Monday, November 12, 2007

Can we do a Genetics reading assignment?

The New York Times is publishing a series of very good articles (11 so far) under the heading The DNA Age, about the social and personal implications of DNA sequencing. I'd like to find a way to require all of my BIOL 121 students read and think about at least one of these articles.

How could this work? I'd tell them they need to choose one of the articles to read, and that they will be asked to write a paragraph about what they've read, in response to an article-specific question I'll post. They'll be encouraged to discuss their chosen article with other students, face to face or on the WebCT discussion board, but will need to compose their own paragraph answers. To discourage copying I can have them submit their paragraphs to Turnitin as well as in answer to a WebCT quiz question. I don't know yet what kind of questions I'd ask them.

Marking this would require some extra grader hours - I'd give them a strict word limit for their answers but even marking 400+ 50-word paragraphs will be a big chore. More generally, I'd like to shift at least 5% and maybe 10% of the course mark from the midterm and final to in-class and homework activities. I guess it's time I read up on ways to incorporate peer evaluation into such activities and assignments. I'm getting hold of a book by Eric Mazur called "Peer Evaluation"; I hope this will help me shift much of the marking burden onto the students (who will learn an enormous amount by doing it).

I think peer-marking is one of the things that our new WebCT-Vista system is supposed to facilitate. I hope it's not too hard to use.


Tamara said...

I've done peer evaluation with my students and found that it works quite well. (As well as alleviating me of the burden of marking smaller written assignments.)

We just recently met with Philip Poronnik (I will check his name) from University of Queensland, who is a firm believer in having students do written assignments throughout their biology education. He has published a paper on "personal responses" which can be found here:
Instead of using written articles, they used select audio files from the Australia Broadcasting Commission (in the vein of Quirks & Quarks, I would think), which students listened to and wrote about (in terms of how it was of use to them, to society, etc).


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