This integrated assignment links the final research papers for two courses (Human Services Policy and Human Biology) to make the need for the application of biological and physiological knowledge to Human Services policy issues more explicit to students in the Human Services program. This assignment is carefully scaffolded across two courses so that the end-product is one unified research paper.
Background and Context
This assignment was designed for Human Services majors who are co-enrolled in Human Services Policy and Human Biology. Students co-enrolled in these courses are generally in their last semester of study before completing their A.A. Degree in Human Services. Some students that want to work in Human or Social Services do not immediately recognize the importance of taking a required Human Biology course with a lab. Our hope is that by linking these assignments, students will better see how the scientific, medical knowledge will help their work with people. Perhaps, many will be less intimidated by future science courses.
The two biggest challenges for all of the students in the biology course are the technical writing aspect (writing in the language of science) and the concise writing component. It can be challenging for students to connect and distill information from class and apply it in the context of Human Services. Typically, in the policy course, the students find it challenging to narrow their policy topic to something manageable. For both classes, the research component provides a significant challenge. Much like the scientific writing, students find it a difficult to write a policy proposal, which is a different genre of writing than they are used to. We found that some of the strongest papers were from students who used both courses as an opportunity to research the relevant aspects for each class of the same topic. We wanted to expand on that to help improve the overall quality and writing experience for all students co-enrolled in the course.
The assignment addresses the following DQP proficiencies:
- Use of information resources – the assignment has strict requirements for scholarly evidence and is accompanied by exercises in information literacy
- Ethical reasoning – the assignment requires that students think through the ethical considerations of enacting a national policy as a solution to a problem (grappling with the “one-size-fits-all” model)
- Communicative fluency – the assignment must adhere to APA standards and must meet a strict set of writing standards
- Broad and Integrative Knowledge – the assignment requires that students integrate social and biological science
- Specialized Knowledge – the assignment requires disciplinary knowledge from two different fields
- Intellectual Skills – students must synthesize information from two distinct fields and effectively communicate how they are related
- Engaging diverse perspectives – students must include evidence from both life and social science to support their claims
- Applied and Collaborative Learning – students must be demonstrate HOW biological evidence supports human service policy and how the main theories in the field of human services can be applied to governmental decisions.
Alignment and Scaffolding
This assignment is scaffolded over the last six to eight weeks of the course. For most of those weeks, the research essay and policy papers are assigned in parallel assignments, and the research that students are doing can be shared between both courses. The assignments towards the end facilitate the process of merging the research essay and policy paper into one cohesive paper.
Making the link between the two assignments explicit and revising the assignment description so that both papers are merged into one final document is an excellent way for students to demonstrate application of knowledge across disciplines. It also helps them hone their disciplinary writing skills, using the language of biology and human services/social work policy, which is an important skill for human services and social work professionals.
Since we previously found that the strongest final papers in both classes were from students who used common research to complete both assignments, we suggested to students that they should try to use their research topics across both classes for the two writing assignments. Using common research to complete both papers provided a level of sophistication and depth to the papers. However, very few students followed our advice. Our goal was to make the connection between the two assignments and application of knowledge between the two assignments more explicit and directed.
This semester, we revised the assignment so that it was scaffolded across both classes and made the linkage between the writing in two courses a requirement, with a clear set of expectations of how the work fit across the two classes. Scaffolding the writing this way not only resulted in a higher quality of final paper submissions, but an unexpected benefit was that students were able to stay on task and keep up the pace of the writing during the six weeks of the assignment. A higher percentage of students turned in the smaller technical assignments on time and almost all students had a well-written draft by the time the draft was due.
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