The 20% Project

One of the successful projects I had my students do this year was what I referred to as the "20% Project." Modelled after what Google does with their employees, I had students work on a long term project for the entire semester. We would take six or seven (roughly 20%) of the course as time to work on the project n class. I gave student generic options like building timelines, creating audiobooks, editing Wikipedia pages, and other projects like it. Some students took on other project ideas and really embraced the open ended nature of the assignment. Many worked in groups, but handfuls worked alone. A few in each class chose to do more extended, research based, papers.

A group did a timeline on the origins of hell during Dante's lifetime.

Another group did a timeline of portrayals of Irene Adler over the years.

A group created a Wikipedia page for film-maker Janus Metz Pederson.

At the end of the semester, I required students to write brief reflective essays about the experience of creating their project. Many wrote very thoughtful essays that really proved to me what a great idea this is for literature courses. There is only a certain amount of papers you can write before it is numbing and boring. As one of my favorite students often says, when am I going to write a paper on my job? However, you might need to create a digital project at some point or at least need the skills learned from doing one in some way or form. With that said, here are some of my students comments about doing their projects:

  • "I learned more about this subject doing this timeline than I ever would writing a paper"
  • "This was the best assignment I have ever done. Why don't more teachers do assignments like this?"
  • "I appreciated a professor trusting us with our own thoughts and ideas instead of telling us what to do."

Another student wrote that their project helped them deal with abuse issues from their past.Their project focused on how women are gendered and the assumptions made about their docility and "nature," which related to experiences she had tried to escape and overcome in her own life.

There were naysayers to these projects on my campus. Some asked "why not just write a paper about that?" I think the above comments show what a short sighted attitude that is. We are educators to not only teach the craft of writing, but prepare students for the vaunted "real world" people often point to when students do something negative. To prepare them properly for the post academic world, they need a lot more skills than writing a proper introduction to a paper. That will not get you a job.

This semester my Women's Literature course will be creating bibliographies for the writers we are reading this semester.