Online Assignments

Characteristics of Effective Online Assignments

Effective online assignments and activities typically…

…take advantage of the web as a learning environment

The web offers a wealth of information, services, and tools that can be incorporated into assignments and course activities; you can use its networked, hypertextual nature to stimulate curiosity, encourage exploration, and promote critical thinking. There is no need to be constrained by the limitations of specific learning platforms when developing online assignments.

…start engaging students early in the course

The first assignment is a good indicator of whether a student will complete the course. Interesting, provocative assignments early in the course draw students in, habituate them to the kinds of coursework you have planned, and engage them actively in the larger course community.

…are transparent in their motives and articulate a clear rationale

All assignments benefit from a clearly articulated rationale, but this is especially true online, where it can be more difficult for students to ask clarifying questions. Explaining why you have chosen a particular assignment and why you believe it is valuable is often the best way to persuade students to try out an assignment they might otherwise approach skeptically.

…connect multiple parts of the course

Assignments and activities can weave together different parts of the course, helping students integrate what they learn and develop a deeper understanding of the material.

…have clear criteria for evaluation and assessment

Because grading and assessment practices vary widely in online courses, students often benefit from knowing how their work will be evaluated. Providing clear grading rubrics and other formal evaluation criteria in advance can help students focus on the most important aspects of the assignment.

…give detailed instructions and prompts

Good instructions help students understand what to do when working on an assignment. Instructions shouldn’t assume all students understand the assignment’s purpose or know the steps to follow. Detailed instructions are crucial – but they must also be concise enough that students will actually read them. Consider using video prompts or instructions when you need to convey a lot of information related to an assignment.

…demonstrate variety and flexibility

Flexibility and variety let students exercise more control over the choices they make in a class. This can make assignments more engaging. Providing multiple options for completing assignments is one way to introduce flexibility; designing assignments that allow for multiple types of answers or learning approaches is another.

…provide good (and bad) examples

Examples act as models that help students learn to develop their own ideas or responses and to think more creatively. Examples also help students who may not be familiar with expectations or practices for certain types of assignments. Pointing out an example’s best and worst features can be especially useful.

…are inclusive and accessible

Assignments that are designed from the beginning to be accessible are ideal for online environments. Some online students will not be native English speakers; others will have disabilities that could prevent them from. Still others won’t have access to certain types of resources, tools, or software. Following principles of universal design ensures assignments find the broadest possible audience.

Assignment Ideas

Article Discovery

  • Using appropriate databases, students find articles about a given topic, posting in a discussion forum along with a brief summary.
  • Students may also be required to comment on a certain number of other articles, demonstrating that they have read articles/summaries posted by their peers.

Fishbowl

  • Students practice a skill under peer review and audience using Blog or Forum feature in Canvas.  Assignment ideas

Digital Storytelling

  • Students lay out a storyboard with a plan for a narrative using photos and video.  Using voiceover, they tell a story on any given topic, then create a final short video to share.  A few guides here: TCEA.

Glossary Building

  • Use google docs or create a page in Canvas to build a resource where they share information with one another. You can set it so all students can edit a page.
  • Assignments could be to find a picture and describe/analyze, find a website and summarize, define terms, chapter and concept summaries, create entry and peer assessment, or develop Q and A study guide.

Graphics and Posters

  • Students create an interesting infographic, poster, pictogram, or image to share.
  • Canva and Pictographic are useful sites for this.  Canva even has a list of teaching ideas and lesson plans to use with the app.

Online Scavenger Hunt

  • Students are given a website or list of sites, and a set of questions for which they must find the answer.
  • A great assignment for familiarizing students with websites in a particular discipline.

Presentations

  • Ask students to make a presentation using PowerPoint with voiceover, screencasting, or by making an instructional video.  Then, after they share it online, ask the rest of the class to pose a question about the presentation or respond with constructive criticism.  This can be done using Discussions in Canvas.

Share the News

  • Using appropriate news sources, students share a link to an article and give a summary using blog or forum feature in Moodle.
  • Website Paper.li allows students to easily create a newspaper-style page using content from a variety of popular news sources, magazines, and social media.

Website Sharing

  • Students look for useful websites in the discipline and share them.
  • Sites can be posted on a shared page or a discussion in Canvas.  Can be done in Moodle with Blog, Forum, or Glossary tools.  Another useful tool is symbaloo.

Writing Assignments

  • Journals, reflection essays, and written responses are all appropriate online activities that can be assigned and submitted using the assignment activity in Canvas.
  • Writing assignments can be uploaded, graded, and returned on Moodle in various ways (as attachments, inline text).  Rubrics can be helpful to define how students will be graded.

Video or Podcast and Discussion Questions

  • Students are given discussion questions to answer after watching video content or listening to a podcast.  To find helpful content, see the “content support” box and streaming media on this page.
  • Responses can be submitted a number of ways in Canvas, using assignment, quiz, or discussion tool.
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