Course Materials and Assignments [Re]Design


Columbia faculty responded to the new constraints and affordances of remote teaching by redesigning assignments and course materials in creative ways. In many cases, the need to change long-standing methods and fixed practices resulted in innovations and improvements that faculty continue to carry through to teaching in person.  

Course material redesign efforts typically fell into three categories – building custom digital tools where students could practice, producing video and audio content to prepare students ahead of course meetings, and creating new or expanded simulation experiences online. Examples include developing online applications to allow students manipulate information and understand concepts, recording podcasts to enhance instructor presence and include outside voices, and creating simulations for students to practice clinical skills.

Similarly, faculty reimagined course assignments recognizing the importance of transparency and flexibility, allowing students to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways, removing barriers, easing anxiety, connecting students to resources and supports available, inviting student feedback on the course assessments, and experimenting with upgrading practices.


What You Can Do 

You can apply the same principals and ideas from narratives in this section to redesign your own assignments and course materials. We encourage you to take these tips, adapt them, and dive into the work of redesign. Schedule a one-on-one consultation to discuss the [re]design of course materials, assessments, and the integration of instructional technology, contact

1. Diversify course materials to support learning.

The ability to access course materials asynchronously supports learners before and after class, creating more opportunities during class for active learning. Having all course materials in one place such as in CourseWorks ensures students can access the content and revisit as needed. The flexibility of a hybrid/HyFlex model leverages different modalities to support the needs of all learners. Consider adopting a blended Learning approach that integrates complementary face-to-face (synchronous) and online learning (asynchronous) experiences in service of intended learning objectives. To get started, choose a class session and consider what parts of learning should occur in person and in community with your guidance, and which can occur online on your students’ own time. The asynchronous content that students engage with outside of class can include short explainer videos of concepts or theories, or demo DIY videos created by you or found online.

2. Involve students in course assessments.

Giving students multiple means to demonstrate their learning is a hallmark of the inclusive classroom. Think about how your existing course assignments are designed for learning. Choose an assignment where you can give students options for the deliverable, such as oral presentation, research paper, video submission, or design project. Another way to add student choice and agency is to invite them to co-design elements of classroom activities, assignments, or the assignment rubric with you. Students could, for example, contribute questions for exam study guides or lead class discussions. You might also consider incorporating creative assignments to further increase student engagement and motivation.

3. Explore a new instructional technology to support content delivery and assessment of learning.

The CTL has many resources to help you integrate the various tools platforms available to the Columbia community into your teaching. One or more Columbia-supports tools might benefit teaching and learning in your course context. Take a look at our guides and tips on CourseWorks, Ed Blogs, Ed Discussion, Locus Tempus, Mediathread, Poll Everywhere, Pantopto, Zoom, and Gradescope, which may provoke new ideas for assignments, delivery of course materials, and student engagement. For questions about these tools, contact the CTL Learning Designer assigned to your department or school or reach out during CTL for office hours to speak to a Learning Designer and get your questions answered.

“Assessing students during remote teaching was challenging, but it was important for me to trust my students and listen to them.”

Read Dr. Austin’s narrative

Dr. Rachel Narehood Austin

Diana T. and P. Roy Vagelos Professor of Chemistry

“I created a podcast, which was risk-taking for me because I had no previous training or education. (…) Students have shared with me they really appreciated hearing my voice. They also came to appreciate the readings in the course because they would listen to the podcast and it allowed them to focus a little bit more on the course readings.”

Read Dr. Mensah’s narrative

Dr. Felicia Mensha

Professor of Science and Education, Teachers College

“Teaching a language has become more practical with the help of online tools such as CourseWorks (Canvas) and other interactive websites. I find these tools helpful in structuring the course and assisting students at home.”

Read Dr. Bettaieb’s narrative

Dr. Rym Bettaieb

Lecturer in Arabic in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies

Browse through the narratives in this theme for more inspiration and to spark ideas for the delivery of course content and assessment practices.