Writing For Synthesis

As we’ve worked with students on ePortfolios, we’ve had a number of them tell us that they were surprised to discover that their courses and assignments were connected. These students are surprised because they experience their courses as distinct and are given few opportunities to synthesize what they learn in one class with what they are experiencing elsewhere. Of course faculty know that the required courses in any program are required for a reason, and we hope that students will synthesize what they learn within our courses as they do final projects, answer final exam questions, or complete a final paper. ePortfolios can certainly help students make connections between courses, but this month we feature two faculty from Forestry and Wildlife Sciences who intentionally linked their courses together with connected assignments.

Recognizing that students often do not spend enough time on end-of-semester assignments that are meant to help them synthesize and apply what they have learned, Professors Becky Barlow and John Kush decided to link the final projects in their two classes. Blending the assignments together gave students a single project to work on so they felt less stressed and more capable of managing their time to do more serious work. As in the assignment Sharon Roberts created, the project Barlow and Kush designed asked students to present the same material to two different audiences and to use two different genres as they did so. Thus, this assignment helped students better understand the differences between addressing other professionals within their discipline and providing information to a more general, public audience. Barlow’s assignment asked students to produce a presentation in the style of a TED Talk, and Kush focused on having students produce a poster appropriate for a scientific conference; both versions required students to do some writing but pushed them to combine visual and textual literacy and use technology to communicate effectively. Like the assignment we featured from Steven Williams last year, Barlow and Kush have incorporated higher order thinking skills and created an opportunity for students to do the kind of work they will be asked to do in their post-academic careers as they make use of the information and skills they are learning in the course in a new situation. In short, we admire this assignment because it gets students engaged precisely because it requires focused attention and time on the task to be successful.

Examples of the videos these students produced:

Drs. Barlow and Kush will be talking about this assignment at this year’s Conversations in Celebration of Teaching, an event that will showcase lots of engaging assignments, creative uses of technology, and innovative teaching that helps students learn. Come join the conversation. Register now!


Learn more about integrating assignments and helping students to synthesize knowledge for different audiences and genres:

Writing For Synthesis With Professor Becky Barlow & Dr. John Kush

Barlow and Kush TED Talk/Poster Assignment


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