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Fourteen Creative Assignment Ideas for the Online Classroom

By Jean Mandernach, Morgan McNaughton / April 2024

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In today's rapidly evolving world of higher education, online learning has become an integral part of the academic landscape. As institutions continue to embrace virtual classrooms, the need for innovative assignments that not only engage students but also address the growing concern of academic dishonesty has become increasingly vital. If instructors want to promote learning—true learning that fosters synthesis, critical thinking, and knowledge retention—assignments should necessitate students are actively engaging with the course material. This engagement may involve curating novel insights, synthesizing various sources, critically analyzing the content, or applying information in new contexts. Recognizing that learners’ time and attention are geared toward graded course assignments, it is essential that we embrace innovative assignment ideas that can foster critical thinking, analysis, engagement, and reflection.

The online classroom presents unique challenges when it comes to engaging students. While it offers unparalleled flexibility and accessibility, it also lacks the immediate interpersonal connection found in a traditional learning environment. Students who struggle to stay motivated, may disengage and have a lack of investment in their coursework. To counter this, educators must create assignments that capture students' interests, inspire critical thinking, and encourage active participation. Incorporating innovative assignments tailored to individual learning goals and preferences can help educators bridge the gap and create a more stimulating and inclusive learning experience.

Moreover, the rise of digital learning has led to increased opportunities for academic dishonesty. Traditional assignments, such as essays and exams, are particularly susceptible to plagiarism and cheating. As a result, educators need to think outside the box to develop assignments that limit the potential for dishonesty and provide meaningful learning experiences By adopting unique, experiential, and collaborative approaches to assignments, educators can cultivate a classroom environment where students are invested in their work and are less likely to resort to dishonest practices.

Innovative assignments can help mitigate the risk of academic dishonesty while providing students with valuable skills that extend beyond the confines of the classroom. These types of assignments encourage students to think critically, problem-solve, and work effectively in teams, which are essential skills for success in both their academic and professional lives. Furthermore, by giving students opportunities to explore their interests and apply their knowledge in real-world situations, innovative assignments can help foster a sense of ownership and pride in their work, ultimately boosting their motivation and dedication to learning. The following 14 assignment ideas provide unique opportunities for faculty to motivate and assess student learning:

  1. Digital storytelling
    • Description: Students create short multimedia narratives, combining text, images, audio, and video to share a personal or researched story.
    • Sample directions: Create a 3–5 minute multimedia story based on a personal experience, or a researched topic related to the course. Use text, images, audio, and video to craft a compelling narrative.
    • Tools: Adobe Spark, WeVideo, or iMovie.
    • Learning objectives: Improve storytelling skills, enhance creativity, develop multimedia production abilities, and practice effective communication.
  1. Virtual field trips
    • Description: Students virtually explore museums, historical sites, or scientific institutions and create a presentation or report reflecting on their experience.
    • Sample directions: Explore a designated virtual museum, historical site, or scientific institution and create a 10-slide presentation summarizing your experience and key takeaways.
    • Tools: Google Arts & Culture,, or Prezi.
    • Learning objectives: Expand cultural and subject matter knowledge, hone presentation skills, and improve critical thinking and reflection.
  1. Interactive infographics
    • Description: Students research a topic and create an interactive infographic that effectively communicates complex information in a visually engaging manner.
    • Sample directions: Research a course-related topic and design an interactive infographic that presents complex information in an engaging and accessible manner.
    • Tools: Canva, Piktochart, or Visme.
    • Learning objectives: Develop visual communication skills, practice data analysis and interpretation, and enhance design abilities.
  1. Podcast creation
    • Description: Students produce a podcast episode on a course-related topic, requiring them to conduct research, develop a script, and record and edit their audio.
    • Sample directions: Produce a 10–15 minute podcast episode discussing a course-related issue, including background research, expert interviews, and your own analysis.
    • Tools: Audacity, GarageBand, or Anchor.
    • Learning objectives: Strengthen research and critical thinking skills, improve audio production abilities, and enhance communication and storytelling.
  1. Collaborative wikis
    • Description: Students work together to create a wiki on a specific subject, with each member contributing to the development of content, organization, and design.
    • Sample directions: Work in teams to create a comprehensive wiki on a specific subject within the course, with each member contributing to content, organization, and design.
    • Tools: Wikispaces, PBworks, or Google Sites.
    • Learning objectives: Build teamwork and collaboration skills, enhance content creation abilities, and practice information organization and presentation.
  1. Social media campaigns
    • Description: Students develop and execute a social media campaign addressing a course-related issue, focusing on creating shareable content and engaging with their target audience.
    • Sample directions: Develop a week-long social media campaign addressing a course-related issue, creating content for three platforms (e.g., X, Instagram, and Facebook) and tracking engagement metrics.
    • Tools: Hootsuite, Canva, or Buffer.
    • Learning objectives: Develop digital marketing and communication skills, practice content creation, and analyze audience engagement.
  1. Simulations or role-play scenarios
    • Description: Students participate in a simulated experience, such as a mock trial, business negotiation, or diplomatic negotiation, to develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
    • Sample directions: Participate in a virtual mock trial, business negotiation, or diplomatic negotiation related to the course material. Prepare by researching your role, developing strategies, and collaborating with teammates.
    • Tools: Zoom breakout rooms, Discord, or Roll20.
    • Learning objectives: Enhance problem-solving and critical thinking skills, improve collaboration and communication, and gain practical experience in real-world scenarios.
  1. E-portfolios
    • Description: Students create a digital portfolio showcasing their course-related work, reflecting on their learning experiences, and demonstrating their growth and development.
    • Sample directions: Create a digital portfolio showcasing your course-related work, including reflections on your learning experiences and evidence of your growth and development.
    • Tools: Wix, WordPress, or Google Sites.
    • Learning objectives: Develop self-assessment and reflection skills, enhance digital literacy, and showcase personal and academic growth.
  1. Online debates
    • Description: Students engage in structured online debates on controversial topics, requiring them to research, articulate, and defend their positions while responding to opposing arguments.
    • Sample directions: Engage in a structured online debate on a controversial course topic, with assigned roles (proponent, opponent, moderator), and provide evidence-based arguments and rebuttals.
    • Tools: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet.
    • Learning objectives: Strengthen critical thinking and research skills, improve argumentation and persuasion abilities, and enhance communication and collaboration.
  1. Blogging or vlogging
    • Description: Students create a series of blog or vlog posts on a course-related topic, reflecting on their learning process and engaging with their audience through comments and feedback.
    • Sample directions: Write or record a series of three blog or vlog posts on a course-related topic, reflecting on your learning process and responding to audience feedback in the comment section.
    • Tools: Blogger, WordPress, Loom, or YouTube.
    • Learning objectives: Improve written or verbal communication skills, develop content creation abilities, and practice self-reflection and audience engagement.
  1. Peer teaching
    • Description: Students become "experts" on a specific course topic and prepare a lesson, including multimedia elements, to teach their classmates in an online setting.
    • Sample directions: Choose a course topic, become an "expert" on the subject, and prepare a 20-minute multimedia lesson to teach your classmates in an online setting.
    • Tools: PowerPoint, Google Slides, or Prezi.
    • Learning objectives: Enhance subject matter expertise, develop teaching and presentation skills, and foster collaboration and peer learning.
  1. Gamification
    • Description: Students participate in a game-based learning activity, such as a digital scavenger hunt or escape room, that requires them to apply their knowledge to solve problems or complete challenges.
    • Sample directions: Participate in a digital scavenger hunt or escape room related to course material, solving problems and completing challenges within a set timeframe.
    • Tools: GooseChase, Breakout EDU, or Minecraft: Education Edition.
    • Learning objectives: Reinforce subject matter knowledge, improve problem-solving skills, and foster collaboration and engagement.
  1. Community engagement projects
    • Description: Students collaborate with local organizations, virtually or in person, to address real-world issues and apply their course knowledge in a practical context.
    • Sample directions: Collaborate with a local organization to address a real-world issue related to the course, develop a project proposal, execute the project, and present your outcomes.
    • Tools: Zoom, Trello, or Slack.
    • Learning objectives: Apply course concepts to real-world situations, develop project management and collaboration skills, strengthen community engagement, and enhance problem-solving abilities.
  1. Student-led webinars
    • Description: Students develop and present a webinar on a course-related topic, honing their public speaking, research, and presentation skills while engaging with a wider audience.
    • Sample directions: Develop a 30-minute webinar on a course-related topic, including a presentation, Q&A session, and audience engagement activities.
    • Tools: Zoom, Webex, or GoToWebinar.
    • Learning objectives: Strengthen public speaking and presentation skills, improve research, and content creation abilities, and engage with diverse audiences.

The need for innovative assignments in the online classroom for college students is undeniable. By embracing creative, engaging, and authentic assignments, educators can not only address the challenges of student engagement and academic dishonesty but also help students develop valuable skills and a lifelong passion for learning. As we continue to navigate the ever-changing landscape of higher education, educators are responsible for adapting and evolving to ensure that we provide our students with the best possible learning experience in the digital age.

About the Authors

Jean Mandernach, Ph.D. is executive director of the Center for Innovation in Research on Teaching at Grand Canyon University. Her research focuses on enhancing student learning experiences in the online classroom through innovative instructional and assessment strategies. She explores strategies for integrating efficient online instruction in a manner that maximizes student learning, satisfaction, and engagement. In addition, she has interests in innovative faculty development and evaluation models, teaching and learning analytics, emergent instructional technology, and faculty workload considerations. Mandernach is an active researcher, author, presenter, and consultant in the field of online education. 

Morgan McNaughton, M.A., M.S., serves as a dedicated program manager at Grand Canyon University's Center for Innovation in Research on Teaching. Her research is centered around dynamic faculty development models, teaching and learning analytics, instructional technology, and cultivating a supportive adjunct faculty culture. With a wealth of experience in elevating student learning experiences in online classrooms, McNaughton has honed her expertise in implementing innovative and efficient program development strategies to help students and faculty alike.

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