Digital Learning & Design

Faculty chatting with a group of studentsThe online environment offers multiple ways to evaluate student learning. By using the right digital resources and tools, you will save time and provide students with the information they need to succeed. 




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To start, consider how students will engage with the content in your course. What do you want them to be able to do by the end of the course, and how will they demonstrate it? The answers to these questions will determine your learning objectives and course assignments. Assignments should assess learning and performance, and give students key information to improve in these areas. 

We encourage you to consider these questions before designing assignments:

  1. What assignments will help students work towards the learning objectives? 
  2. How much time should students spend on the assignment? When will it be due? How does it fit in with the week/module? 
  3. How will my feedback impact student learning? 
  4. What does success look like? What are the criteria and expectations? Do I have examples to show students? Do students have the skills and tools they need to be successful? 
  5. Are there different ways students can demonstrate learning?


So, What Makes for Good Assignment Design?

Once your learning objectives and teaching strategy are clear, you are ready to design the assignments for your course. We’ve put together a list of assignment types and design considerations. 

  • Set smaller weekly assignments to gauge students’ engagement as they asynchronously interact with course material. 
  • Spread out low-stakes opportunities evenly throughout the course to help students track their learning and progress.
  • Make the purpose of the assignment clear to students: why are they doing it and how does it align with the learning objectives? If you have a single, longer assignment you may break down the assignment into smaller parts to be completed over a series of weeks. With a high student submission pool, it can sometimes be tricky to provide timely meaningful feedback before the next assignment is due. Plan the assignment stages and due dates around when you can get the most grading done.
  • Provide a ‘how to succeed’ section in your course so students know what is expected of them. 
  • Use appropriate technology and communication methods to help students complete assignments.
  • Unless a course specifically requires papers and essays as an objective, try to convert some writing assignments - like essays or papers - to worksheets or templates. A worksheet or template essentially asks students directly about the required elements with a space to write the answer (which can be a brief statement or a paragraph), which is typically much quicker to grade and evaluate student efforts, and is often more straightforward for students as well.
  • Assign several short writings with the goal of “write-to-learn.”
  • Ask students to write exam questions and respond to them. You can use the student produced questions on an exam or for quizzes. 
  • Provide written opportunities for students to reflect on and articulate what they've learned.

Group work offers a multitude of benefits in large online classes. When effectively designed, students practice collaborative working skills, learn from and with their peers, and build stronger social relationships. You can get to know how your students work and learn together, provide targeted feedback, and cut down on grading time. If you’d like to organize a group work assignment in your course, see our Designing Effective Group Work guide.

Well written, quality multiple-choice questions take time to write but can be graded quickly whereas essays can be written quickly but take time to grade.

  • Take advantage of Canvas or Panopto for auto graded quizzes to check for engagement with material.
  • Use Top Hat to deliver lectures with embedded questions and discussions.
  • Create a backchannel or informal online space for engaging or sharing thoughts/questions after the lecture or throughout the week. 
  • Design Just in Time Teaching (JiTT) activities –- like entry quizzes, surveys, or exit tickets -- with due dates to help keep students on track.
  • Share and critique group presentations, articles, or other student-produced work.
  • Ask students to demonstrate their learning by solving problems that are tied to the real world. University of Indiana’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning has a good resource on Authentic Assessments.

With weekly assignments, the potential grading workload can quickly become overwhelming. But you can reclaim your time by using tools and methods to automate or expediate grading and giving feedback.

  • Use Gradescope to facilitate grading of assignments that cannot be autograded. 
  • Consider low-risk assignments that have a low impact on student grades and mark them as ‘complete’ or ‘incomplete.’
  • Develop and share rubrics for assignments to expedite grading and minimize questions from students. Rubrics should communicate expectations for quality and success criteria.
  • Mention students’ names in feedback, discussions, and announcements to personalize communication and let students know that you are reviewing their work.

Knowing what you want students to be able to do is the first step in designing effective assignments. To determine what is right for you and your course, please contact to meet with one of our instructional designers.


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