Assignment Design Checklist

Careful planning and implementation of assignments will help your students produce th evidence you expect to prove they met your learning objective. Consider using this checklist as a tool to trouble-shoot your assignment design and identify possible areas to refine. Other considerations may be required for your specific assignment, but this will give you a great start, no matter what type of assignment you plan to give.

1 Planning

A) When planning the assignment, decide how it can:

  • Fit with main learning objectives for the course, term, and program
  • Relate to previous work done in this course and past courses
  • Be new and different from the type of assignments given in this course and other courses (go beyond another paper)
  • Benefit from an audience other than yourself (peers, community professionals, librarians, others)
  • Use current topics and current resources
  • Be broken into a series of smaller assignments to avoid overwhelming students (scaffold)
  • Be completed – in groups, pairs, or individually
  • Be completed – in the online or hybrid environment
  • Build on students’ previous experience and current skill set
  • Develop important skills for students, both for your course work and beyond (skills for the workplace, skills for life)
  • Require a reasonable amount of work and be successfully completed in the allotted time, given other courses and demands outside of school
  • Have value to you (will be interesting to grade, lead to a research project)
  • Require a level of commitment you can meet (student support, grading and feedback)

B) Consider the support demands students may have:

  • Identify types of assistance students will require to complete the assignment
  • Contact librarians, community professionals, or other people who can assist you and your students in completing the assignment
  • Arrange guest lectures relevant to assignment process (librarian, community professional, colleagues)
  • When possible, use class time for activities to help students complete the assignment (discuss how to write an annotated bibliography, run lab activities to demonstrate a requisite skill, discuss material related to assignment topic)
  • Decide if students are required to meet with you as they complete the assignment and set times and policies for availability to help students avoid procrastinating

C) Make evaluation decisions by choosing the:

  • Assignment length expectations and due dates
  • Type of feedback to give – written, oral, anonymous
  • Evaluators – you, peers, community professional, librarian
  • Type of grade required (check mark, pass/fail, numeric grade)
  • Parts to evaluate – effort, research process, thinking process, progress, sequence of assignments, drafts, final products
  • Weighting of components – how much is each part worth
  • Turnaround times for grading/feedback to make the assignment meaningful for students
  • Policies for possible problems – late or incomplete assignments, missed meetings, poor group work practices, plagiarism

2: Implementing

A) Prepare an assignment description or handout that:

  • Comprises the key parts –  situation (background information, audience, relevance), task (what to do), stages (a timeline for completing key stages of the assignment), and evaluation criteria (specific grading rubric, special policies)
  • Uses plain language – avoids jargon
  • Provides advice from past experiences with the assignment
  • Explains proper citations and acceptable sources for information – be specific and expect to be taken literally

Have a colleague (preferably someone not familiar with your course) read the handout and identify any unclear instructions and jargon, then revise accordingly. As well, do your assignment before giving it to students whenever possible, so you can identify problems before they do. And, when you distribute the handout in class, take time to discuss it and allow for questions and clarifications about the task.

B) Consider giving ongoing support:

  • Share useful student feedback with the class
  • Keep in touch with support people (librarian)
  • Ask for mid-assignment feedback since no news is not necessarily good news
  • Have a backup plan for areas identified as difficult to complete (i.e., if a resource is hard to get, have a copy available on reserve) – but take care not to modify the assignment too much from the handout because this confuses students

3 Follow Up

After all the assignments have been graded and returned:

  • List 5 strengths and 5 weaknesses of the assignment and suggest changes for next time
  • Ask for evaluative feedback from students and support contacts – find out what worked well, what could be improved, where students had the most difficulty, and how you can better facilitate the process next time
  • Use feedback and experiences to modify assignment plan for the next time

Notice that the bulk of the work is in the first section, planning. The more thought and care you put into planning well-constructed assignments the more opportunities your students will have for success.

Download and use the Assignment Design Checklist.

This Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Assignment Design: checklist. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.

Remixed by Judith Littlejohn, October 1, 2018. Edits to formatting, wording, and conclusion; created actual checklist.

Featured image = “Pencil” from Pixabay

“Being There” – Instructor Presence in Online Classes

One of the encouraging messages that emerges from research on online learning is that instructors matter.  In particular, students’ perceptions of your social presence in a course strongly correlates to perceptions of learning and instructor satisfaction (Richardson & Swan, 2003, Swan & Shih, 2005).  Social presence is the extent to which members of an online community perceive each other to be “real” and feel connected to one another (Cobb, 2009). Through intentional development of your social presence, you can help foster a sense of community in your online course, similar to what you accomplish in an on-site course.

Ways to Increase Social Presence in Your Online Courses 

  • Set the tone:

    • Model communication with your students that takes on a less formal, more conversational tone.
    • Address your students by name and share your own personal experiences.
  • Connect faces to names:

    • Consider posting a brief, introductory video of yourself, and ask your students to do the same (jing, snag-it, camtasia, screencast-o-matic).
    • Use students’ names in your communication.
  • Design Online Discussion Questions and Tasks to Elicit Personal Responses:

    • Ask your students to relate course content to their own relevant personal experiences.
    • Encourage authentic assessment by scaffolding assignments in which students relate coursework to their own lives.
    • Have the students share ideas and thoughts about content. Share yours, too.
  • Provide Video Feedback:

    • Quick videos (jing, snag-it, camtasia, screencast-o-matic) in which you point out the highlights of a students’ work and specify where they need to revise show that you care about that individual’s success.
  • Foster Community:

    • Construct discussions and activities to encourage students to collaborate, address the class as a community (using “we”), and acknowledge contributions to the group.
  • Most of all, Be Present:

    • Build relationships through regular interaction, including privately interacting with students
    • provide constructive and prompt feedback
    • encourage students’ knowledge building.

By intentionally monitoring how you project social presence, you can enhance the sense of community in your online course, encouraging your students to meaningfully contribute to the conversation and value the responses of their classmates — ultimately resulting in more engaged, and successful, learning.


Cobb, S. (2009). Social presence and online learning: A current view from a research perspective. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 8(3), 241-254.

Richardson, J. & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Online Learning Networks, 7(3), 68-88.

Swan, K., & Shih, L. F. (2005).  On the nature and development of social presence in online course discussions. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 9(3), 115–136.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Evan Kramer