Friday, 2 December 2016

Essays versus applied assignments

A couple of years ago, Melanie Wilcox posted a piece on in support of continued use of essays as an assignment task. She said "When we learn to write logically, we learn to think more clearly, and therefore speak more clearly" (Wilcox, 2014).

Melanie was upholding the essay as a tool for learning writing skills in response to Professor Schuman's Slated post (2013), on the many and varied reasons for not assigning essays. The professor was outspoken, saying that “students hate writing [essays],” and “instructors hate grading them”, among other things (Schuman, 2013).

While I totally agree Melanie on the with need to teach writing skills to students, I personally find essays are not the 'right' construct for teaching writing skills.

I have never been asked in the corporate sector to write an essay. I can imagine the response if I delivered a four page clump of text, without sub-headings, in response to a business issue.

So, as a business lecturer, I don't assign essays. Ever. But, unlike Professor Schuman, I don't fall back on exams, either. To quote a colleague of mine, "Show me the learning in an exam" (Kidman, 2011). 

Delivering under exam time pressure is unlikely to build logic or clarity in writing. It will get you a data-dump of what the student has crammed into short-term memory, and I am not interested in assessing this ephemeral 'knowledge'. And knowledge is, after all, the bottom end of Bloom's taxonomy.

What I am interested in is Bloom's upper levels of application, analysis, evaluation, and creation. So I get students to write case studies, research reports, progress updates, briefing papers, reflective logs, blog posts and diary notes. They write using the tools that they will be using in the workplace.

This is because I too, along with the professor that Melanie cited, loathe marking essays. Instead I get students to practice their logical, clear and planned approach to writing in formats which I prefer reading, and which students prefer writing: and those that they are more likely to use as graduates.

And I don't miss the essays. At all.



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