Online courses need a greater variety of assignments than do face-to-face courses - and they should be more frequent. Also, online instructors should always keep their grading current - giving students feedback explaining their grades and suggesting ways to improve. All this not only helps students manage and appraise their work, but also helps instructors to check their own course effectiveness. 


Canvas Rubrics allow teachers to clarify expectations and grading criteria.  This helps students understand requirements and helps teachers grade more fairly. See Rubistar for rubric examples.


Types of Assignments

 Quizzes, Tests, Exams

  • Experiment with different question types
  • It is helpful to students (although entails much work) if you write feedback to each test question choice with explanations for correct and incorrect answers - you can also cite where the correct information can be found.


  • Grade Discussions weekly or by unit
  • Clearly state grading policy and expectations at the start of your course
  • Grade on quality (content-related, scholarly, not superficial) and quantity (number and length of posts)
  • Some teachers require students to comment on other student posts
  • Check for posts that simply repeat other student posts or copy/paste textbook information

Written Work

  • Have students submit a document (specify allowed document types)
  • Be clear on whether you also grade on spelling and grammar
  • Canvas allows you to annotate documents with your comments


  • Projects require creative application of knowledge and skills
  • Project ideas include portfolio, slide presentation, website, video presentation, concept map, blog, journal, course notebook, etc.

Group Work

  • Give both a "group grade" and individual grade (with a percentage breakdown for each)
  • Require a group project, but also accept individual work on the project
  • Have students detail the individual work they did on the project
  • Have members of each group rate/grade each other on a scale of 1- 10 on some criteria (have them explain their assessment in a sentence)
  • Use Peer Reviews

Skill Mastery

  • Interpreting graphs (economics), use of programming (CIS), mastery of skills (languages, math), interpreting language (Spanish)


  • Blogs are personal web pages that become journal-like with the ability to include graphics, comments from students, and links.  For details, see Blogs in Plain English.
  • You can create a class blog or a multi-class blog and ask students to subscribe and comment on blog entries
  • You can ask students to create their own blog as an online journal
  • You can link all these blogs from within Canvas
  • See Useful Resources for blog development links


  • These are Web tools that allow for writing and editing by many people simultaneously. Anyone can add or make changes to what is presented.  For details, see Wiki in Plain English.
  • The instructor (or group moderator) can track users for any problems and can delete inappropriate content
  • These work well with group projects (for both planning and the finished presentation)
  • Wikis can replace discussion boards. As with blogs, wikis can be used for multiple sections of the same class (creating a large group cohesiveness)
  • Link the wikis from within Canvas
  • See Useful Resources for Wiki development links


  • Some use percentages (A:90%, B:80%, C:70%, D: 60%, F: below this)
  • Use credit/ncr


    (pass/fail) for some assignments with a fixed amount of points
  • Most recommend to not allow students to grade each other as trust in the class will plummet - (although one can allow comments or critiques on each other's work)
  • Extra-credit work allows much more flexibility in online courses especially for poorly performing students and those with time-management problems
  • For student complaints about grades, refer to your stated expectations or syllabus, give an acceptable example from the past, give suggestions for improvement

What to Include in Your Descriptions of Assignments

  • Objectives - Purposes and expectations of the assignment
  • Procedure - Instructions on developing and completing the assignment
  • Materials - Any materials (sources, tech requirements) to be used
  • Rules/limits
    • For exams: time limits, backtracking, attempts
    • For papers: number of pages, warnings about plagiarism
    • For presentations: number of screens
    • For discussions: number of posts
  • Due Date - Exact deadline
  • Grading/Points - Criteria to be used in assessing the quality of the assignment (Rubrics are recommended)
  • Submission - How and where to submit the assignment; acceptable formats and file sizes
  • Feedback - Whether feedback will be given and where