Planning Assignments in Nursing Courses: Be Strategic

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Excerpt

This is the time of year when many of us make New Year's resolutions. One of my resolutions is to make more careful decisions about course assignments. Although it is only the beginning of the semester, are you dreading already the end of it when students submit their papers? Or, are there other times in the semester when you can barely keep up with providing feedback to students on their assignments? Better planning of student assignments in your courses may be just what you need. All too often assignments that students complete do not meet the specific outcomes of the course. Some assignments are in courses by tradition—we always do that assignment in this course—or they might have been valuable a few years ago, but over time the course objectives or curriculum have changed, and those assignments are no longer appropriate.
Start with an assessment of each assignment. Here are some questions to ask yourself. Are students learning from the assignments they do in the course? If not gaining new knowledge, do the assignments reinforce students' prior learning? Do they help students improve their higher-level thinking? Writing skills? Assignments and other learning activities should help students meet specific outcomes or objectives or should reinforce prior learning. As a teacher, you should be able to identify the learning goal for each assignment. If you cannot figure that out, it is time to omit the assignment from the course or replace it with another activity.
As part of your assessment, ask yourself: Are the assignments too repetitive? I see this often with clinical nursing courses where students complete the same assignment for every patient every week. Instead of this repetition, once students meet the objectives and demonstrate competency, consider changing to a different assignment to help students achieve other outcomes of clinical practice. Every assignment does not need to be graded—you can provide feedback (formative) or develop an activity where students pass an assignment to another student for review and feedback. Discussions allow students to share alternate points of view and learn from each other.
Many nursing courses include written assignments. For some of these papers, students summarize the ideas of others and do not think more deeply about the content. While assignments that involve summarizing readings work well for learning the content and becoming familiar with available resources, at some point in the nursing program, assignments should also require students to critique and synthesize the literature, analyze issues, take a position with a rationale, and develop writing skills. For students to develop these competencies, written assignments need to be planned and sequenced across courses.
Be careful about the number of written assignments in your course. You might be able to replace some assignments with writing-to-learn activities—short, informal, and sometimes impromptu writing tasks, for example, questions to answer at the end of class for review of key concepts, case analyses, writing prompts in a discussion forum, reflective journals, and others. Consider shifting some of your written assignments to focused discussions, which might be more effective in promoting critical thinking than summarizing content from a book or an article.
You still have time to add to your list of New Year's resolutions: Making more careful decisions about course assignments is good for students and for you.
Marilyn H.
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