Creating Community III: Memo Exercise

More on creating community in an online course (previous posts are here and here): a collaborative writing exercise.

For several years, I’ve used memos as an authentic writing assignment. Or tried to. Often the results haven’t met my expectations. I have had students write multiple complete memos in a course, all in the same format, assuming that they will apply my feedback from the previous memo to the next one. Instead, students repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

For the upcoming semester, I decided to turn memo writing into a group activity, on the chance that collaborating with peers might produce better results. As in previous semesters, I will provide source material and the prompt. In a graded individual assignment, each student will write only specific portions of a memo, described below in the sample instructions and rubric. Students will be able to use a new memo template and guidelines that will be available on Canvas.

It is October 22, 2021. It has been over a year since the Hagia Sophia was changed from a museum to a mosque. During that time, tourism revenue in Turkey has decreased significantly. You are the Minister of Culture and Tourism of Turkey. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has asked you whether the Hagia Sophia should remain a mosque, revert to being a museum, or return to its original status as a church.  

Write the memo’s header information and executive summary using the memo template. Below the executive summary, write two sentences. Each sentence should identify a different reason that supports the recommendation in the executive summary. Write each sentence as if it is the first sentence for its respective section. 

The assignment is due before class. During class, each group of 4-5 students will have about fifteen minutes to jointly write a complete memo while in a breakout room. The writing will happen on each group’s Google Doc, and as discussed in my last post, these Google Docs will be accessible through Canvas via its “collaborations” tool. I will then choose one group’s memo as an example to discuss with the entire class after the breakout rooms close. There are a total of five of these memo exercises across the semester.

Two potential problems with this process. First, the collaborative output of each group won’t be graded. Some students might completely disengage and not participate. Second, I’m keeping students in the same groups for the whole course instead of rotating them between groups, which probably increases the chance of a dysfunctional group and decreased participation by some students. However, I don’t really control whether students are motivated learners who are eager to work as a team when not on a basketball court. Also, I’m thinking of a final exam for which each student writes a complete memo. I can announce at the beginning of the semester that the memo exercises are preparation for the final exam, which gives students the freedom to choose whether they want to practice for the exam in the memo exercises.

2 Replies to “Creating Community III: Memo Exercise”

  1. What class is this for? It could be that you don’t have to worry about grading so much because peer pressure will motivate S’s to cooperate.

    1. It is for a 300-level undergraduate course about the Middle East. Yes, peer pressure might work.

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