Online assignments

How to design large online assignments

Large assignments, cases, and projects have the following characteristics in common: Students work alone or in groups:

  • Teacher collaboration with students

    Conditions set by the teacher support students to focus on their learning.  

    • expectations about students’ responsibilities.   
    • means of communication 
    • time between message/question and respons 
    • availability 
    • clear requirements for process and results  
    • deadlines 
  • Student collaboration in group work

    Setting of and agreeing on rules of conduct in groupwork supports students in learning to collaborate, to take responsibility, to give and receive feedback, to communicate constructively, etc. It is important that students start their group work with: 

    • getting to know each other 
    • informing each other what motivates them and what they hope to learn, achieve and contribute 
    • mutual expectations, e.g., regarding communication, absence, delay 
    • talking about how to have fun, keep it safe for all, etc. 
    • determining roles in the group, e.g., chairman, minute maker 
    • determining a project plan: who does what, when and how. 
  • Supervision and feedback

    Visit the CELT toolbox to learn more about online supervision of working groups.

  • Organizing and designing groupwork

    Group work is an activity that can form part of your online learning environment. You can use this activity when you believe that your learners can better process and absorb the topic you are dealing with through mutual interaction and exchange, working either in pairs or in small groups.


    Group work can have one or more of the following goals:

    • Educational goals (for learning):
      • Deepening of the learning content
      • Application of the learning content
      • Active involvement of students in the learning content (e.g. running an experiment)
      • Reflection and formulation on own learning / opinion
      • Learning from others
    •  Relational goals (social)
      • Community building (face-to-face but also online –see below…)
      • Widening of cultural horizons
      • Learning to be a team player
      • Negotiation and coping skills in a team


    Group work is originally intended as a synchronous, face-to-face activity.  Thanks to the availability of information and communication technology, it is also possible to work online. Below some of the characteristics of F2F and online group work are shown:

    N.B. Real team building happens in social situations where the whole team does things together and where members can express their personality, have fun and get to know each other. A face-to-face team is going to make space for such activities more naturally. For a virtual team it is of paramount importance to meet at least once throughout the duration of the project or once a year in case of longer collaborations.


    1. Decide on the goal you want to achieve through group work (see the goals)

    2. Think about the practical circumstances

    • Content adaptability to group work
    • Available time to run the activity
    • Tools available at University (CANVAS groups)
    • Students time zones
    • Involvement and availability of staff needed for the activity (lecturer, moderator, support staff, student)
      Design the activity. Think about and make a decision on the following steps:

    3. Design the activity. Think about and make a decision on the following steps:

    4. CANVAS offers simple features to facilitate the creation and management of groups both from teachers and learners side (e.g. Creates groups within a group set. Allows students to sign up for their own groups. Creates group collaborations etc.).

    5. Do a test run with some of your colleagues.


    • It is important to hold your learners responsible by letting them manage most aspects of their group work. However, teachers might want to impose the regular shuffling of groups/pairs. It is normal for people who work well together to stick together, yet this is not always possible in a more formal working context. Consequently they need to develop coping and negotiation mechanisms allowing them to be productive in most circumstances.
    • It is also common for students to stick with colleagues form a similar cultural background. Prompting them to mix will enrich their personal and professional growth. Literature shows that mixed teams are the most successful ones, as each member brings in new problem-solving strategies. Moreover, as teamwork is more and more common in the workplace it is critical to train your learners to be successful in real working settings.