Challenge Journal #2: Branching out for a grade

Last year in the fall semester, I took a history course on Africa before 1850. The professor was great: he took the material seriously, had class outside, and did not rigidly adhere to the syllabus if there was material his students were more interested in. When finals time rolled about, he assigned us a research paper, the prompt being something along the lines of “write about what you found most interesting this semester,” however, there was a caveat: don’t write an essay.

Most of the students in the course were rather confused. No essay? How are we supposed to do research if we can’t put it into an essay format? The professor wanted us to do research and present our findings in any way other than an essay format. Now, as a person who studies best reading Times New Roman words out of a textbook and who writes to-do list in paragraph form, you could say I was a bit hesitant.

After consulting with other students, I finally decided to create a director’s script for a documentary on my topic: the oldest university in Timbuktu. As I drafted, I let myself go completely; I included pictures, handwritten notes that were written “on set,” maps of filming locations, etc.

I got a B.

Not one to really roll over with that, I emailed the professor for an explanation. Very politely, he said that, while I had the creativity nailed down, my content was lacking – there was not enough correlation between what I was doing and what was taught in class. Begrudgingly, I accepted the feedback and reviewed my work. The professor was right, though I am still reluctant to admit that. I think the reason I got so excited by the “creative” aspect of the assignment was because I had not done any kind of project like that since high school – it was fun to just let ideas come to me and incorporate them. On the other hand though, my excitement prevented me from delving far enough into the material to produce quality research.

Let me know if you have experienced something similar!

Meghan Brody

Meghan Brody. B.A. History & Writing. LSA Senior. Aspiring librarian.

One thought to “Challenge Journal #2: Branching out for a grade”

  1. Meghan,
    This post was really interesting to me because I also find it difficult at times when professors ask for creativity and specific content. It feels like a weird mixture between freedom and constraint. Either way, I found his assignment fascinating and find myself wondering what I would do if I was assigned a research project but it wasn’t an essay.

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