Distance Education

Designing assignments

Assignments on the OpenLab can take many forms, depending on the content, your teaching goals, your course’s student learning outcomes, and your comfort level with the technologies involved. Faculty have developed many creative assignments over the years that take advantage of the OpenLab’s features. Some examples are provided below, ranging from straightforward to more complex.

Things to consider

  • Students may have limited access to the internet, technology, and resources.
  • As with any assignment, you will need to provide your students with clear instructions so they understand your expectations, how and when their work should be submitted, and how it will be evaluated.
  • Students should also follow best practices for copyright, accessibility, and working with files, as described in Preparing course materials.
  • If a student is uncomfortable with working in public, even though they can use a pseudonym to identify themself on the OpenLab, they should be allowed to submit their work privately, or protect their posts with a password that they share with you.

Responding to a prompt

Simple but powerful: students are asked to reply with a comment to a prompt in a post on the course’s OpenLab site. If the course site is open, students do not need to have an OpenLab account to reply with a comment. See Help for commenting on a site.


  • Jonas Reitz invites the students in his Precalculus class to introduce themselves. Students receive extra credit for responding to one another’s posts, promoting conversation and community.
  • In another example, his students set logic puzzles for their classmates to solve.
  • Students in Jill Bell’s English class respond to a prompt to continue a class discussion.

Alternatively, you can ask students to respond to a prompt in the Discussion forum on the course Profile. Students need to be members of your course to access the Discussion forum. See Help for using discussion forums.

Working with student posts

Students can create their own posts on the course’s OpenLab site, which can include a variety of media. See Help for writing a post.

When students post to the Course Site, it’s helpful to think about how to organize the student posts. We recommend creating and requiring categories for posts (e.g., Student Posts > “Project 1,” “Project 2,” etc.). Categories enable you to group and view the posts together by adding it to your site menu. For instance, Jason Ellis’s Technical Writing course includes a “Student Work” category in the main menu. See Help for Organizing student posts.


Working with multimedia

The OpenLab is ideally suited for working with images, videos, maps, audio recordings, etc. Multimodal assignments allow students to achieve student learning outcomes with creativity while building proficiency with digital skills that will be useful in their professional careers. See Help for working with images and other media on the OpenLab.


Supporting student projects

Students can work on projects on the OpenLab, either individually or in groups. They can document their project work in blog posts on the Course Site, organized using categories and tags, or create OpenLab Projects to work in separate spaces. For example, students collaborating on a class assignment may choose to create a Project where they work together on documents and have discussions, eventually building a full Project Site to display their work. See Help for using Projects on the Openlab.

For example:

Adding coursework to ePortfolios

At City Tech, students create a single ePortfolio that they develop and contribute to throughout their City Tech career. Many faculty incorporate student ePortfolios into their course as a way for students to share and submit coursework.

Some students in your course may already have created their ePortfolio, others may need support getting started. Direct them to Help > Student ePortfolios or suggest they reach out to the OpenLab team or iTEC for guidance.

  • Students add posts for course work and assignments. They should use categories to organize coursework in their ePortfolio site menu to keep their coursework findable.
  • Students can then share a link to their ePortfolio posts by responding to a prompt on the Course Site, discussion forum, or via email.
  • When a student joins your course, their ePortfolio is listed on the Course Profile. A similar feature can be added to the Course Site. If a student’s ePortfolio is public, it can be viewed by anyone. If it is private, you will need to request membership, or ask your student to invite you to join the ePortfolio.
  • Even if you don’t incorporate ePortfolios into the work of the course, you can help your students build their ePortfolio by encouraging them to choose their best coursework to showcase their professional skills. If students are posting coursework to your Course Site, they can easily add work to their ePortfolios using the Add to My Portfolio feature.

For example:

NOTE: If you’d like students to create an entire site with content specifically for your course, please encourage them to create an OpenLab Project rather than using their ePortfolio.

Recommended strategies

Credits: Thanks to our colleagues at the CUNY Academic Commons for creating the material on which this section is based.

Weekly assignments

When working online, students need frequent interaction to keep them on track. Providing small weekly assignments can help. Examples might include:

  • Responding to a reading prompt posted by the professor before participating in class discussion;
  • Creating a blog post to respond to a reading or share media (images, video) related to course content;
  • Adding comments to a discussion thread about a course-related video;
  • Annotating a reading using the Hypothes.is plugin;
  • Submitting blog posts to build towards a larger assignment (see the example below).

Scaffolding assignments

These small assignments can build towards a larger project due at the end of the semester. For example, you might ask students to create a series of posts on the course site, culminating in a multimodal project:

  • Post #1: Identification of topic of interest (course related)
  • Post #2: Article Summary related to topic
  • Post #3: Media (images, video) about topic, with sources listed
  • Post #4: Final project proposal on topic of interest
  • Post #5: Annotated bibliography with media
  • Post #6 (Private): Draft of multimodal project
  • Post #7: Multimodal project posted on course site

Scaffolding does not always have to be assignment-related. Faculty members can also use scaffolding to help students build digital skills during the course of the semester. For example:

  • Post #1: Create a post to introduce yourself to the class (posting skills)
  • Post #2: Create a post with a video and three images that relate to or invoke ideas from the readings. Explain your choices. (media sourcing and embedding skills)
  • Comment on another students’ media that you felt connected best with the readings, say why. (online discussion skills, looking across sources to prep for post 3)
  • Post #3: Multimedia reading response – a prompt that tasks students with responding to a series of readings with a multimedia essay.

Other resources