Setting up course assignments happens in three phases: 1) planning, 2) implementation, and 3) evaluation.

Planning: When choosing assignments for your course, it may be useful to ask: What sorts of assignments will best help your students achieve those outcomes? The chart below includes examples of assessments that overlap with different levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.

Level of Understanding in Bloom’s Taxonomy: Understanding
Example Assessment: Quiz, definition exercise, description/summary or labelling

Level of Understanding in Bloom’s Taxonomy: Application & Analysis
Example Assessment: Case study, letter to the editor or memo, problem sets, completing lab work, work placements

Level of Understanding in Bloom’s Taxonomy: Synthesis & Evaluation
Example Assessment: Literature review, research project, lab report, business plan

Remember that assignments should support the course learning outcomes.

Implementation: Designing assignment instructions can be one of the trickiest parts of the assignment creation process. You want to be sure that the assignment is sufficiently academically rigorous, but also comprehensible so that your students will know what to do. Thus, writing prompts for assignments also requires carefully planning. Again, you will want to ask yourself: What do you really want from your students? Below are some guidelines to help you to create assignment instructions that are unambiguous, concise, and complete while also telling students what you want from them.

  • Identify an audience
  • Use consistent language
  • Be aware that other disciplines may have different expectations of similar assignments. Clarify what you are looking for
  • Choose specific over general instructions
  • Keep the most important information prominent in assignment handouts
  • Help students see the connections between the assignment and other course material
  • Direct students to resources that will help them complete the assignment

Evaluation of assessments: Aim to be as consistent as possible when evaluating students’ work. This might mean that you distribute a marking key to your TAs or consider using rubrics or holding a benchmarking session.

A rubric is about the process of grading. It is an outline that provides a set of expectations for the assignment. Rubrics take a wide variety of forms. The two most common types are holistic and analytical rubrics. To create a holistic rubric, decide which aspects of the assignment are most important and use these aspects to guide your feedback. Holistic rubrics allow for more impressionistic responses to assignments, and encourage substantive comments, including guidance for future work. Analytical rubrics are used to assess particular components of an assignment according to specific criteria. To create an analytica rubric, determine the criteria that are most relevant to the learning outcomes of the assignment and decide which descriptors best characterize different levels of success in meeting these criteria. Analytic rubrics allow for quick assessment of a range of criteria without the need for detailed comments.

Rubrics should tie feedback to your learning outcomes and clearly articulate expectations not only of what the assignment should include and look like but also how you will evaluate them. They can also ease the grading process and keep grading consistent across teaching assistants. No rubric will be perfect. One challenge of using a rubric is that they can sometimes feel too analytical and seem to lock you into a certain grade that might be quite different if you had graded from a holistic perspective. When creating a rubric you will also need to consider: Do all areas of the rubric carry equal weight? What do you do when an assignment falls in between rubric categories? Make rubrics with enough flexibility that you can balance giving accurate feedback and also assign a grade that makes sense in the context. Always be sure that the rubric includes all the required sections of the assignment. We will discuss rubrics further in the feedback section.

Benchmarking is about maintaining consistency among graders. A benchmaking session is a meeting where all TAs or graders are gathered by the instructor to discuss approaches to grading and to clarify, amongst the group, the expectations for marking the assignment. This will usually involve everyone reading the same assignment and then discussing what grade they would assign and why. If you have TA hours available, benchmarking can be invaluable to maintain consistent grading.

One final consideration for assessment is whether or not you expect your students to work in groups or individually. For some students and disciplines, collaborative projects will be the norm and for others it will be a new experience. When grades are tied to each others’ participation in the assignment, be very specific and clear about how you intend them to complete this project together. Even more than for individual assignments it would be useful for students to have a clear set of guidelines for how to complete their individual part and how to create community within the group. You might also consider having the students create their own guidelines for working together and participating equitably as a group.

The reason why it is so important to be transparent with students about group work is because it can potentially be an academic integrity issue. As we saw in section 2.4 above, two forms of academic integrity are cheating (using unauthorized aids), which could be another student, or obtaining assistance from another student. Therefore, it is imperative that you are very clear about what work students ought to complete independently and what they ought to complete collaboratively when working together on projects or presentations.