Common Assignment Update: Plans for 2019-2020 Academic Year

As a full year of piloting our common assignments comes to an end, we want to highlight our assessment efforts and what’s to come for the 2019-2020 academic year. We, the ICaP team, would sincerely like to thank all of you who have helped us in this assessment effort because we couldn’t have done it alone. There were certainly bumps along the way with our assessment goals and what it means to assess, but we feel that our efforts have allowed us to showcase the powerful work that our instructors and students create. From our successful pilots, feedback sessions, Spring 2019 Convocation, and our norm, read, and rate sessions, we believe that it was a successful year that has allowed us to collaboratively think about next year. Again, thank you all for your help and insight into this project.

The future of our ICaP assessment efforts will be shifting from four common assignments down to one: the portfolio. Portfolios were chosen based on several reflective sessions that we have had with instructors, norm, read, and rate participants, and especially the many voices at Convocation:

  1. Portfolios can measure all six outcomes instead of individual outcomes–which would require multiple common assignments
  2. They allow us to assess our new syllabus themes with a common assessment protocol already in place; essentially, we are able to tell which themes best fit students’ and ICaP’s needs.
  3. Portfolios push students towards metacognition with the reflective component, while also preparing them to work towards greater proficiency in writing.
  4. Portfolios allow instructors to continue a diversity of teaching assignments with only minor standardization in the reflective component.
  5. Students are provided with a product that can be showcased to future employers to demonstrate that they are able to write effectively in multiple rhetorical situations and genres, and are able to address multiple audiences that goes beyond the teacher-as-audience model
  6. The portfolio allows students to guide instructors and raters through their writing and learning processes instead of the instructors making those choices without student input

In all, the portfolio, in terms of assessment, allows ICaP to assess students’ ability to meet all six of our outcomes while at the same time placing the onus of learning on the students. For assessment purposes, we have standardized the reflective essay, assignment sheet, and components (e.g., rough drafts, peer review feedback forms, etc.) that are required.  By creating a commonality amongst all of our 106, 106Y, and 108 sections, ICaP is able to assess how well each of our courses are doing in terms of meeting the outcomes set forth by the Undergraduate Core Curriculum committee for information literacy and written communication. This rhetorical move on our part allows students to develop the metacognition that is required as they move throughout their general education and major curriculum.

The assessment committee is finalizing the portfolio assignment now, and we’ll share that with supporting materials here shortly.

Common Assignment Assessment Questions

The information below answers most of the questions from the assessment Group-Think-Share session. We transcribed these questions from the whiteboards and added questions received via email. On Tuesday, September 4, we will share a handout that outlines the protocol for turning in your completed common assignments.

We have included some general guidelines for you and students as you begin the common assignments in the General Questions section. If you have further questions, please let Derek Sherman know via

General Questions that apply to all four common assignments:

  1. How do we structure assignment sheets and rubrics? What actually needs to be on the assignment sheets vs. rubrics?
    • To be transparent with students about the common assignment, we ask that you align your assignment sheet AND rubric to the outcomes listed in your common assignment’s instructor’s guide found here. Please use the common assignment outcomes-based rubric as a starting point in the creation of your assignment sheet and rubric. As long as your assignment sheet and rubric show students the outcomes that determine their grade, your assignment and rubric are aligned with ICaP assessment.
  2. How should students submit assignments? In what format?
    • It’s easiest for everyone if students submit assignments via Blackboard in a .doc or .docx format. Even if you don’t use Blackboard extensively, please ask students to submit their assignments there so that you can easily download and share completed work with us.  Electronic submissions on Blackboard and in a .doc or .docx format make anonymizing for assessment purposes easier.
  3. Do we need to share our rubric and assignment sheet as part of assessment?
    • We would like you to share your rubric and assignment sheet with us so that we can understand how various instructors approached these common assignments. However, we will use the outcomes-basic rubric for assessment purposes.
  4. Would students recognize a logical progression of assignments?
    • This depends on how each instructor frames their course. Since we do not want to force a standardized curriculum on English 106/108 instructors, instructors must be transparent with their students on how this assignment is scaffolded into the curriculum. If students are made aware of this progression in the syllabus and classroom instruction, students would most certainly recognize a logical progression of skills and assignments.

Research-based Essay:

  1. Can the research essay be argumentative?
    • Yes, the research-based essay can be argumentative. However, it is not required to be argumentative.
  2. What is the relevance of the research-based essay beyond 106?
    • ICaP outcomes address research writing in several ways, so this essay is meant to accompany our diverse teaching approaches. ICaP has a strong foundation of teaching research-based skills that programs on campus search for in their students, whereas other “writing” programs lack in teaching research-based skills. This assignment, therefore, was built to appeal to faculty and programs who want students with research-based skills. This assignment introduces students to academic research to better prepare them for future research-based assignments. Since Purdue is also striving for more undergraduate research, focusing on research helps students join that movement, not to mention ICaP as a whole. this also helps ICaP promote itself as an establisher of research-based skills.
  3. Should instructors use solely secondary or primary sources — or will a mix of both source types be acceptable?
    • Instructors may choose to include all primary or secondary sources, or they may choose to have a mix of both. No matter what, students should be expected to summarize, analyze, and synthesize at least five sources in total, according to the research-based essay instructor guide, in whatever format you, the instructor, expects.
  4. How students will find, use, and integrate CREDIBLE sources?
    • Credibility varies depending on the student/class’s topic and what type of research the instructor chooses/values. For secondary research, students become acquainted with Purdue Libraries’ databases to search for peer-reviewed articles, thus engrossing students in academic-based research. Primary research, however, varies depending on the research method and participant(s) chosen; therefore, guidance from the instructor should be given to determine what equates to credible research. Often, only interviews or surveys are feasible given the limited time for 106/108.
  5. How are analysis, synthesis, and summary evaluated differently?
    • These are the three skills that often accompany academic-based work; therefore, for ICaP’s assessment purposes we are looking at these skill holistically (see ICaP outcome three: “Critically think about writing and rhetoric through reading, analysis, and reflection”). By holistically, we want to see if students are able to summarize, analyze, and synthesize academic sources cohesively into one academic paper. We are not seeking to isolate these skills or assess them individually.

Rhetorical Analysis:

  1. Is there still a pretest and posttest for the rhetorical analysis essay?
    • Yes, please have students complete a pretest without any instruction. After teaching the rhetorical analysis unit, students should complete a second rhetorical analysis. Each essay should be approximately three pages in length.
  2. How do we frame “rhetorical?” Is it important to focus on terms and strategies?
    • The big issue here is that we want to make sure students go beyond analyzing solely the text and the author’s use of rhetorical/literary devices (e.g., ethos, pathos, logos, simile, metaphor, etc.). In this sense, students should focus on  analyzing how the text and the author(s) use of rhetorical/literary devices affect the context and audience. The text, consequently, should be not viewed in isolation but as working against and amongst the author, audience, and larger context.


  1. What are the preferable methods for draft collection?
    • Since our assessment includes evaluating students’ rough drafts and whether or not they have addressed instructors’ comments and have shown growth per ICaP Outcome Four (i.e., “Provide constructive feedback to others and incorporate feedback into their writing”), it is important that students save a copy of their rough drafts. Please ask students to save a draft in a word document (e.g., ResearchEssay_Draft) and then create a new document for their final essay (e.g., ResearchEssay_Final).
  2. What should be the portfolio’s medium?
    • We are looking into Purdue’s new portfolio tool and other options and will have an update as soon as we can. We’re hoping to offer several methods. We welcome your suggestions.

Professional Email:

  1. What is ICaP’s most important outcome for the professional email?
    • Rhetorical awareness of the situation is the most important outcome with other outcomes such as purpose and persuasion built in.
  2. How flexible in terms of when during the semester can it be assigned? The time?
    • Per our discussion at Convocation, the timing is up to the instructor. If you can fit the assignment into an already existing assignment, please go ahead and include it whenever you teach that assignment. As Alisha Karabinus noted, this assignment was originally a kickstarter for rhetorical awareness, but you may include it wherever you see fit.
  3. What are the two audiences?
    • According to the instructor guide, it states the following considering audiences:  “In this assignment, you [students] write two distinct emails for two distinct situations:
      1. In the first email, you will write to an instructor about a missed assignment or exam you would like to attempt to make up. You will create your own reasons for the make-up.
      2. In the second email, you will write to a fellow student with whom you’re working on a group project that isn’t going so well. This email is meant to help establish better deadlines, clarity, communication, teamwork, or any of the above—you can invent a situation for this email or consider a problematic group project you’ve worked on in the past to create your reasons for this email.”
  4. 200 words is a lot for an email?
    • You are welcome to suggest a lower maximum as long as the focus remains on achieving the outcomes on the rubric (i.e., addressing the audiences effectively, etc).
  5. We would like to see student samples?
    • Currently, we don’t have any samples that fit our two new audiences. Because this assignment was updated this summer, our previous samples no longer coincide with this update. The professional emails that students produce in Fall 2018 may serve as samples for the future.
  6. What are the results from the previous semester’s assessment?
  7. How is the APE exercise relevant to the professional email assignment?
    • Linda Haynes’s APE exercise is designed to be a fun, low-stakes activity which teaches  editing and efficiency. While it certainly isn’t an essential activity, many instructors have had success working it in during this unit as a way to make the editing process visible and accessible.
  8. How is ICaP quantifying positive improvement for the professional email?
    • In terms of student improvement, growth cannot be quantified because the two audiences are different scenarios and we cannot have a measurement of growth without a pretest. Because raters from the professional email’s prior assessment varied in their definition of an effective email, we are hoping that this more focused audience approach will help us establish a more consistent definition of an “effective email.” If a more consistent definition is established, we may be able to move forward in quantifying growth with a pretest and posttest in the future. However, our goal right now is to measure achievement of the outcomes and not individual student growth.
  9. How do we make a short assignment feel more substantial?
    • The email is a shorter assignment, but it is also effective in teaching rhetorical situations and catering one’s message to one’s audience. Instructors, therefore, may choose to teach this as an introduction to rhetorical awareness at the beginning of the semester or they may embed it within a current unit. Ultimately, scaffolding this assignment in with others is the best way to make this assignment feel more substantial.
  10. Is it pretest and posttest?
    • No, this is two separate emails to two separate audiences.
  11. What are the number of drafts required?
    • This is up to the instructor. Instructors may guide students through sample emails first and then accept only one draft. Or, instructors may conduct peer review sessions on multiple drafts. The choice is up to the instructor.
  12. How many class session should be dedicated to the professional email?
    • This, too, is up to the instructor. This assignment is not meant to take up a considerable amount of time; therefore, scaffolding it into a current unit may help help in establishing how many class sessions you want to dedicate to this common assignment.

Again, if you have any other questions, please let Derek Sherman know at