Researching on the Block Plan
Research-based assignments present challenges to both faculty and students. Time is chief among those challenges. The Block Plan, while intense and compact, can enable research in unique ways. The Block Plan:
- Enables students to draw on resources off campus through planned excursions and independent activities
- Generates momentum as students build on their own work, progressing through the research and writing processes in a focused way
- Provides the flexibility for faculty or other professionals to consult with students individually
- Enables faculty to schedule course activities and make patterns to meet pedagogical needs rather than meeting at a fixed time every day
- Facilitates focused faculty preparation time and opportunities for collaboration with other professional colleagues (e.g., writing specialists, librarians, educational technologists) as they prepare for one course at a time.
The intensity of the Block Plan can give the impression that students cannot be expected to engage in research-based assignments. Common questions and issues arise, but these can be met by thoughtful planning and creativity:
1. Do students have time to do research papers? An advantage of the Block Plan is that students have fewer distractions because they are taking only one course. Indeed, in the semester plan, students rarely do a research paper over an entire semester, but more typically in three weeks-or less. These strategies can help students use their time in the Block efficiently:
- Stage the assignment so that students have intermediate deadlines for components of their work, e.g., a working bibliography, a working thesis, a preliminary draft.
- Sequence assignments so that students' work builds on previous work, e.g., an annotated bibliography, a literature review, an essay, a research paper.
2. Do professors have time to grade drafts of papers? These tips can help professors use time efficiently:
- Plan due dates to align with available time
- Involve colleagues in the library to review bibliographies or in the writing studio/center to review drafts
- Develop rubrics that define expectations clearly to streamline the assessment, and to facilitate self/peer assessment
3. Do students have time to revise?
- Set deadlines for drafts of papers in week 2 or 3 of the time to allow time for revision
- Call for drafts of parts of the assignment throughout the block
4. Are students adequately prepared to write their senior theses or seminar papers?
- Develop a departmental sequence of experiences to lead up to this major work
- Give discipline-specific assignments in earlier courses to develop students' knowledge of the "style" of the discipline
- Schedule students to work with experts in the library and/or the writing studio/center
- Teach students to use bibliographic management software such as RefWorks to manage their sources and information