean that their writing is bad. By the end of the course, most students see the value and importance of the feedback and embrace it. They apply the knowledge from this course in their future sociology studies. Some even use their research proposal in future courses as a starting place for larger research projects.
Dr. Tezli believes that her assessment methods fit very well for the course outcomes, but that the pragmatics of the class is important to consider too. Each SOCI 313 lecture has a maximum of 50 students and an instructor will only teach one or two sections at a time. This means that she has the time to give each student individual advice and feedback on four separate written assessments. She notes that this type of feedback would not be possible in a 400-student introductory sociology course. When the class structure, learning objectives and assessments all fit together well, Dr. Tezli feels that a course will be a great learning environment for her students.