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Empty Trash Cans and Renewable Assignments

"...renewable assignments result in meaningful, valuable artifacts that enable future meaningful, valuable work." - David Wiley

My personalized learning routine involves skimming through a few dozen blog posts first thing in the morning. I slammed on the brakes, and adjusted my reading glasses when I came across David Wiley's discussion of disposable versus renewable assignments in higher education. What do these terms mean, what are the differences, and why should educators care about the fate of their assignments?

According to Dr. Wiley, disposable assignments are those that end up in a garbage can shortly after the instructor has graded it. This signals the learning, if there was any, has now ended. An assignment at the bottom of a garbage can adds no additional value to the world. My friend Shawn McCusker dislikes the thought of student work ending up in piles. He says, "If we want to increase the importance and validity of student work we need to extend it’s life cycle and allow individual learning to be shared, with the class, the school and the community." Students see little cause to invest in work that will likely end up in a landfill.


In a previous post, I discussed how digital contribution trumps digital citizenship. This argument is supported by Dr. Wiley's concept of renewable assignments. Renewable assignments provide opportunities for learners to create meaningful, valuable artifacts that contribute to the learning of others. These artifacts can be reviewed, revised, and renewed to perpetuate learning. Wiley goes on to suggest there is a significant amount of student production capacity that could be used to scale production of OERs (open educational resources).

Several weeks ago, at the conclusion of the school year, our own children emptied their backpacks creating a pile of paper that overflowed our recycle bin. I asked them, "Isn't there anything here worth saving?" 

"Nope.", they answered in unison.

"This looks like a lot of work. What did you learn from doing all of this?", I asked.

"Nothing.", again almost in unison.

Disappointed by the waste of time and paper, I invited the kids to show me their learning in their most usual way, by playing Minecraft and Clash of Clans. The boys willingly read books, watch videos, and chat with other players to improve their skill at these games. They are also studying how to create their own videos to teach others to improve their gaming skills. Those of you with children who are gamers know they will spend hours on end working to level up, studying their craft, and sharing their knowledge and skill with other players. Disposable or renewable?

"If learning communities, both formal ones such as school, and informal ones such as community center classes, want to take advantage of and leverage all available resources, then they would embrace a culture where educators teach learners, educators teach other educators, learners teach learners, and learners teach educators." - Dr. Jackie Gerstein

Educators, are you providing meaningful, renewable learning assignments, or do your assignments go straight into the trash after they're graded? If your trash cans are empty, what advice would you offer teachers wanting to extend learning, and the life of student work?

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photo credit: Respect for the Law_1344c via photopin (license)

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