My latest at ProfHacker: Open-Thread Wednesday: Anything New?

FireworksThe new academic year has arrived (or soon will, for those who start after Labor Day). Though there may be a certain sadness to the end of summer, a new academic year can also bring the excitement of a fresh start. It’s a time for meeting new people and trying new things, for faculty no less than for students.

Some new things may be major: a new course, or perhaps a new project. In my case, the new is something small. I’ve changed the first essay assignment in my writing course. For several years, I’ve asked students to begin the semester by writing a brief essay identifying an important political issue, explaining why they think it’s important, and recommending an approach to the issue or problem.

It’s not that the assignment didn’t work; students produced reasonably good essays. Still, I thought a different assignment might help students write more focused, passionate essays. So this semester, I’m asking them to write a “This I Believe” essay, following these guidelines.1

That may seem odd for a Political Science class, but given the ways in which our deepest beliefs can influence our attitudes toward politics, I anticipate that the assignment will result in some interesting reading and discussion.

Are you trying anything new in your classes this semester? Let us know in the comments.

Creative Commons licenced photo by Flickr user Magnus Johansson


  1. I borrowed this idea from Stephanie Anne Salome, who wrote about using such an assignment with her math students in her contribution to Eifler, Karen E., and Thomas M. Landy, eds. 2014. Becoming Beholders: Cultivating Sacramental Imagination and Actions in College Classrooms. Collegeville, Minnesota: Michael Glazier.?

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One Response to “My latest at ProfHacker: Open-Thread Wednesday: Anything New?

  • Sounds like you are asking to be charged with discriminating for/against students for saying what they believe.

    Of course, a savvy student would feed you what she expects you want to see in the way you want to see it. That’s the sort of thing my sister did: Find out what the prof believes, what his/her favorite authorities are, collect and memorize quotes from just those authorities to sprinkle into essays and papers.

    I merely developed a scale reflecting how crazy each “authority” seemed, forgot the specific quotes and used the scale to figure out the source of the views the prof questioned us about on the tests. Let’s see, this assertion is only a bit hare-brained so it could be Fred or George, certainly not as nutzo as Henry or Ivan or Jeremiah… And then during class I was free to question every unfounded assertion, using data…and my own favorite authorities. Or I would adopt the prof’s position and use reductio ad absurdum (humph this thing’s predictive typing/spell-checker doesn’t know Latin).

    But is any of that really learning the course topic?

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