Implementing Non-Disposable Assignments to Improve Student Learning

Student on devices completing assignment
"What if we changed these ‘disposable assignments’ into activities which actually added value to the world? Then students and faculty might feel different about the time and effort they invested in them" (Wiley, 2013)

In the current education system, students are required to complete a plethora of assignments that typically lose their value once submitted and graded. These assignments are commonly referred to as ‘disposable assignments’ and post no significant lasting value beyond the students’ experience of completing the activity. Unfortunately, disposable assignments are alarmingly common in most curriculums and students are not effectively learning due to the lack of critical and analytical thinking associated with these types of activities. 


In contrast to disposable assignments, ‘Non-Disposable Assignments’ (NDAs), also known as ‘Renewable Assignments,’ are best known for adding value to students’ learning. This blog will shed light on ‘Non-Disposable Assignment’ and its importance in developing students’ critical and analytical skills while having the opportunity to curate a portfolio of relevant content for future references.


What is Non-Disposable Assignment (NDA)?

Non-Disposable Assignments refer to assignments in which cognitive efforts of students are repurposed by allowing them to generate educational resources and materials for future students, along with formal and informal learners worldwide. Usually, the materials and resources generated by NDAs include wiki entries, tutorials, videos and blogs posted online. [1] In other words, these instructional materials are openly licensed, which can be revised and remixed by anyone to create improved resources for future students in a similar course. [3]

How Non-Disposable Assignments Add Value 

According to David Wiley, non-disposable assignments add value because of the fact that students complete such assignments as producers of knowledge, rather than just being consumers of knowledge. Since these assignments are Open Educational Resources (OER), students from all over the world with similar interests can benefit from them. Non-disposable assignments are widely known for enhancing learning opportunities for students. [2] Considering the unique features of Non-Disposable Assignments such as open access to peers and increased relatability, they promote student engagement, excitement, productivity, and overall academic progress. [4]


NDAs are closely related to open pedagogies, a teaching practice that encourages students to become creators of information and not merely consumers. [5] Open pedagogy focuses on open projects that result in free teaching and learning materials, also known as ‘Open Educational Resources’ (OER). These are the open-licensed educational materials that can be revised, retained, reused, redistribute, and altered according to specific learning needs. OER helps develop students’ skills in digital literacy while enhancing self-learning opportunities for students. This high-impact teaching practice enables students to engage in creating information with the help of non-disposable assignments. 

Why Avoid Disposable Assignments?

David Wiley has addressed some potential issues regarding ‘Disposable Assignments’ in his blog post titled ‘What is Open Pedagogy?’ [6] Wiley explained that such assignments add no value to the world as he said that after a student spends 3 hours creating a disposable assignment, the teacher devotes 30 minutes to grade it. Afterwards, the students throw them away, which undoubtedly offers no value to other students as they cannot benefit from these assignments. [5] 


In contrast, non-disposable assignments allow both instructors and students to work collaboratively to create resources that will be used by the public to add tangible value to the world outside of the classroom. Unlike disposable assignments, students invest more effort towards creating educational materials as they understand that their energy, time, and cognitive efforts will benefit a larger audience than just themselves. [1] Therefore, educators have come up with the concept of ‘Non-Disposable Assignments’ that enable students to gain knowledge and expertise through a social learning experience. 


In Disposable Assignments, students often complain about spending too much time completing the assignment, which is never seen again after instructors grade them. Similarly, educators believe that they waste their time in reading and grading non-disposable assignments that students will never look at again. [6] In contrast, Non-Disposable Assignments put emphasis on personalized learning by enabling students to create new knowledge. Moreover, non-disposable assignments enhance the critical thinking of students as they generate knowledge instead of just remembering and recalling information which only develops the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. With Kritik, professors are empowered to enhance students’ higher-order thinking skills and increase engagement levels. In short, professors encourage students to become creators of knowledge rather than merely wasting their time and efforts towards creating disposable assignments. Through peer-grading, students’ completed assignments are anonymously distributed to their peers which is the premise of NDAs as knowledge is shared among everyone. 


Why Use Non-Disposable Assignments (NDAs)? 

Many thought leaders have highlighted the potential benefits of Non-Disposable Assignments to students’ academic careers. [2]

  • Facilitates Effective Self-Evaluation

Non-Disposable Assignments help students in self-directing their personal learning needs as they create knowledge and come to know their own strengths and weaknesses about a specific topic or subject. Self-regulated learning is closely related to intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy, which, in turn, enhances student learning. [7] 

  • Supports Open Educational Resources (OER)

Non-Disposable Assignments support Open Educational Resources (OERs) by encouraging students to generate open educational materials that can be retained, reused, revised, redistributed.  NDAs involve collaboration and the exchange of knowledge, making accessibility of information easier for students. 


Conclusion

Overall, Non-Disposable Assignments play a vital role in enhancing student learning as well as improving socio-cultural competency. Non-Disposable Assignments enable students to become creators of new and improved knowledge. As such, Open Pedagogy plays a vital role in this regard. Thus, Non-Disposable Assignments and open pedagogy possess a high potential to promote students’ learning and improve critical thinking.

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[1] Why is Student Learning Assessment Important? https://www.worldbank.org/content/dam/Worldbank/document/Program/READ/Why_is_student_assessment_important.pdf

[2] Jhangiani, R. (2017). Ditching the “Disposable assignment” in favor of open pedagogy. Kwantlen Polytechnic University. https://osf.io/g4kfx/download?format=pdf 

Seraphin, S. B., Grizzell, J. A., Kerr-German, A., Perkins, M. A., Grzanka, P. R., & Hardin, E. E. (2019). A conceptual framework for non-disposable assignments: Inspiring implementation, innovation, and research. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 18(1), 84-97. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1475725718811711 

[3] Jhangiani, R. (2015). Pilot testing open pedagogy. Retrieved from http://thatpsychprof.com/pilottesting-open-pedagogy/

[4] Van Allen, J., & Katz, S. (2019). Developing Open Practices in Teacher Education: An Example of Integrating OER and Developing Renewable Assignments. Open Praxis, 11(3), 311-319.

Introduction to Open Pedagogy, University of Texas Arlington. Retrieved from https://libguides.uta.edu/openped#:~:text=Open%20pedagogy%20is%20the%20practice,through%20the%20act%20of%20creation.&text=They%20can%20be%20fully%20self,%2C%20learning%20modules%2C%20and%20more

[5] The Non-Disposable Assignment. Retrieved from https://decamosun.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/the-non-disposable-assignment/ 

[6] ‘What is Open Pedagogy’ https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975 

[7] Pink, D. H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. London, UK: Penguin


Jay Arias
Education Researcher

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