Final Paper: Proposing a Solution to a Global Problem

Author

Lata Murti

Associate Professor, Sociology

Brandman University

Citation

Murti, L. (2018). Final Paper: Proposing a Solution to a Global Problem. Brandman University.

Description

The purpose and focus of the assignment are to have students apply what they have learned about a global problem to propose an evidence-based solution, to critically evaluate a local institution or organization in terms of the proposed solution, and to hypothesize their own involvement in the solution.

This signature assignment and rubric were written to assess the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) proficiency of Civic Learning (previously, “Civic Engagement”).  In particular, it assesses student application of course knowledge to “respond… to civic, social, environmental and economic challenges at local, national and global levels” (Lumina Foundation, DQP, p. 5).  It is a revision of an earlier version of the assignment (see reflections, below).

Background and Context

This assignment was designed for SOCU 436 Globalization and Social Change at Brandman University; and it was written specifically to measure student mastery of the Civic Engagement DQP proficiency.

In addition to this assignment, students in the course complete a mid-term presentation signature assignment.  The mid-term presentation assignment and rubric were written to assess the DQP proficiency of Global Learning.

Most students in the course are majoring in Brandman University’s Bachelor of Arts in Sociology Program.  This is a required course for the program.  It is an elective course option for students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Social Sciences.

Brandman University primarily serves adult learners, and our eight-week courses are offered either in a blended or online format.  This particular course is rarely offered in a blended format.  Most students who take this course take it fully online.  It is offered three times each academic year, during the Fall 1, Spring 1, and Summer 1 sessions; and the average class size is 20 students.  As it is a 400-level (undergraduate senior level) course, most students take it towards the end of their undergraduate degree program at Brandman.

Instruction for this and all other assignments in the course are provided textually (in the course website), through online video tutorials and examples (for multi-media assignments), and through model assignments written by previous students of the course.  For this assignment, the most recent model paper written by a previous student is a linked Google Doc in the assignment instructions.

The course developer, Dr. Lata Murti, wrote the course in which this assignment is required; however, the course is taught by different full-time faculty and part-time adjunct faculty in Sociology and Integrated Social Sciences at Brandman University.  Because this is a signature assignment designed to measure a DQP proficiency, instructors are not allowed to change the assignment instructions or rubric in any way.  They are, however, allowed to choose whether and how to supplement the instructions, by providing resources such as instructional videos, example papers, in-class guidance (in the blended course format), or one-on-one support through phone, virtual, or face-to-face meetings with individual students.  Because Brandman University is a distributed campus, with students located throughout the U.S. West Coast, the U.S. at large, and the world, most individual student meetings take place by phone or virtually, particularly in an online course.

Alignment and Scaffolding

This assignment is the final paper in the course SOCU 436 Globalization and Social Change. Students are introduced to this signature assignment in Week 1 of the eight-week term, and have the entire term to complete it.  As it is a final paper, however, most students complete it in Weeks 7 and 8 of the eight-week term.

This paper complements the mid-term presentation assignment, due at the end of Week 4 of the eight-week term.  The mid-term presentation asks students to hypothesize the future direction that a global issue or problem will take, in a slideshow format (using Google Slides).  Students in the online version of this course also submit a screen-capture video of this slideshow, in Week 5.  Students in the blended version of the course give an in-class presentation of their slideshow.

The final paper asks students to propose a solution to a global issue or problem, which can be the same global issue or problem addressed in the mid-term presentation.

All previous course assignments prepare students for the final paper, particularly the weekly online journal entries (assigned every week but Weeks 4 and 8, when the mid-term presentation and final paper are due).  The weekly journal assignments ask students to note down their ideas and progress toward the mid-term and final, for instructor feedback and support.  Thus, students must begin looking at the requirements for the final paper, and thinking about these requirements, starting in Week 1; and they must continue developing their thoughts and ideas for the final each subsequent week until the paper is due.  This is crucial because the final paper requires that students incorporate data from an interview they conduct with someone affiliated with a local organization working to resolve a global issue.  Scheduling, conducting, and writing about the interview as part of the final paper, all in Week 8, would be nearly impossible.

Other course assignments include readings from the required text  –a custom eBook reader comprising essays and chapters on globalization from various sources, compiled by Murti, L. (Ed.) and published by Cengage (2018, Boston, MA)— as well as slideshows summarizing each week’s topics and readings, online maps, and videos.  The assigned readings, slideshows, maps, and videos introduce students to a variety of global issues and problems from which they can choose one or more to address in their mid-term presentation and final paper.  Students are encouraged to cite the readings, maps, and videos in their mid-term and final.

Course assignments also include answering weekly questions and responding to classmates in an online discussion board forum (as well as in class, for blended students).  Discussion questions ask students to think critically about the global issues and problems described in the required text.  Such critical thinking prepares students for the final paper in which they must analyze a specific global problem or issue to propose an evidence-based solution.

As this is the final assignment in a 400-level (senior level) course, it is not a prerequisite that prepares students for a subsequent course.  Some students, however, may choose to continue researching and writing about global issues, problems, and solutions in the Social Science Senior Capstone course.

Reflections

I taught this version of the assignment once, in Summer 2018.  A slightly different, older version of this assignment had been taught since the course’s inception in Fall 2012 until Spring 2018.  This older version of the assignment left students inspired by the work of the local organizations they wrote about, with many making specific plans to be more civically engaged in global issues.

Unfortunately, the current version of this assignment seems not to leave students so inspired, thus far.  They struggled to find someone to interview, according to the assignment’s requirements.  And they became so anxious about this component of the paper that they lost sight of the civic thinking and engagement this assignment is meant to inspire.

The original version of this assignment did not require an interview.  When revising the assignment, I had assumed that students would enjoy interviewing someone affiliated with a local organization working on a global issue, as it adds an element of experiential learning to the assignment.  I had also assumed that having students conduct some primary research on an organization addressing a global problem would encourage them to engage in a critical analysis of the organization’s work.  As my colleagues and I noted at the 2015 NILOA DQP Assignment-Design Charrette, the original assignment resulted in students simply describing how a local organization addresses a global problem, based on the organization’s website, without critically evaluating the organization and its work.

If students continue to struggle with the interview component of this assignment in the future, I will consider no longer requiring an interview.  However, because Brandman University collects data on student mastery of a DQP proficiency (Civic Engagement) through this assignment, it does not permit any revisions to be made to the assignment until sufficient data has been collected and analyzed.

Nevertheless, anyone considering adoption of this assignment can easily omit the interview requirement without the assignment lacking in its measurement of student mastery of Civic Learning.

I was also surprised that students struggled with the length of this assignment, which was required to be 8 to 10 pages total, in APA format.  I thought they would need at least 8 pages to address all the questions asked of them in the assignment instructions.  However, several students, when evaluating the course, said they felt as if they were repeating themselves in the paper.  These students preferred the slideshow format of the mid-term presentation because it allowed them to express their thoughts and ideas succinctly.

If future students feel similarly about the length of this assignment, I will consider returning to a 6 to 8 page length requirement (as in the original version of this assignment) or changing the format of the assignment.  Currently, however, I still believe that students need 8 to 10 pages to adequately address everything required of them in this paper.

I also believe that future iterations of this assignment will be more successful and will inspire students to be more civically engaged, as the original assignment once did.  Now that I have taught this current assignment once, I have a model final paper, written by one of the students who completed the assignment successfully.  (A link to this model final paper, used with the student’s permission, is included in the assignment instructions).  Being able to refer to this and future model papers, as more students successfully complete the assignment, should help students see not only how to write this assignment, but also how to use it to start thinking and acting civically on both a local and a global scale.


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