Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

You are here

Effective Assignment Design

In addition to having a clearly articulated, consistently enforced policy regarding plagiarism and cheating in the classroom, effectively designing your courses and assignments can help make it less likely for students to cheat.


Formative and Summative Assessments

Understanding the two primary ways to evaluate student learning – formative assessments and summative assessments – can help you more effectively design class assignments. Formative assessments are those that gauge student learning as it happens and that can correct student misunderstandings as they occur. Summative assessments, assess student understanding at the end of an instructional unit such as through the use of a cumulative exam. Employing more frequent, lower-stakes formative assessments can help students learn the material better and can result in faculty receiving more positive course evaluations. The more exams a student takes, the more that student views his or her homework as vital, and the more likely he or she is to complete homework on time

For courses that are structured around a high-stakes final project, find ways to divide that project into smaller deliverables, which will help you re-direct students, if necessary, and which will provide students with critical feedback during the semester.

The following best practices for high-stakes writing assignments are adapted from WCET's Best Practice Strategies to Promote Academic Integrity in Online Education:[1]

  • Require students to turn in copies of reference articles with cited text highlighted.
  • Require annotated bibliographies.
  • Do not allow last minute changes in assignment topics.
  • Require specific references be used (this might be the course text).
  • Require an abstract.
  • Give narrow assignment topics (tied into class experience) and require thesis statements prior to topic approval.
  • Require students to turn in a draft, and their bibliography or references prior to the paper’s due date.
  • Require students to write a concept paper and project plan prior to completing an assignment.
  • Evaluate the research process and the product.
  • After an assignment is due, have students post in the discussion board, describing the assignment and the research method used, a summary of conclusions and an abstract (a meta-learning essay).


Effective Assignment Design

Effective assignment design entails providing students with clear expectations regarding the integration of outside sources, giving students ample opportunity to practice integrating sources, and maintaining transparency about how you are evaluating students with respect to the assignment prompt. Developing assignments that employ active learning strategies can help strengthen academic integrity within your course.

Creating the Assignment Prompt

An important practice is to always provide clear and detailed directions regarding your expectations for the integration of sources into student papers and projects. These expectations can be listed in your assignment prompt and might include the following: the number of sources to include, what types of sources to include (e.g. research articles, industry publications, government policy, readings from the course), whether or not sources need to be discipline specific, and what citation style (e.g. APA, MLA, IEEE) you expect students to use when citing outside sources. Modeling these citation practices in your own presentations, handouts and syllabi will provide students with important examples of this practice.

Scaffolding Assignments That Build

If you are assigning a major project or paper, consider how you might provide students with multiple low-stakes assignments throughout the course that will support their learning and provide them with opportunities to practice integrating outside materials into their writing. These building block assignments also provide students ways to think about how they can effectively use outside sources in their own research and support their understanding of how research is utilized in their disciplines. For example, require students to submit a short annotated bibliography that lists the sources they intend to incorporate into their papers and ask them to provide an explanation of why they chose these sources and how they intend to use them in their paper. This exercise provides students with an opportunity to think about how they might use sources to support their claims before they write the final paper.

Self-plagiarism/Duplicate Submission

If you are teaching a course where students may be drawing on work they have completed in other courses (e.g. coding), provide students with clear expectations regarding what is and is not acceptable to reuse in your course. If you support students drawing on work from other courses to complete assignments in your course, consider providing them with a template email they can send to other faculty requesting permission and/or alerting instructors that your students are asking permission to use components of a previous assignment in another course.

Evaluation of the Assignment

Consider providing a rubric for your course assignments and projects. Rubrics provide students with important information regarding how you are evaluating their work and enable you to grade with integrity. Your rubric should list what you expect to see in a student’s project, align with the details outlined in your assignment prompt, and provide students with a clear understanding of what their grade is based on.

When constructing your rubric, you might consider including specific components of the assignment that you intend to include in your formal assessment even if you are not explicitly teaching these components in your course. For example, you may not intend to spend time in class teaching students correct in-text citation practices but you expect that students will submit written assignments with correct citations. Including your expectations regarding correct citations in your rubric tells students that they must adhere to standard citation practices and should look for additional writing and research support outside of class if they are unfamiliar with citation requirements. The same might be true for grammatical and mechanical errors; including a requirement of clear and concise writing in your rubric tells students that you are weighing these aspects of their final papers and projects.

Common knowledge is a somewhat ambiguous concept and one that can vary among disciplines and even within individual courses. It is recommended that the term common knowledge be defined for your course so that students clearly understand what is considered common knowledge versus what is specialized and needs to be cited.

Active Learning Strategies Assignments


Further Readings