Ideas for Assignments

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Nursing Professor Resources by Patricia Camillo PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Are you tired of reading those incredibly boring papers? I had a colleague once who told me that before she would sit down to correct them, she would always get a glass of wine, turn on some soft music, and sit in a very comfortable chair, and only then would she begin to read. Most of us have been there…..and yet, we still seem to be drawn to these horrible assignments! Twenty page papers from a class of 30 students at the end of the semester is just insane!!!! As a fellow colleague with many years experience teaching, I am giving you permission to let go of this assignment. There are much better and more effective ways to help students in the writing process. For example, I have found it is actually far more challenging for a student to write a 5 page paper. It’s more difficult to hide what they are not understanding in so few pages. In addition to cutting back on the pages, over the last decade, I have required that students submit their work electronically. It saves trees and it allows me to quickly check the margins to make sure they met my specifications (we all know that margins and fonts are one way to expand a paper). I will also spell check the submitted paper and students know that if I find errors, I will return their work without a grade. So when I finally do sit down to read these assignments, I have eliminated quite a bit of the frustration I might have experienced prior to setting these limits.

Since my tolerance for boredom is low, I have come up with many interesting assignments over the years. I have shared some of these with you on this website. It would be great if you could also share some of yours as well! Together we can infuse a little more creativity and fun into this process and perhaps drink a little less wine .

1. Creation of a Personal Resource Manual (PRM)

I came up with this idea many years ago when I was teaching Gero NP students. Later, I also used it when teaching Women’s Health NP students. In all instances, the students found it incredibly valuable, if not immediately, definitely as they progressed through the program. The actual creation of this assignment took place during specialty theory courses but then was further utilized when the student was in clinical. It’s an assignment that continuously evolved as the student moved through the curriculum, regardless of whether they were online or on campus students.

Here is how I presented it in the syllabus:

You need to purchase a small binder, one that can fit into your lab coat. Each week you will find several topics in the content outline presented in your syllabus. For each of these topics, I will indicate the information you are required to know, especially when you are in the clinical setting. For instance, I might indicate that you need to address the following:
Risk factors
Signs and symptoms

For more complicated conditions, you might also need to address indications for referral.

The creative part of this assignment (because I believe that your right brain as well as your left should be stimulated) lies in the notion that you can construct your PRM however you like. Here are some ideas of how students in my courses have done this in the past:
– typed their information and then shrunk it to fit into their pocket binder
– laminated the pages
– used lots of color – color pages, color markers….some even created a coding system for the information!
– used tabs to separate the topics
– decorated the cover

There is no right or wrong way to do this! But trust me, when you need to reference something quickly in the clinical setting, this little PRM will come in very handy. Furthermore, when the time comes to prepare for your certification exam, you won’t need to buy a special book or take a special course, you will already have it!

My feeling about this is:
I could feed you this information, and you will feel full for this course. But if I teach you how to find it and prepare it, you will have plenty to eat for a long time!

You will need to submit your PRM to me for review at midterm and again at the final. You will receive 14 points for each review for a total of 28 points towards your final grade.

NOTE: This is an assignment that I have used with graduate NP students. However, I think it could also be adapted for use with undergraduates. I would love to hear from you if you do this and I’ll then share that with others!

2. Reading and Resources Assignment

This is an assignment I have used with graduate students but again, I think it could be modified to work with undergrad as well. Although I have used this with on campus students, I found that it is especially useful if you are teaching online! It engages and involves the students more than simply having them read something as a group and discussing it. And here is the best part…..I provide enough reading and/or resources so that each student can have something distinct from the other students. This is wonderfully effective with online students because once a student posts his/her assignment on that weekly board, no other student can use that particular reading/resource. Trust me, it get’s them online at the very beginning of the week and most students have completed their assignment by mid week!! Then there is an opportunity for students to reflect on my comments before heading into the next weeks assignment.

Here is how I worded the assignment in the syllabus:

Each week I will email you (if the students are on campus….or post, if they are online) a list of links from the web that deal in some way with the topic for the week. Choose no more than two of these and share at least two new things that you learned. (If the student is on campus, I tell them to put this on an index card that they need to submit to me…..this prevents them from taking an entire page to get to the point! If the student is online, the assignment will be posted on an asynchronous board for the week.) You need to indicate which reading/resources you have chosen and post them along with your assignment. Once this is posted, no other student may use that particular reading/resource for their weekly assignment. If someone already posts something that you have chosen to read, you need to choose something else and consider it a blessing because you will have learned twice as much!

NOTE: Something wonderful happens when a student is given the opportunity to CHOOSE from a “menu” what their reading assignment will be for the week. It’s empowering! And although there will always be the occasional student who will do as little as possible (and you will certainly know who they are and discuss this with them), I have found that most students embrace this opportunity. In fact after posting my comments, the evidence is clear to me that they learned much more than the “two new things” that were shared. And one final point, once in awhile a student will share something that they clearly should have already known……I simply let them know that and they need to choose another reading/resource from what remains. Usually this is enough to stop that practice from happening again in the future

3. Health Promotion/Community Health

This assignment is one that I first created while teaching a Health Promotion course to graduate NP students. At the time here was a push from several national organizations to include more community focused content in the NP curriculum. Since my secondary concentration in my doctoral program was medical anthropology, I was totally on board with this idea! In fact, I think that this need is probably even greater years later. Many programs have dropped their health promotion courses and have chosen to integrate that content throughout the curriculum. Well, we all know that a lot can be lost when this is done, so I am hoping that sharing this assignment sparks an interest in this much needed focus.

Here is how I worded the assignment in the syllabus:

1. Choose a community of interest to you. This can be either the community where you currently reside, the community where you have a clinical practice, or the community where you would like to eventually have a clinical practice. Your community will be defined and named by the county in which it is located. By the second week of class, you will need to inform me which community you have chosen.

2. Each week, you will explore the incidence/prevalence of a particular health concern within your chosen community. This will coincide with the course content for the week. For example, week 4 focuses on accidents, violence and suicide prevention among children and adolescents. Your assignment is to find out as much as you can about these concerns in your community. There are numerous ways you can go about this:
– chat with your colleagues….. what has been their experience
– call the county public health department and ask if they have data regarding these concerns
– interview a nurse or other health provider who has a practice in one of these areas
– run a search of articles from a local newspaper – or chat with someone who is the health editor of one of these publications

These are just a few examples. You may in fact come up with other sources of information. The purpose of this assignment is to help you understand how the health related topics we are covering in our course outline are manifested in your community.

Each week you will need to submit a ONE page typewritten summary of your findings.

You will receive 3 points per week for 12 weeks for a total of 36 points towards your final grade.

NOTE: Once again I believe this assignment can be adapted for use with undergrad students. If you try it, please let me know how it works out and I’ll share it with others!

4. Health Promotion/Community Health Part II

I used this assignment, once again with graduate NP students, to dovetail along with the assignment listed above. In addition to knowing more about health related concerns in their community, I wanted them to be able to locate and define the resources available to address those concerns.

Here is how I worded the assignment in the syllabus:

This assignment flows from your research and you would be smart to work on them together. For example, if you are calling the county health department to find out about the incidence of teen suicide, you should also ask them what resources are available in your community to help teens who might be depressed and possibly suicidal. There may be some topics that lead nowhere – in other words, there are NO resources in your community for a particular health concern. If that’s the case, then you need to identify a possibly resource that could be developed. For example, if there are no resources for teens who are depressed, perhaps the local teen center or community church could be a place where volunteers might provide a help line for troubled teens. Now remember, I am not expecting you to actually do this or even develop a plan for it. You simply need to identify the current or potential resources that might address this health concern in your community.¬† You will need to submit a ONE page typewritten summary of your findings each week.

You will receive up to 3 points each week over 12 weeks for a total of 36 points towards your final grade.

NOTE: Both part 1 and part 2 of this assignment was a HUGE success! Students discovered things they never knew or even thought about prior to this course. It was also an opportunity for me to help these future nurse practitioners understand how critical it was to their practice to have knowledge. For instance, I remember one instance when several students were amazed to discover the high incidence of adult drinking in their particular community. Armed with this knowledge, they could explore the possibility of problem drinking in situations where they might not have previously considered it. Many students later told me that they referred back to the resources they accumulated for this course when they were in clinical.

5. Self Assessment for Health Promotion

This is an assignment I came up with because I actually had 4 extra points when I had put the rest of my assignments together and I needed to do something. As it turned out, necessity was the mother of invention! The goal of this assignment was to have students reflect on the process of changing one’s behavior from a very personal stance. The outcome was a better understanding and empathy for what we ask others to do and in some instances, some very positive actual changes¬† place over the course of the semester!

Here is how I worded this assignment in the syllabus:

On the first day of class you will be asked to choose a personal concern that has implications for your health. For instance, it might be the need to loose weight, stop smoking, manage your stress better. These are just a few examples. After the first class, you will design a personal strategy for how you will go about improving your health in this one particular area over the course of the semester. Choose something that you would be comfortable sharing with others, namely, myself and your classmates. By the end of the second week, you will need to share your plans. This is worth 2 points towards your final grade.

At the end of the semester, you will need to share the outcome (for on campus students, this was a brief verbal sharing and for online students, this was done on a designated board). This is worth another 2 points. You don’t need to have accomplished your goal in order to obtain these points. What’s important is that you experience the process and then reflect on that experience. Throughout the semester, I would encourage you to share your progress with others in your class. This is not a requirement but might help to highlight the potential of social support when changing behavior.

A total of 4 points towards your final grade – and an immeasurable experience!!

NOTE: I have only offered this assignment to graduate students – both on campus and online. In fact, for the online students, I set up a separate board where they could share their progress with each other, whenever they felt so inclined. It turned out to be a very active board! I see no reason why a similar assignment couldn’t be offered to undergraduate students. Please let me know how it turns out if you offer it to this group so I can share it with others!

“It’s the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”¬†

Albert Einstein


Back in the early 90’s, I was helping to design and teach in the Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Program at the University of Minnesota. At the time I was the only practicing NP on the faculty. I noticed that students were not understanding the complexity of medication management for the elderly. So I created a medication analysis learning tool for them that I also used in testing. Recently I shared this with some FNP students in a course I was teaching and their response was “good thing you didn’t use this in our class!” In retrospect, I wish I had, especially after hearing their response and recognizing that they felt unprepared to comfortably manage this assignment. There are four pages. CLICK HERE!


Here is the Audit form

Go to the Nursing Professor Blog to read how I used this audit with students.