General Assignment Design Good Practices
Below are some general suggestions to consider when creating assignments:
- Identify the learning outcomes. What do you want students to learn? What kind of assignment will focus on developing and demonstrating those skills and knowledge?
- Design assignments that are engaging. Consider how to engage students and focus their efforts in ways that are interesting, challenging, and motivating. What might interest students about a given topic or assignment?
- Clearly articulate the purpose of the assignment. Share with students how the knowledge, skills or activities may be useful in the students’ major, career, civic or personal life. This may include values or human dimensions – what students learn about themselves or interacting with others – as well as academics.
- Describe the component tasks clearly. Make the key steps in your assignment explicit, so all students are aware of them. If an assignment is vague, students may interpret it any number of ways – and not necessarily how you intended. While strong students can fill in the gaps, weaker students are disadvantaged.
- Situate each assignment in the course context. Consider how your assignment builds on students’ prior learning in your course or in previous courses. Could you include low stakes practice opportunities – with some feedback – for any skills or steps that are key to your assignment or course?
- Identify the intended audience. Students should consider the audience they’re addressing in papers and presentations, which influences how they pitch their message and other communication choices.
- Specify the format and other parameters. If you have specific parameters for the assignment (e.g., length, size, formatting, citation conventions), specify them in your assignment prompt. Otherwise, students may misapply conventions and formats they learned in other courses; your assignment can help students learn to apply communication conventions and approaches appropriate to the discipline and task.
- Provide clear performance criteria. Clearly articulate to students what your criteria are for strong work, either in your assignment prompt or as a separate rubric or scoring guide. Clear criteria, shared in student friendly language, can prevent confusion about expectations while also setting a high standard for students to meet.
- Share strong samples. If possible, share models or (annotated) samples of strong student work with your class.
- Give the assignment’s time frame and value. Be sure to include milestones and due dates, and any penalties, as well as the assignment’s point value / percentage of students’ grade.
- Consider scaffolding large, complex assignments. It can be beneficial to break complex assignments into smaller components and provide feedback along the way. This approach helps keep students on track, so their efforts are effective, and can be especially useful in group assignments, so you can intervene if needed.
Additional Resources and Scholarship
Cook, L. & Fusch, D. (2016). One Easy Way Faculty Can Improve Student Success. Academic Impressions.
Hutchings, P. (2016). Aligning Educational Outcomes and Practices (PDF) (Occasional Paper #26). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).
Hutchings, P., et al. (2014). Catalyzing Assignment Design Activity on Your Campus: Lessons from NILOA’s Assignment Library Initiative (PDF). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).
Hutchings, P. (2010). Opening Doors to Faculty Involvement in Assessment (PDF) (Occasional Paper #4). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).
Note: Please contact ACE to borrow a book.
Barkley, E. & Major, C. (2016). Learning Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Fink, L. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
McKeachie, W. & Svinicki, M. (2013). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Skene, A. & Fedko, S. (2010). Assignment Scaffolding (PDF). Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Scarborough Centre for Teaching and Learning.