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Teaching a Course Online? Start Planning your Assignments!

Adapting an existing course to an online environment can be challenging. Teaching Online: A Practical Guide, 4th Edition is an accessible, introductory, and comprehensive guide that can help you through the process. The newest edition has been fully revised and offers exceptional practical advice, new teaching examples, faculty interviews, and an updated resource section.

One of the most significant aspects of designing an online course is developing assignments appropriate to the platform. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Group activities. For these to be feasible, detailed guidelines and online workspace must be available to students. Specify what each group member is to produce (these roles can rotate) and where they are intended to post their assignments. Be prepared to design the groups as it may prove difficult for students to take the initiative in an online forum; consider pairing students from diverse learning backgrounds and areas of study. Make yourself available to supervise these groups and offer students the opportunity to score themselves and others based on their participation in the group activity.
  • Computer-based simulations and serious games. These are one of the many exciting activities that are only available in an online environment. A simulation recreates a process—whether with limited or expansive options and factors—and may be useful as a student study aid or in courses in which students are asked to study working models. These may be accessed through an external supplier or through internal institutional support. As these platforms have become increasingly more sophisticated, their popularity is on the rise. Bear in mind the importance of offering students an introduction to the simulation or game by providing context and identifying the learning objectives, clarifying the role each student is to play, providing a way for students to ask questions, and concluding with a “debriefing” exercise designed to review the results of the activity.
  • Summaries/Consensus Groups. This simple forum allows students to review and synthesize the material that has been presented in the course. Students can learn what the other groups have produced and exchange ideas. Alternatively, small groups can be presented with an issue for discussion and a spokesperson can be assigned to present the group’s findings.
  • Experience-Based Practicum/Lab Assignment. Though this type of assignment involves individual student activity, an online forum provides an opportunity for review on a regular basis and for students to pose questions to their peers and instructor as they complete the assignment. Peer review allows students to critically reflect on their own work and to benefit from the perspectives of others. For this process to work most effectively, students must be graded not only for their own work, but also for their work as reviewers.
  • Using the Internet as a Resource. This aspect of online learning is frequently restricted to the course website, but the internet provides vast resources that can be utilized for the classroom. A word of warning: be sure to examine the material on any site before assigning it the class. Provide your students with a list of sources that you know to be valuable rather than employing the “treasure hunt” approach and having your students look for these resources, themselves. When reviewing a site, be sure to check its sponsorship, authorship of articles, and the relevance of the material to the topic at hand. Keep in mind that these sites should also be user friendly. Strongly consider making sites mandatory—if they are optional, students may not look at them.

To learn more about the specifics of planning assignments in online and blended learning environments, and how to create and teach an online course more broadly, see Teaching Online: A Practical Guide, 4th Edition by Susan Ko and Steve Rossen.

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Wisdom from our authors

“If assignments are presented in the online classroom and students are asked to comment on them, guidelines and procedures must be set up in advance to make sure that the discussion is structured and focused.” 

Susan Ko and Steve RossenTeaching Online

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