Anna Babel, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Anna Babel, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, designed a teaching intervention to address a struggle she noticed in her students enrolled in an upper-level course for Spanish majors as part of the Drake Institute Instructional Redesign initiative.

As part of Variation in Spanish (SPAN 4538), which she taught three times before the redesign, deployed in autumn 2019, Babel asked students to read academic articles relevant to the class on a weekly basis and write summaries of the articles. “Despite the fact that I had built some scaffolding into the course, the students continued to struggle with this assignment and reported that it took a lot of effort and they didn’t see the point of it,” she explained.

“In the past, I had attempted to scaffold the assignment by (1) inviting a librarian to the class to discuss resources and databases that students could use to search for academic articles, (2) spending time with the students discussing how to organize and plan their approach to reading academic articles, (3) providing examples of article summaries on Carmen, and (4) providing a guide on Carmen that students could use to organize their reading. 

“As an intervention, I decided to change the way that I provided these resources. Rather than inviting a librarian to class, I made some articles available on Carmen for students to choose from and added a link to the library resource guide that the librarian had created. I increased the class time that I spent on (2), (3), and (4), rather than expecting students to do these activities on their own. I spent time at the beginning of the semester explicitly explaining why I thought the assignment was useful and how it connects to real-world problems. Finally, I instituted a peer-review process using the same rubric that I used for grading the article summaries.”

To measure the value of this instructional change, Babel used three methods of assessment: student grades on the assignment, quantitative and qualitative measures from the midterm evaluation; and qualitative feedback from students on the assignment itself. The results pointed to the value of the revised approach. 

“In particular, reducing the number of article summaries turned in, but increasing the amount of time dedicated to each summary seemed to be an effective learning strategy that resulted in better quality of learning and less stress for the students,” she concluded in her portfolio. 

In addition to changing this assignment, Babel also instituted peer review for another assignment category. She noticed that students who took advantage of the peer review produced better writing. 

“I think this was less because of the comments they received from their peer evaluators and more because of the process of revising and reflecting on their own writing. I am likely to keep peer review in my syllabus in the future, particularly given that the student response was so positive.”

To learn more details about Babel’s assessment approach, view her IR portfolio.