A novel alternative to essay writing in a large introductory course

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/samhames/5250383314/sizes/m/in/photostream/

 “Large class sizes, the increasing diversity of the student corpus, and mounting cost-efficiency imperatives have become commonplace.  In this context, a major challenge for academic faculty is how curriculum, teaching and assessment can be enhanced so that graduates will become more effective communicators and meet the needs of contemporary knowledge economies” (p. 89).

Moni et al. (2007) present an innovative writing and peer review process aimed at first-year students in a human biology course at a research-intensive university, which represents an alternative to more traditional essay-type assignments.  The students were required to write a 700-750 word personal response to one of a selected number of topics from The Science Show, broadcasted by the Australia Broadcasting Commission.  The text was to present a scaffolded- level of cognitive development from providing a context and purpose in the Introduction (remembering, understanding), to a personal analysis of the topic in the body of the report, to a judgement section where the students were required to communicate their personal interest in, and usefulness of the topic both in the context of self and to society.   In addition, they were required to present future research areas based on the discussion presented in the audio file.  The students were asked to peer review a pre-selected portion of exceptional assignments – a clever technique for having students exposed to high-quality work.

This paper presents an interesting assignment for a first-year class.  A detailed marking rubric is outlined.   The students felt that the assignment challenged them to think about current issues and to effectively present scientific evidence in their writing.  An exemplary submission and peer review is provided in the paper.   The process of peer-reviewing exemplary work is intriguing, and may be beneficial in a first-year course where students often struggle finding “the right answer.”


Moni, R.W., Moni, K.B., Lluka, L.J., and Poronnik, P. 2007.  The personal response:  a novel writing assignment to engage first year students in large human biology classes.  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 35(2): 89-96.

Author: natashakenny

Senior Director, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary. Interdisciplinary academic and professional background in educational development, landscape architecture, urban planning and environmental science.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: