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Mayo’s Clinic: Making Assignments Creative
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Mayo’s Clinic: Making Assignments Creative

01 November 2016

Audiences besides the instructor, student feedback and self-evaluation help make assignments more creative for students.

By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT

Over the past two months, we have discussed honoring and using the syllabus as a teaching and motivational tool. This month, we will focus on making normal assignments more creative while next month I will address unusual or special assignments.

Value of Assignments
Out-of-class assignments are a critical and powerful way to help students learn new material by encouraging – or requiring – them to deeply engage with the material and apply their new knowledge. For example, in my Applied Research Methods course I ask students to find an industry professional, develop an interview protocol, conduct the interview and analyze both the content of the interview and the processes of interviewing. It has been a powerful trigger for more insightful knowledge, beyond what students may see as common sense or banal when reading about interviews or listening to a lecture or discussion. It has become a challenging assignment that helps every student appreciate the dynamics of an objective research interview. They even learn to love the assignment! It also expands the depth of their knowledge about interviewing.

Developing assignments for students can be a very creative activity. It can also be very simple, especially if you use assignments you created before. Sometimes, we create wonderful assignments and they serve beautifully in helping students use and apply the concepts and skills we teach. At other times, we find the assignments no longer serve their original purpose and in that case it may be time to redesign or invent new ones.

Making Assignments Creative
There are many ways to make assignments creative, but three stand out – different audiences, peer feedback and self-evaluation. The first strategy requires changing the audience for an assignment. Instead of assigning papers or reports that only you read stipulate the audience for a report will be the program’s faculty or a set of local chefs or restaurateurs. It broadens the way many students approach the assignment and encourages them to consider the audience when they write the report or paper. If you have a chance, you can even share the papers with local professionals – not for a grade but for their education. Knowing their papers might be shared more publically often spurs students to higher quality work.

A second strategy – using peer review – can also change assignments you have used for some time. Invite the students to bring four copies of the assignment to class and pass around three copies, keeping one for yourself. Invite students to read and evaluate the assignments of other students and put comments on the papers – either in class or as a homework assignment. Collect them, glance at them to make sure students provided serious feedback and return the assignments to the original author. You emphasize the usefulness of peer feedback when students see how others completed the assignment. If your students will take the assignment seriously without your glancing at their comments to other students, then just drop this step.

A third tactic some of my colleagues have used requires a student complete a short evaluation form on their written report or presentation. By providing a check list and rating scale they must complete you encourage them to think about what they are submitting for the assignment. It develops critical thinking and encourages them to assess their own work – an important skill for culinarians, restaurateurs, and other professional managers in hospitality. Parts of the criteria for written reports might include:

  • Clarity of the report
  • Usefulness of the report’s title
  • Logic of the paper
  • Use of examples and illustrations to support points
  • Lack of grammatical and spelling errors
  • Sufficient and accurate citations

For presentations, criteria might include:

  • Clarity of speaking voice
  • Logic of the presentation
  • Coherence of the approach to the topic
  • Use of examples, illustrations and evidence
  • Use of slides or props
  • Visual images on PowerPoint slides
  • Ending of presentation

These three approaches – new audience, peer feedback, and self-assessment – may give you new ideas for assignments. If so, have fun.

Summary
Try out these ideas and see what happens. Next month, we will discuss the notion of developing and using unusual and out-of-the-ordinary assignments. If you have suggestions for other topics or teaching practices you want to share, send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I will include them in future Mayo Clinics.


Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, is retired as a clinical professor of hotel and tourism management at New York University. As principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe and is a regular presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide. 

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