Assign work that encourages students to create or contribute to the world, helping them to feel connected to the knowledge commons. Resist assigning work that leans toward busy-work or hoop-jumping, and question the necessity of any assignment whose product will end up in a physical or digital trash can.
Techniques and Activities to help you explore this practice.
Sometimes it makes sense to work on assignments that will be quickly discarded; for example, sometimes you want to do free writing or brainstorming that warm you up with a project but that you don’t want to constrain your next steps. But when the balance of assignments tips towards things that are quickly destined for the dustbin, the course can start to feel like a series of hoops that have to be jumped through in order to please a teacher, and this can lead to decreased motivation to engage. Try to identify at least some assignments that contribute value beyond the student and teacher to help your students understand that learning is about engaging with– not just absorbing– knowledge.
Aim for Authenticity
“Authentic Assignments” aim to offer experiences that parallel the work that scholars or practitioners do in our disciplines and fields. When you design your assignments, think about the kinds of communities (graduate schools, careers, professional service, etc.) that your students might graduate into, and design assignments that don’t just replicate those experiences, but offer them: for example, applying for/preparing conference presentations, blogging about research, submitted journal articles, creating public resources, offering outreach or services to the community.
“Renewable assignments” produce student work that is not only made available for others to see/hear/read but that is also openly licensed so that they can revise and reuse it. In order to be “renewable,” student work needs to have an open license: a license that explicitly states that others may revise and reuse the material without asking for permission from the copyright holder. Always involve your students in choosing the right license for any project, but help them understand that the work they do could be continued by others if it is shared in a certain way.
Venture Past the LMS
The Learning Management System (Moodle, Canvas, etc.) is in many ways built for disposable assignments. After each semester, faculty generally copy over the course for the next cohort of students being sure to delete out all student-produced content. The symbolics of this are undeniable. Consider using the web in ways that put your students’ work in conversation with their wider scholarly/professional communities. It is important to understand student privacy and agency, and for faculty to be knowledgeable about working in connected environments themselves; seek out help from an instructional designer so you have a partner as you imagine what is possible!
10 Simple Ideas to Reduce Disposability
- At the end of a course, ask students to help you identify assignments that felt purposeless, like a waste of time, or like hoop-jumping.
- Identify one way that you participated in a scholarly/professional community last year, and craft an assignment that extends that experience to your students.
- Partner on a research project with your students, and contribute it to the world in the way that you would normally do with your work.
- Identify an external partner who would benefit from the work that your students could do, and collaborate with them to design an assignment.
- Have your students contribute to an Open Educational Resource related to the course content, by creating work (test questions, videos, introductions, infographics, reflections, examples) that could be accompany or replace the main learning materials.
- Have your students create websites through a program like Domain of One’s Own, or contribute to a course blog or website, where their classwork could be shared with other learners and with the community.
- Connect one section of a course with subsequent sections by having students help design projects that will be continued from year to year by different cohorts.
- Work with WikiEdu to design a Wikipedia-based assignment (from a week to a whole semester) so that student research can contribute to a communal resource.
- Ask your students what pressing community issues need attention, and work with them to design an assignment that links one of those issues to the content in your course.
- With their permission, assign work that your students produced as content for the next semester’s class.
Online reading and resources to help dive deeper into this practice.
- A 2013 post by David Wiley where he talks about “killing the disposable assignment.”
- Examples of Non-Disposable Assignments in an “Intro to Philosophy” course.
- Derek Bruff talks about turning students from consumers to producers.
- Considering authenticity in assignment design.
- A website built by General Education students in an introductory feminism course at Plymouth State University.
A larger community of teachers and learners interested in this practice.
Discuss on Twitter
If you are active on Twitter, we encourage you to share your thought and ideas using the #ACEFramework hashtag and the #disposability hashtag to talk about this practice, in particular.
Join a Meeting
If you are interested in talking to people about the Connection value (for which Reduce Disposability is an ACE-informed practice), we invite you to our hosted Zoom chats. Chats are scheduled this summer on the following dates:
- Thursday, June 18 from 1:00PM-2:00PM (EDT): Overview of the ACE Framework
- Thursday, July 2 from 1:00PM-2:00PM (EDT): Connection Practices
Submit Your Ideas
If you find yourself working this summer on a project or approach that uses Reduced Disposability, we invite you to share what you’ve found or created, via the Submit Something button below. If you choose to publicly share your submission, it will immediately become available on this page in the Revisit section. (For particularly compelling submissions, we may also add this to the Explore section of this page.)
Hypothesize with Us
The online annotation tool, Hypothesis, is built into this Web site. Feel free to annotate this (or any page in the ACE Framework) with your own thoughts, critiques, questions, or ideas. You can easily get started with a Hypothesis account (which is free) and learn more about how to use the tool.
Join Our Team
Plymouth State University community members are invited to join our Teams site for the ACE Framework. Feel free to use our discussion channel to ask questions, give suggestions, and point to new resources.
A space for user-submitted ideas, resources, and links related to this practice.