As the semester comes to a close, students are scrambling, myself included, to complete large research projects (and other gargantuan assignments) for their classes. This is perfectly natural, since we are college students, but it does give me pause.
I have often felt that there is a rather problematic imbalance in the timing of assignments. The first third of a semester is usually quite easy, lulling students into laziness and a false sense of security, which midterms then shock out of their system. Thereafter, it is common for large projects to be assigned, sometimes being over a quarter of a student’s grade, due at the end of the semester.
On its own, this would not be a problem. But most students take at least five classes per semester, and, especially when considering the number of students who work throughout the year or have duties to family, crunching so many massive assignments in such a small portion of the semester can end up putting far too much pressure on the students in question.
This is, at its core, a problem of logistics. There exist a number of ways to deal with it. Two come to mind. In the first place, it might be possible to have two mid-size assignments rather than one massive project. After all, most classes have multiple exams, why not so with projects? Break them up and have them hone particular skills for students. Having a smaller project earlier in the semester will also prevent students from becoming lulled into complacency. It will improve lecture attention and likely boost exam scores as well.
The second way is to sequence the project into a series of smaller parts throughout the semester. This I like rather less than the first option, but it remains an idea to consider. Perhaps a proofreading session or rough draft is required, for example.
There are numerous ways to sequence an assignment out, particularly if the topic being studied or engaged with lends itself naturally to such sequencing. All of this is highly dependent on the class, since one cannot simply suggest that a mathematics course be structured in the same manner as an English course.
My personal preference is the first option. It would, in my estimation, lead to improvements in exam performance and attention in lectures. Having two mid-size assignments would also constitute an effective way to prevent complacency and hone different skills more specifically. All of this is merely suggestion, of course, but I do think that it ought to be considered.
Header photo courtesy of Flickr.