Sample Course Assignments

Early Assignment 1

Early Assignment 2

End of Course Assignment

Reducing Plagiarism

This page has a few example early and late course assignments, an example term paper and potential term paper topics, a sample book report assignment an a book list. At the end, there are some ideas for instructors to reduce plagiarism.

Early COurse Assignment Example 1

(Due one week later)

Write a short essay (roughly 300 words) about some topic related to computing and/or communication technology that interests you and has social or ethical implications. Describe the background; then identify the social or ethical issues, problems, or questions that you think are important. (Don't make your essay be just an argument for one point of view. You may express your views if you want to, but first explain what the issues are, why there is a problem or a controversy.)

Notes for this assignment -- This assignment gives a good idea of what the students are interested in. It also emphasizes the importance of exploring a problem or issue before jumping to a conclusion. Usually, a few students write excellent essays. I post a few on the class Web page for the class to read (with the author's permission).

Early COurse Assignment Example 2

(Due one or two weeks before the end of the course)

Collect news articles (print or electronic) on (1) benefits and valuable applications of computer technology and (2) new problems or dramatic failures. The articles should be current, that is, published during this time period. Write a brief summary and commentary on two articles in each category indicating how they relate to topics covered in this book.

Notes for this assignment -- It is a good idea to remind students of this assignment a few weeks before it is due. Many forget, and I prefer them to be on the alert for relevant articles in various media, rather than just looking for some on the Web the day before the assignment is due.

Example End of Course Assignment

Choose any topic from this course about which your knowledge, awareness, interest, or opinion has changed. Write a short essay (roughly 300 words) about whatever strikes you as especially interesting or significant about this topic and/or the issues involved. Tell how you think it will affect your role as a computer science professional.

Notes for this assignment -- Give this assignment near the end of the semester, due the last week. The results are sometimes surprising and almost always quite rewarding.

I almost feel like this course has civilized me as a computer science major.
--- From a student essay for this assignment.

Example Term Paper Assignment

Guidelines/specifications for the paper

Investigate the topic. Use articles and/or books, etc., for background. Your project must include some background research and some activity, e.g., an interview or a physical site visit. (If you choose a topic for which you can't think of an appropriate activity, discuss it with the instructor.)

Don't just report. Discuss pros and cons. Evaluate. Use your own words. Quote where appropriate. Give citations for facts and quotes. Discuss how your topic relates to material covered in the text and/or in class discussions.

The paper should be approximately 4000-5000 words. 

Outline for the paper (roughly)

  • Cover page with title and your name
  • Introduction/overview of topic and issues to be discussed
  • Background, description, and/or history of the issue
  • Issues, various points of view
  • Results of interviews, observations, etc.
  • Your comments or evaluation
  • Summary
  • List of references
  • Appendix

Use information and/or quotes from your interview or site visit in the appropriate place(s) within your paper. The Appendix should contain the name, position, and company (or other relevant information) for the person(s) you interviewed or the places you visited. For interviews, include your list of questions and indicate if the interview was in person, by phone, or by email. (In-person interviews are best, but may not be available for some topics.) Include the person's answers. (A summary is ok.) If you identify the person fully and quote extensively from the interview in the body of your paper you do not have to include the appendix. The Appendix does not count toward the 4000 word requirement.

The project is to be done during this course. Do not turn in a paper done earlier for another course or for your job.

Reminders and warnings

Remember what this course is about. A few students have handed in papers that are purely factual or historic (e.g., a history of the Internet, a summary of computer technology used in the military). Such papers will not get high scores. You must include discussion of issues.

One of the most common problems with papers is poor organization. Write an outline. Organize your thoughts. You may use section headings to indicate the topic or purpose of sections of the paper.

A few students have waited until late in the semester to get started, then discovered that information on their topic was unavailable or people they wanted to interview refused. Start early in case you have to change topics or find a new interviewee or activity.

Use a variety of sources for information and arguments. Remember that there's a lot of junk and unsupported opinion on the Web. Pay attention to quality of your sources. (If your topic is covered in the text, do not use the text as a main source. Report in more depth and/or on newer or other aspects of the topic.)

Now and then, a student hands in a paper he or she did not write at all or in which large segments are copied from other sources. Please don't do this. It is dishonest, unfair to your fellow students, and unpleasant for both you and the instructor. Plagiarism is usually reported to the appropriate university discipline office. Write in your own words. Start early; talk to the instructor if you have problems.

Requirements for submitting your topic description (due the end of Week 4)

Include a title and one or two paragraphs describing what you plan to do. Tell what interviews, site visits, or other activity you plan. Be specific if you can. Include at least one good reference you plan to use.

There will be a limit on the number of students doing any single topic, so it will be good to have a second topic in mind in case you choose one that too many others have chosen.

Tips for interviews

Use ingenuity in choosing and finding interviewees. Choose someone in a position to have special knowledge of the topic. Don't be afraid of asking well-known people, but be prepared for refusals.

Start early. It may take time to find someone, to schedule the interviews, and to do follow-up.

Plan. Write up your questions in advance. Start with easy questions, getting general information. Ask about positive things before asking about problems. Take notes so you get details right.

Be polite. Identify yourself and your project. Thank the person.

Grading criteria

The project is worth 20% of the course grade. It will be graded 0-20. A few points of your grade will be based on your critique of another student's paper. A few points will be based on your interview/site visit/activity.

Grading criteria include: background or history, presentation of issues and various points of view, interview or other activity, quality of argument and analysis (principles, examples, counterexamples), structure/organization, clarity of writing, sufficient references, sufficient length, and originality. You should define terms where necessary. Be sure to read and edit your final copy before handing it in.

References on writing and research

Joseph Williams, Style: Ten Lessons on Clarity and Grace.
Gordon Harvey, Writing With Sources: A Guide for Students (Hacket, 1998).
Your campus library's website probably has links to information about doing research and citing online sources.


  • End of Week 4: Topic description due.
  • Beginning of Week 12: Paper due, to be read and critiqued by another student.
  • End of Week 12: Critiqued papers to be returned, with comments.
  • Beginning of Week 13: Final paper (and commented draft) due.

Example Term Paper Topics

(This is a little dated and will be updated soon.)

Describe a variety of applications of drones, including useful and destructive ones. Discuss benefits and risks of drones. Discuss ways to deal with some of the risks. Describe and evaluate FAA regulation of drones. Compare with regulation of drones in other countries. Describe and evaluate various actual, proposed, or potential regulations for drones.

Digital money.
Background: What is money? Give a brief history of different kinds of money, including past examples that were not issued by governments. New money: Describe Bitcoin (or another digital money system). Why do people use it? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Consider privacy of transactions, volatility, inflation, use by criminals, etc. and compare to standard money.

Give some history and background about massive open online courses (MOOCs). How do they work? What aims do they have? Who enrolls in the courses? Then evaluate them. What is the completion rate? What benefits and problems have occurred? Have they fulfilled their promise? If not, is it likely just a matter of time, or are there inherent weaknesses?

Computers in the legal/justice system. (Revised)
Describe systems in use, from legal databases to artificial intelligence programs. Concentrate on AI systems in sensitive applications, for example, sentencing and parole decisions. Consider the prospect of AI systems making judgments in some routine legal cases. Describe and evaluate pros and cons.

Cyber warfare.
Research debates and international agreements about nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons policies and discuss parallels and differences between those and cyber weapons. 

Smartphones and privacy.

Use of personal social media content in hiring and firing decisions.
Expand on the issues raised in Section 6.3. Describe and evaluate new cases and any significant court decisions or legislation.

Analysis of Facebook.
Imagine that you have been hired to analyze several Facebook features and policies from the average user's perspective and make recommendations for changes.

Cars that drive themselves.
Study progress, safety, and social issues related to an automated system such as self-driving vehicles. 

Deep packet inspection.
What is it? What are its positive uses? What are its negative uses? Give examples. Consider network security, censorship, management of network traffic, privacy, and any other relevant areas.

Devices to assist people with disabilities.
Describe some of the new tools and their impact. Discuss issues such as cost, any problems with these devices, etc. 

Identification and biometrics.
Choose a few recent uses of biometrics or other identification technology. Discuss benefits, actual or potential problems and abuses, and appropriate guidelines for use of such technologies. You might want to include the example of an identification chip that is implanted under a person's skin. About the size of a grain of rice, it contains personal information and emits a radio signal that identifies the person. 

Describe recent applications, benefits, possible problem areas (e.g., privacy, errors, loss of personalized care).

Health information on the Web.
Research and report on Web-based health information sites, including such issues as benefits, reliability of the information, privacy protections, techniques to rate or accredit sites, and impact on medical care. You might want to also discuss the impact of (and issues related to) having one's own medical record online, either at one's health care organization's website or in the cloud.

Privacy on the Web.
What are the new issues or problems? What improvements have been made for problems discussed in the text?. 

Privacy for organizations and businesses.
All our discussion of privacy concerns privacy for people. There have been incidents in which sensitive information that organizations and businesses must provide to government agencies has been made public, intentionally, accidentally, or by leaks. Release of information about fund-raising, sales plans, pricing, members, or customers might aid competitors. Release of information about manufacture of, storage of, and security for certain chemicals could aid terrorists. Report on some cases and discuss reasonable extensions of principles about privacy for organizations and businesses.

Personal data privacy regulations in other countries. Report on personal data privacy regulations, website privacy policies, and law enforcement access to personal data in one or more countries other than the United States.

Computing and communication technology in law enforcement.
Choose some examples. Describe benefits and problems. An activity for this project could include a ride-along in a police car. (A few students did this in the past and found it very instructive.) Another possible activity is to interview someone who runs or supervises the use of local law enforcement computer systems. What databases do they access? How do they prevent unauthorized access?

Technological responses to terrorism.
Describe and evaluate some of the computer-based technologies implemented or expanded after Sept. 11, 2001. Consider effectiveness, cost, impact on daily life and air travel, risks, etc., and arguments related to privacy and civil liberties.

Children and cellphones.
How do children use mobile phones? What are the benefits? What are the problems? You might want to focus on a specific age group (young children, teenagers) or cover a bigger range. Do benefits for children and families outweigh risks? What software or other systems have developed to reduce problems?

The global economy.
What are the roles and impacts of computers and communications technology in the increase of trans-border economic activity (e.g., eBay as a global garage sale; customer service workers in other countries; databases to track the origin of a cow with Mad Cow Disease; etc.)? What are the benefits? What are the problems? Is this aspect of increased globalization a good thing for people in the United States, for people in other countries, for humanity in general?

Safety-critical applications.
Find a local application to study, or study the Air Traffic Control system, systems to prevent train crashes, a particular area of medical devices, or other similar topic. Describe systems in use, discuss benefits and risks.

Use of computer and Web technology by restaurants.
Investigate and discuss issues such as customer service, impact on employment, food safety, ambiance. Visit a restaurant with self-service ordering terminals. Some fast food restaurants use robotic devices for food preparation; report on one. Interview a waiter or restaurant manager. (This could be part of a paper that looks at the impact of computer automation in two or three industries or consumer services.)

Describe and evaluate technical solutions, current legislation and regulation, and any significant proposed legislation. Some people propose that the federal government create a "Do not spam" list, like the "Do not call" list for telemarketers. Discuss privacy problems that could occur with implementation of such a list. Discuss the roles of technical and legislative solutions for spam. Consider the relevance of freedom of speech.

Information warfare.
Will the next wars be fought without bombs? Will computer networks and computer-controlled infrastructure be the targets of military hackers? What is happening now? What kind of defenses are possible?

Recent copyright battles for music and movies.
Report on several recent strategies used by the entertainment industries (legal, technological, and business) to prevent unauthorized copying. Evaluate the effectiveness and ethics of the methods. Describe current controversies.

Free software and open source software.
What's happening with "free" software and open-source software now? What is their impact? What are the implications for consumers? For big companies like Microsoft?

Identity theft.
What is the current state of the problem? How have consumers and businesses changed behavior in response to identity theft? What technical solutions have developed?

Report on specific incidents or organizations engaged in hacktivism. Compare to civil disobedience and to other kinds of hacking.

Are Web issues really new?
Choose two other technologies or innovations, such as radio, telegraph, railroads, or electricity, and find out what ethical, social, and legal issues and controversies arose about them. Compare the problems and issues to current problems and issues about the Web. What solutions developed? How well do those solutions fit the Web?

Computing and the environment.
How do nature/conservation researchers and organizations use computing and communications technologies in their work? Describe applications that help protect the environment. Describe aspects of computers that cause environmental problems. What do environmentalists think of computers? 

Political activism on the Net in the United States (or other politically free country).
How has the Internet helped or hurt political groups outside the mainstream? How is it used by major political parties and candidates? What is the impact? How do/should current regulations about political campaigns affect individuals and small organizations that set up Web pages to support/oppose candidates and issues?

Politial organizing in unfree countries.
Choose one country or a few countries that restrict political freedom. Describe how people use social networking sites and other Internet technologies to organize political events, strikes, protests, boycotts, etc. How have these techniques affected the politics of the country? How have the governments responded? What do these experiences suggest for the future of political freedom and democracy?

Electronic voting and Internet voting.
The United States and some other countries have experimented with voting on the Internet or using electronic voting machines. How successful were these attempts? Will most political elections be held on the Internet in the future? Discuss the problems of maintaining secret ballots, preventing election fraud, and providing for recounts (for both electronic voting machines and Internet voting). What other issues are relevant? How are the states (and other nations) handling these issues?

Violence in video/computer games.
What is the impact on children? How does it differ from television? Consider interviewing people who write and publish computer games to find out their policies and views about violent games.

The Web in schools.

How is the Web used in elementary schools? High schools? Are students being taught to use the Web effectively, wisely, and safely?

Distance learning at the university level.
What are the common uses? What will be the impact on universities? On adult education? Is cheating a problem?

Monitoring of employees' Web use and email.
What policies are employers using? Perhaps study a few large businesses in your area. Evaluate policies for different kinds of employers (e.g., for your university, covering students, faculty, and staff, and for a software company in a highly competitive business).

Cyberspace communities.
What makes a "community"? How do cyberspace communities handle decision making, dealing with troublesome members, etc.? Find one community to study in depth, preferably one that you are a member of or have a special interest in. (Please respect the community's privacy guidelines and ask permission if quoting members.)

Gender or ethnic issues.
The Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering might have some useful articles for background and ideas for specific projects. There have been several studies of differences in the way men and women use computers. Some ethnic groups or socioeconomic groups favor different tools (e.g., smartphones vs. tablets). 

Computing and network access in other countries.
For example, how are computers used in rural, poor areas of Africa? Choose one country to study in depth or compare a few.

Science fiction and prediction.
Find several science fiction stories published at least 30 years ago that are set in the present time or near future and describe computer and communications technologies. Report on how closely their view of the technology corresponds to what is actually available. What social benefits and problems did they anticipate?

What will the world be like 50 years from now?
How will electronic communications and commerce affect the power of centralized governments? Everyday life? What will happen as computers are connected to the human body? Will human intelligence be of less value in the future? Several experts have written books addressing these issues. You could read two or three and evaluate their predictions.

Example Book Report Assignment

Book selection

You may choose a book that will be useful for your term paper, or you may choose an entirely different topic for the book report.

See the book list below for some suggested books.


Your book report should be roughly 1000-1500 words.

Don't try to summarize the whole book. Give an overview of what it's about, then pick a few critical themes or issues and discuss how the author presents them. Analyze and comment; don't just summarize. Tell which points you think are valid and which you don't agree with, and why. Add your own examples, counterexamples, or arguments, if appropriate.

Some books present or argue for one particular point of view. Read critically. Think about and include counterarguments.

Book selection deadline

Turn in your book selection by the end of Week 3. Include the title, author, date of publication, and a sentence or two on what the book is about if not obvious from the title. 

I will limit the number of people reading the same book, so if your first choice is a very popular one, you may have to choose another. You have a better chance of acceptance of your first choice if your selection is on time (or early).

Book report deadline

The book report is due the end of Week 7.


The campus library may have some of these books, but in many cases, only one copy. Some might be available as ebooks, but many are not. You can get some from Interlibrary Loan, which may take a week or more (and you may have to return them after only a week or two). Some of the books are available in local libraries or bookstores. Start early.

List of Potential Books for Report

(There are many more recent books that will be included soon.)

See also the references lists at the ends of the chapters of the text.
New books are published regularly, and I do not try to survey all that
might be relevant.  Please check other sources for more options.

Floyd Abrams, Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment
(Viking Penguin, 2005)
How do the principles in this book apply to controversies about content on the

Robert M. Anderson, Robert Perrucci, Dan E. Schendel, and Leon E.
Trachtman, Divided Loyalties: Whistle-Blowing at BART (Purdue
University, 1980).  
This book describes the efforts of several engineers to get
computer-related safety problems fixed during the construction of the
San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit System.

Sven Birkerts, The Guttenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in An Electronic
Age (Faber and Faber, 1994).
Birkerts is a critic of computers; he writes his books on a typewriter.

Frances Cairncross, The Death of Distance: How the Communications
Revolution Is Changing Our Lives (Harvard Business School Press,

Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schonberger; Big Data: A Revolution That
Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think (Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). 

Peter J. Denning, ed., The Invisible Future: The Seamless Integration of
Technology Into Everyday Life (McGraw Hill, 2001).

Peter Denning, Talking Back to the Machine: Computers and Human Aspiration
(Copernicus Books, 1999).

Michael Dertouzos, What Will Be: How the New World of Information Will
Change Our Lives (HarperEdge, 1997).
How accurate were his predictions?

Whitfield Diffie and Susan Landau, Privacy on the Line: The Politics of
Wiretapping and Encryption (MIT Press, 1998). 

James A. Dorn, ed., The Future of Money in the Information Age
(Cato Institute, 1997).  How accurate were his predictions?

Hubert Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can't Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason
(MIT Press, 1992).
A report on this book should include some discussion about how well Dreyfus's
arguments have held up over the past two decades.  (Can computers now do some
of the things he said they could not do?)

William D. Eggers and Paul Macmillan, The Solution Revolution: How Business, 
Government, and Social Enterprises Are Teaming Up to Solve Society's Toughest
Problems (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

Neil Gershenfeld, When Things Start to Think (Owl Books, 1999).

Mike Godwin, Cyber Rights: Defending Free Speech in the Digital Age
(Times Books, 1998).

Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu, Who Controls the Internet? (Oxford University
Press, 2006)

Peter Huber, Law and Disorder in Cyberspace (Oxford Univ. Press, 1997).  
Criticizes FCC regulation of telecommunications, showing examples where
regulations have delayed introduction of new technologies.

Merritt Ierley, Wondrous Contrivances: Technology at the Threshold
(Clarkson Potter, 2002).  Looks at expectations for and attitudes about
many earlier technological devices.

Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (Simon & Schuster, 2011).  A biography of
the co-founder of Apple.

Joel Kotkin, The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution Is Reshaping
the American Landscape (Random House, 2000).

Anthony Lewis, Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First
Amendment (Basic Books, 2008).  
How do the principles in this book apply to controversies about content on the

Steven Levy, Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government---Saving
Privacy in the Digital Age (Viking, 2001; paperback 2004).

Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (Doubleday, 1984).
A "classic" history of hacking.

Jessica Littman, Digital Copyright: Protecting Intellectual Property
on the Internet (Prometheus Books, 2001).

Jerry Mander, In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and
the Survival of the Indian Nations (Sierra Club Books, 1991).
Mander is a strong critic of technology.
Read at least Parts 1 and 2.  Parts 3 and 4 are interesting but not
much related to this course.

Joel Mokyr, The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy,
(Princeton University Press, 2002).

Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic
Progress (Oxford University Press, 1990).

Glyn Moody, Rebel Code: Inside Linux and the Open Source Revolution
(Perseus, 2001).

Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom
(PublicAffairs, 2011)

Alan Murray, The Wealth of Choices (Crown Business, 2000).

John Naisbitt, Global Paradox: The Bigger the World Economy, the
More Powerful Its Smallest Players (William Morrow and Company, 1994).

Donald Norman, The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, The
Personal Computer Is So Complex, and Information Appliances Are the
Solution (MIT Press, 1998).

Donald Norman, Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the
Age of the Machine (Addison Wesley, 1993).

Andrew Oram et al., Peer-to-Peer: Harnessing the Power of Disruptive
Technologies (O'Reilly, 2001).

George Orwell, 1984.
Orwell's distopian novel in which the totalitarian government controlled
the people via ubiquitous telescreens.  (Orwell introduced the term
"Big Brother" for the government.)  How realistic did Orwell's view of
the future turn out to be?  What did he foresee accurately, and what
did he miss?

Emily Parker, Now I Know Who My Comrades Are: Voices from the Internet
Underground (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014).
The use of the Internet by political dissidents in China, Russia, and Cuba.

Ivars Peterson, Fatal Defect: Chasing Killer Computer Bugs (Times Books,
Random House, 1995).

Henry Petroski, To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful
Design (St. Martin's Press, 1985).
This book is more about engineering in general, not computer systems
design, but the principles and lessons carry over.  In your report, tell
how the book is relevant to computer systems.

Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology
(Alfred A. Knopf, 1992).  
Another critic of technology.

Jeffrey Rosen, The Unwanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in
America (Random House, 2000)

Kirkpatrick Sale, Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their
War Against the Industrial Revolution: Lessons for the Computer Age
(Addison Wesley, 1995).  
A vehement critic of computers.  You can skim the first part of the book, 
about the original Luddites.

Eric Schmidt, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations
and Business (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)

Scott Shane, Dismantling Utopia: How Information Ended the Soviet Union
(I. R. Dee, 1994).

Ithiel de Sola Pool, Technologies of Freedom (Harvard University Press, 1983).
About communications technologies and government policy.  Although it's
old, this book has a lot of relevance to issues about the Internet.

Daniel J. Solove, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy
on the Internet (Yale University Press, 2007)

Bruce Sterling, The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic
Frontier (Bantam Books, 1992).

Clifford Stoll, The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of
Computer Espionage (Doubleday, 1989).

Clifford Stoll, Siobhan Adcock, ed., High Tech Heretic: Reflections
of a Computer Contrarian (Anchor Books, 2000).

Adam Thierer and Clyde Wayne Crews Jr., eds. Who Rules The Net? Internet
Governance and Jurisdiction (Cato Institute, 2003).
Laws and culture vary among countries.  How should cyberspace disputes,
especially international disputes about free speech, intellectual
property, privacy, etc., be resolved?

Adam Thierer and Wayne Crews, eds., Copy Fights: The Future of
Intellectual Property in the Information Age (Cato Institute, 2002)

Linus Torvalds and David Diamond, Just for Fun: The Story of an
Accidental Revolutionary (HarperBusiness, 2001).

Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less
from Each Other (Basic Books, 2011)
Includes results from many interviews with teenagers and college students
about the impact on them from personal communications media.

Eugene Volokh, Freedom of Speech in Cyberspace from the Listener's
Perspective: Private Speech Restrictions, Libel, State Action,
Harassment, and Sex (Univ. of Chicago Legal Forum, 1996).
You might have to get this from a law library.

William Wresch, Disconnected: Haves and Have-Nots in the Information Age
(Rutgers Univ. Press, 1996).
How accurate were his predictions?  What implications can you draw from
how accurate or inaccurate he was?

Reducing Plagiarism

Many papers on topics related to this course are available for sale on the Web. Several aspects of the term paper assignment should help reduce the likelihood of plagiarism (though my experience indicates that they do not reduce it to zero): the interview or site visit requirement, the instructions to relate the topic to issues or examples covered in the text or in class, and the warning that cases of plagiarism are reported to appropriate campus authorities.

Topic descriptions

I require students to turn in topic descriptions early in the semester to encourage them to start early and so I can make comments and suggestions and indicate if the topic and description are acceptable.

Students reading and commenting on another's paper

When students turn in their papers, I redistribute them so that each student gets another paper to read and comment on. They return the commented paper (generally two days later). Each student gets his or her own paper back and turns in a final draft the following week (five days later, with our Tuesday/Thursday class schedule) along with the draft with the other student's comments. This works well. Students benefit from reading about another topic in depth. Some see what a really good paper looks like. Some provide a lot of help to weaker students and to students whose first language is not English. The final drafts that I read are better as a result of the student review process. 

I provide instructions to students in class when they get the papers to review. I tell them to mark good passages and examples as well as unclear or weak parts. Generally, they should look at the grading criteria for the term paper and make any comments they think will help make the paper stronger. I tell them to make grammatical corrections if they feel comfortable doing so. 

I was at first concerned that a student might take a paper to review and not return it at the next class meeting. This has never been a problem. The students take seriously their responsibility to return the paper with their comments and manage to do so even if they miss class.

Students sign their comments; a few points of their term paper grade depends on how responsibly they did the review.