Designing and Commenting on Online Writing Assignments
Many best practices for online writing assignments are the same as for face-to-face instruction. If you are quickly translating an assignment to an online environment, prioritize your learning outcomes and simplify your expectations.
Contact Rebecca Disrud for a Zoom or email consultation around designing a writing assignment or moving an existing assignment online.
Online Assignment Design
Prioritize and streamline your learning objectives for the assignment. Once you have identified your learning objectives, put them directly into your rubric if you are using one.
Differentiate for yourself whether the purpose of the assignment is to have students encounter and practice with new material or a new genre, to reflect on their experience or engagement with new content, or to demonstrate mastery. This decision should influence the genre you choose, your strictness in assessment, and the degree of scaffolding you provide.
Consider assigning a shorter or disciplinary-specific genre instead of a longer research paper. The research and critical thinking demands are the same but the focused nature of the writing allows you to give quicker and more relevant feedback. Here are just a few examples.
a literature review
a policy brief
a Twitter thread
a lightning talk (easily recordable)
See also John Bean, Chapter 3 of Engaging Ideas (also available as an e-book in the UW Library)
Consider making a video of yourself explaining the assignment and your learning objectives for it. Also give complete written instructions. One template from Transparency in Learning and Teaching is linked below.
If possible, and especially for mastery-driven assignments, scaffold the process using shorter sub-assignments and multiple rounds of drafting and feedback.
If possible, scaffold the final assignment with shorter, sub-assignments due throughout the quarter. Provide timely feedback on changes you expect to see in the final version, using your learning objectives to prioritize comments and limiting feedback to two to three main points.
Incentivize revision by allowing students to re-submit revised assignments for a higher grade or asking students to summarize the changes they've made in response to feedback.
Provide models that show what you expect students to do in their writing and explain how and why. You can provide this explanation through a video or recording or through a written document that includes marginal explanations of the features.
Tie reading discussions and online discussion posts to components of the written assignment, and make the connection explicit to your students. For instance, you could ask, "Your final assignment will require you to synthesize multiple sources of evidence. To practice synthesizing, find one point these authors would likely agree upon, despite their different arguments, and explain why they would likely agree."
Online Assignment Commenting and Assessment
If you are using a rubric, align the main categories in it with your learning objectives. Unless you are instructing students significantly in sentence-level features and style, your learning objectives usually comprise 90%-100% of the points for the assignment.
Prioritize two to three patterns in each piece of writing that you'd like students to focus on revising. Generally, limit comments to those patterns.
Return your feedback to students within two class periods. Assigning shorter assignments and limiting comments to two to three patterns will help.
Incentivize revision and incorporation of your feedback for students. The best feedback is the feedback that gets used.
The Writing Center plans to offer an intensive, four-day Faculty Writing Fellows workshop for small cohorts of faculty annually. More information and the application process will be posted soon.
The Writing Center also offers one-hour faculty development workshops regularly to support equitable and effective writing instruction. Topics include teaching students to peer review, commenting on multilingual students' writing, designing collaborative writing projects, talking about citation in a postmodern world, among many others. We are archiving these workshops on our website now. For a schedule of upcoming workshops, visit the UWT Faculty Development Opportunities page.
We also welcome your suggestions for future faculty development workshops. Please contact the Associate Director with your questions and ideas!
Professional staff can also support your teaching by creating a tailored in-class writing presentation. Generally, presentations are best timed near the beginning or middle of an assignment cycle and will include some active in-class work for students. To request a presentation, use our form here and the writing center will follow up with you directly.