The Toolkit

Designing Digital Assignments

What makes a valuable new media project?
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ASSIGNMENTS

Dorothy on camera speaking about assignments for video project
Dorothy Linthicum speaking for video project

At the heart of preparing our students for ministry-appropriate digital literacy practices is the design of authentic assignments.

Psychologist Jon Mueller defines authentic assessment as “a form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills.”

This practice is not new to theological education. Our students write sermons, prepare Sunday school classes, lead public worship, and participate in various forms of supervised pastoral experience. Nevertheless, we believe ministry training programs over-value academically oriented assignments and under-value professionally oriented assignments.

Like the best of experiential theological learning, digital media assignments have the potential both to prepare students directly for future ministry tasks and to extend the impact of students’ effort beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

If students choose, or if we specifically require it, their digital assignments—say, a 90 Second Sermon—can have a life of their own via the many networked publics that connect our students, the people they serve, and potentially others.

The benefits of such an experience are substantial—our students gain insight into how their projects resonate (or not) and how their approach might be revised in the future. The online reflection that often follows the posting of a project can be as the experience of creating it.

This page briefly considers what makes a good digital assignment and how to design your first one—especially if you don’t consider yourself digitally savvy.

We then share an in-depth case study about incorporating a digital storytelling assignment into a biblical studies course. At the bottom of the page you’ll find our collection of model assignments, which you are free to use or adapt for your own courses. (If you’re looking for short active learning activities to use in class rather than more substantial outside-of-class projects, refer to the Teaching Practices page.)

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THE ELEMENTS OF GOOD ASSIGNMENTS

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to developing an appropriate digital assignment in the theological education context. We have, however, compiled draft design principles that we think reflect some of the wisdom of this research project and our teaching experience.

  • Students benefit from assignments that connect to their current or future ministry tasks and contexts
  • Built-in flexibility of topic, approach, and/or medium can help students stay motivated through challenging or longer-term assignments
  • Mentor texts and real-world examples can help your students imagine concretely their own media creations
  • Task scaffolding and other ways of guiding students’ process can help them overcome novice anxiety
  • Sensitivity to variation in student preparation can help you design assignments that encourage appropriate risk and growth at all skill levels
  • Grading rubrics clarify your expectations and show students how to demonstrate desired subject-matter and digital literacy outcomes

Have others to suggest? Please let us know!

Worried you might not be skilled enough with new media to design such an assignment? We doubt it, but we know it’s a concern and have made a few comments here.

Background image: “Staged” by DualD FlipFlop via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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CASE STUDY: DIGITAL STORIES IN BIBLICAL STUDIES

Former M.Div. student Alan Bentrup presents his contemporary telling of the Binding of Isaac from Genesis 22.

Hebrew Bible professor Judy Fentress-Williams and DLTK research advisor Stacy Williams-Duncan present on our digital storytelling experience at Vanderbilt University’s Pedagogical Possibilities Conference in 2015.

In the spring of 2015, our team worked with The Rev. Dr. Judy Fentress-Williams, Professor of Old Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary, to implement a discipline-appropriate digital literacy assignment.

We chose to model the assignment loosely on digital storytelling, a practice of integrating voiceover, images, and music to create a 2-3 minute narrative video.

Students received training in the form of two interactive 30-minute guest lectures (1, 2) by our digital storytelling coach, who was also available for student consultation and support.

At left you will find a sample story produced by a student in the course, as well as a presentation reporting on the experience.

I’m interested in the elements of remix as a way of thinking about methods of biblical interpretation. It’s with this idea in mind that I sat down to work with Stacy on how we might find ways to re-engage my students so that they understand and appreciate the orality of the text. There are congruities between oral and digital storytelling that are so useful.

I’m still working out how to articulate what’s unique about the exegetical work that goes in the digital storytelling … Storytelling is its own exposition of the text … I ask my students to do certain things in [written] exegesis without fear that they can’t be creative. I assume you can do these things and still exercise creativity.

Judy Fentress-Williams, Professor of Old Testament

Background image: Video editing by Wessex Archaeology via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

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MODEL ASSIGNMENTS

Background image: “Gemeentemuseum The Hague” by John Valk via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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