For Course Heads


When faculty come to the Bok Center to talk about designing or redesigning a Gen Ed course, they tend to describe their ideas for writing assignments in one of the following ways: 

  1. They're sticking with what they know, i.e., they've typically had writing assignments in their previous courses, and they plan to assign something like a longer research paper project as a capstone, along with maybe a shorter essay or two along the way, or
  2. They're mixing things up, i.e., they've typically had writing assignments in their previous courses, but they're interested in trying out something new, like a podcast or multi-media project, that's presented in a way that feels less like academic writing and reaches a more public audience than a standard essay, or 
  3. They're trying something relatively new by assigning writing, i.e., they're coming from a field where tests or p-sets are more common than writing assignments, but they also see Gen Ed as a space where writing might be the best way for students to work with the themes and goals of the course. 

If any of these scenarios sounds familiar, there are some corresponding questions we suggest you keep in mind when designing writing assignments in Gen Ed (or, rather, especially in Gen Ed): 

Questions to Keep in Mind

Am I being transparent enough about disciplinary norms?

What, specifically, does a "research paper" mean for your course, and how will it relate to the other genres of writing at play in your course? If you're coming to Gen Ed from a discipline where writing is a common kind of assignment—and where certain kinds of writing assignments are so common as to seem like second nature—it's worth considering how your Gen Ed course will teach students who are not from your field to work with genres of writing or kinds of evidence and analysis that might be unfamiliar to them.

What roles might writing play in the process and assessment of less writing-centered projects?

So-called "non-traditional" or "creative" capstones can be a great chance for students to address issues and audiences in ways that feel more authentic than something like a research essay. This opportunity comes with a couple of immediate challenges, though: First, how do we support students working with technologies and mediums outside of writing in Word or Google Docs? Second, how do we evaluate and give feedback on these less traditional (though increasingly common) assignments?

Writing can play several roles as students assemble multimedia projects; it’s the natural medium in which students would develop their proposals, group contracts, annotated bibliographies, reflective journals or project diaries, artist statements, peer review, and so on. Many of these kinds of writing are useful formative assignments that scaffold up to the "main event," and they all represent opportunities for instructors and students to share feedback on their progress, whether in relation to an individual project or the course as a whole. For that feedback to play a meaningful role, students need guidance on how/why these writing assignments will work and feedback (whether graded or ungraded) from their instructors at each stage of the process.

How can my teaching team design and give feedback on writing assignments, if many of us have never done that before?

Assignment design and feedback have a lot in common, whether it's a p-set in STEM or an essay in the Humanities: We should choose the type of assignment we're going to design based on its ability to provide the best evidence for student learning; we should have a sense of what counts as evidence for that learning, so that we can formulate a rubric that is shared with our students; our teaching should help students acquire and develop the skills they need to generate evidence of how their learning is going; and we should maintain a feedback loop with our students, with the shared rubric as a touchstone, about their progress.

There are resources throughout this site to support you and your teaching team as you design and teach your writing assignments, but here are some direct links to get started: