Uplifting Assignments Spark Joy for Your Gradebook

Woman with long hair holding a spoon over a white bowl of chicken noodle soup

FIU Online’s Insider Instructor Webinar series explores relevant instructional strategies and effective uses of technology for the online environment. Chicken Noodle Soup For Your Gradebook reviewed non-traditional learning activities and the process used to imagine them, in order to help you create assignments you enjoy grading.

Instant Replay: Chicken Noodle Soup For Your Gradebook

Grading can often be seen as a chore. If you ask the attendees from this webinar, it can be exhausting and frustrating. Coming up with assignments and assessments that you will want to grade is the focus in Chicken Noodle Soup. When you create something you’ll want to grade, chances are you’ll be creating something students will also be excited about working on! In this webinar, FIU Online’s Associate Director of Instructional Learning Technology and Honors College Faculty Fellow Maikel Alendy introduces six types of assignments. These assignments can be adapted for a wide variety of courses. They require students to produce work that is interesting and unique, which in turn, will make you more excited about grading.

Assessment Is Important

It is possible to create assignments you enjoy grading while also assessing your students in a meaningful and impactful way. 

According to the University of Wisconsin, authentic assessment matters because it allows you to:

  • Find out what students are learning
  • Talk about what is important to learn
  • Improve (both the student’s and your own practice) 
  • Provide evidence that value is being gained.

“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet”

– Aristotle

6 Assignments To Try Today

1st Assignment: School House Rap

The first assignment Alendy presented is called School House Rap. Students are asked to create a video in which they teach the instructor and class about something they choose from their area of expertise, i.e., their major. Their presentation has to be done to the beat of a song or as a rap song. 

This assignment could be relevant for all subject matters. Teaching is the best way to demonstrate mastery of content, and putting things to music makes it easier to remember (no one can forget the ABCs once they learn them). So, this assignment combines both of those concepts into a fun assignment you enjoy grading. Also it gives students a creative outlet.  

While deploying this assignment in your course, you want to give explicit instructions, including providing links on how to upload videos. Be aware that some students may not want to show their face on camera. It is recommended to allow them some flexibility to personalize it, if they want. When the students are excited about it, it makes grading more exciting for you!

Obasi Shaw’s rap thesis (Liminal Minds album) on the dynamics of living as a black man in America earned him Harvard graduation with honors

2nd Assignment: Digital Campaign

The second assignment Alendy talked about was a Digital Campaign. In this assignment, students pick a topic, idea, movement, organization, or business (TIMOB) that they like or would like to see and create a digital campaign around it. 

This is a great assignment to use when you want to encourage some higher-order thinking like synthesis and you want students to perform research. It’s especially good for an interdisciplinary approach since they’re pulling on many different skills to create the final product. While the topic might be related directly to the course topic, the research, writing, designing, and marketing strategy involved pull from many different disciplines. 

Clear instructions are a must and selecting the right tools for students to use is also important. Alendy recommends Google Sites or Wix because they are easy to use. Additionally, there are plenty of tutorials available for you to share with students so that you don’t have to create them yourself. As with all complex assignments, moderated progress with milestones and check-ins are recommended. This ensures that students don’t wait until the last minute. Be prepared to provide some support and coaching for students lack confidence in their design skills. 

3rd Assignment: Infographics

Next Alendy talked about Infographics. This is an assignment he has found success with when replacing discussions. After reviewing the weekly readings, students are asked to create an infographic about something they read.

This assignment could be particularly useful for business, STEM, and graduate students who may need to do poster presentations. This can also encourage high synthesis in order to understand a bigger picture, while putting together the pieces of the infographic. 

Alendy recommends Genially, Piktochart, and Canva for this assignment. Providing exemplars will also ensure you receive submissions that align with what you expect.

4th Assignment: Wikipedia

The next assignment discussed is Wikipedia. Like the Digital Campaign, this is an assignment that would probably take the better part of a semester. Also, it might be worth a sizable amount of the final course grade. In this assignment, students are tasked to create Wikipedia articles or contribute to Wikipedia articles. Alendy explains this assignment has a lot of impact. Students are contributing to a resource, becoming a part of it and helping to shape it. It is being used by millions of people around the world. In his own dashboard, Alendy was able to show what his students have written has been viewed 1.24 million times. 

Alendy notes that academic integrity is built-in since Wikipedia uses volunteer editors. The editors are constantly checking what is being written and flagging anything not cited properly or not written in the appropriate language or tone. 

This assignment requires faculty involvement during the process, as you should have milestones and check-ins to make sure they’re progressing. You also need to monitor what they are submitting and catch entries the editors have flagged. Alendy also recommends having students submit to Turnitin before publishing on Wikipedia. 

5th Assignment: Social Media

Social Media is the next assignment that Alendy discussed. He argues this assignment allows instructors to engage learners outside the classroom and make the learning a part of their everyday lives. This assignment can encompass a wide variety of topics and take on many different forms. However, the basic premise is students are responding to something from the course by posting on social media. 

Alendy has used this to replace ineffective discussions where there’s no real debate or engagement. It’s also a good option when you want to connect content from the course to real life experiences or cement learning in a relevant and authentic way for students, but a project or paper might be too much.

Some students might not want to use their personal profile. Therefore, they can create a profile for school using their FIU email. Also, because profiles might be private, it’s best to have students take a screenshot of their social media post to share with the class. This will allow you to grade it, even if you can’t see it on social media.

6th Assignment: Approaches to Teamwork

Alendy approaches the majority of his teamwork assignments as collaborative work in which students help each other to do better, but there is an individualized final product. In other words, they don’t necessarily all turn in one final paper or product together. Instead, they work collaboratively, as well as giving each other feedback & peer review. At the end of the day, they’re responsible for their final product.

“You can have phenomenal success with collaborative activities in online courses”

-Maikel Alendy
Alendy’s 3 Components for Great Teamwork
  • Valuable collaboration: What they’re contributing has to be valuable and make a difference for their team.
  • Accountability: If they don’t participate or give meaningful feedback, there has to be a consequence. 
  • Individualized: You can still have an independent submission, but with the benefits of collaboration, you’ll see higher quality work. 

What Makes These Assignments Great

Alendy highlights ways in which these assignments are beneficial for students and instructors alike. For many of these assignments, creativity and expression is an integral part. This makes them personal and unique to the student. Also, they allow the instructor a more intimate view of who their students are – part of what makes these assignments you enjoy grading. 

Also, many of these assignments are practical. Students are gaining skills that they can (and will) use in their careers. Some skills include research, creative design thinking, and using technology & apps to create. In many cases, they are creating a learning artifact they can take away from the class and use within their educational portfolio. 

The Path Forward: Engaging Assignments Spark Joy for your Gradebook

In case any of these assignments don’t quite fit your course, Alendy also provides a framework for imagining your own assignments. 

  1. Start with measurable learning objectives. What do you want students to learn and how will you tell that they learned it? 
  2. Consider the appropriate medium. If you want to make sure that students can communicate that climate change is real, they shouldn’t be taking an exam. They should be creating an infographic, or posting on social media, or creating an elevator pitch.  
  3. Consider what you find engaging as an expert in your field. What’s relevant in your field and what would you like to see practitioners doing? 
  4. Consider what you find inspiring. Chances are you will be more likely to enjoy grading rap songs about neurobiology if you enjoy music. When you create assignments that inspire you and your learners, you’ll find that those are the assignments you’ll be excited to grade. 

Future Instructor Webinars

Be on the lookout for FIU Online’s future webinars on instructional strategies and effective ways to use technology in your online classroom. If you have any ideas for future webinar topics, we’d love to hear them. Contact Christina Schettini (cschetti@fiu.edu) to share your topic ideas.

In the meantime, enjoy reading some of our other instructor webinar instant replay articles.

Claudia Fernandez is a proud FIU alumna ('05) and has been a part of the FIU Online family since 2012. A former librarian and storyteller, she has brought those research and storytelling skills into her work as a Senior Instructional Designer in order to create engaging learning experiences for online students.

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