Here’s an idea I’ve been toying with: granting a very small amount of “extra credit” to students who publish well-written reviews of course texts on Amazon.com. Here’s why:
- By the end of the semester a typical student has written five to ten responses to questions on each of the books I’ve assigned, so they should be able to identify an author’s implied thesis and whether it has been sufficiently defended. A book review is an opportunity for these students to synthesize this information into a few paragraphs of writing, while giving them a final opportunity to think about the “big picture” of how the book relates to the course topic.
- Students get almost instant gratification of seeing their writing appear in a public venue, and because the audience is global, they might try to avoid humiliating themselves with lousy work.
- Well-crafted reviews will help them establish a web presence that is more attractive to potential employers than what’s on their Facebook walls.
- I get feedback on whether and how my assigned texts imparted knowledge to students.
Writing about historical sites or events for other social media platforms could achieve similar ends. Studying immigration quotas in the USA? What do Wikipedia and TripAdvisor say about the relationship between the Chinese Exclusion Act and Angel Island? Does the information in these locations correspond to what was learned in class?