Event Summaries, Transformative Learning

Students-as-Producers: Exploring the Transformative Power of Student-Driven Assignments

002by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Last week, the Reinert Center held its annual Winter Institute, a day-long series of workshops and presentations focused on some aspect of our annual theme. This year, the focus of the event was Transformative Learning: Students as Producers.

Dr. Derek Bruff (Vanderbilt University) kicked off the day with an interactive keynote and workshop focused on the transformational value of shifting from a coverage-based instructional model to a student-centered one that strategically invites students to see themselves as producers of knowledge rather than simply as consumers of information.

Throughout his presentations, Dr. Bruff shared a wide range of concrete examples of what student-driven assignments and projects can look like. From “Twitter fiction” in a German literature course to infographics in a statistics course to podcasts in a poetry course to policy briefs in a health policy course, the examples inspired attendees to think beyond traditional papers and exams. As he shared examples, Dr. Bruff underscored three key principles that can help to ensure that student-driven projects live up to their transformational potential: open-ended problems, authentic audiences, and some degree of autonomy. In other words, students need to wrestle with real problems, for real audiences, with real power to shape the final product. When these elements are in place, student motivation can skyrocket, moving students beyond a performance-minded approach to coursework into a mastery-minded approach.

For faculty interested in incorporating a more students-as-producers approach, Dr. Bruff offered four guiding questions to jump-start the planning process:

Why this assignment in this course?

What skills will students need to practice?

How will you scaffold the assignment?

How will you grade the work?

Ultimately, for non-traditional, student-driven assignments to work, we must be intentional about how the task at hand aligns with our learning goals, how to break down the larger task into smaller components and lessons, and what successful performance will look like.

If you’re interested in incorporating a students-as-producers activity in your own courses — or in refining assignments that already place students in the role of “producer” — the Reinert Center can help you think through these four planning questions. We also can point you to existing resources in SLU’s new Academic Technology Commons that can support your students’ ability to create the kinds of assignments you’re interested in. To see Dr. Bruff’s presentations, visit his website on Agile Learning at https://derekbruff.org/. Finally, if you’re successfully using a students-as-producers approach in a course of your own, consider writing a guest post for this blog — we’d love to highlight what you’re doing.