Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

By Donna Bentham

Every other year I am teaching first-year students and have to remind myself that not only am I teaching course content, but also teaching some students in the class how to be university students. This year the online format added to the challenge, as the helpful chats I usually do in class needed to happen in a different way. I was also racking my brain about the summative evaluation plan for each of my courses and ways to keep students on track with their weekly activities but also build in flexibility—for the students and myself. As much as I want to be that person who has their whole semester planned and prepped at the beginning of the semester, it’s not really me. I also wanted to have the ability to change strategies during the semester once I got to know the students. So I came up with the idea of a homework portfolio. Here is what it says in my course outlines:

Homework Portfolio: To facilitate learning in the alternative delivery of course materials, there will be activities each week to complete. The activities that will count as part of your homework portfolio will have HP at the end of the title. While the instructor may not mark each activity, completion of the activities will not only enhance your understanding of the content but will count towards your final mark. Marks awarded on percentage of activities completed and submitted by the due date. Late submissions will not count for marks.

I encourage the students to do the HP activities each week, but there is a December 4th final submission deadline. Life gets busy, and I wanted students to have some flexibility.

What kind of activities do I have as part of the homework portfolio? Almost every class, the students have a study guide to hand in. In the first couple of weeks, the study guides consisted of questions based on the readings for the week and connected to the learning outcomes for the class, mainly teaching them how to figure out what is important in the readings and how to create study notes. As we are hitting mid-semester, the study guide questions are now application questions based on the readings—maybe a case study with questions, sometimes a personal reflection and application of class content. I have also leveraged discussion forums as part of the portfolio, such as posting on a thought-provoking question from their own experience, posting and responding to a classmate’s post; moving in to the second half of the semester, posts will need to be more provocative and referenced. Discussion forums do have a two-week time limit. Activities using H5P have also made their way in to the portfolio.

Lessons learned: I like the flexibility each week to determine how many and what activities are in the portfolio. Some weeks I feel creative and have more time, some weeks not so much. Even though I said I wouldn’t mark them and have all activities scored as complete or incomplete, I find I’m providing feedback on the study guides, especially when answers are wrong or incomplete. If I do this next semester I’ll have a three-point scale for completion marks. On average, 90% of the students are up-to-date with their activities; through the mid-semester “stop, start, and continue” check-ins with students, I noticed that one even commented not to allow the deadline at the end of the semester–this student found the activity so useful for learning each week’s content that they didn’t think a flexible deadline was necessary! So I will see how the rest of the semester goes, but I think a homework portfolio will find its way in to my winter course outlines.