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Teaching excellence & educational innovation, creating assignments.

Here are some general suggestions and questions to consider when creating assignments. There are also many other resources in print and on the web that provide examples of interesting, discipline-specific assignment ideas.

Consider your learning objectives.

What do you want students to learn in your course? What could they do that would show you that they have learned it? To determine assignments that truly serve your course objectives, it is useful to write out your objectives in this form: I want my students to be able to ____. Use active, measurable verbs as you complete that sentence (e.g., compare theories, discuss ramifications, recommend strategies), and your learning objectives will point you towards suitable assignments.

Design assignments that are interesting and challenging.

This is the fun side of assignment design. Consider how to focus students’ thinking in ways that are creative, challenging, and motivating. Think beyond the conventional assignment type! For example, one American historian requires students to write diary entries for a hypothetical Nebraska farmwoman in the 1890s. By specifying that students’ diary entries must demonstrate the breadth of their historical knowledge (e.g., gender, economics, technology, diet, family structure), the instructor gets students to exercise their imaginations while also accomplishing the learning objectives of the course (Walvoord & Anderson, 1989, p. 25).

Double-check alignment.

After creating your assignments, go back to your learning objectives and make sure there is still a good match between what you want students to learn and what you are asking them to do. If you find a mismatch, you will need to adjust either the assignments or the learning objectives. For instance, if your goal is for students to be able to analyze and evaluate texts, but your assignments only ask them to summarize texts, you would need to add an analytical and evaluative dimension to some assignments or rethink your learning objectives.

Name assignments accurately.

Students can be misled by assignments that are named inappropriately. For example, if you want students to analyze a product’s strengths and weaknesses but you call the assignment a “product description,” students may focus all their energies on the descriptive, not the critical, elements of the task. Thus, it is important to ensure that the titles of your assignments communicate their intention accurately to students.

Consider sequencing.

Think about how to order your assignments so that they build skills in a logical sequence. Ideally, assignments that require the most synthesis of skills and knowledge should come later in the semester, preceded by smaller assignments that build these skills incrementally. For example, if an instructor’s final assignment is a research project that requires students to evaluate a technological solution to an environmental problem, earlier assignments should reinforce component skills, including the ability to identify and discuss key environmental issues, apply evaluative criteria, and find appropriate research sources.

Think about scheduling.

Consider your intended assignments in relation to the academic calendar and decide how they can be reasonably spaced throughout the semester, taking into account holidays and key campus events. Consider how long it will take students to complete all parts of the assignment (e.g., planning, library research, reading, coordinating groups, writing, integrating the contributions of team members, developing a presentation), and be sure to allow sufficient time between assignments.

Check feasibility.

Is the workload you have in mind reasonable for your students? Is the grading burden manageable for you? Sometimes there are ways to reduce workload (whether for you or for students) without compromising learning objectives. For example, if a primary objective in assigning a project is for students to identify an interesting engineering problem and do some preliminary research on it, it might be reasonable to require students to submit a project proposal and annotated bibliography rather than a fully developed report. If your learning objectives are clear, you will see where corners can be cut without sacrificing educational quality.

Articulate the task description clearly.

If an assignment is vague, students may interpret it any number of ways – and not necessarily how you intended. Thus, it is critical to clearly and unambiguously identify the task students are to do (e.g., design a website to help high school students locate environmental resources, create an annotated bibliography of readings on apartheid). It can be helpful to differentiate the central task (what students are supposed to produce) from other advice and information you provide in your assignment description.

Establish clear performance criteria.

Different instructors apply different criteria when grading student work, so it’s important that you clearly articulate to students what your criteria are. To do so, think about the best student work you have seen on similar tasks and try to identify the specific characteristics that made it excellent, such as clarity of thought, originality, logical organization, or use of a wide range of sources. Then identify the characteristics of the worst student work you have seen, such as shaky evidence, weak organizational structure, or lack of focus. Identifying these characteristics can help you consciously articulate the criteria you already apply. It is important to communicate these criteria to students, whether in your assignment description or as a separate rubric or scoring guide . Clearly articulated performance criteria can prevent unnecessary confusion about your expectations while also setting a high standard for students to meet.

Specify the intended audience.

Students make assumptions about the audience they are addressing in papers and presentations, which influences how they pitch their message. For example, students may assume that, since the instructor is their primary audience, they do not need to define discipline-specific terms or concepts. These assumptions may not match the instructor’s expectations. Thus, it is important on assignments to specify the intended audience http://wac.colostate.edu/intro/pop10e.cfm (e.g., undergraduates with no biology background, a potential funder who does not know engineering).

Specify the purpose of the assignment.

If students are unclear about the goals or purpose of the assignment, they may make unnecessary mistakes. For example, if students believe an assignment is focused on summarizing research as opposed to evaluating it, they may seriously miscalculate the task and put their energies in the wrong place. The same is true they think the goal of an economics problem set is to find the correct answer, rather than demonstrate a clear chain of economic reasoning. Consequently, it is important to make your objectives for the assignment clear to students.

Specify the parameters.

If you have specific parameters in mind for the assignment (e.g., length, size, formatting, citation conventions) you should be sure to specify them in your assignment description. Otherwise, students may misapply conventions and formats they learned in other courses that are not appropriate for yours.

A Checklist for Designing Assignments

Here is a set of questions you can ask yourself when creating an assignment.

  • Provided a written description of the assignment (in the syllabus or in a separate document)?
  • Specified the purpose of the assignment?
  • Indicated the intended audience?
  • Articulated the instructions in precise and unambiguous language?
  • Provided information about the appropriate format and presentation (e.g., page length, typed, cover sheet, bibliography)?  
  • Indicated special instructions, such as a particular citation style or headings?  
  • Specified the due date and the consequences for missing it?
  • Articulated performance criteria clearly?
  • Indicated the assignment’s point value or percentage of the course grade?
  • Provided students (where appropriate) with models or samples?

Adapted from the WAC Clearinghouse at http://wac.colostate.edu/intro/pop10e.cfm .

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Creative Ways to Design Assignments for Student Success

assignment design ideas

There are many creative ways in which teachers can design assignments to support student success. We can do this while simultaneously not getting bogged down with the various obstructions that keep students from both completing and learning from the assignments. For me, assignments fall into two categories: those that are graded automatically, such as SmartBook® readings and quizzes in Connect®; and those that I need to grade by hand, such as writing assignments.  

For those of us teaching large, introductory classes, most of our assignments are graded automatically, which is great for our time management. But our students will ultimately deliver a plethora of colorful excuses as to why they were not completed and why extensions are warranted. How do we give them a little leeway to make the semester run more smoothly, so there are fewer worries about a reading that was missed or a quiz that went by too quickly? Here are a few tactics I use. 

Automatically graded assignments: 

Multiple assignment attempts  

  • This eases the mental pressure of a timed assignment and covers computer mishaps or human error on the first attempt. 
  • You can deduct points for every attempt taken if you are worried about students taking advantage. 

Automatically dropped assignments  

  • Within a subset or set of assignments, automatically drop a few from grading. This can take care of all excuses for missing an assignment. 
  • Additionally, you can give a little grade boost to those who complete all their assignments (over a certain grade). 

Due dates  

  • Consider staggering due dates during the week instead of making them all due on Sunday night.  
  • Set the due date for readings the night before you cover the material, so students are prepared.  


  • If we want our students to read, then make a reading assignment a requirement of a quiz. 

The tactics above might be applied to written assignments, too. An easy way to bolster a student’s interest and investment in these longer assignments is to give them a choice. This could be in the topic, location of study, or presentation style. For example, if you want them to analyze the susceptibility of a beach to hurricane threat, why not let them choose the location? In this way, you will also be gaining a lot of new information for your own use. 

With a small amount of effort, we can design our classes, so students concentrate on learning the subject matter rather than the logistics of completing the assignments. 

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Getting Started with Creative Assignments

Creative teaching and learning can be cultivated in any course context to increase student engagement and motivation, and promote thinking skills that are critical to problem-solving and innovation. This resource features examples of Columbia faculty who teach creatively and have reimagined their course assessments to allow students to demonstrate their learning in creative ways. Drawing on these examples, this resource provides suggestions for creating a classroom environment that supports student engagement in creative activities and assignments.  

On this page:

  • The What and Why of Creative Assignments

Examples of Creative Teaching and Learning at Columbia

  • How To Get Started

Cite this resource: Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (2022). Getting Started with Creative Assignments. Columbia University. Retrieved [today’s date] from https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/resources/creative-assignments/

The What and Why of Creative Assignments  

Creative assignments encourage students to think in innovative ways as they demonstrate their learning. Thinking creatively involves combining or synthesizing information or course materials in new ways and is characterized by “a high degree of innovation, divergent thinking, and risk-taking” (AAC&U). It is associated with imagination and originality, and additional characteristics include: being open to new ideas and perspectives, believing alternatives exist, withholding judgment, generating multiple approaches to problems, and trying new ways to generate ideas  (DiYanni, 2015: 41). Creative thinking is considered an important skill alongside critical thinking in tackling contemporary problems. Critical thinking allows students to evaluate the information presented to them while creative thinking is a process that allows students to generate new ideas and innovate.

Creative assignments can be integrated into any course regardless of discipline. Examples include the use of infographic assignments in Nursing (Chicca and Chunta, 2020) and Chemistry (Kothari, Castañeda, and McNeil, 2019); podcasting assignments in Social Work (Hitchcock, Sage & Sage, 2021); digital storytelling assignments in Psychology (Sheafer, 2017) and Sociology (Vaughn and Leon, 2021); and incorporating creative writing in the economics classroom (Davis, 2019) or reflective writing into Calculus assignment ( Gerstle, 2017) just to name a few. In a 2014 study, organic chemistry students who elected to begin their lab reports with a creative narrative were more excited to learn and earned better grades (Henry, Owens, and Tawney, 2015). In a public policy course, students who engaged in additional creative problem-solving exercises that included imaginative scenarios and alternative solution-finding showed greater interest in government reform and attentiveness to civic issues (Wukich and Siciliano, 2014).

The benefits of creative assignments include increased student engagement, motivation, and satisfaction (Snyder et al., 2013: 165); and furthered student learning of course content (Reynolds, Stevens, and West, 2013). These types of assignments promote innovation, academic integrity, student self-awareness/ metacognition (e.g., when students engage in reflection through journal assignments), and can be made authentic as students develop and apply skills to real-world situations.  

When instructors give students open-ended assignments, they provide opportunities for students to think creatively as they work on a deliverable. They “unlock potential” (Ranjan & Gabora and Beghetto in Gregerson et al., 2013) for students to synthesize their knowledge and propose novel solutions. This promotes higher-level thinking as outlined in the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy’s “create” cognitive process category: “putting elements together to form a novel coherent whole or make an original product,” this involves generating ideas, planning, and producing something new. 

The examples that follow highlight creative assignments in the Columbia University classroom. The featured Columbia faculty taught creatively – they tried new strategies, purposefully varied classroom activities and assessment modalities, and encouraged their students to take control of what and how they were learning (James & Brookfield, 2014: 66).

assignment design ideas

Dr. Cruz changed her course assessment by “moving away from high stakes assessments like a final paper or a final exam, to more open-ended and creative models of assessments.”  Students were given the opportunity to synthesize their course learning, with options on topic and format of how to demonstrate their learning and to do so individually or in groups. They explored topics that were meaningful to them and related to the course material. Dr. Cruz noted that “This emphasis on playfulness and creativity led to fantastic final projects including a graphic novel interpretation, a video essay that applied critical theory to multiple texts, and an interactive virtual museum.” Students “took the opportunity to use their creative skills, or the skills they were interested in exploring because some of them had to develop new skills to produce these projects.” (Dr. Cruz; Dead Ideas in Teaching and Learning , Season 3, Episode 6). Along with their projects, students submitted an artist’s statement, where they had to explain and justify their choices. 

Dr. Cruz noted that grading creative assignments require advanced planning. In her case, she worked closely with her TAs to develop a rubric that was shared with students in advance for full transparency and emphasized the importance of students connecting ideas to analytical arguments discussed in the class. 

Watch Dr. Cruz’s 2021 Symposium presentation. Listen to Dr. Cruz talk about The Power of Blended Classrooms in Season 3, Episode 6 of the Dead Ideas in Teaching and Learning podcast. Get a glimpse into Dr. Cruz’s online classroom and her creative teaching and the design of learning experiences that enhanced critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, and community by viewing her Voices of Hybrid and Online Teaching and Learning submission.

assignment design ideas

As part of his standard practice, Dr. Yesilevskiy scaffolds assignments – from less complex to more complex – to ensure students integrate the concepts they learn in the class into their projects or new experiments. For example, in Laboratory 1, Dr. Yesilevskiy slowly increases the amount of independence in each experiment over the semester: students are given a full procedure in the first experiment and by course end, students are submitting new experiment proposals to Dr. Yesilevskiy for approval. This is creative thinking in action. Students not only learned how to “replicate existing experiments, but also to formulate and conduct new ones.”

Watch Dr. Yesilevskiy’s 2021 Symposium presentation. 

How Do I Get Started?: Strategies to Support Creative Assignments

The previous section showcases examples of creative assignments in action at Columbia. To help you support such creative assignments in your classroom, this section details three strategies to support creative assignments and creative thinking. Firstly, re-consider the design of your assignments to optimize students’ creative output. Secondly, scaffold creative assignments using low-stakes classroom activities that build creative capacity. Finally, cultivate a classroom environment that supports creative thinking.     

Design Considerations for Creative Assignments 

Thoughtfully designed open-ended assignments and evaluation plans encourage students to demonstrate their learning in authentic ways. When designing creative assignments, consider the following suggestions for structuring and communicating to your students about the assignment. 

Set clear expectations . Students may feel lost in the ambiguity and complexity of an open-ended assignment that requires them to create something new. Communicate the creative outcomes and learning objectives for the assignments (Ranjan & Gabora, 2013), and how students will be expected to draw on their learning in the course. Articulare how much flexibility and choice students have in determining what they work on and how they work on it. Share the criteria or a rubric that will be used to evaluate student deliverables. See the CTL’s resource Incorporating Rubrics Into Your Feedback and Grading Practices . If planning to evaluate creative thinking, consider adapting the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ creative thinking VALUE rubric . 

Structure the project to sustain engagement and promote integrity. Consider how the project might be broken into smaller assignments that build upon each other and culminate in a synthesis project. The example presented above from Dr. Yesilevskiy’s teaching highlights how he scaffolded lab complexity, progressing from structured to student-driven. See the section below “Activities to Prepare Students for Creative Assignments” for sample activities to scaffold this work. 

Create opportunities for ongoing feedback . Provide feedback at all phases of the assignment from idea inception through milestones to completion. Leverage office hours for individual or group conversations and feedback on project proposals, progress, and issues. See the CTL’s resource on Feedback for Learning . Consider creating opportunities for structured peer review for students to give each other feedback on their work. Students benefit from learning about their peers’ projects, and seeing different perspectives and approaches to accomplishing the open-ended assignment. See the CTL’s resource Peer Review: Intentional Design for Any Course Context . 

Share resources to support students in their work. Ensure all students have access to the resources they will need to be successful on the assigned project. Connect students with campus resources that can help them accomplish the project’s objectives. For instance, if students are working on a research project – connect them to the Library instruction modules “ From Books to Bytes: Navigating the Research Ecosystem ,” encourage them to schedule a consultation with a specialist for research support through Columbia Libraries , or seek out writing support. If students will need equipment to complete their project, remind them of campus resources such as makerspaces (e.g., The Makerspace @ Columbia in Room 254 Engineering Terrace/Mudd; Design Center at Barnard College); borrowing equipment (e.g., Instructional Media and Technology Services (IMATS) at Barnard; Gabe M. Wiener Music & Arts Library ). 

Ask students to submit a self-reflection with their project. Encourage students to reflect on their process and the decisions they made in order to complete the project. Provide guiding questions that have students reflect on their learning, make meaning, and engage their metacognitive thinking skills (see the CTL’s resource of Metacognition ). Students can be asked to apply the rubric to their work or to submit a creative statement along with their work that describes their intent and ownership of the project.

Collect feedback from students and iterate. Invite students to give feedback on the assigned creative project, as well as the classroom environment and creative activities used. Tell students how you will use their suggestions to make improvements to activities and assignments, and make adjustments to the classroom environment. See the CTL’s resource on Early and Mid-Semester Student Feedback . 

Low-Stakes Activities to Prepare Students for Creative Assignments

The activities described below are meant to be scaffolded opportunities leading to a larger creative project. They are low-stakes, non-graded activities that make time in the classroom for students to think, brainstorm, and create (Desrochers and Zell, 2012) and prepare them to do the creative thinking needed to complete course assignments. The activities can be adapted for any course context, with or without the use of technology, and can be done individually or collaboratively (see the CTL’s resource on Collaborative Learning to explore digital tools that are available for group work). 


Brainstorming is a process that students can engage in to generate as many ideas as possible related to a topic of study or an assignment topic (Sweet et al., 2013: 87). As they engage in this messy and jugement-free work, students explore a range of possibilities. Brainstorming reveals students’ prior knowledge (Ambrose et al., 2010: 29). Brainstorm activities are useful early on to help create a classroom culture rooted in creativity while also serving as a potential icebreaker activity that helps instructors learn more about what prior knowledge and experiences students are bringing to the course or unit of study. This activity can be done individually or in groups, and in class or asynchronously. Components may include:

  • Prompt students to list off (individually or collaboratively) their ideas on a whiteboard, free write in a Google Doc or some other digital space. 
  • Provide formative feedback to assist students to further develop their ideas.
  • Invite students to reflect on the brainstorm process, look over their ideas and determine which idea to explore further.

Mind mapping

A mind map, also known as a cognitive or concept map, allows students to visually display their thinking and knowledge organization, through lines connecting concepts, arrows showing relationships, and other visual cues (Sweet et al., 2013: 89; Ambrose et al. 2010: 63). This challenges students to synthesize and be creative as they display words, ideas, tasks or principles (Barkley, 2010: 219-225). A mind mapping activity can be done individually or in groups, and in class or asynchronously. This activity can be an extension of a brainstorming session, whereby students take an idea from their brainstormed list and further develop it. 

Components of a mind mapping activity may include:

  • Prompt students to create a map of their thinking on a topic, concept, or question. This can be done on paper, on a whiteboard, or with digital mind mapping or whiteboard tools such as Google Drawing.
  • Provide formative feedback on the mind maps.
  • Invite students to reflect on their mind map, and determine where to go next.

Digital storytelling

Digital storytelling involves integrating multimedia (images, text, video, audio, etc.) and narrative to produce immersive stories that connect with course content. Student-produced stories can promote engagement and learning in a way that is both personal and universal (McLellan, 2007). Digital storytelling contributes to learning through student voice and creativity in constructing meaning (Rossiter and Garcia, 2010). 

Tools such as the CTL-developed Mediathread as well as EdDiscussion support collaborative annotation of media objects. These annotations can be used in writing and discussions, which can involve creating a story. For freeform formats, digital whiteboards allow students to drop in different text and media and make connections between these elements. Such storytelling can be done collaboratively or simply shared during class. Finally, EdBlogs can be used for a blog format, or Google Slides if a presentation format is better suited for the learning objective.

Asking questions to explore new possibilities

Tap into student imagination, stimulate curiosity, and create memorable learning experiences by asking students to pose “What if?” “why” and “how” questions – how might things be done differently; what will a situation look like if it is viewed from a new perspective?; or what could a new approach to solving a problem look like? (James & Brookfield, 2014: 163). Powerful questions are open-ended ones where the answer is not immediately apparent; such questions encourage students to think about a topic in new ways, and they promote learning as students work to answer them (James & Brookfield, 2014: 163). Setting aside time for students to ask lots of questions in the classroom and bringing in questions posed on CourseWorks Discussions or EdDiscussion sends the message to students that their questions matter and play a role in learning. 

Cultivate Creative Thinking in the Classroom Environment

Create a classroom environment that encourages experimentation and thinking from new and diverse perspectives. This type of environment encourages students to share their ideas without inhibition and personalize the meaning-making process. “Creative environments facilitate intentional acts of divergent (idea generation, collaboration, and design thinking) and convergent (analysis of ideas, products, and content created) thinking processes.” (Sweet et al., 2013: 20)

Encourage risk-taking and learning from mistakes . Taking risks in the classroom can be anxiety inducing so students will benefit from reassurance that their creativity and all ideas are welcome. When students bring up unexpected ideas, rather than redirecting or dismissing, seize it as an opportunity for a conversation in which students can share, challenge, and affirm ideas (Beghetto, 2013). Let students know that they can make mistakes, “think outside of the box” without penalty (Desrochers and Zell, 2012), and embrace failure seeing it as a learning opportunity.

Model creative thinking . Model curiosity and how to ask powerful questions, and encourage students to be curious about everything (Synder et al., 2013, DiYanni, 2015). Give students a glimpse into your own creative thinking process – how you would approach an open-ended question, problem, or assignment? Turn your own mistakes into teachable moments. By modeling creative thinking, you are giving students permission to engage in this type of thinking.

Build a community that supports the creative classroom environment. Have students get to know and interact with each other so that they become comfortable asking questions and taking risks in front of and with their peers. See the CTL’s resource on Community Building in the Classroom . This is especially important if you are planning to have students collaborate on creative activities and assignments and/or engage in peer review of each other’s work. 

Plan for play. Play is integral to learning (Cavanagh, 2021; Eyler, 2018; Tatter, 2019). Play cultivates a low stress, high trust, inclusive environment, as students build relationships with each. This allows students to feel more comfortable in the classroom and motivates them to tackle more difficult content (Forbes, 2021). Set aside time for play (Ranjan & Gabora, 2013; Sinfield, Burns, & Abegglen, 2018). Design for play with purpose grounded in learning goals. Create a structured play session during which students experiment with a new topic, idea, or tool and connect it to curricular content or their learning experience. Play can be facilitated through educational games such as puzzles, video games, trivia competitions, scavenger hunts or role-playing activities in which students actively apply knowledge and skills as they act out their role (Eyler, 2018; Barkley, 2010). For an example of role-playing games explore Reacting to the Past , an active learning pedagogy of role-playing games developed by Mark Carnes at Barnard College. 

The CTL is here to help!

CTL consultants are happy to support instructors as they design activities and assignments that promote creative thinking. Email [email protected] to schedule a consultation.

Ambrose et al. (2010). How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. Jossey-Bass.

Barkley, E. F., Major, C. H., and Cross, K. P. (2014). Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty . 

Barkley, E. F. (2010) Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty.

Beghetto, R. (2013). Expect the Unexpected: Teaching for Creativity in the Micromoments. In M.B. Gregerson, H.T. Snyder, and J.C. Kaufman (Eds.). Teaching Creatively and Teaching Creativity . Springer. 

Cavanagh, S. R. (2021). How to Play in the College Classroom in a Pandemic, and Why You Should . The Chronicle of Higher Education. February 9, 2021.

Chicca, J. and Chunta, K, (2020). Engaging Students with Visual Stories: Using Infographics in Nursing Education . Teaching and Learning in Nursing. 15(1), 32-36.

Davis, M. E. (2019). Poetry and economics: Creativity, engagement and learning in the economics classroom. International Review of Economics Education. Volume 30. 

Desrochers, C. G. and Zell, D. (2012). Gave projects, tests, or assignments that required original or creative thinking! POD-IDEA Center Notes on Instruction. 

DiYanni, R. (2015). Critical and creative thinking : A brief guide for teachers . John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. 

Eyler, J. R. (2018). How Humans Learn. The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching. West Virginia University Press. 

Forbes, L. K. (2021). The Process of Play in Learning in Higher Education: A Phenomenological Study. Journal of Teaching and Learning. Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 57-73. 

Gerstle, K. (2017). Incorporating Meaningful Reflection into Calculus Assignments. PRIMUS. Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies. 29(1), 71-81.

Gregerson, M. B., Snyder, H. T., and Kaufman, J. C. (2013). Teaching Creatively and Teaching Creativity . Springer. 

Henry, M., Owens, E. A., and Tawney, J. G. (2015). Creative Report Writing in Undergraduate Organic Chemistry Laboratory Inspires Non Majors. Journal of Chemical Education , 92, 90-95.

Hitchcock, L. I., Sage, T., Lynch, M. and Sage, M. (2021). Podcasting as a Pedagogical Tool for Experiential Learning in Social Work Education. Journal of Teaching in Social Work . 41(2). 172-191.

James, A., & Brookfield, S. D. (2014). Engaging imagination : Helping students become creative and reflective thinkers . John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

Jackson, N. (2008). Tackling the Wicked Problem of Creativity in Higher Education.

Jackson, N. (2006). Creativity in higher education. SCEPTrE Scholarly Paper , 3 , 1-25.

Kleiman, P. (2008). Towards transformation: conceptions of creativity in higher education.

Kothari, D., Hall, A. O., Castañeda, C. A., and McNeil, A. J. (2019). Connecting Organic Chemistry Concepts with Real-World Context by Creating Infographics. Journal of Chemistry Education. 96(11), 2524-2527. 

McLellan, H. (2007). Digital Storytelling in Higher Education. Journal of Computing in Higher Education. 19, 65-79. 

Ranjan, A., & Gabora, L. (2013). Creative Ideas for Actualizing Student Potential. In M.B. Gregerson, H.T. Snyder, and J.C. Kaufman (Eds.). Teaching Creatively and Teaching Creativity . Springer. 

Rossiter, M. and Garcia, P. A. (2010). Digital Storytelling: A New Player on the Narrative Field. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. No. 126, Summer 2010. 

Sheafer, V. (2017). Using digital storytelling to teach psychology: A preliminary investigation. Psychology Learning & Teaching. 16(1), 133-143. 

Sinfield, S., Burns, B., & Abegglen, S. (2018). Exploration: Becoming Playful – The Power of a Ludic Module. In A. James and C. Nerantzi (Eds.). The Power of Play in Higher Education . Palgrave Macmillan.

Reynolds, C., Stevens, D. D., and West, E. (2013). “I’m in a Professional School! Why Are You Making Me Do This?” A Cross-Disciplinary Study of the Use of Creative Classroom Projects on Student Learning. College Teaching. 61: 51-59.

Sweet, C., Carpenter, R., Blythe, H., and Apostel, S. (2013). Teaching Applied Creative Thinking: A New Pedagogy  for the 21st Century. Stillwater, OK: New Forums Press Inc. 

Tatter, G. (2019). Playing to Learn: How a pedagogy of play can enliven the classroom, for students of all ages . Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

Vaughn, M. P. and Leon, D. (2021). The Personal Is Political Art: Using Digital Storytelling to Teaching Sociology of Sexualities. Teaching Sociology. 49(3), 245-255. 

Wukich, C. and Siciliano, M. D. (2014). Problem Solving and Creativity in Public Policy Courses: Promoting Interest and Civic Engagement. Journal of Political Science Education . 10, 352-368.

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Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Assignment Design

Assignment Design


Here's a short list of some general assignment design strategies that apply to a wide variety of disciplines.

Aligning with Learning Goals

A number of strategies for deterring plagiarism are discussed, including asking your students to write about current topics relevant to your course and staging essay assignments throughout the quarter.

Integrative Learning

​Integrative learning occurs when students make connections among ideas and experiences in order to transfer learning to new contexts.​

Georgetown University.

Designing Writing Assignments

A well-designed assignment can focus and guide students’ work as they write papers and develop projects, and it can also make evaluating students’ work easier for faculty.  As Rebecca Hacker argues in The Chronicle of Higher Education , creating an assignment sheet is a challenging writing task, one that requires faculty to think not only about what they want students to produce but also what students need to know in order to produce good work.

What makes a good assignment?

Purpose: The assignment should develop students’ understanding of the most important concepts, content, and methods of the course or give students an opportunity to demonstrate their understanding – or both.

Alignment: The scale, form, and task of an assignment should fit with course goals. While traditional essays and research papers can accomplish many things, they’re not the only way to foster or measure students’ understanding of course ideas or methods. Sometimes, informal assignments or alternative projects fit better (and they can be easier to incorporate into your course and your workload).

Context: All writing happens in context, and good assignments specify the context. That might mean saying a few words about how the assignment fits in the unfolding of a course, but it could also mean inviting students to imagine writing for an audience other than the professor or in a professional or civic situation.

Engaging: Good assignments engage students in the concepts and content of a course. In addition, students produce better work when they tackle challenging questions that matter and when they write in ways that build on but also stretch their skills. Good assignments should also be interesting for faculty. Writing Studies scholar Irv Peckham encourages faculty to avoid assigning papers that we don’t want to read.

This Assignment Design MadLib template will help you think about how an assignment can help students learn the key content of your course. Want more help? Check out this example for an informal reading response and another example for a multimedia project .

What, Why, and How: Guiding Questions for Assignment Design

WHAT does the project involve?

  • What are you asking students to do?
  • In what context are they writing — for whom, with what expectations or needs, with what situational constraints or challenges?
  • How should students develop these projects? For example, what kinds of research should they do? Do you want them to use specific analytical approaches or particular course materials or concepts?
  • Practical details – form, length, documentation, style, due dates

WHY are students doing the project?:

  • What do you want students to learn by doing this project?
  • What do you hope these projects will demonstrate about students’ learning?
  • How does the project develop, build on, and/or deploy the central knowledge and approaches of the course?

HOW you will evaluate students’ work?:

  • Criteria – What qualities are you looking for?
  • Rubric – How well does a project need to demonstrate each criteria? Note that some faculty like rubrics, because they make the standards for assignments clear and facilitate grading. Others find them limiting.

Here are two examples that show how the MadLib translates into an assignment:

  • Framing Document
  • Introducing Your Space

You can also download a Writing Assignment Template to follow as you write your own assignment sheet.

More Ideas and Resources  

  • Backward design can help ensure that assignments advance course goals

The goal of a course is for students to understand a set of ideas, concepts, materials, or methods, so assignments ought to focus on generating and demonstrating that understanding. If we begin course planning by articulating the end goal in concrete terms – what could students do if they understood the core ideas of the course? – then we can design assignments that emphasize those goals.

  • Consider breaking big projects down into smaller parts

Students generally produce better work if they develop large projects over time, rather than doing all the work at the end of the semester. Scaffolding assignments by asking students to complete several parts of a project over the course of a semester will generate better papers at the end. While responding to incremental assignments takes time, doing a little more work in the middle of the semester can make grading final papers easier.

  • Multimodal assignments challenge and engage students

Digital and multimedia assignments – what Writing Studies experts call “multimodal assignments” – generate interesting and meaningful work, and they can be both engaging and challenging for students and more interesting for faculty to review. Yet they also pose some particular challenges, because they ask students to integrate words with images, sound, and video, and they often involve learning new digital production skills. Faculty also evaluate these projects differently. We’ve posted some ideas about how to approach these assignments under  Assigning and Assessing Multimodal Projects .

Teaching, Learning, & Professional Development Center

  • Teaching Resources
  • TLPDC Teaching Resources

How Do I Create Meaningful and Effective Assignments?

Prepared by allison boye, ph.d. teaching, learning, and professional development center.

Assessment is a necessary part of the teaching and learning process, helping us measure whether our students have really learned what we want them to learn. While exams and quizzes are certainly favorite and useful methods of assessment, out of class assignments (written or otherwise) can offer similar insights into our students' learning.  And just as creating a reliable test takes thoughtfulness and skill, so does creating meaningful and effective assignments. Undoubtedly, many instructors have been on the receiving end of disappointing student work, left wondering what went wrong… and often, those problems can be remedied in the future by some simple fine-tuning of the original assignment.  This paper will take a look at some important elements to consider when developing assignments, and offer some easy approaches to creating a valuable assessment experience for all involved.

First Things First…

Before assigning any major tasks to students, it is imperative that you first define a few things for yourself as the instructor:

  • Your goals for the assignment . Why are you assigning this project, and what do you hope your students will gain from completing it? What knowledge, skills, and abilities do you aim to measure with this assignment?  Creating assignments is a major part of overall course design, and every project you assign should clearly align with your goals for the course in general.  For instance, if you want your students to demonstrate critical thinking, perhaps asking them to simply summarize an article is not the best match for that goal; a more appropriate option might be to ask for an analysis of a controversial issue in the discipline. Ultimately, the connection between the assignment and its purpose should be clear to both you and your students to ensure that it is fulfilling the desired goals and doesn't seem like “busy work.” For some ideas about what kinds of assignments match certain learning goals, take a look at this page from DePaul University's Teaching Commons.
  • Have they experienced “socialization” in the culture of your discipline (Flaxman, 2005)? Are they familiar with any conventions you might want them to know? In other words, do they know the “language” of your discipline, generally accepted style guidelines, or research protocols?
  • Do they know how to conduct research?  Do they know the proper style format, documentation style, acceptable resources, etc.? Do they know how to use the library (Fitzpatrick, 1989) or evaluate resources?
  • What kinds of writing or work have they previously engaged in?  For instance, have they completed long, formal writing assignments or research projects before? Have they ever engaged in analysis, reflection, or argumentation? Have they completed group assignments before?  Do they know how to write a literature review or scientific report?

In his book Engaging Ideas (1996), John Bean provides a great list of questions to help instructors focus on their main teaching goals when creating an assignment (p.78):

1. What are the main units/modules in my course?

2. What are my main learning objectives for each module and for the course?

3. What thinking skills am I trying to develop within each unit and throughout the course?

4. What are the most difficult aspects of my course for students?

5. If I could change my students' study habits, what would I most like to change?

6. What difference do I want my course to make in my students' lives?

What your students need to know

Once you have determined your own goals for the assignment and the levels of your students, you can begin creating your assignment.  However, when introducing your assignment to your students, there are several things you will need to clearly outline for them in order to ensure the most successful assignments possible.

  • First, you will need to articulate the purpose of the assignment . Even though you know why the assignment is important and what it is meant to accomplish, you cannot assume that your students will intuit that purpose. Your students will appreciate an understanding of how the assignment fits into the larger goals of the course and what they will learn from the process (Hass & Osborn, 2007). Being transparent with your students and explaining why you are asking them to complete a given assignment can ultimately help motivate them to complete the assignment more thoughtfully.
  • If you are asking your students to complete a writing assignment, you should define for them the “rhetorical or cognitive mode/s” you want them to employ in their writing (Flaxman, 2005). In other words, use precise verbs that communicate whether you are asking them to analyze, argue, describe, inform, etc.  (Verbs like “explore” or “comment on” can be too vague and cause confusion.) Provide them with a specific task to complete, such as a problem to solve, a question to answer, or an argument to support.  For those who want assignments to lead to top-down, thesis-driven writing, John Bean (1996) suggests presenting a proposition that students must defend or refute, or a problem that demands a thesis answer.
  • It is also a good idea to define the audience you want your students to address with their assignment, if possible – especially with writing assignments.  Otherwise, students will address only the instructor, often assuming little requires explanation or development (Hedengren, 2004; MIT, 1999). Further, asking students to address the instructor, who typically knows more about the topic than the student, places the student in an unnatural rhetorical position.  Instead, you might consider asking your students to prepare their assignments for alternative audiences such as other students who missed last week's classes, a group that opposes their position, or people reading a popular magazine or newspaper.  In fact, a study by Bean (1996) indicated the students often appreciate and enjoy assignments that vary elements such as audience or rhetorical context, so don't be afraid to get creative!
  • Obviously, you will also need to articulate clearly the logistics or “business aspects” of the assignment . In other words, be explicit with your students about required elements such as the format, length, documentation style, writing style (formal or informal?), and deadlines.  One caveat, however: do not allow the logistics of the paper take precedence over the content in your assignment description; if you spend all of your time describing these things, students might suspect that is all you care about in their execution of the assignment.
  • Finally, you should clarify your evaluation criteria for the assignment. What elements of content are most important? Will you grade holistically or weight features separately? How much weight will be given to individual elements, etc?  Another precaution to take when defining requirements for your students is to take care that your instructions and rubric also do not overshadow the content; prescribing too rigidly each element of an assignment can limit students' freedom to explore and discover. According to Beth Finch Hedengren, “A good assignment provides the purpose and guidelines… without dictating exactly what to say” (2004, p. 27).  If you decide to utilize a grading rubric, be sure to provide that to the students along with the assignment description, prior to their completion of the assignment.

A great way to get students engaged with an assignment and build buy-in is to encourage their collaboration on its design and/or on the grading criteria (Hudd, 2003). In his article “Conducting Writing Assignments,” Richard Leahy (2002) offers a few ideas for building in said collaboration:

• Ask the students to develop the grading scale themselves from scratch, starting with choosing the categories.

• Set the grading categories yourself, but ask the students to help write the descriptions.

• Draft the complete grading scale yourself, then give it to your students for review and suggestions.

A Few Do's and Don'ts…

Determining your goals for the assignment and its essential logistics is a good start to creating an effective assignment. However, there are a few more simple factors to consider in your final design. First, here are a few things you should do :

  • Do provide detail in your assignment description . Research has shown that students frequently prefer some guiding constraints when completing assignments (Bean, 1996), and that more detail (within reason) can lead to more successful student responses.  One idea is to provide students with physical assignment handouts , in addition to or instead of a simple description in a syllabus.  This can meet the needs of concrete learners and give them something tangible to refer to.  Likewise, it is often beneficial to make explicit for students the process or steps necessary to complete an assignment, given that students – especially younger ones – might need guidance in planning and time management (MIT, 1999).
  • Do use open-ended questions.  The most effective and challenging assignments focus on questions that lead students to thinking and explaining, rather than simple yes or no answers, whether explicitly part of the assignment description or in the  brainstorming heuristics (Gardner, 2005).
  • Do direct students to appropriate available resources . Giving students pointers about other venues for assistance can help them get started on the right track independently. These kinds of suggestions might include information about campus resources such as the University Writing Center or discipline-specific librarians, suggesting specific journals or books, or even sections of their textbook, or providing them with lists of research ideas or links to acceptable websites.
  • Do consider providing models – both successful and unsuccessful models (Miller, 2007). These models could be provided by past students, or models you have created yourself.  You could even ask students to evaluate the models themselves using the determined evaluation criteria, helping them to visualize the final product, think critically about how to complete the assignment, and ideally, recognize success in their own work.
  • Do consider including a way for students to make the assignment their own. In their study, Hass and Osborn (2007) confirmed the importance of personal engagement for students when completing an assignment.  Indeed, students will be more engaged in an assignment if it is personally meaningful, practical, or purposeful beyond the classroom.  You might think of ways to encourage students to tap into their own experiences or curiosities, to solve or explore a real problem, or connect to the larger community.  Offering variety in assignment selection can also help students feel more individualized, creative, and in control.
  • If your assignment is substantial or long, do consider sequencing it. Far too often, assignments are given as one-shot final products that receive grades at the end of the semester, eternally abandoned by the student.  By sequencing a large assignment, or essentially breaking it down into a systematic approach consisting of interconnected smaller elements (such as a project proposal, an annotated bibliography, or a rough draft, or a series of mini-assignments related to the longer assignment), you can encourage thoughtfulness, complexity, and thoroughness in your students, as well as emphasize process over final product.

Next are a few elements to avoid in your assignments:

  • Do not ask too many questions in your assignment.  In an effort to challenge students, instructors often err in the other direction, asking more questions than students can reasonably address in a single assignment without losing focus. Offering an overly specific “checklist” prompt often leads to externally organized papers, in which inexperienced students “slavishly follow the checklist instead of integrating their ideas into more organically-discovered structure” (Flaxman, 2005).
  • Do not expect or suggest that there is an “ideal” response to the assignment. A common error for instructors is to dictate content of an assignment too rigidly, or to imply that there is a single correct response or a specific conclusion to reach, either explicitly or implicitly (Flaxman, 2005). Undoubtedly, students do not appreciate feeling as if they must read an instructor's mind to complete an assignment successfully, or that their own ideas have nowhere to go, and can lose motivation as a result. Similarly, avoid assignments that simply ask for regurgitation (Miller, 2007). Again, the best assignments invite students to engage in critical thinking, not just reproduce lectures or readings.
  • Do not provide vague or confusing commands . Do students know what you mean when they are asked to “examine” or “discuss” a topic? Return to what you determined about your students' experiences and levels to help you decide what directions will make the most sense to them and what will require more explanation or guidance, and avoid verbiage that might confound them.
  • Do not impose impossible time restraints or require the use of insufficient resources for completion of the assignment.  For instance, if you are asking all of your students to use the same resource, ensure that there are enough copies available for all students to access – or at least put one copy on reserve in the library. Likewise, make sure that you are providing your students with ample time to locate resources and effectively complete the assignment (Fitzpatrick, 1989).

The assignments we give to students don't simply have to be research papers or reports. There are many options for effective yet creative ways to assess your students' learning! Here are just a few:

Journals, Posters, Portfolios, Letters, Brochures, Management plans, Editorials, Instruction Manuals, Imitations of a text, Case studies, Debates, News release, Dialogues, Videos, Collages, Plays, Power Point presentations

Ultimately, the success of student responses to an assignment often rests on the instructor's deliberate design of the assignment. By being purposeful and thoughtful from the beginning, you can ensure that your assignments will not only serve as effective assessment methods, but also engage and delight your students. If you would like further help in constructing or revising an assignment, the Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development Center is glad to offer individual consultations. In addition, look into some of the resources provided below.

Online Resources

“Creating Effective Assignments” http://www.unh.edu/teaching-excellence/resources/Assignments.htm This site, from the University of New Hampshire's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning,  provides a brief overview of effective assignment design, with a focus on determining and communicating goals and expectations.

Gardner, T.  (2005, June 12). Ten Tips for Designing Writing Assignments. Traci's Lists of Ten. http://www.tengrrl.com/tens/034.shtml This is a brief yet useful list of tips for assignment design, prepared by a writing teacher and curriculum developer for the National Council of Teachers of English .  The website will also link you to several other lists of “ten tips” related to literacy pedagogy.

“How to Create Effective Assignments for College Students.”  http:// tilt.colostate.edu/retreat/2011/zimmerman.pdf     This PDF is a simplified bulleted list, prepared by Dr. Toni Zimmerman from Colorado State University, offering some helpful ideas for coming up with creative assignments.

“Learner-Centered Assessment” http://cte.uwaterloo.ca/teaching_resources/tips/learner_centered_assessment.html From the Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo, this is a short list of suggestions for the process of designing an assessment with your students' interests in mind. “Matching Learning Goals to Assignment Types.” http://teachingcommons.depaul.edu/How_to/design_assignments/assignments_learning_goals.html This is a great page from DePaul University's Teaching Commons, providing a chart that helps instructors match assignments with learning goals.

Additional References Bean, J.C. (1996). Engaging ideas: The professor's guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fitzpatrick, R. (1989). Research and writing assignments that reduce fear lead to better papers and more confident students. Writing Across the Curriculum , 3.2, pp. 15 – 24.

Flaxman, R. (2005). Creating meaningful writing assignments. The Teaching Exchange .  Retrieved Jan. 9, 2008 from http://www.brown.edu/Administration/Sheridan_Center/pubs/teachingExchange/jan2005/01_flaxman.pdf

Hass, M. & Osborn, J. (2007, August 13). An emic view of student writing and the writing process. Across the Disciplines, 4. 

Hedengren, B.F. (2004). A TA's guide to teaching writing in all disciplines . Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Hudd, S. S. (2003, April). Syllabus under construction: Involving students in the creation of class assignments.  Teaching Sociology , 31, pp. 195 – 202.

Leahy, R. (2002). Conducting writing assignments. College Teaching , 50.2, pp. 50 – 54.

Miller, H. (2007). Designing effective writing assignments.  Teaching with writing .  University of Minnesota Center for Writing. Retrieved Jan. 9, 2008, from http://writing.umn.edu/tww/assignments/designing.html

MIT Online Writing and Communication Center (1999). Creating Writing Assignments. Retrieved January 9, 2008 from http://web.mit.edu/writing/Faculty/createeffective.html .

Contact TTU

The Cowbell

News and Resources from UWGB's Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning

Assignment Design

There’s a fine line between assignment design and assessment strategies . In short, designing good assignments is one means of assessing your students’ learning on a larger scale.

Assignments help measure student learning in your course. Effective assignment design in your course involves aligning your assignments with learning outcomes. When assignments and outcomes are aligned, good grades and good learning go hand in hand ( https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/assessments.html ).

Assessments fall into one of two categories, formative or summative .

Formative assessments are typically low-stakes and help students identify their strengths and weaknesses so that they can improve their learning. Routine formative assessments also help instructors identify the areas where students are struggling and adapt their teaching accordingly.

Summative assessments evaluate student learning (such as at the end of a unit of instruction). Summative assessments are generally higher stakes (like midterm exams and final projects).

Assignments are what students actually ‘do’ as part of those assessments.

Incorporating a mix of assignment activities in your course can help students practice and demonstrate their mastery of outcomes in multiple ways. Consider ways you can design your assignments so that they better mirror the application of knowledge in real-world scenarios. Assignments designed in this way are often referred to as Authentic Assessments ( Authentic-assessment.pdf (uwex.edu)). One type of highly authentic assessment is the long-term project which challenges students to solve a problem or complete a challenge requiring the application of course concepts ( Project_Based_Learning.pdf (uwex.edu) ).

More details and examples can be found in the tabbed content box below. Please also consider signing up for a CATL consultation with one of our instructional designers for some personalized assistance in developing your ideas for assignments and ensuring that they align with your course outcomes .

(Adapted from Carnegie Mellon's:  Design and Teach a Course )

Assessments should provide instructors and students with evidence of how well students have mastered the course outcomes.

There are two major reasons for aligning assessments with learning outcomes.

  • Alignment increases the probability that we will provide students with the opportunities to learn and practice knowledge and skills that instructors will require students know in the objectives and in the assessments. (Teaching to the assessment is a  good  thing.)
  • When instructors align assessments with outcomes, students are more likely to translate "good grades" into "good learning." Conversely, when instructors misalign assessments with objectives, students will focus on getting good grades on the assessments, rather than focusing on mastering the material that the instructor finds important.

Instructors may use different types of assessments to measure student proficiency in a learning objective. Moreover, instructors may use the same activity to measure different objectives. To ensure a more accurate assessment of student proficiency, many instructional designers recommend that you use different kinds of activities so that students have multiple ways to practice and demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

Formative assessment

The goal of formative assessment is to  monitor student learning  to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. More specifically, formative assessments:

  • help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work
  • help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately

Formative assessments are generally  low stakes , which means that they have low or no point value. Examples of formative assessments include asking students to:

  • draw a concept map in class to represent their understanding of a topic
  • submit one or two sentences identifying the main point of a lecture
  • turn in a research proposal for early feedback

Summative assessment

The goal of summative assessment is to  evaluate student learning  at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.

Summative assessments are often  high stakes , which means that they have a high point value. Examples of summative assessments include:

  • a midterm exam
  • a final project
  • a senior recital

Information from summative assessments can be used formatively when students or faculty use it to guide their efforts and activities in subsequent courses.

Formative Assessments:

  • Reading quizzes
  • Concept map
  • Muddiest point
  • Pro/con grid
  • Focused paraphrasing
  • Reflective journal
  • Virtual lab/game
  • Webconference
  • Debate (synchronous or asynchronous)
  • Participant research
  • Peer review

Summative Assessments:

  • Presentation
  • Portfolio project

Carnegie Mellon University on Aligning Assessments with Objectives with examples.

Items to consider when weighing your assessment options:

If you are thinking about using discussions, be sure to think about the following:.

  • What kind of questions/situations do you want the students to discuss? Is it complex enough to allow students to build knowledge beyond the textbook? Will the discussion help students meet your objectives (and develop an answer for your essential questions)?
  • What are your expectations for discussions? Should students participate (post) a certain number of times, with a certain number of words, and reply to a certain number of people?
  • What is your role in the discussion (traffic cop, the person who clarifies issues, will you respond to every post)?

If you are thinking about using quizzes, be sure to think about the following:

  • What type of questions will help your students meet the objectives of the course? Are you going to grade essay questions or just let the computer grade multiple choice questions?
  • What is the place for academic integrity? Are you going to randomize questions, randomize answers, restrict time, restrict the answers that students can see after completing the exam?
  • How are you going to populate your quiz? Are you going to write the questions or use questions that come from a textbook publisher?

If you are thinking of using essays, be sure to think about the following:

  • Will these essays/papers help students to meet the course objectives, which ones? Is the length of the essay appropriate?
  • What do you think about plagiarism checkers such as TurnItIn?
  • To what extent will you allow students to submit drafts, and will you provide feedback on drafts, or will you use a peer review system?

Other items to consider:

  • Are you thinking about using an alternative assignment? If so, you may want to talk with an instructional technologist or designer.
  • Consider the type of feedback you will provide for each assignment. What should students expect from you; how will you communicate those expectations; and how soon will you provide feedback (realistically)?

Further resources

Small teaching online.

This book (requires UWGB login) contains many tips that are easy to integrate into your distance education class. The chapter on “ surfacing backward design” contains many tips for assessment for online classes, many of which are adaptable to all distance modalities.

CATL Resources

  • Collaborative Learning Assignments  (Toolbox article)
  • Administering Tests and Quizzes (including alternatives) (Toolbox article)
  • Writing Good Multiple Choice Questions ( TeAch Tuesday , YouTube)

Tip sheets from UW-System

UW-System put together some tip sheets for common sticking points in assessment for distance education.

  • Writing effective multiple choice questions
  • Authentic assessments
  • Unproctored online assessments
  • Project-based learning

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Sections: General Principles of Assignment Design Additional Resources

General Principles of Assignment Design

Assignments: Make Them Effective, Engaging, and Equitable. At their best, assignments are one of the most important learning experiences for students in a course. Students grapple with course content, deepen their understanding, form new ideas, connections, and questions, and show how they are achieving the course or program learning outcomes. Assignments can also affirm students' social identities, interests, and abilities in ways that foster belonging and academic success.

Characteristics of Effective, Engaging, and Equitable Assignments

  • Address the central learning outcomes/objectives of your courses. This ensures the relevancy of the assignment (students won’t wonder why they’re doing it) and provides you with an assessment of student learning that tells you about the progress your students are making.
  • Interesting and challenging . What assignments are most memorable to you? Chances are they asked you to apply knowledge to an interesting problem or to do it in a creative way. Assignments can be seen as more relevant when they connect to a real world problem or situation, or when students imagine they are presenting the information to a real world audience (e.g., policy makers), or when they can bring in some aspect of their own experience. Assignments can also be contextualized to reflect the values or priorities of the institution.
  • Purpose: Why are you asking students to do the assignment? How does it connect with course learning objectives and support broader skill development that students can draw upon well after your class is over? Often the purpose is very clear to us but we don’t always spell it out for our students.
  • Tasks: What steps will students need to take to complete the assignment successfully? Laying this out helps students organize what they need to do and when.
  • Criteria for Success: What does excellence look like? This can be described through text or a rubric that aligns expectations with the key elements of the assignment.
  • Utility value: How can you make adjustments that allow students to perceive the assignment has more value, either professionally, academically, or personally?
  • Inclusive content: Is the assignment equally accessible to all students? If examples are drawn from the dominant culture, they are less accessible to students from other cultures. Structuring assignments so that content is equally familiar to all students reduces educational equity gaps by limiting the effects of prior knowledge and privilege.
  • Flexibility and variety: Consider how much flexibility and variety you’re offering in your assignments. This allows students to show what they have learned regardless of their academic strengths or familiarity with particular assignment types. Can students choose among different formats for how they’ll present their assignment (paper, podcast or infographic); is there variety in formats across all the course assignments? Multi-modal assignments allow students to represent what they know in various ways and are therefore more equitable by design.
  • Support assignments with instructional activities. Planning learning activities that support students’ best work on their assignments is another critical component. This can include having students read model articles in the style in which you are asking them to prepare their own assignment, discuss or apply the rubric to a sample paper, or break the assignment into smaller pieces so that students can get feedback from you or peers on how they are progressing. Another way to support students is to make clear the role of tools like ChatGPT: if it’s used, how can students use it effectively and responsibly? More generally, all major assignments provide opportunities for important discussions about academic integrity and its relevance to work in one’s discipline, higher education, and personal development.
  • Provide opportunities for feedback and revision (especially if high-stakes) . Students may receive feedback on their progress or drafts in a variety of ways: peer, faculty, or a library partner. The Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning identifies four characteristics of effective feedback: Targeted and Concise; Focused; Action-Oriented; and Timely.

For assignments that ask students to write in the style of a particular discipline and draw upon research, SCU’s Success in Writing, Information, and Research Literacy (SWIRL) project has developed guidance for faculty in assignment design and instruction to improve student writing and critical use of information. 

You can download the WRITE assignment design tool and learn more at the SWIRL website. Members of the SWIRL team welcome individual consultations with faculty on assignment design. You are welcome to contact them for feedback on any assignment you’re designing.

Additional Resources:

Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (2021). Feedback for Learning. Columbia University. Retrieved [February 26, 2024] from https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/resources/feedback-for-learning/

Hobbs H. T., Singer-Freeman K. E., Robinson C. (2021). Considering the effects of assignment choices on equity gaps. Research and Practice in Assessment, 16 (1), 49–62.

SWIRL : For assignments that ask students to write in the style of a particular discipline and draw upon research, SCU’s Success in Writing, Information, and Research Literacy (SWIRL) project has developed guidance for faculty in assignment design and instruction to improve student writing and critical use of information. You can download the WRITE assignment design tool and learn more at the SWIRL website. 

Transparency in Higher Education Project: Examples and Resources. Copyright © 2009-2023 M.A. Winkelmes. Retrieved [February 26, 2024] from   https://tilthighered.com/tiltexamplesandresources

Winkelmes, M., Boye, A., & Tapp, S. (Eds.). (2019). Transparent design in higher education teaching and leadership. Stylus Publishing.

Page authors: Chris Bachen

Last updated: March 5, 2024

Assignment Design

Considering your course goals, reinforcing learning, giving instructions, additional resources.

A good assignment helps the professor and students pursue the learning goals of the course. Rather than starting with a prefabricated assignment, then, this is another opportune moment for backward design ; ideally, you start with your course goals and think creatively to devise work that will help you meet them. In practice, this means that a good assignment generally does two things: it reinforces important learning and offers an opportunity for the professor to assess the quality of that learning.

Seattle University English Professor John Bean, in his book Engaging Ideas , recommends asking yourself the following questions as you prepare to design an assignment:

  • What are the main units or modules in my course?
  • What are my main learning objectives for each of these modules and for the whole course? What are the chief concepts and principles that I want students to learn in each unit or module?
  • What thinking skills am I trying to develop within each unit or module and throughout the whole course?
  • Based on previous students’ experience, what are the most difficult aspects of my course for students?
  • If I could change my students’ study habits, what would I most like to change?
  • What difference do I want my course to make in my students’ lives—in their sense of self, their values, their ways of thinking? What is my unique stamp on this course? Ten years later, what do I want them to remember most about my course?

As you proceed, be clear (with yourself and, subsequently, with your students) on your specific goals for the students ( Learning Goals page ). It’s daunting to attempt to design an assignment that taps “critical thinking” (in all its possible forms), but it’s quite possible to craft something more focused, if your goal is also more focused. For example, if you want students to be able to come to conclusions amidst potentially contradictory information, you could assign a literature review that asks students to consider, weigh, and critique various scientific studies in order to summarize what we know about a particular phenomenon; if, on the other hand, “critical thinking” means (to you) the ability to question ideas effectively, you could ask students to deconstruct and evaluate an opinion piece. If you want students to gain an understanding of what it’s like to work in your field, you can get specific with that, too; would a poster presentation make the most sense, or the performance of an experiment, or an essay that conforms to your discipline’s manual of style? If you want students to have an “understanding of the topic,” does that mean the ability to produce facts when asked (which might call for a test, or a Q & A session following a presentation), or does it mean the ability to see gaps in the field’s understanding (which might warrant a practice grant proposal)? Determine exactly what you want from your students, and design the assignment to get at that exact thing.

Another consideration is the complexity of the learning goal . If you’re looking for something fairly complex, you could design assignments to build slowly toward the final outcome. For example, if you want students to be able to write a full-blown psychology research paper by the end of the semester, it might help to break that down into smaller chunks, asking them to put together an introduction first, and then a method section, and so on, each time giving them feedback so that they’re ultimately ready to successfully put together something complete. If the final project is a complicated performance, perhaps students could demonstrate successful singing separately from successful movement on the stage, and only then integrate the two.

Once you’ve determined the goals that will be the focus of the assignment, there’s no reason to keep them to yourself, of course. Share them with your students so that they’ll know the reason for the assignment, and how to focus their efforts.

Josiah Osgood discusses best practices when creating assignments in the classroom. : : Transcript

If designed well, an assignment gives students a chance to rehearse, practice, and integrate the most important knowledge and skills they’ve picked up thus far in the class—and even to learn new things . This is what makes it the opposite of busywork. First of all, if the assignment is truly germane to the subject matter and goals of the course, it’ll by necessity push students to review relevant material. Then, by asking students to restate, transform, and apply that material, the work will deepen understanding. An essay might require students to synthesize various readings or theories; a presentation demands that learners find ways to express ideas in their own words; a research proposal strengthens one’s grasp of concepts by pushing toward the application of those concepts. Along the way you might be interested in developing new knowledge or skills; for example, maybe you want students to investigate a topic but also practice the ability to work effectively with others; group work, if structured well, can help people attain interpersonal as well as academic goals. Blogging can, too.

It bears noting that, in many cases, students will need more than one round of practice in order to master what they need to master. Consider whether your second assignment should resemble your first in order to give them adequate experience before moving on to new things.

To this end, also consider whether more frequent, smaller assignments might lead to more practice opportunities (and perhaps more learning) than fewer, higher-stakes assignments.

As mentioned above, it’s important to let students know what your goals and expectations are for any given assignment . It can be especially helpful to give these instructions in multiple formats, including aloud and in writing. A written version of instructions, according to John Bean, has several advantages: “(1) it meets the need of sensing or concrete learners…(2) it gives all students something to refer to late at night when their class notes no longer seem so clear; (3) if your institution has a writing center, it helps writing consultants understand what the professor is looking for…(4) most importantly, it helps professors identify potential problems with the assignment and thus clarify its purpose and focus.” He further argues that assignment instructions should be clear about the nature of the task, the audience, format, expectations for students’ work process (e.g., revisions, group work, etc.), and the assessment criteria you’ll be applying.

It’s also important to avoid busywork for the teacher, and busywork happens when you end up grading something that tells you little to nothing important about students’ learning, just for the sake of having something to grade. Instead, aim to assign students work that demands relevant and informative performances . The bottom line is to assign work that allows students to demonstrate what you really want to see. An open-book take-home exam isn’t a great way to assess memorization of concepts, but it can be an excellent way to see what students do with those concepts when they have time to review them and gather their thoughts.

This is another place where rubrics come in handy, for you and for the students. Designing the rubric (and see our Assessment Portal for more on this) helps you to get clear on what you’re looking for, and—if you discover that your assignment, as originally designed, won’t give you much that’s worth grading—might even cause you to revise the assignment before sharing it with the students. Then, when the rubric is in students’ hands, it will (ideally) guide them to produce an assignment that will reveal what they’re capable of.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that “assessment” is not synonymous with “grading” ( Grading page ). It may be that you want to assign grades to each of your students’ assignments, or it may be that you want to use them simply to gather information (and you might, for example, give students full credit for effortful work rather than grades based on their relative effectiveness at the task).

  • Sherry Linkon, English 750:* Humanities in the Community*** (A reflection assignment based on group coursework, with a clear statement about the goal of the assignment—”The point is not to complain (though some complaining may feel good) but to identify how the choices you and your colleagues make, not only about your event but in your interactions as a team, affect the project and your relationships”—as well as an articulation of grading criteria.
  • Joshua Meredith, Human Resources Management 700: * Workplace Ethics*** (a combination oral and take-home written midterm exam , with a clear grading rubric.)
  • Deb Sivigny, Theater and Performing Studies 170: * Principles of Design*** (a hands-on project asking students to design—and redesign—business cards reflecting, in terms of content and form, what these students “claimed as their own.”)
  • Ernesto Vasquez del Aguila, Anthropology 342:* Masculinities*** (A final paper with multiple options for approaches and clear instructions on what each section of the paper should be doing. “Over time you will develop your own system for reading, taking notes and writing. However, despite differences between people’s approaches to essay writing, every good essay should follow this basic structure.”)
  • Sabrina Wesley-Nero, Education, Inquiry, and Justice 401:* Capstone*** (A final proposal in which students are asked “to use the PEDIJ as a springboard toward how you define ‘what’s next’ and how what you’ve learned in EDIJ can impact education, educational equity, and/or education equality,” with a clear rubric provided.)
  • Bean, John C. (2001). Engaging Ideas . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Dartmouth University Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. Syllabus and Assignment Design .
  • Weimer, Maryellen. How Assignment Design Shapes Student Learning . Faculty Focus, April 2015.
  • Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) 3520 Prospect St. NW #314 Washington, DC 20057
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Research Instruction

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These lists will be constantly in flux as I come across new ideas and/or links break. If you have activities and assignments related to research and information literacy and are willing to share them, please let me know! I'd love to add them to this list.

Assignment Design Ideas

Jump to: Alternative research assignment ideas

Think twice about source type/search tool requirements

Often, these requirements ("Only use scholarly articles," "Don't use Google," "You must have 1 print book") seem arbitrary to students. Absent context, these requirements can cause students undue stress and anxiety--especially if they have trouble identifying source types in the first place.

  • Ask yourself, "What am I actually trying to get students to learn about research by requiring the use of [specific types of sources]?"
  • Discuss how and why different kinds of information are produced
  • Discuss what kinds of sources are considered authoritative in your field, and why
  • Take it a step further and consider what voices might be left out if students were only allowed to use one type of source (such as scholarly articles)
  • Library search tools (the catalog, databases) contain many different types of sources
  • Include discussion about the differences between library search tools and search engines like Google

Annotated bibliography assignments

Annotated bibliographies are great for scaffolding research projects. They help students practice source evaluation and summary.

  • Hunter College: Annotated Bibliography Activities Includes tips for getting students to think more critically about their sources and some ideas for slight variations on annotated bibs.

Provide an initial set of sources

This can help students get a sense of what kinds of information (what types of sources, what perspectives) exist for a topic.

  • For sources with bibliographies, discuss how to use a source to find more like it
  • When everyone's looked at the same set of sources, it's easier to have students work in groups or practice synthesizing/evaluating as a whole class--before they have to do it on their own in a research assignment

Require an initial bibliography of more sources than they'll actually use

Scaffold the process of choosing and using sources by having students initially gather more resources than they're required to cite in the final version of their project. Then have them choose the sources they'll actually use from this larger list.

  • This helps with "satisficing" -- when students use the first few sources they encounter that they consider "good enough" and stop there
  • This also gives you the opportunity to provide feedback on sources and citations, and gives students one more opportunity to practice citations
  • Due first: working bibliography of 10 sources
  • Due next: annotated bibliography of 5-7 sources that will actually be cited in the final project
  • Your students will use better sources, and you'll get better projects

Alternative research assignments

Students often appreciate more creative format options for research projects. If you're sick of grading research papers, imagine how sick your students are of writing them... Try:

  • Curation assignments--assignments that focus on storytelling, creating personal learning environments, or designing exhibits
  • Search process assignments--have students write (and/or present) a reflection on the process of searching for and evaluating information on a topic
  • Multimodal or audiovisual assignments--have students create podcasts, documentaries, websites, or something that combines mediums
  • Non-disposable assignments--assignments with a lifespan beyond the due date (community partnerships, materials that are shared/used campus-wide, public writing like Wikipedia editing assignments)
  • Grant proposals are also a fun option
  • History of scholarship assignments--students trace the scholarly conversation on a particular topic back to a certain date or as far back as they can get, then write or present on how scholarship on the topic has changed over time
  • Alternative Information Literacy Assignment Ideas An extensive list of assignment ideas complied by librarians Faith Rusk and Daphna Atias (U of DC at the time the list was created).

More Links & Inspiration

  • CORA: Community of Online Research Assignments An open repository of reusable and adaptable lesson plans and assignments related to research.
  • << Previous: Classroom Activities
  • Last Updated: Aug 25, 2023 1:26 PM
  • URL: https://libguides.uj.edu/instruction

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Center for Teaching and Learning

  • Assignment Design: Is AI In or Out?

Generative AI

  • Rachel Hoke
This page provides examples for designing AI out of or into your assignments. These ideas are intended to provide a starting point as you consider how assignment design can limit or encourage certain uses of AI to help students learn. CETLI is available to consult with you about ways you might design AI out of or into your assignments.

Considerations for Crafting Assignments

  • Connect to your goals. Assignments support the learning goals of your course, and decisions about how students may or may not use AI should be based on these goals.
  • Designing ‘in’ doesn’t mean ‘all in’. Incorporating certain uses of AI into an assignment doesn’t mean you have to allow all uses, especially those that would interfere with learning.
  • Communicate to students . Think about how you will explain the assignment’s purpose and benefits to your students, including the rationale for your guidelines on AI use.

Design Out: Limit AI Use

Very few assignments are truly AI-proof, but some designs are more resistant to student AI use than others. Along with designing assignments in ways that deter the use of AI, inform students about your course AI policies regarding what is and is not acceptable as well as the potential consequences for violating these terms.

Assignments that ask students to refer to something highly specific to your course or not easily searchable online will make it difficult for AI to generate a response. Examples include asking students to:

  • Summarize, discuss, question, or otherwise respond to content from an in-class activity, a specific part of your lecture, or a classmate’s discussion comments.
  • Relate course content to issues that have local context or personal relevance. The more recent and specific the topic, the more poorly AI will perform.
  • Respond to visual or multimedia material as part of their assignment. AI has difficulty processing non-text information.

Find opportunities for students to present, discuss their work, and respond to questions from others. To field questions live requires students to demonstrate their understanding of the topic, and the skill of talking succinctly about one’s work and research is valuable for students in many disciplines. You might ask students to:

  • Create an “elevator pitch” for a research idea and submit it as a short video, then watch and respond to peers’ ideas.
  • Give an in-class presentation with Q&A that supplements submitted written work. 
  • Meet with you or your TA to discuss their ideas and receive constructive feedback before or after completing the assignment.

This strategy allows students to show how they have thought about the work that they’ve done and places value on their awareness of their learning. For instance, students might:

  • Briefly write about a source or approach they considered but decided not to use and why.
  • Discuss a personal connection they made to the learning material.
  • Submit a reflection on how the knowledge or skills gained from the assignment apply to their professional practice.

Consider asking students to show the stages of their work or submit assignments in phases, so you can review the development of their ideas or work over time. Explaining the value of the thinking students will do in taking on the work themselves can help deter students’ dependence on AI. Additionally, this strategy helps keep students on track so they do not fall behind and feel pressure to use AI inappropriately. For materials handed in with the final product, it can give you a way to refer back to their process. You may ask students to:

  • Submit an outline, list of sources, discussion of a single piece of data, explanation of their approach, or first draft before the final product. 
  • Meet briefly with an instructor to discuss their approach or work in progress.
  • Submit the notes they have taken on sources to prepare their paper, presentation, or project.

Prior to beginning an exam or submitting an assignment, you may ask students to confirm that they have followed the policies regarding academic integrity and AI. This can be particularly helpful for an assignment with different AI guidelines than others in your course. You might:

  • Ask students to affirm a statement that all submitted work is their own.
  • Ask students to confirm their understanding of your generative AI policy at the start of the assignment.

If you decide to limit student’s use of AI in their work:  

  • Communicate the policy early, often and in a variety of ways.   
  • Be Transparent. Clearly explain the reasoning behind your decision to limit or exclude the use of AI in the assignment, focusing on how the assignment relates to the course’s learning objectives and how the use of AI limits the intended learning outcomes.  

Design In: Encourage AI Use

You may find that assignments that draw upon generative AI can help your students develop the thinking and skills that are valuable in your field. Careful planning is important to ensure that the designed use of AI furthers your objectives and benefits students. Become familiar with the tasks that AI does and does not do well, and explore how careful prompting can influence its output. These examples represent only a small fraction of potential uses and aim to provide a starting point for considering assignments you might adapt for your courses.

Consider using AI tools to generate original content for students to analyze. You might ask students to:

  • Compare multiple versions of an AI-generated approach to problem-solving based on the same task.
  • Analyze case studies generated by AI.
  • Determine and implement strategies for fact-checking AI-generated assertions to examine the value of information sources.

Generative AI may support students as they take on more advanced thinking by offering help and feedback in real time. For instance, students can:

  • Input a provided prompt that guides AI to act as a tutor on an assignment. Prompts can lead the AI tutor to review material, answer questions, and help students use problem-solving strategies to find a solution.
  • Ask AI to support the writing process by having it review an essay and provide feedback with explicit instructions to help identify weaknesses in an argument. Consider asking students to turn in the transcript of their discussion with the AI as part of the assignment.
  • Use AI for coaching (guidance) through complex tasks like helping students without coding skills create code to analyze materials when the learning goal is data analysis rather than coding.

To support students in learning how to test their ideas, to understand what is arguable, or to practice voicing ideas with feedback, generative AI can be prompted to participate in a conversation. You might ask students to:

  • Instruct AI to respond as someone unfamiliar with the course material and engage in a dialogue explaining a concept to the AI.
  • Find common ground in a discussion of a controversial issue by asking AI to take a counterposition in the debate. The student could question the AI’s contradictions or identify oversimplifications while focusing on defining their own position.
  • Engage with AI as it role-plays a persona like a stakeholder in a case study or a patient in a clinical conversation.

Students can engage with AI as a thought partner at the start or end stages of a project, without allowing AI to do everything. The parts of the task AI does and the parts students should do will depend on the type of learning you want them to accomplish. You might ask students to:

  • Use AI to draft an initial hypothesis. Then, the student gathers, synthesizes, and cites evidence that supports or refutes the argument. Finally, the student submits the original AI output along with their finished product.
  • Brainstorm with AI, using the tool to generate many possible positions or projects. Students decide which one to pursue and why.
  • Develop an initial draft of code on their own, ask AI for assistance to revise or debug, and evaluate the effectiveness of AI in improving the final product.

The specific prompts a user gives to an AI tool strongly determine the quality of its output. Learning to write effective prompts can help students use AI to its fullest potential. Students might:

  • Prompt AI to generate responses on a topic the student knows a lot about and evaluate how different prompt characteristics impact the quality and accuracy of AI responses.
  • Research applications of prompt engineering that are emerging in their field or discipline.
  • Create custom instructions for AI to help with a specific, challenging task. Share their results with peers and evaluate the effectiveness of each others’ results.

If you allow students to utilize AI in their work:

  • Make it clear that students are responsible for any inaccuracies in content or citations generated by AI, and that they should own whatever positions they take in submissions.
  • Set and communicate clear expectations for when and how AI contributions must be acknowledged or cited.
  • Consider barriers that prevent equitable access to high-quality AI tools . S tudents may also have varying levels of AI knowledge and experience us ing the tools. CETLI can assist you in developing an inclusive plan to ensure students can complete the assignment.  

If students may use AI with proper attribution, APA , MLA , and Chicago styles each offer recommendations for how to cite AI-generated contributions.

Harvard’s metaLAB AI Pedagogy Project provides additional sample assignments designed to incorporate AI, which are free to use, share, or adapt with appropriate attribution.

CETLI Can Help

CETLI staff are available to discuss ideas or concerns related to generative AI and your teaching, and we can work with your program or department to facilitate conversations about this technology. Contact CETLI to learn more .

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assignment design ideas

Teaching with ChatGPT: Assignment Design Tips & Ideas

Generative AI offers opportunities for learning, but instructors should guide students on using it safely, ethically, and within the parameters set by course policy. Continue to uphold assignment and assessment design that reinforces good teaching and learning practices. Use AI for teaching where appropriate and when it adds value.

Oregon State University’s “ Bloom’s Taxonomy Revisited ” provides a framework for assignment and assessment design in the age of AI.

Assignment Strategies with Generative AI in mind

  • Use authentic assessment, formative assessment, assessment add-ons like problem-solving logs, exam wrappers, minute papers, “muddiest point” questions. Learn more: Assignments & Assessments
  • Engage diverse media.  Replace an essay or short-answer writing assignment with one that requires students to submit an audio file, podcast, video, speech, drawing, diagram, or multimedia project. 
  • Create connections to real-world experience that AI will not have. Connect assignments to very recent events or new conversations in the field; to issues specific to the local community; or to discussions that took place in your own classroom. Alternatively, ask your students to find a connection between course concepts/topics and their personal experience or knowledge.
  • For example: instead of the traditional essay, which may now be easy to cheat through, assign a multimedia project accompanied by a brief self-reflective essay.
  • Assign social annotation . For short reading responses, instead of using open-ended questions in Canvas, try social annotation tools that require students to engage with a text along with their classmates. Try Hypothes.is or Perusall , both of which are supported by the University.
  • Set clear course AI policies and expectations for assignments.
  • Teach your students to cite generative AI correctly.
  • Teach your students to use generative AI safely. ChatGPT acknowledges that they may share account holders’ personal information with third parties, including vendors and service providers — see their Privacy Policy . Teach your students to never share personal and sensitive information with generative AI chatbots.
  • Model how to use generative AI as a personalized tutor .
  • Idea 1: Critical evaluation of AI outputs.  Ask your students to 1. generate a ChatGPT response to a question of their own choosing, related to the field,  2. examine that response, and 3. write a short analytical essay about ChatGPT’s response’s strengths and weaknesses. *In this basic form, this exercise can be a great critical thinking exercise. It can also be tailored to other specific learning goals. For example, if you are looking to teach assessment and evaluative skills, you can ask your students to also come up with a set of assessment criteria, as opposed to the free-form discussion of the strengths and weaknesses.
  • Idea 2: Applying concepts to analyze data. Ask your students to: 1. pick a concept related to the field. 2. ask ChatGPT to describe three applications of that concept. 3. rank those applications from most successful to least successful. 4. Explain your thought process behind the rankings. *This can be a written homework assignment or a classroom discussion activity. 
  • Idea 3: Identifying and understanding generative AI. Give your students two short human-written pieces or reading responses on a topic related to the field, and one AI-written piece on the same topic. The human-written pieces can be anything — student works, excerpts from publications, or any relevant online materials. Do not tell your students which one of the three pieces is AI-generated. Ask them to examine all three written pieces and 1. identify the AI-generated piece, 2. reflect on their thought-process: how difficult (or how easy) was it for them to identify the AI generated piece? what made them think it is AI-generated? in what ways does it stand out? *This exercise can also can be done as a discussion activity in the classroom or as a written assignment. Whichever format you choose, make sure that the essays are short enough and manageable to read in that specific format.
  • OFE collection of sample assignments using AI (Google Doc, requires a Montclair account). If you have an assignment that uses AI to help student learning, we invite you to share it with colleagues at Montclair. To have your assignment added to our collection, request editing access to this Google doc, or simply email a copy of that assignment to Vera at [email protected].
  • University of North Dakota’s AI Assignment Library of peer-reviewed assignment ideas
  • For example: Instead of one large submission due on May 5th, try assigning a project outline due April 1st, notes on research articles due Apr 15, first draft due Apr 25, and final draft due May 5th.
  • Review your grading criteria and rubrics to make sure you’re setting your students up to adopt strong learning strategies. See Grading for Learning under Plan for Grading .
  • For example: Have students write responses in class. If students have 20 minutes to write brief responses to the kinds of questions you might have provided as homework, they will learn a great deal, and as a bonus, your subsequent class discussion will benefit from that engaged individual work.
  • Have students respond orally, requiring each student to respond to a different question.
  • Have students work in small groups in class to present on topics in class.
  • Incorporate brief in-class quizzes, tests and other assessments. The key is to make these short, frequent, and possibly even unannounced. They serve assessment purposes, reward attendance, and provide useful immediate feedback about learning. Small point values for individual assessments allow poor performance to be informative to students rather than disastrous.
  • Engage visuals: ask students to respond to images or videos in their assignment. Be sure to include alt-text for accessibility.
  • For example: “Refer to two of the theorists discussed in class.”
  • Try requiring handwritten responses where scope permits. Students will groan, and you may too as you attempt to read student handwriting again, but not only will this deter the use of ChatGPT, but some research shows that we actually remember better when we write by hand. Varying the way we engage with thinking has value as it plays to different students’ preferences, and stretches all of us to try new ways to help us focus on the task of thinking.
  • Employ Simple Active Learning Strategies : In-class and in homework, active learning assignments inspire learning.
  • Collaborative Learning : Sometimes called team or group learning, collaborative learning can be designed to accelerate learning.

Montclair’s Digital Accessibility Initiative , ITDS , and DRC offer a variety of resources for faculty to create accessible materials for students. Following Universal Design for Learning principles benefits all students.

Generative AI tools that enhance functions such as text to speech, speech to text, text to image, voiceovers, image descriptions, and PDF paraphrasing can potentially increase the accessibility of assignments and classroom materials for students with disabilities.

  • McDermott, B. (2024). AI as an Accessibility Tool: Using Generative AI to Support Universal Design for Learning Approach. In S. Mahmud (Ed.), Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (pp. 162-174). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/979-8-3693-0240-8.ch009
  • TriCollege Libraries (Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Swarthmore)’s “ Generative AI in Higher Education ”. Page has sub-sections on AI assistive technologies and accessibility.
  • University of Cincinnati Libraries’ “ AI Tools for Accessibility “

Last Modified: Tuesday, April 9, 2024 5:36 pm

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What is project design? 7 steps with expert tips

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Project design is an early phase of the project lifecycle where ideas, processes, resources, and deliverables are planned out in seven steps. With detailed resources and visual elements, find out how project design can streamline your team’s efficiency.

When it comes to managing projects, it can be hard to get everyone on the same page. With multiple moving parts, different deliverables, and cross-departmental collaboration, sometimes an initial project meeting just isn’t enough. 

We’ll go over the basics of project design, lay out the seven steps to create a project design, and provide expert tips to help you better understand the process. 

How project design works

Project design is an early phase of the project lifecycle where ideas, processes, resources, and deliverables are planned out. A project design comes before a project plan as it’s a broad overview whereas a project plan includes more detailed information. 

There are seven steps involved when creating a project design, including defining goals and using a visual aid to communicate objectives.

What is project design?

These visual elements include a variety of methods such as Gantt charts, Kanban boards, and flowcharts. Providing a visual representation of your project strategy can help create transparency between stakeholders and clarify different aspects of the project, including its overall feasibility. 

The 7 steps of project design

There are seven steps that make up a successful project design process. These include everything from defining goals and baseline objectives to strengthening your strategy to help you stay organized while managing a new project.

The 7 steps of project design

Let’s go over each of the steps needed to create a project design. 

Step 1. Define project goals

In the first step, define your project goals. To begin, lead an initial ideation meeting where you document the general project timeline and deliverables.

To start, consider the needs of the project and stakeholders. What is it you’re trying to solve? Begin writing a short description of the project and who is involved. 

Once you’ve outlined the basic goals of the project, determine the more concrete objectives in detail.

Pro tip: Use SMART goals when starting your project design to better visualize where you’re going. SMART is an acronym that stands for s pecific, m easurable, a chievable, r ealistic, and t ime-bound. 

 Step 2. Determine outcomes

Next, narrow down the outcomes of the project. These are usually more detailed than the initial goal planning phase and include the specific tasks you will complete during the project.

For example, imagine you’re working on a project to add a new landing page to your website. One of your outcomes may be to add an email signup form. 

Document the outcomes and major deliverables needed alongside the project goals to begin building a timeframe. It’s a good idea to reference popular project management methodologies to decide which one fits the needs of your project. 

Pro tip: For complex projects, use the Agile methodology with iterations to break large tasks into short sprints. For more traditional projects, use the waterfall method which provides a thorough step-by-step approach.

Step 3. Identify risks and constraints

Once you’ve identified the outcomes, consider your project risks and constraints. Evaluate the aspects of your project that could lead to risk in order to prevent wasted resources down the line. 

In order to identify risks and constraints, determine the resource management tools, funds, and timeframe needed. Work to resolve these constraints before the project begins by following up with relevant stakeholders and project teams. 

Pro tip: Use a risk register to analyze, document, and solve project risks that arise. 

Step 4. Refine your project strategy with a visual aid

A project strategy is a visual roadmap of your project . This helps communicate purpose to team members. Create your strategy by choosing a visual aid that you can share with stakeholders. 

There are many types of visual aids you can choose from, some of which include:

Flowchart: A flowchart is a visual representation of the steps and decisions needed to perform a process. Flowcharts are particularly helpful ways to visualize step-by-step approaches and effectively organize project deliverables. 

Gantt chart: A Gantt chart is a horizontal bar chart used to illustrate a timeline of a project. The bars in a Gantt chart represent the steps in the project and the length of the bars represent the amount of time they will take to be completed.

Work breakdown structure (WBS): A WBS is the breakdown of all tasks within a given project. Project managers use work breakdown structures to help teams visualize deliverables while keeping objectives top of mind. 

Mind map: A mind map is a hierarchy diagram used to visualize projects and tasks. It allows project managers to link deliverables around a central concept or idea such as a specific team goal. 

PERT chart: A PERT chart or diagram is a tool used to schedule, organize, and map out tasks. It can be helpful for complex projects and estimating the time needed to complete tasks.

Since each visual tool differs slightly, the aid you choose is up to your team preferences. While a work breakdown structure that details dependencies works well for large teams, a flowchart works well for smaller teams with less complex projects.

Pro tip: Examine the features of components of each of the visual aids before adding one to your project design. You can do this by reviewing each based on the amount of detail included, usability, and visual appearance. This way you can find the one that best fits your needs. 

Step 5. Estimate your budget

Next, estimate your project budget to begin resource allocation . Your budget will incorporate the project’s profitability, resources available, and outsourced work needed. It may also be a set number determined by leadership that you’ll need to work around when it comes to being able to execute each deliverable. 

Your budget may need to be approved or revised based on leadership signoff. Once finalized, you can begin assigning beneficiaries, design documents, and tasks for your project. 

Pro tip: When it comes to resource allocation, implementing automated processes with automation software can improve efficiency and reduce project errors. 

Step 6. Create a contingency plan

To begin assigning tasks, create a contingency plan. A contingency plan is a backup plan for the risks and constraints outlined earlier in the process. Having an organized plan when issues arise helps to resolve them in real time and streamline efficiency. 

To create one, organize your risks using a Gantt chart or timeline tool and determine a plan for each risk. For example, if one of your risks involves materials not arriving in time, your contingency plan may be to source materials from elsewhere or start on a different part of the project while waiting for materials. 

Once you’ve outlined a plan for each risk, you’re ready to begin executing your project. 

Pro tip: Use Asana to view lists, timelines, and Gantt charts to better visualize your project plan . 

Step 7. Document your milestones

For the final step, document your team’s milestones. This is done to ensure work is being completed on time and to easily identify inconsistencies as they arise. 

You can do this using project management software where stakeholders can access the information and progress. It’s a good idea to manage these milestones until the end of the project to ensure tasks are completed on time. 

Pro tip: Connect with project stakeholders frequently to keep track of task dependencies and ensure short term goals are met. 

3 expert tips to improve your project design

Building a project design that improves collaboration and empowers efficiency is no easy task. Along with the seven steps that make up the project design process, here are a few tips that can take your design one step further. 

Tips to improve project design

Keep these three tips in mind when building a project design of your own:

Communicate with stakeholders early and often: Communication is key no matter the project you’re working on. Collaborating early on in the project can ensure all stakeholders are on the same page and understand the most important objectives. You can do this by leading meetings through the entirety of the project and using workflows to streamline teamwork.

Keep your goals top of mind: Connecting your goals to project deliverables can ensure objectives are being met every step of the way. You can do this with the help of timeline software where you can easily connect goals with the work needed to complete them. 

Use visual elements to track milestones: While a business case and daily to-dos are helpful, visual elements help stakeholders see the bigger picture. From Gantt charts to PERT charts, there are a number of ways to visualize your project work. 

Beyond these three tips, always keep your team’s best interests in mind. Providing the necessary information and scheduling work within reasonable deadlines will keep your team engaged and efficient. 

Use project design to tell a story

Project design is an important piece of executing a successful project. From gathering the necessary information and resources to coordinating with team members, your job is to bring the details to life. With the right project design, you and your team can tackle anything that comes your way. 

Take the art of project planning one step further with work management software. From streamlining work to improving visibility, Asana can help your team achieve more with clarity and confidence.

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Top 50 HTML And CSS Project Ideas [Updated 2024]

HTML And CSS Project Ideas

In the world of web development, HTML and CSS are like the dynamic duo, working hand in hand to bring websites to life. Whether you’re just dipping your toes into coding or you’re a seasoned developer looking for new challenges, there’s always room for creativity and growth through hands-on projects. In this blog, we’ll explore a variety of HTML and CSS project ideas spanning from beginner to advanced levels, designed to help you sharpen your HTML and CSS skills while unleashing your creativity.

What Can You Design With HTML And CSS?

Table of Contents

HTML and CSS, when combined, can be used to design a wide range of web elements and interfaces. Here are some examples:

  • Websites: HTML provides the structure of a webpage, while CSS adds styling to make it visually appealing. You can design anything from simple personal portfolios to complex e-commerce platforms.
  • Forms: HTML allows you to create various forms for collecting user input, such as contact forms, registration forms, or surveys. CSS can be used to style these forms to match the overall design of your website.
  • Navigation Menus: You can design horizontal or vertical navigation menus using HTML lists and CSS styling. These menus can include dropdowns, hover effects, and transitions to enhance user experience.
  • Buttons and Icons: HTML and CSS can be used to create custom buttons and icons that match your website’s design aesthetic. You can style them with colors, gradients, borders, and shadows to make them stand out.
  • Responsive Layouts: CSS allows you to make websites that look good on any device by adjusting their design to fit different screen sizes and types, like phones or computers. This includes using media queries to adjust layout, font sizes, and image sizes for optimal viewing on desktops, tablets, and smartphones.
  • Animations and Transitions: CSS allows you to add animations and transitions to elements on your webpage, such as fading in/out, sliding, or rotating. These animations can enhance user engagement and make your website more dynamic.
  • Typography: HTML and CSS enable you to style text elements, such as headings, paragraphs, and lists, with different fonts, sizes, colors, and spacing. You can also use CSS frameworks like Google Fonts for additional typography options.
  • Image Galleries: You can create image galleries and slideshows using HTML and CSS, with features like lightbox effects, thumbnails, and navigation arrows. This allows you to showcase images in an attractive and organized manner.
  • CSS Grids and Flexbox Layouts: CSS Grid and Flexbox are layout systems that allow you to create complex grid-based or flexible layouts with ease. You can use them to design multi-column websites, card layouts, or even entire web applications.
  • Custom UI Components: HTML and CSS empower you to design custom user interface components, such as tabs, accordions, modal windows, and tooltips. These components can improve usability and provide a more interactive experience for your website visitors.

Top 50 HTML And CSS Project Ideas: Category Wise

Beginner projects.

  • Personal Portfolio Website: Make a website to show off what you’re good at, your work, and things you’ve done. Have parts about you, your projects, how to get in touch, and your resume.
  • Recipe Book Website: Design a website where users can browse through various recipes, view ingredients and instructions, and search for specific recipes.
  • Simple Blog: Build a basic blogging platform with features like creating, editing, and deleting posts, as well as commenting and sharing functionality.
  • Online Resume: Develop an online resume template where users can input their information, skills, and experiences, and customize the layout and design.
  • Product Landing Page: Design a landing page for a product or service, including features like product descriptions, pricing, testimonials, and a call-to-action button.

Intermediate Projects

  • E-commerce Website: Create an online store with product listings, shopping cart functionality, secure checkout process, and user account management.
  • Travel Destination Guide: Design a website showcasing popular travel destinations, including descriptions, photos, maps, and user reviews.
  • Weather App: Develop a web application that displays current weather conditions, forecasts, and weather alerts for a given location.
  • Fitness Tracker: Build a website where users can track their workouts, set fitness goals, log their progress, and view statistics and charts.
  • Music Player: Design a simple web-based music player with features like play, pause, skip, volume control, and a playlist.

Advanced Projects

  • Social Media Dashboard: Create a dashboard where users can view and manage their social media accounts, including posting, commenting, and analytics.
  • Online Code Editor: Develop a web-based code editor with syntax highlighting, auto-completion, version control, and collaboration features.
  • Task Management System: Build a task management platform with features like creating, assigning, prioritizing, and tracking tasks, as well as notifications and reminders.
  • Real-time Chat Application: Create a chat app where people can talk instantly. It should let users log in securely and send private messages to each other.
  • Interactive Maps: Develop a web application that displays interactive maps with markers, pop-ups, and custom layers for specific locations or points of interest.

Creative Projects

  • Online Art Gallery: Create a virtual art gallery where artists can showcase their artwork, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, and digital art.
  • Interactive Storytelling: Design an interactive story or narrative experience using HTML and CSS, with branching paths, choices, and multimedia elements.
  • Virtual Museum Tour: Develop a virtual tour of a museum or exhibition, allowing users to explore different galleries, artworks, and artifacts.
  • Recipe Generator: Build a website that generates random recipes based on user preferences, such as cuisine, ingredients, dietary restrictions, and cooking time.
  • Typography Showcase: Design a website that showcases different fonts, typography styles, and text effects, with interactive examples and demos.

Practical Projects

  • Budget Tracker: Make a tool that helps people handle their money better. It keeps track of what they spend, helps them set limits on spending, and shows them where their money goes.
  • Job Board: Build a website where companies can post job openings, and people looking for work can search for jobs and apply for them.
  • Event Planner: Design an event planning platform that allows users to create, manage, and promote events, including RSVPs, ticket sales, and event analytics.
  • Language Learning App: Build a language learning application with interactive lessons, quizzes, flashcards, and progress tracking features.
  • Health Diary: Develop a health diary application where users can track their daily activities, meals, workouts, mood, and health metrics.

Experimental Projects

  • Augmented Reality Showcase: Create a web-based augmented reality experience using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, with interactive 3D models and animations.
  • Data Visualization Dashboard: Design a dashboard that visualizes data from various sources, such as charts, graphs, maps, and infographics.
  • Voice-controlled Interface: Develop a web application with a voice-controlled interface that allows users to navigate, search, and perform actions using voice commands.
  • Gesture-based Interaction: Build a web application with gesture-based interactions, such as swiping, pinching, and tapping, for navigation and interaction.
  • Multiplayer Game: Design a multiplayer game using HTML5 canvas and CSS animations, with features like real-time gameplay, chat, and leaderboards.

Educational Projects

  • Flashcard Generator: Create a flashcard generator tool that helps students create, study, and review flashcards for different subjects and topics.
  • Quiz Maker: Develop a quiz maker application where educators can create and share quizzes, and students can take quizzes online and receive instant feedback.
  • Interactive Tutorials: Design interactive tutorials or learning modules for teaching programming concepts, languages, frameworks, or tools.
  • Mathematics Solver: Build a mathematics solver tool that helps users solve mathematical problems, equations, and formulas step-by-step.
  • Language Translator: Develop a language translator application that translates text or speech between different languages using machine translation algorithms.

Community Projects

  • Open Source Website Template: Contribute to an open-source project by designing and developing a website template or theme that others can use and customize.
  • Code Snippet Repository: Create a repository of code snippets, tutorials, and resources for web development, organized by topic, language, and difficulty level.
  • Collaborative Blogging Platform: Build a collaborative blogging platform where multiple authors can contribute posts, edit content, and manage the blog together.
  • Local Community Directory: Develop a website that serves as a directory for local businesses, organizations, events, and resources in a specific community or area.
  • Crowdsourced Project Ideas: Create a platform where users can submit, vote on, and collaborate on project ideas for HTML, CSS, and other technologies.

Industry-specific Projects

  • Real Estate Listings: Design a website for real estate listings, including property details, photos, virtual tours, and contact information for agents or sellers.
  • Restaurant Menu: Develop a digital menu for a restaurant or cafe, with categories, item descriptions, prices, and images, as well as ordering and reservation features.
  • Travel Itinerary Planner: Build a travel itinerary planner tool that helps users plan and organize their trips, including destinations, activities, accommodations, and transportation.
  • Medical Records System: Design a medical records management system for healthcare facilities, with features like patient profiles, appointment scheduling, and medical history tracking.
  • Financial Dashboard: Develop a financial dashboard for tracking and analyzing investments, expenses, income, and savings, with customizable charts and reports.

Entertainment Projects

  • Movie Recommendation Engine: Create a movie recommendation engine that suggests movies based on user preferences, ratings, genres, and watch history.
  • Music Discovery Platform: Design a music discovery platform that helps users explore new music based on genres, artists, moods, and recommendations.
  • Virtual Concert Experience: Develop a virtual concert experience with live streaming, interactive elements, virtual environments, and social features for audience engagement.
  • Book Club Platform: Build a platform for online book clubs, where members can discuss books, share recommendations, join discussions, and participate in virtual events.
  • Artificial Intelligence Chatbot: Create an AI-powered chatbot that interacts with users, answers questions, provides recommendations, and engages in conversations on various topics.

Is HTML And CSS Still In Demand?

Yes, HTML and CSS skills are still in demand and remain fundamental in the field of web development. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Foundation of Web Development: HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is the standard markup language for creating web pages, while CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is used for styling and layout. Together, they form the backbone of web development, providing the structure, design, and interactivity for websites and web applications.
  • Essential Skills for Front-End Development: Front-end developers are responsible for building the user interface and client-side functionality of websites. Proficiency in HTML and CSS is essential for front-end development, as they are the primary tools used to create the visual and interactive aspects of web pages.
  • Adaptability and Compatibility: HTML and CSS are platform-independent and compatible with all modern web browsers, making them versatile and widely adopted technologies. Websites and web applications built with HTML and CSS can be accessed and viewed on a variety of devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
  • Continuous Evolution: While HTML and CSS have been around for decades, they continue to evolve with new specifications, features, and best practices. Developers must stay updated with the latest advancements in HTML (such as HTML5) and CSS (such as CSS3 and CSS Grid) to build modern and responsive web experiences.
  • Foundational Knowledge for Full-Stack Development: Even for developers focusing on back-end or full-stack development, having a strong understanding of HTML and CSS is valuable. It allows them to collaborate effectively with front-end developers, troubleshoot issues related to user interface and layout, and contribute to the overall development process.
  • Demand for Web Developers: With the increasing digitization of businesses and the growing importance of online presence, the demand for web developers continues to rise. Companies across industries need skilled professionals who can create and maintain websites, web applications, and digital experiences using HTML, CSS, and other web technologies.

Embarking on HTML and CSS project ideas is not only a great way to practice your coding skills but also an opportunity to let your creativity soar. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced developer, there’s always something new to learn and explore. So roll up your sleeves, pick a project from this list, and dive in. Unlock your creativity and build something amazing with HTML and CSS!

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