Online Assignments/Assessments

Four Parts of Effective Online Assignments

Effective online assignments should be designed to maximize student success. Setting clear expectations and giving detailed directions will help ensure students will be successful. In the classroom it is easy to make minor adjustments or clarify directions when students don't understand what we are saying. Confused looks or a rustle among the bodies may tell us that our directions are not clear and we can quickly adjust.

When you are teaching online, you need to be explicit with assignment details. You don't have the cues of body language to tell you when students are not getting it. Student success in completing the assignment depends on his/her clear understanding of what is expected. Provide a model or example of a success assignment if possible.

The four parts of the online assignment are designed to address the questions students typically have about an assignment:

  1. What do you want me to learn?
  2. Why?
  3. What do I need to know/do to complete the assignment?
  4. How will I be graded?


The first question students have is "What do you want me to learn?" or "What is the purpose of this assignment?" State exactly what you want them to learn from the assignment. If possible, provide an example or model of a successful assignment.


You've explained what you want them to learn. The next question in the students' minds is "Why?"

This is a valid question from students who want to see the relevance of an assignment to their learning and their course grade. How does this assignment help your students achieve one or more of the course objectives? When you write the rationale, you can make the reason clear to your students.


A third question students have is, "What do I need to know to complete this assignment properly?"

Here are some suggested elements to include in your directions:

  • Deadline
  • Format of the assignment.
  • Do you want a single paragraph, a single page, several pages? Is there a minimum or a maximum length?
  • The kind of thinking you want to see in the assignment.
  • Identifying information (name, project name, course, section, etc.)
  • Whether the assignment must be completed individually, in groups, or if group work is optional.
  • How they will submit their work to you.
  • How you will give feedback and return the assignment to them.

Grading Criteria

"How will I be graded?"

Answer this question in a way that makes clear the kinds of thinking you want to see. State the value of the assignment so that students know how much it contributes to their course grade. The grading criteria can be as simple as a list of the elements that should be included in the assignment, or it can be a rubric that lists the criteria and assigns points for increasing levels of sophistication.

Used with Permission - Center for Instructional Advancement and Technology - Towson University.