The Basics #
What is a web assignment?
A web assignment is any class project that is shared publicly on the internet, rather than being limited to a closed system or specific audience. Web assignments can be simple projects like asking your students to journal publicly on a class blog, or more complex efforts like designing a website that is intended to be used by the public.
Why might you want to create a web assignment?
- It could increase engagement and community-building
- Provide students with a different audience to consider
- Increase the visibility and impact of student work
- Encourage collaboration and feedback from a wider audience
- Gives students experience with digital tools
- Steps towards designating a class Digital Intensive
What kind of assignment can this replace or supplement?
- Research projects
- Discussion boards
- Poster presentations
- Group projects
Designing the Assignment #
Whether you are designing the assignment from the ground up or converting an existing assignment, the steps below can help you think through framing, building, and grading the project.
Decide on the goals
The goals of a web assignment can vary greatly, depending on what you hope your students will get out of the project. A few common outcome objectives for this type of assignment are:
- Demonstrate understanding of course content
- Synthesize concepts to create new information
- Practice communicating information clearly
- Practice research and citation
- Demonstrate technical proficiency with web building tools
All are valid goals, and being clear about how much priority you assign to each one will help in designing the assignment (and ultimately your grading criteria).
If you are creating this assignment to be a large final project or other large assignment, you may want to break it down into smaller parts with due dates for each (much like a research paper). Some possible steps are:
- Define the purpose and scope of the project, such as the research topic, intended audience, and goals.
- Conduct research and gather relevant information, such as data, sources, and multimedia elements.
- Investigate and evaluate potential platforms and other digital tools that can be used for the project.
- Outline the structure and organization of the site, including the main sections, pages, and subtopics.
- Create a wireframe or storyboard to visualize the design and layout of the site.
- Develop the site’s content, writing clear, concise, and engaging text, and integrating multimedia elements, such as images, videos, and infographics.
The goals and scale you determine will inform what format the project will take. You may want to have students engage in some short informal writing to demonstrate their process, or perhaps you want them to create a well researched and polished website to demonstrate deep knowledge of a subject. There are different considerations for each, listed below are some potential ideas:
- Process/Reflection Blog
- A space where a student will keep a public record of their process working through a project or their learning. This can be a more informal assignment where students are wrestling with ideas.
- A showcase site intended to demonstrate a student’s personal achievements and learning.
- Scholarly Commentary
- A space where students will curate, summarize, and reflect on articles of relevance to the class creating a repository of literature around a particular topic.
- Scholarly Research Site
- A site that gathers and synthesizes information around a particular topic to present the subject to a scholarly external audience. These kinds of sites are highly inflected by the particular discipline they are building their site for. A historical research site will look different than a site that is presenting data from scientific research.
- Popular Communication Site
- A site that is intended to appeal to and reach a wide audience. Examples of this can be to communicate scientific findings, increase awareness around a social issues, or to provide a showcase of a physical art installation.
- Community Engagement Site
- A site where students collaborate with local organizations or community groups to create a site that addresses social, cultural, or environmental issues.
- Media Companion Site
- It is not uncommon for large podcasts or vlogs (video blogs) to have companion sites that go alongside them to provide further context, information, or options for accessibility (such as a transcript for a podcast).
- Online Journal
- A site where students will curate and publish work around a particular topic.
- Open Educational Resource
- Students can collaborate with instructors or peers to create OER that provide free, open access to high-quality learning materials.
The University of Mary Washington offers two free website building platforms – Sites@UMW and Domain of One’s Own. Each platform is available to all students, faculty and staff, and can support different needs and types of projects. We’d highly recommend that you consider using these platforms because we have years of experience and are able to robustly support the faculty, students, and the projects created with them. We have an in-depth guide on the difference between the two platforms that may help aide in your understanding of what each one has to offer. Digital Learning Support is glad to have a conversation with faculty about what platform(s) may be a best fit for their goals.
Below is a quick overview of each platform:
A streamlined platform designed to get users building on the web quickly and easily. Build WordPress sites using a few built-in customization options.
Domain of One’s Own (DoOO)
A powerful platform suitable for complex projects. Build fully-customizable sites using WordPress and many other applications, and take them with you after you leave UMW.
Make sure your students are aware that they have many options for support for digital assignments (they don’t have to always come to you!).
DKC Class Visits
Consider having the Digital Knowledge Center visit your class to introduce tools and best practices for your assignment. This can go a long way in helping your students get off on the right foot. Visits can be tailored to the needs of your class.
If students run into issues, they can book appointments with a Digital Knowledge Center consultant to help get them unstuck.
DKC Online Guides
The Digital Knowledge Center maintains online guides on many tools for digital projects, including “Getting Started” best practices for audio, video, graphic design, and website-building projects.
It is important to consider accessibility in any digital project. Especially when creating publicly facing websites that aim to serve all manner of people who may interact with the site, the importance of accessibility should be highly emphasized. We recommend checking out our Accessible Web Design guide for some considerations. Additionally, since websites can contain a lot of different media here we’d also recommend reviewing our Accessibility guides in general.
Privacy, Permissions, Sustainability
When students work on the open web you’ll want to have conversations with them about privacy and gain permissions when it is applicable.
It is important to discuss how and where a student’s name may be displayed on the web. Use of a pseudonym may be desired for students who do not want their name publicly associated with what they are writing. Applications like WordPress give a user the ability to change their display name.
Sample Syllabus Language
This course includes at least one online, public digital project. The work you create as part of this project may be shared across a variety of public platforms and remain online indefinitely. If you would like to remain anonymous, I encourage you to use a pseudonym and think carefully before publishing information that could identify you. If you have concerns about publishing work in an online, public digital project, please contact me as soon as possible.
When creating digital projects on the open web that does not allow students to edit or delete their contributions in the future it is important to gain permission from students to use their work going forward.
There could be work that your students are creating that you intend to outlive the class. Since web technology is continually updating web projects that are intended to live beyond the life of the class need special consideration and planning to determine how and when projects will be maintained, updated, and sunsetted. We encourage you to work with Digital Learning Support to determine a plan if your goal is to maintain a project long-term.
Determine Grading Criteria
Many of the grading criteria you might use for a “traditional” project still hold true for a digital assignment. If you already have criteria you are comfortable with, great! Since the variety of web assignments can vary so greatly, grading criteria should be considered on a case by case basis. For simple assignments you may grade on completion, but for more complex assignment you may want a rubric. Below are some guiding questions that may help you build a rubric for an assignment:
- Does the student address the prompt and fulfill the assignment effectively?
- Does the student think creatively?
- Does the student clearly state their argument, or thesis?
- Is the work organized and clear to navigate?
- Do the visual elements facilitate communication of the thesis?
- Has the student cited sources? Are sources high-quality and support the thesis?
- If graphic, image, sound, or video elements are used did they use royalty free or open-license? Does the student credit the creator?
- Has the student included alt text, descriptive links, headings, or otherwise endeavored to make the project accessible?
Determine Submission Method
There is no “wrong” way to receive assignment submissions, so choose the one that works best for your learning objectives. Creating an Assignment or Discussion Board thread in Canvas where students can submit links is one option. For assignments where students are expected to blog you could have students write directly on a central course site you’ve created or you can use the syndication functionality of blogging platforms to aggregate students posts to one place so you and other students can find the most recent posts.
Digital Intensive SLOs #
Each Digital Intensive proposal is considered by the DI committee on a case-by-case basis, so there is no “guaranteed” method to acquire the designation. But below are few examples that may help a web project address the DI Student Learning Objectives.
These are just a few options – there are countless ways to accomplish the DI objectives. And remember that a single assignment does not need to address every SLO! A web assignment could address some, while other assignments could address others.
Students will successfully locate and critically evaluate information using the Internet, library databases, and/or other digital tools.
- Require students to share sources for the claims on their website
- Use the SIFT Method or other criteria to evaluate an online source’s credibility
Students will use digital tools to safely, ethically, and effectively produce and exchange information and ideas.
- Converting a written assignment to a web assignment goes a long way to addressing this SLO
Students will creatively adapt to emerging and evolving technology.
- Have students individually or collaboratively design and build a site
- Ask students to evaluate several and select the kinds of digital tools and media that will best fit what the site is trying to communicate.
Guides for Sites@UMW and Domain of One’s Own
Free UMW Resources
A list of tools and services available to UMW students that can help with digital projects.
Free Media Resources
A repository of online sources for copyright and royalty-free stock photos, video, and audio that students can incorporate into their projects.
Dr. Andréa Smith’s Historic Preservation Planning Laboratory
A site the focuses on showcasing infographics made by
Dr. Jason Davidson’s Security and Conflict
A site that curates articles in the news around security and conflict. Contains over 10 years worth of student summaries.
Dr. Jeff McClurken’s Adventures in Digital History
Student spend a semester working on a digital project that entails building a public facing website. The 2022 iteration of the class featured projects such as:
- A website companion for the Dr. Venus Jones Mural
- A historical research site that documents the history of the renaming Trinkle Hall to James Farmer
- A site that makes the history of UMW more accessible
- A site that highlighted the personal and military experience of WWII Veteran through a family scrapbook.
Dr. Kashef Majid’s Foodwaste Class
A site that curates articles in the news around food waste and categorizes them into specific topics
Dr. Mara Scanlon’s Literature of the Great War
A blog dedicated to students sharing their learning and interpretations of the course material. This includes projects where students have recorded themselves reading poet
Dr. Melina Patterson’s Geographies of Children
Students spend the semester conducting research and cooperatively building a site that will showcase their research around human geography.