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Teaching during a pandemic: Using high-impact writing assignments to balance rigor, engagement, flexibility, and workload.

  • Reynolds, Julie A1, 2
  • Cai, Victor1
  • Choi, Julia1
  • Faller, Sarah1
  • Hu, Meghan1
  • Kozhumam, Arthi1
  • Schwartzman, Jonathan1
  • Vohra, Ananya1
  • 1 Department of Biology Duke University Durham North Carolina USA.
  • 2 Program in Education Duke University Durham North Carolina USA.
Published Article
Ecology and Evolution
Wiley (John Wiley & Sons)
Publication Date
Oct 12, 2020
DOI: 10.1002/ece3.6776
PMID: 33230410


The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for instructors who seek high-impact educational practices that can be facilitated online without creating excessive burdens with technology, grading, or enforcement of honor codes. These practices must also account for the possibility that some students may need to join courses asynchronously and have limited or unreliable connectivity. Of the American Association of Colleges and University's list of 11 high-impact educational practices, writing-intensive courses may be the easiest for science faculty to adopt during these difficult times. Not only can writing assignments promote conceptual learning, they can also deepen student engagement with the subject matter and with each other. Furthermore, writing assignments can be incredibly flexible in terms of how they are implemented online and can be designed to reduce the possibility of cheating and plagiarism. To accelerate the adoption of writing pedagogies, we summarize evidence-based characteristics of effective writing assignments and offer a sample writing assignment from an introductory ecology course. We then suggest five strategies to help instructors manage their workload. Although the details of the sample assignment may be particular to our course, this framework is general enough to be adapted to most science courses, including those taught in-person, those taught online, and those that must be able to switch quickly between the two. © 2020 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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