In the recent ITFORUM discussion, I had an opportunity to revisit the assignment strategy I had developed last time I taught an online course, and I thought it worth repeating here:
I had a philosophy that the major components to successful retention and transfer were for learners to connect the learning to their own life, to elaborate the material conceptually, and to apply the knowledge practically. Consequently, I had them: keep journals (e.g. blogs) with three posts per week about their own reflections on how the course materials were relevant in their lives; post answers to my posed conceptual questions on the discussion board and comment in a elaborative way on someone else’s post (the prior post to theirs, except the first person who commented on the last post); and the group assignments applying the knowledge to a posed ‘real’ problem (no hesitation about ‘exaggerating’ the importance of the situation when possible ;).
It seemed to work, as their final report (a separate task) generally correlated with the quality of the work above and overall their understanding seemed to coalesce to the desired level.
There are problems with group assignments, when some students don’t contribute sufficiently, but these days tools like wikis track who’s done what (for example, in the CentralDesktop workspace I’m working with a few colleagues on a next-gen organizational learning approach), so it should be possible to evaluate it.
It’s nice that the tool diversity supports different cognitive tasks, and then the only question is whether/how to integrate them together.