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Analytic Memo (ALC)
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Using Analytic Memo activity to facilitate critical thinking in Active Learning Classrooms
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Analytic Memo requires students to write a one- or two-page analysis of a problem. Students analyze an issue using discipline-specific approaches and methods and create a compelling argument for a specific audience. The recipient of the memo is usually a stakeholder in need of the student’s analysis to inform their decision-making.
Use it when you want...
- To have students develop their ability to analyze problems using discipline-specific approaches and methods,
- To provide feedback to students on their analytic and communication skills, or
- To assess students’ abilities to communicate their analyses clearly and concisely to a specific audience.
What students will need
- Laptop, tablet, or mobile phone
- Classroom with campus wireless connection
The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate Analytic Memo learning activity within an active learning classroom.
- Determine which analytic approaches or methods are to be assessed.
- Identify an appropriate, well-focused, and typical problem or situation for the students to analyze.
- Get background information on the problem.
- Define the recipient, subject, and purpose of the memo.
- Decide whether students will work alone, in pairs, or in small groups.
- Create an example memo on the subject to share with students.
- Create a Google Docs template that you will give to students to use in class.
- Provide written directions to be shared during class.
- Specify the student’s role, the identity of the audience, and the specific subject to be addressed. Identify the analytic approach students will use, the length limit (usually one or two pages), and the assignment deadline.
- At each table, have students assign someone at each table to be a scribe and add the students' names at the top of the document.
- At their tables, have students work in groups of 3-4 to complete the activity.
- Have students access and make a copy of the Google Doc and put their names at the top of the document.
- Announce the purpose of the assignment and when the students will receive feedback on their responses.
- Share an example memo and explain to students how this assessment can help prepare them for subsequent course assignments and their careers.
- Provide students time to work on the document in class. If students are to continue work on the document outside of class, tell them when the memo is due.
- At the end of the activity, have students share the document with you online.
- Collect and review memos.
- Provide feedback/grade based on the quality of the analysis and communication displayed in the memo.
- Discuss the results of the activity at the next class meeting.
Accessibility and Room Considerations
An Environmental Policy Analysis professor decides to find out how well her students could analyze a typical environmental problem midway through the semester. She identifies a local story about contaminated groundwater as the topic of the focus of her Analytic Memo. Students were told to write an environmental policy analysis, to address their memo to the state’s secretary of environmental affairs, and point out the major policy implications of the groundwater crisis. The students were given time in class to start their memos, working in Google Docs, and three days to complete them. After reviewing them, she assesses and responds to each memo with a five-point checklist and short comments (Modified from Angelo 178).
Students in a graduate seminar in Law Enforcement Leadership were being prepared for future leadership positions. The instructor wanted to help them learn to analyze problems and improve their writing skills. She used the Analytic Memos to get feedback on their progress. Students were given a short case involving a precinct commander faced with proposed budget cuts. Students were asked to write an analytic memo to the commander, taking into consideration the stakeholders, potential winners and losers, and political resources available. As the instructor reviewed the memos, the strengths and weaknesses of the students thinking were revealed. Nearly all had done a good job of identifying stakeholders and figuring out who stood to lose or win. Students performed poorly at identifying political resources, particularly informal ones. The quality of their writing was also a concern considering the chances of the press gaining access to these memos is high, and their writing would not withstand public scrutiny. With that general feedback provided by the instructor, students rewrote the memos, but this time as a graded assignment. The instructor saw improvement in the second round of memos (Angelo 178).
Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: a Handbook for College Teachers. Jossey-Bass, 1993. pp. 177-180.