Killing the Term Paper

Interesting post on the Chronicle today about whether or not research papers are worth assigning.

I think a lot of the points are well taken, including the essential question of why we assign term papers beyond the fact that they are a standard part of the undergraduate process.  Blank argues that the paper is now more a check for writing prowess rather than demonstrating acquired knowledge, and that the term paper is a poorly devised device for both; essentially, the assignment bears little relation to post-graduate writing, often receives minimal feedback on the writing itself, and if the student did the work themselves and did not simply buy or ‘borrow’ the paper from somewhere, they probably did so at the last minute rather than carefully crafting the process.

Now there are ways to get around some of these issues: Turn it In can handle some plagiarism concerns, while scaffolding practices allow for time management and multiple opportunities for feedback.  But what I like about this piece is how it forces us to confront our objectives for assigning a research paper in the first place, and to question whether this type of assignment is the best approach to meeting the objective.  Why not have students write reading summaries as Blank argues, or policy memos or information literacy exercises?

Sigh.  Now I need to seriously rethink my syllabus for Environmental and Energy Security in the spring…


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