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New database aims to help instructors create meaningful assignments

Resource currently holds two dozen assignments, organizers hope it will continue to grow
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The Assignments Across Disciplines database will compile assignments from instructors across U of T. SAMANTHA YAO/THE VARSITY
The Assignments Across Disciplines database will compile assignments from instructors across U of T. SAMANTHA YAO/THE VARSITY

Assignments Across Disciplines (AAD) is a new database of assignments from every academic area of U of T that professors can access and learn from in order to improve their own assigned material. Students and other instructors can provide feedback on assignments submitted to the database, which instructors can then work from to create assignments that better serve students’ often diverse learning needs.

The project is being led by Associate Professor Andrea L. Williams, who is also the director of Writing-Integrated Teaching (WIT), a program that focuses on embedding writing instruction in undergraduate courses, along with Assistant Professor Erin Vearncombe of WIT and three student research assistants. AAD is funded by a grant from U of T’s Learning & Education Advancement Fund.

Williams often works with instructors to improve their assignments, as students often find traditional assignments to be rather repetitive and dulling, which can lead to them not gaining much out of the experience. She wrote to The Varsity that, to continue aiding instructors, she has created AAD as a collection of assignments that acts as “an open-access digital resource designed to help instructors create assignments that help students learn.”

According to a U of T spokesperson, as of now the database has only two dozen assignments, but the organizers hope that number will continue to grow. Williams and her team are connecting with students, instructors, and librarians to further expand it and increase its usage. The assignments in the database are peer-reviewed before being accepted and published. Current and former faculty members, graduate students, and administrators can volunteer to review assignments.

The database also hopes to encourage instructors to use innovative projects and activities that may be more helpful to students than traditional assignments. Williams believes that making well-designed assignments improves student engagement and can “mitigate some of the stresses that they face” as well. 

According to Arts and Science Students’ Union (ASSU) President Ikran Jama, the database will “significantly benefit students as it allows instructors to use outstanding assignment examples to help inspire their own assignments and projects.” The ASSU has provided feedback on AAD and is helping to promote the program. Jama wrote in an email that the ASSU is “more than excited to be supporting such a new and impactful initiative.”

If a student wishes to share an assignment they found particularly useful or enjoyable, they can submit it to the AAD website.