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The TEACH Symposium will pop up again November 30 to December 4, 2020. 

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Rethinking Assignments

Difference between online learning and face-to-face learning can impact assignments and assessments. You can help to improve the students' experience in your online course by intentionally addressing these issues.

Clearly communicate assignment instructions

We often take for granted the multitude of informal interaction that naturally occurs in a face-to-face setting. Simple clarifications, adjustments, and reassurances about assignment due dates, requirements, and expectations can easily be lost when going online. To mitigate this, consider the following strategies.

  • Make instructions clear and explicit. Provide students with 1) clear expectations of exactly what needs to be done, 2) when it is due, and 3) how it will affect their grade.
  • Allocate more time to communicating with students. Be prepared to spend more time than usual communicating assignment instructions, sending reminders, answering questions, or clarifying miscommunication. 
  • Be meticulous with assignment instructions. Be meticulous in keeping assignment instructions consistent in how and where they appear in the online learning space. Be sure to highlight any changes.
  • Keep it simple. Avoid elaborate assignments that require overly complex instructions, or if such an assignment is valuable dedicate extra time to clarify the instructions.

Make assignments easy for students to manage

Online learning, particularly that which includes asynchronous elements, gives learners more of an ability to choose how they will engage with the course. While this can provide more flexibility and freedom for students, it requires students to effectively and proactively manage their own learning much more than traditional formats. Help your students focus more on the content and less on managing their workload with these strategies.

  • Chunk big assignments. Large assignments put a lot of stress on particular weeks and can be devastating if a student suffers a loss. A well-designed online course spreads the points out as evenly as possible among weeks. With a little planning, it is easy to accommodate extended time for short assessments, too. 
  • Create routines and habits. Consider repeating assignments that occur regularly like weekly reading reflections, daily problem sets, or regular discussion forums. Create predictability by having regular due dates and instructions.
  • Make the content needed for assignments convenient. If students need a particular article or weblink for an assignment, locate it in a convenient place with the assignment instructions. Clearly label files and materials so students can easily identify what they need to complete an assignment.

Be intentional about community and student input

Meaningful engagement and connectedness happen differently in online learning than they might in traditional learning formats. Students can become disconnected from learning if the assignments are not meaningful to them, especially with asynchronous formats. These strategies can help you to get students more engaged with assignments.

  • Try group projects, if it makes sense. While group projects can be more difficult to organize, they are a great way to get students in the class to know each other and to build a classroom community. 
  • Build-in low-stakes community-building assignments. Try starting students off with something very simple, like a self-introduction activity, that lets them share something about themselves and connect to one another. Then perhaps create spaces for students to get to know each other and deepen connections around shared interests, experiences, or communities.
  • Let students influence assignments. Consider assignments that connect to topics and issues that students care about. Include an element of student choice and/or gather feedback from students on the design of the assignment. You might even have students contribute to rubrics or grading criteria.