IDEAL 12/11 Assignment Design Workshop

I had the opportunity to kick off Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning’s 2017-2018 assignment design workshop series this week, leading a 90 minute workshop for graduate students on multimodal composition and digital humanities pedagogy.

Download the Workshop PPT and handout.

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The workshop opened with some reflections on the way I had incorporated multimodal composition and digital humanities pedagogy into a self-designed “Rhetoric of Sport” curriculum I had taught for four semesters in the Rhetoric Department.

To summarize, after a year of teaching first-year composition, I was disillusioned with the “standard” assignment, questioning its purpose and capacity to promote student engagement and success.

I was also developing a personal interest in primary sources, multimodal composition, and digital humanities pedagogy. As part of the Certificate in Public Digital Humanities, I was taking a Digital Humanities Theory and Practice course that prompted a lot of brainstorming and reflection on the way I could incorporate digital technologies in the classroom and increase students’ digital literacy. Through my own research, I had also developed an interest in place-specific primary sources and archival research–nothing like digging into the history of communities and institutions you’re a part of to prompt some intense self-reflection.

We started the hands-on portion of the Assignment Design Workshop by analyzing a narrated video project I had used in my Rhetoric of Sport curriculum.


Throughout the semester we have explored and discussed the different ways sport relates to a variety of issues and events within American society.  We have also addressed the role of sport narratives—the stories we tell and are told about sport.

Your final project will be a 6-8 minute narrated video that speaks to how some of these same themes and issues have manifested here at the University of Iowa.

Graded components of this process include:

  1. Topic selection and research using primary sources
  2. Contextualization, analysis, and interpretation of the primary sources—connecting different primary sources and putting them into a broader historical, social, and cultural context
  3. Creation of a narrated video featuring your primary source material and your analysis/interpretation
  4. Public presentation of your narrative project

We took a look at a sample student project from the assignment: [youtube]

Then we got down to the business of reverse-engineering learning objectives and outcomes for the assignment, thinking about what students were asked to do and what students learned/accomplished in this assignment. Participants also worked in groups to consider what challenges they might face implementing this type of project, as well as how it might or might not be a good fit for the types of teaching they do.

After discussing some of the possibilities and challenges the sample assignment presented, participants selected an assignment from a course they have or might teach, thinking about a project that already involves or could be revised to involve multimodal or digital components.

Then we started to break down the components of an assignment–at least in most humanities courses, we give assignments that ask students to engage in written or oral communication. Students work individually or collaboratively, and assignments usually fall into the following categories:

  • Minor (lasts no more than 1-2 class periods, may be accomplished during a class meeting)
  • Major (lasts no more than 2-3 weeks of class, includes a graded learning activity)
  • Cumulative (long-term project worth a substantial portion of the semester grade, may be broken into smaller stages with discrete learning activities)

And since no pedagogy workshop is complete without a reference to Bloom’s Taxonomy, we thought about how the assignments we give students ask them to developing and demonstrate particular thinking skills in a variety of assignment “genres.”

Workshop participants used the language of Bloom’s Taxonomy and assignment “categories” to consider what exactly the assignment they selected was designed to accomplish, thinking about the following questions:

  • Objectives & Outcomes
    • What learning objectives do I have for this assignment?
    • What skills do I want students to acquire and/or develop?
  • Situational Factors
    • What type of project do I want to accomplish?
    • What type of project am I able to accomplish?
    • What are my resources?
    • What is my time frame?

We’d reached the hour mark by now, so after a brief stretch break for lunch, we shifted to focus on how workshop participants could move from a conceptual to practical level in designing a multimodal or digital assignment, thinking about the following key themes:

  • Infrastructure
    • What’s necessary to support the type of project you’re envisioning?
  • Skill acquisition & collaboration
    • If you don’t feel comfortable leading students through this project, how can you acquire necessary skills or partner with an individual or resources that already has these skills?
  • Learning objectives & outcomes
    • Digital technologies are enticing, so it’s important to have a clear sense of what a digital or multimodal project does to support your learning objectives.

Starting with Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, we looked at resources and strategies for designing a digital or multimodal assignment, thinking about our ideal “dream” projects and what is realistic considering situational factors. I talked about how the Digital Research Tools directory is a useful starting point for discovering possibilities and relevant platforms or tools. We also looked at the utility of finding sample, model, or exemplary projects that are more closely aligned with the type of course you teach–one of my go-to examples is the Early African American Film website developed in a UCLA course.

We also talked about the benefit of looking at digital or multimodal projects already happening on our campus, looking at sample projects supported by Iowa Digital Engagement and Learning and The Digital Studio for Scholarship and Publishing.

We ended the workshop by thinking about what resources can be useful for getting started with a digital or multimodal project, as well as where workshop participants could go for on-campus support. For those who weren’t able to attend the workshop and participants who want to continue the conversation, IDEAL’s Assignment Design Workshop series will continue next semester, and IDEAL staff are available for consultations and brainstorming sessions.

Digital collections


DH pedagogy forums

Lynda tutorials

On-Campus Resources: