4 Tips for Writing Good Online Assignment Instructions
Audrey Wick is an English professor at Blinn College in central Texas.
Instructors in higher education classrooms want students to rise to their expectations. They also want students to be academically successful because effective completion of a college course is a win-win for both the student and the instructor.
To help students meet the challenges of their college-level assignments, instructors should take care to craft assignment instructions that are clear, concise, and attainable. As you get started, here’s what to consider:
Itemize the Minimum Assignment Requirements
There are many approaches to writing assignments, but don’t bury information. Front the most important requirements, especially those that are minimum standards for an assignment to be accepted. For instance, in a writing assignment, instructors may want to specify requirements, for example:
- 500 words minimum
- At least 2 sources
- Modern Language Association (MLA) style
- Due to digital dropbox in Blackboard by Thursday, September 24 at 5:00 p.m. (ET)
For an exam, instructors may include things like:
- 50 multiple-choice questions
- 60-minute time limit
- Closed-note/closed-book exam
- Proctored through Honorlock in the eCampus digital classroom
- Deadline = Wednesday, September 30 by 7:00 p.m. (ET)
Avoid acronyms, confusing abbreviations or other ambiguous information in directions. Identifying exact hourly deadlines and avoiding confusion of midnight versus midday 12:00 p.m. noon references may be necessary, especially if students are enrolled in the class from various time zones.
Do Not Overwhelm Students with “Don’ts”
It may be tempting to list items students should avoid—whether topic choices or style considerations or instructional pet peeves—in assignment directions. But listing too many “don’ts” can strike a note of discord with students who may otherwise be eager to please.
Try to find a balance of including what you want students to do, as well as what you want them to avoid, on the assignment directions. You can always direct them to other locations for more information to augment the directions, such as a list of policies on the course syllabus, examples students can use as models or even a rubric for grading to help students manage instructional expectations.
End with Positivity
Show students you’re rooting for their success. Adding a cheerful or encouraging message to the end of the assignment directions will remind students you want them to be successful. And, isn’t it always nice to see reassuring words? A few examples:
- “I look forward to seeing your projects!”
- “Have fun with this assignment—and be creative.”
- “This reflection essay is going to be a great way to end the week!”
- “Good luck as you work on this.”
Students, especially those first-semester college students and those returning after a hiatus, often appreciate that extra bit of encouragement.
Consider Additional Accessibility Concerns
If your institution has certain requirements for your student population related to online standards or digital accessibility, be sure to take those into account before publishing online assignment instructions.
Font styles, color choices and text effects (like bolding, underlining, CAPS, etc.) as well as the use of images and multimedia files can be problematic for some screen readers.
Additionally, certain adjustments may need to be made for compliance in the case of students who have special accommodations for the class. Be sure to visit with leadership and staff members at your institution if this is the case for you.
For more strategies for creating an effective online course, download our free ebook.