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The BIG Questions Assignment

Motivating Students

The BIG Questions Assignment

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This assignment gets students thinking about and revealing questions and issues of importance to them.

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This assignment gets students thinking about and revealing questions and issues of importance to them.

Typical homework assignments ask students to ANSWER questions.

This assignment is different. I'd like you to ASK questions.

What are you curious about?  What problems or issues are important to you?  What topics matter to you?  What questions do you wish you could answer?

Think carefully about this assignment. While there are no wrong questions, some questions are better than others. Generally, yes-no and other closed-answer questions aren't going to be as interesting to consider as issues and questions with many possibilities.

The questions you raise will help to shape the direction of our work this term.  So please, take a little time to think about questions...  Even if you think the issue has nothing to do with this course, it might.  So if you are puzzled by something, please include it.

I look forward to exploring meaningful questions with you!

Below you will find a set of questions designed to help you lead discussions for faculty groups based on the content of this workshop. Course Decision-Making
  • Is it necessary for the teacher to make all the decisions about the course?
  • When the teacher decides everything, how does that affect student motivation?
  • Does teacher decision-making help students become independent learners?
Setting & Enforcing Policy
  • How would your students categorize your course policies and the overall tone of your class?
  • How have your course policies changed, if at all, as you’ve evolved as a teacher?
  • If students violate policy (texting in class, for example) do you call them out on it? When you do enforce, how does that affect class climate?
Data Gathering
  • Have you sought feedback or input from students about behaviors that inhibit learning? If so, what did you learn?  If not, how might you gather useful data or feedback?
Contract Grading Some assignments are required of all students, with students choosing the course weight.  In other areas, students may choose what to do and how much it will count.  Depending on the course and the maturity/experience level of the students involved, sometimes a range of min/max weights are specified relative to the learning value of the activity/topic.  Less flexibility is recommended in lower-level, required courses. Potential Areas of Negotiation
  • Participation in class discussions
  • Informed, reflective writing assignments / Learning Journal
  • Course project(s): their number, type, and course weight
  • Mix between individual and team/group work
  • There should be separate contracts for team- and individual-work
  • Consider including contingencies:
    • Redo assignments
    • Do additional work to replace lower/marginal grades
  • Contract renegotiation during the term
Classroom Activities
  • Experiential exercises
  • Role plays
  • Simulations
  • Case studies
  • Storytelling
  • Discussions in large and small groups
  • Group projects
  • Student presentations (planned or spontaneous)
Assignment choices
  • Journals
  • Reflective writing
  • Research papers
  • Case analysis
  • Projects (individual and team-based)
Assignment Features
  • Collaboration & independent work
  • Introspection/Reflection on in- and out-of-class experiences
  • Application of course theories
  • Critical thinking
  • Open-minded investigation
  • Connections to content, self, and peers
Derived from Hiller, T.B. & Hietapelto, A.B. 2001. Contract Grading: Encouraging commitment to the learning process through voice in the evaluation process. Journal of Marketing Education, 25(6): 660-684.

Adapted from Dealing with Student Behaviors that Compromise Learning. An online seminar by Magna Publications, 2015.