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Assignment Design

General Principles of Assignment Design

For any assignment, consider strategies from the Transparency in Teaching and Learning (TILT) project. The project website features a variety of resources, including a 7 minute video overview of transparent assignment design and how it promotes equitable learning opportunities for student success. Transparent assignment design benefits all students, but the benefits are even greater for underrepresented and first generation students. How well do your assignments meet the transparency framework? You can review your own assignments using a checklist to identify assignment strengths and gaps.

TILT emphasizes assignment design that clearly lays out: 

  1. Purpose: Why are you asking students to do the assignment? How does it connect with course learning objectives and support broader skill development that students can draw upon well after your class is over? Often the purpose is very clear to us but we don’t always spell it out for our students.
  2. Tasks: What steps will students need to take to complete the assignment successfully? Laying this out helps students organize what they need to do and when.
  3. Criteria for Success: What does excellence look like? This can be described through text or a rubric that aligns with the key elements of the assignment. 

Planning learning activities that support students’ best work on their assignments is another critical component. This can include having students read model articles in the style in which you are asking them to prepare their own assignment, discuss or apply the rubric to a sample paper, or break the assignment into smaller pieces so that students can get feedback from you or peers on how they are progressing.

For assignments that ask students to write in the style of a particular discipline and draw upon research, SCU’s Success in Writing, Information, and Research Literacy (SWIRL) project has developed guidance for faculty in assignment design and instruction to improve student writing and critical use of information. 

You can download the WRITE assignment design tool and learn more at the SWIRL website. Members of the SWIRL team welcome individual consultations with faculty on assignment design. You are welcome to contact them for feedback on any assignment you’re designing.

Additional Resources:

Bose, D., Dalrymple, S., & Shadle, S. (May 13, 2020). A renewed case for student success:  Using transparency in assignment design when teaching remotely. Faculty Focus.

Winkelmes, M., Boye, A., & Tapp, S. (Eds.). (2019). Transparent design in higher education teaching and leadership. Stylus Publishing.


Page author:
Dr. Christine Bachen, SCU Director of Assessment

Last updated:
August 3, 2020