Professor & Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology at Royal Roads University

How do faculty benefit from renewable assignments?


Posted on December 13th, by George Veletsianos in open, scholarship. 1 Comment

* This was originally hosted on the BCCampus blog, but I’m cross-posting it here for posterity.

Open education advocates have promoted renewable assignments as a way to create/update knowledge, enable faculty and students to impact society in significant ways, and foster student learning in more meaningful ways. As individual faculty members are often involved in designing course assignments, it might be worthwhile to be explicit about the value that renewable assignments might garner for faculty members themselves.

David Wiley differentiates between disposable and renewable assignments. He writes:

“A Disposable Assignment is any assignment about which students and faculty understand the following:

  • Students will do the work
  • Faculty will grade the work
  • Students will throw away the work

A Renewable Assignment is any assignment where:

  • Students will do the work
  • Faculty will grade the work
  • The work is inherently valuable to someone beyond the class
  • The work is openly published so those other people can find and use (5R) it”

One form that renewable assignments might take is in the form of books and textbooks. Four examples of open access books that faculty and students collaboratively wrote, revised, or edited are the following:

The arguments for these types of assignments, and rightly so, often focus on students and society. They highlight the cost-savings that students might accrue while engaging in pedagogies that enable authentic, participatory, and valuable contributions to the common good.

Yet, we know that individuals face both individual and systemic barriers in adopting open practices, such as institutional constraints that might not necessarily recognize the value of spending extra time and effort on developing open books and textbooks with students. Convincing faculty members to develop renewable assignments might involve highlighting the benefits that faculty members might accrue by engaging in this process.

What then might be the individual benefits to faculty members from redesigning some of their assignments to be more “renewable?” One renewable assignment that I created materialized as the last book appearing in the list above. The benefits that I saw were the following:

  • Authentic mentorship. The assignment gave me an opportunity to mentor students in an environment in which the end goal was an essay intended for practitioners and researchers. In doing so, we often engaged in conversations about the goal of the project, the audience, and the outcomes that each student wanted for their essay. Such mentorship was personally satisfying and fulfilling.
  • Align my research with my teaching. Faculty members engage in diverse activities, and I’m a firm believer in engaging in activities that benefit multiple areas of my work. In other words, my research, teaching, and service often overlap and inform one another. By creating a renewable assignment that addressed my learning objectives and was aligned with my research, my students and I were able to produce scholarship that was of value to the field, as well as address the goals of my research agenda.
  • Enable students to publish their work. Beyond the personal benefits that students might accrue by engaging in renewable assignments, I found it immensely rewarding to see my students’ work being published and hear them describe that they felt empowered and supported. Importantly, our book was published by Hybrid Pedagogy, which practices collaborative peer review and treats the peer review process as pedagogical.
  • Better collaboration. It was much more pleasurable to work with students toward our shared goal. I found that this process eliminated some of the power imbalances and hierarchies in the classroom, enabling us to collaborate more effectively.

If you are a faculty member, consider the value that renewable assignments might have for students, society, but also for your own practice. If you are a learning designer that is advocating for renewable assignments, consider whether these arguments might be worthwhile in your conversations with faculty colleagues. And if you have experiences with renewable assignments, consider sharing them on social media and linking back to this article.





One thought on “How do faculty benefit from renewable assignments?

  1. I love and use all the time David’s framing of “Disposable Assignments” – everybody understands what they are.

    However, I have never really bit off fully that the opposite is the”Renewable Assessment” and frankly am disappointed that the examples proffered as examples seem to go no further than Wikipedia writing and students helping write textbooks. These are fine, but feel rather limited, and frankly go not much farther in terms of student activity than writing essays that just end up on web sites.

    I worked with David on a project and watched him painfully struggle to create assignments that went beyond writing responses to questions- see http://cogdogblog.com/2017/02/non-disposable-assignments/

    I’d sure like to see some other assignment approaches that are just more writing more text.