Tests and quizzes are a common tool for assessing what students have learned, but relevant and compelling assignments can offer similar insights and allow students more opportunities to explore their creativity and the subject at hand. In online and blended learning classrooms, effective assignments can hold an even more significant weight, as test results may not always provide a true assessment of a student’s comprehension.
Although creating assignments may seem tedious and daunting to some teachers, it truly pays off to be able to create a valuable experience for both students and educators. Here are a few ideas and tips on creating relevant and compelling assignments in online and blended learning classrooms:
Get to know your students with questionnaires and surveys.
With online courses, it can be quite difficult to get to know your students since the direct face-to-face interaction is simply not there. One way to alleviate some of this obscurity is by assigning an ice-breaker questionnaire. You can make this a private, teacher’s-eyes-only assignment, or you can allow students to share with fellow classmates to help them build a sense of community. However, some students may be uncomfortable sharing personal details with the rest of the class, so you may opt to exclude potentially sensitive information in a group assignment.
To make the questionnaire audience appropriate, you can tailor the ice-breaker assignment depending on the learning level of students within the class. With elementary learners, the questionnaire may include a favorites section, for example, with questions about favorite foods, books, sports, activities, etc. You can also include simple school- or goal-related statements such as, “I’m excited to learn about …,” “The part of school I struggle with most is …,” or “When I grow up, I want to …” These are easy for students to understand, yet the answers can provide you with great insight into the student’s relationship with education. If possible, you may also create a questionnaire that parents or guardians can complete to help shed light on their child’s strengths and struggles.
With high school learners, you can include similar school- and goal-related statements. You can also include questions that make students think on another level. For example, “Describe school/yourself in one word,” “Who was the best/worst teacher you’ve had and why?” and “If you could have dinner with any one person, who would it be and why?” These are all types of questions that can give you a more unique insight into the student’s personality and background.
Middle school learners can receive a mix of elementary and high school questions. And at all learning levels, it is good to end with a simple, “What else should I know about you?” so students can address what previous questions didn’t ask. Find more ice-breaker examples to help familiarize yourself with students in the online classroom.
Another fun way to get to know your students is by using surveys. These can be deployed as an ice-breaker assignment, or they can be sent at intervals throughout the semester to help promote classroom discussions, check for understanding after difficult lessons, and collect general course feedback. For instance, if the class is going through a tough lesson, you may want to send out a light-hearted, non-school-related survey as a pleasant, brief interruption (e.g. fun “would you rather” questions). In blended learning classrooms, you can physically write your own surveys. Or, read more and view a tutorial about using SurveyMonkey, an online tool that allows you to create unique ten-question surveys for free.
Expand students’ skills with spreadsheets.
Jobs in all sorts of fields require applicants to have skills with spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, as it has a broad range of applications. In the online classroom, teachers may use it to document grades and prepare lesson plans and, in the blended learning classroom, it can also be used to create seating charts. They may also employ it in assignments to help improve their students’ skills in the program since it is such a viable, high-demand skill in today’s job market. You can utilize this website to teach Excel basics such as using functions, creating charts, and importing external data. Edgenuity also offers Computer Applications: Office 2010, a career elective course that teaches students how to use various Microsoft programs, including Excel.
Once you and your students have mastered the basics, spreadsheets can be used in a variety of subjects. For example, spreadsheets are great for mathematic calculations, graphing, statistics, and working with various equations and theorems. For English language arts, the rows and columns of spreadsheets allow vocabulary lessons to be laid out in an organized format. You can create lists for spelling, definitions, writing examples, and many other exercises for students to complete. With business and entrepreneurship classes, spreadsheets are nothing less than foolproof in providing formulas and functions to ease the everyday tasks that are vital to any business’s success. This website offers assignment examples for using basic Excel features in a business setting, though these examples can easily be customized for other situations as well.
Dive into an ocean of videos located just a click away.
It should come as no surprise that the use of relevant, high-quality online videos in the classroom can have a powerful impact on both retention and engagement among today’s students. With such easy access, online videos are an especially vital component of the online classroom setting because they can serve as a sort of substitute for live lectures and face-to-face interaction. Using videos in online and blended learning classrooms can help to motivate and engage your students. It can also teach them valuable digital literacy skills by promoting critical thinking and problem solving and giving them the opportunity to keep up on digital trends.
YouTube is a major host of online video content, and in a 2011 case study, students reported the use of its videos in the classroom environment as being overall effective. The students explained that online videos can support their learning by offering different perspectives, opening the floor for discussion and analysis, and using everyday examples to illustrate ideas. They found that viewing online videos is not only quicker than reading about a subject, but it can also provide inspiration for further exploration of the subject. Although they said content can sometimes be potentially unreliable or repetitive of what they’ve already learned, the benefits reported in the study outweighed these potential downfalls. To account for reliability, you should ensure that the videos you use come from a good source and, ideally, include links to support further learning.
Bear in mind that videos in the classroom are not intended to replace good teaching. Instead, with proper integration, ample teacher instruction, and thorough follow-up discussions, online videos can enhance the learning experience for both teachers and students. The following websites offer great tools and online content that can be used in online and blended learning classrooms:
Designed specifically for teachers and students, TED Ed is the education initiative of TED (where you find your TED Talks). While it allows you to watch and share over 190,000 lessons spanning more than a dozen subjects, you can also take any YouTube video, create your own lesson, and deliver it in a private mode to your students. To accompany your video, you can also create quizzes, supporting links, and “dig deeper” content, all through the free TED Ed tool.
Chances are you’ve heard of the Discovery Channel’s TV show, HowStuffWorks, but did you know that their website also features numerous clips answering life’s most important and peculiar questions? While some of the online content may not be suitable for the school setting, the free online shows called, “BrainStuff,” “FW: Thinking,” and “Stuff of Genius” centralize on questions and topics related to science, technology, innovation, and miscellaneous oddities.
“BrainStuff” offers answers to puzzling questions like, why do dogs tilt their heads? And how do memes work? Simple curiosity aside, this online show also focuses on more serious questions like, how do tides work? And how does diplomatic immunity work? A few topics that “FW: Thinking” has covered include renewable energy, regenerative medicine, robotic technology, and autonomous cars. Lastly, “Stuff of Genius” features short episodes about various inventors and their creations, from fireworks and ceiling fans to white elephant gift exchanges and Tetris.
LearnersTV offers a free, comprehensive library of over 30,000 video and audio tutorials and lectures, many of which are led by faculty from reputable universities all over the world. Additionally, the website includes over 400 scientific animations focusing on concepts that range from the blood clotting process to the Doppler effect. Some of the videos are full lectures and can last a couple hours, whereas many lessons are closer to 10 minutes. It will likely take some digging to find an appropriate length to fit your needs, but with over 20 subjects and dozens of subcategories to choose from, your options are boundless.
Dos and don’ts in creating assignments
Almost any teacher can come up with something fun and compelling, but it takes some additional considerations and steps to make a coherent and relevant assignment in online and blended learning classrooms. It is important to be purposeful and prepared from the beginning. That way, there will be less room for obstacles down the road. For starters, your assignment instructions should be detailed, yet concise, and explain expected requirements such as length, writing style, and format. Clear instructions are crucial in the online classroom since students cannot come up to you during class and easily ask for further explanation. You should also assess the learning level of your students to ensure the assignment and evaluation criteria are reasonable and appropriate for their capabilities.
Follow these dos and don’ts to help create clear assignment instructions:
|DO use intelligible, open-ended questions that provoke students to think, explain, and analyze.||DON’T ask too many questions; students won’t be able to focus their response and fluently address many different questions in a single assignment.|
|DO provide successful and unsuccessful examples to give students both guidance and an idea of what not to do.||DON’T suggest that there is an “ideal” response; let students get creative rather than try to read your mind to earn a good grade.|
|DO give students a way to make an assignment personal. They are more likely to take something away from an assignment if they have to solve a problem or tap into their own experiences.||DON’T use vague or confusing language, especially if it is outside of students’ comprehension level|
|DO sequence out deadlines, if appropriate, to help emphasize the overall process rather than the final product (e.g. bibliography, rough draft, final draft).||DON’T enforce impossible time constraints; you can’t expect an eloquent five-page paper two days after assigning it.|
On a final note, be sure to consider your own goals in the planning process: What do you want students to learn from this assignment? Does it align with the rest of the unit? How is this assignment similar to or different from other assignments? Also, remember that while your assignments can be open-minded and creative, they should still adhere to the academic standards set forth by your school, district, and state.
Source: “7 Ways to Use Online Video in Your Classroom.” The Wideo Blog. July 2, 2013. Accessed August 16, 2016. http://wideo.co/blog/7-ways-to-use-online-video-in-your-classroom/#.V7OB_vkrLRZ.
Source: “8 Great Free Flipped and Blended Learning Teaching Resources.” FlippedClassroomWorkshop.com. 2013. Accessed August 17, 2016. http://www.flippedclassroomworkshop.com/8-great-free-flipped-and-blended-learning-teaching-resources.
Source: “Basic Spreadsheets.” Abacus Training College. 2009. Accessed August 16, 2016. http://www.abacustraining.biz/Exercises/Excel/BasicSSConcepts.htm.
Source: Boye, Allison. “How Do I Create Meaningful and Effective Assignments?” Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development Center. Accessed August 16, 2016. https://www.depts.ttu.edu/tlpdc/Resources/Teaching_resources/TLPDC_teaching_resources/CreatingEffectiveAssignments.php.
Source: HowStuffWorks. 2016. Accessed August 16, 2016. http://www.howstuffworks.com/videos.
Source: LearnersTV. 2014. Accessed August 16, 2016. http://www.learnerstv.com/index.php.
Source: Post, Jerry. “Excel Assignments.” Jerrypost.com. 2013. Accessed August 16, 2016. https://jerrypost.com/MBAMIS/Excel/ExcelAsgn.html.
Source: Provini, Celine. “First-Day-of-School Surveys: Get to Know Students.” Education World. 2013. Accessed August 16, 2016. http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/back-to-school-student-survey-questionnaire.shtml.
Source: Provini, Celine. Rao, Aditi. “SurveyMonkey and 7 Classroom Uses.” TeachBytes. November 14, 2011. Accessed August 16, 2016. https://teachbytes.com/2011/11/14/surveymonkey-and-7-classroom-uses.
Source: Siddiqui, Fareed. “Microsoft Excel for Teachers – Ideas for Using Microsoft Excel Worksheets in the Classroom.” Expertscolumn.com. September 02, 2015. Accessed August 16, 2016. http://fareedsiddiqui.expertscolumn.com/article/microsoft-excel-for-teachers-ideas-for-using-microsoft-excel-worksheets-cla.
Source: SurveyMonkey. 2016. Accessed August 16, 2016. https://www.surveymonkey.com/.
Source: Tan, Elaine, and Nick Pearce. “Open Education Videos in the Classroom: Exploring the Opportunities and Barriers to the Use of YouTube in Teaching Introductory Sociology.” Research in Learning Technology 19 (August 31, 2011). Accessed August 16, 2016. http://journals.co-action.net/index.php/rlt/article/view/7783.
Source: TED Ed. 2016. Accessed August 16, 2016. http://ed.ted.com/.
Source: YouTube. 2016. Accessed August 16, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/.