Designing Assignments and Using LEARN Tools

Designing Your Assignments

Begin with Your Learning Outcomes

In your remote course, you may create a variety of assignments. These assignments are used to measure students’ achievement of your course-level intended learning outcomes (ILOs). When deciding upon what kind of assignment to choose, consider the depth of learning your learning outcomes require. Do students need to retain, recall, and recognize knowledge? If so, a series of low-stakes quizzes may be a good fit. Do they need to apply knowledge to different situations? If so, consider a discussion or a report.

Review Bloom’s Taxonomy: Learning Activities and Assessments. This resource provides many examples of assignment types that align with cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains.

Consider Student Workload

This is a common question we receive: how much content and assignments should I create? Review this Course Workload Estimator by RICE University to gain an estimation of workload.

Align Learning Outcomes and Assignments

Once you’ve figured out the type of assignments you want to create for your course, you may find it helpful to map out each of your assignments and your ILOs. As shown in the example below, every ILO is measured by at least one assignment in the course.

  Quiz 1Quiz 2Quiz 3Midterm ReportFinal Assessment
ILO 1 x     x x
ILO 2 x     x  
ILO 3 x     x x
ILO 4   x   x  
ILO 5   x     x
ILO 6     x   x
ILO 7     x   x

Design with Mental Wellbeing in Mind

When designing with mental wellbeing in mind, we use approaches that reduce unnecessary stressors and enhance learning. For example, Universal Design strategies support inclusive and equitable learning experiences. Clear expectations and instructions are important for all students. You can also provide more frequent, low stakes assessments with feedback. This way students learn expectations rather than solely relying on heavily weighted assignments. There are late policies that provide all students with a certain number of “slip days” to delay an assignment deadline before penalties. You can learn more at Supporting Students’ Mental Wellbeing: Course Design.

What about Final Exams?

Consider creating a summative assignment or an open book exam. Synchronous final exams are strongly discouraged during remote teaching terms. 

Review Four Ways to Replace the Written, Proctored, Synchronous Final Exam.

Review Final Exams on Keep Learning for more information.

Creating Your Assignment Instruction Pages

It is recommended that you create a separate instructions page for each assignment. If two assignments are strongly related you may want to create only one page. For example, if you have a series of weekly quizzes, you may have only one page for quizzes rather than 10 pages. This is common for frequent, low-stakes assignments like quizzes and discussions. Be sure that your files are clearly labelled i.e., Assignment 1 Instructions; Report A Instructions.

Contact Information for Support

If you would like technical support setting up your Dropbox, Quiz, or Discussion, submit a request to

Dropbox Instructions


Students use Dropboxes to submit a wide range of documents. Dropbox assignments are manually graded. They can be linked to the gradebook. Dropboxes are often used for assignments with longer written answers, essays, reports, hand-drawn work (scanned or photographed), spreadsheet calculations, graphs, and more. Only the instructor and TAs will see Dropbox submissions.

Planning Your Assignment

Dropboxes are used for the submission of documents. Dropboxes clearly organize students’ submissions. You can create a unique Dropbox for each assignment. It also has simple annotation tools if you mark the assignments within the Dropbox (i.e, adding comments or highlights). The Dropbox can be linked to your LEARN gradebook.

With a wide variety of assignment types of available, here are a few resources that can help you get started planning your assignment:

  • The UW Library has a series of Assignment Planners for assignments such as annotated bibliographies, lab reports, research essays and more.
  • ION Professional eLearning Programs has an Online Instructional Activities Index that will help you get started with a variety of assignments from article critiques to presentations.

Setting Up Your Dropbox

Dropboxes can be accessed on the Course Home page by selecting Submit then Dropbox on the course navigation bar. LEARN Help Dropboxes has a variety of documents to walk you through how to set up your Dropbox including the following information:

  • Creating a New Dropbox
  • Managing Dropbox Submissions
  • Providing Feedback and Grading Dropbox Submissions

If you would like to set up a rubric for grading in LEARN, see Rubrics.

Quiz Instructions


LEARN quizzes support a variety of questions and automatic grading for multiple-choice, multi-select, true and false, matching, ordering, and others. You can also include manually graded questions such as short and long answer. User research at the University of Waterloo found that regular activities and assessments, like quizzes, helped students reduce procrastination, and keep up with online course work (Zeni et al., 2018).

Writing Questions

When authoring quizzes, you can use a variety of different question types and ask questions at varying levels. Review these resources developed by the Centre for Teaching Excellence:

Setting Up Your Quiz

LEARN Help has a variety of documents to walk you through how to set up your quiz. See How to Use Quizzes in LEARN to learn about the following:

  • Creating a Quiz
  • Question Library
  • Manage Quizzes
  • Creating Random Question Pools in Quizzes
  • Grading Quizzes

Discussion Instructions


Graded discussions can be used for reflection, group work, debates, critiques, and more. Discussions are often set up to allow the whole class to see responses. This can enhance peer-to-peer learning and collaboration. Discussions can also be set as a space for group work. Rubrics are recommended to clearly show how discussion posts will be graded.

Creating Your Discussion

When creating a discussion, you first need to decide what type of discussion you want to create. Is it a class-wide discussion? Are there group discussions? How many posts and replies? For a class-wide discussion, we recommend that you chunk discussion questions into distinct discussion posts. Typically, a discussion has at least one discussion post and one reply required of students.

Discussion questions should be divergent in nature; that is, they should encourage students to share diverse responses and learn from each other. Ask questions that encourage students to reflect on course concepts, connect ideas, and apply their understanding. Where relevant, you may ask students to support their responses with quality sources or have them complete a real-world activity and share their experiences.

Students’ replies are what makes a discussion a true discussion. In most cases, replies should be a key component of your discussion assignment. If you will use discussions frequently in your course, consider a consistent structure for all discussions. For example, students will make one post and two replies in each discussion.


Consider this question: what are the three effective practices of public speaking? If students had just completed a module on public speaking, their answers may be repetitive, and the resulting discussion may be rather dull. If you reframed this question to ask, who in your life is an exceptional public speaker? How do they demonstrate effective practices of public speaking? This example helps students connect theoretical and practical knowledge. It will also lead to more interesting and engaging responses. This is a win-win situation for you and your students.

Setting Up Your Discussion

Discussions can be accessed on the Course Home page by selecting Connect then Discussions on the course navigation bar. LEARN Help Discussions has a variety of documents to walk you through how to set up your Discussion, including the following:

  • Types of Discussions
  • Creating Forums and Topics
  • Composing, Reading and Deleting Messages
  • Subscribing to Forums and Topics
  • Grading Forums and Topics

If you would like to set up a rubric for grading in LEARN, see Rubrics.

Sample Wording

You are encouraged to add this wording in the description area of your first discussion forum.

Resources for online discussions:

Guidelines on Use of Waterloo Computing and Network Resources

Given that online components of this course are hosted on a UWaterloo server, there are Guidelines on Use of Waterloo Computing and Network Resources that you should be aware of. These Guidelines govern the appropriate and ethical use of these resources, inform users of expectations and responsibilities assumed in the use of Waterloo computing and network resources, and clarify the context. Misuse of the University’s computing and network resources may result in disciplinary action within the University. Any such action undertaken will be governed by relevant Waterloo policies.