Digital Assignment Guides

Adding a digital assignment to an existing curriculum can be challenging for both instructor and for students.  Instructors may be concerned about the time needed for students to learn the tools necessary for the assignment or unsure as to how pedagogically beneficial a digital assignment is going to be. For students, multimedia assignments, or project-based assignments more generally, are often challenging because they may present a departure from the more familiar and comfortable lecture-study-test routine.

Engaging in course-based digital projects, however, can have tangential benefits and perhaps unexpected learning outcomes. Such assignments can encourage collaborative work, exploring multiple literacies, writing for public audiences, and learning to effectively present critical, creative, and community-engaged scholarship. These non-technical outcomes should form the basis of and motivation for the development of digital assignments. Digital work for digital’s sake is never a good idea and adding a tool to a process in which it is unnecessary can make coursework cumbersome and tedious.

When considering implementing a digital assignment, think about the process, the possible time spent learning the tool, and the skills involved. How do these relate to your desired learning outcomes for the course? Digital tools offer a wide spectrum of ways to present scholarly work and can be combined in many ways.  A map, for example, may be annotated with written text that is also illustrated with images and video. Digital assignments can provide opportunities for curatorial decisions in the design process that might not be as necessary in a more traditional course assignment. Students should reflect upon how their scholarly work might most effectively be represented, whether it be a short video, podcast, drawing, writing or performing– whatever best suits the needs of the student to present an effective response to your clearly stated goal.

Student studying with laptop

Tips For Designing a Digital Assignment

  • Establish and clarify your teaching and learning goals for the project and use those to formulate a grading rubric. Include objective, gradable moments in the process of planning and producing the project. Even if students are all using the same tools, the finished products may be different enough that being able to grade systematically with a rubric will be a great time-saver. Be sure to clearly communicate those expectations to the students, and share the rubric in advance of the work.. A rubric however should address the process as well as the end product. Be sure to include objective, gradable moments in the process of planning and producing the project.
  • Talk to your students to get a sense for their existing knowledge of digital work. This may help you decide on an assignment type and the appropriate tools, but also may inform the composition of student project groups and any anxiety students may be feeling.
  • Multimedia projects often involve steps that do not include working directly with a digital tool. Script-writing, story-boarding, research, and data collection are all very common preliminary steps in the creation of a digital project. Establish milestones and set aside time for these activities.
  • Don’t feel that you need to be proficient in or able to teach a particular tool before including it in a digital assignment. Having a firm grasp of what can be done with a tool is more important than necessarily knowing how to use it. Reach out to staff in the McGraw Center or the Library to find those who can offer training.
  • Start small. If you haven’t done a digital assignment of a certain before, test the waters. You can revise the next time you teach the class.
  • When possible, provide examples of finished projects that exemplify what you will be looking for in your students’ work.
  • Digital projects are often multi-modal. This means that the development of the project usually involves a range of different types of activities. Allow students to decide their own roles in the development process. Some roles may better highlight the skills they bring to the project. For example, in the case of a video assignment: Who plans the story? Who conducts interviews? Who operates the camera? Who captures the sound? Who does the editing?. This may also encourage students who may feel uncomfortable about a new medium being able to see that they already have skills needed for parts of the work, and so be willing to learn more about other aspects of the assignment.
  • Be flexible and understanding in how you allow students to approach the completion of their projects. For example, if a student who is not comfortable being recorded for a video project would like to use a classmate or friend as an on-camera stand-in, let them
  • Connections to the ‘real world’ can have a great motivational impact. Projects that work with the community through partnerships or interviews can not only give students memorable and educative experiences, but also to feel more invested in their work. Within the campus, student work that contributes to scholarly research or to “Public Humanities” projects can have a strong motivational impact
  • Engagement Theory offers very good, relevant, and concise framework for creating digital assignments. The framework centers on three main aspects: Relate, Create, and Donate. A well designed digital assignment or project should involve communication, planning, management, and social skills (relate). Students should have some creative control over their project (create). By choosing their own topics and perhaps also the way in which they present that topic, students will feel more of a sense of ownership over the content which can lead to a more rewarding experience. Finally, the 'donate' component stresses the importance of real-world, if possible public, projects that give back (donate) to the community in some way.
Archive assignments

Contributing to a thematic archive allows students to adopt a curatorial mindset and the addition of descriptions as metadata will develop critical analysis skills.

Blogging assignments

A blog can serve as a simple website showcasing student work or can take advantage of characteristics unique to the blog medium, such as comments, tags, categories.

eBook assignments

Digital formats such as EPUB and the ubiquity of digital reading devices make the creation of an eBook an attractive way to encapsulate a semester’s worth of work resulting in a tangible product.

Exhibit assignments

The development of an online exhibit as coursework offers students the opportunity to engage with object- and media-centered learning. Exhibits provide authentic learning experiences that can potentially engage with a wide range of audiences.

Image annotation assignments

Image annotation assignments give students experience with critical viewing, that is, looking at what images depict, but also considering the cultural, social, historical, or philosophical contexts around which the image was created and made available.

Mapping assignments

Mapping assignments tend to be either data visualizations or map annotations. These two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but tend to involve different activities.

Photo essay assignments

A photo essay is a series of photographs selected to tell a story

Podcasting assignments

Podcasting assignments can encourage creativity, collaboration, and provide a sense of community in your course while at the same time, giving students opportunities to practice writing and presentation skills, and providing valuable experience expressing themselves through multimedia

Presentation assignments

In-class presentation assignments give students valuable opportunities to consolidate learning and research into coherent explanations or arguments. 

Social annotation assignments

Social annotation refers to the collective critical interpretation of media and often relates to the close reading of texts.  Digital tools for social annotation make this familiar scholarly practice into a more dynamic, collaborative, and interactive experience.

Storymaps assignments

A storymap is a digital expository work that may combine maps, text, and other media to convey or illustrate a narrative in attractive, dynamic, and interactive ways.

Text analysis assignments

Digital tools for text analysis can provide students with a novel approach to bringing the underlying characteristics of texts to the surface. For example, text analysis tools can be used to create assignments that allow students to experiment with search terms, to juxtapose the style of one text against another, and to formulate questions that can inspire further research

Timeline assignments

Digital timeline assignments give students the opportunity to consolidate their learning into graphically-rich and interactive visualizations of chronologically sequenced information.

Video assignments

Video assignments comprise a wide range of possible assignment types from personal reflection videos to assignments in which students are responsible for capturing, editing, narrating, and producing a polished product