Option 3: Adjusting Hands-On Projects for Online Learning

Courses in which students must create physical objects pose major challenges in the online environment and will require rethinking assessments/assessment practices. To begin, start with your learning outcomes. To re-imagine your assessment, you will most likely need to create a new assignment. To do this, you start with your learning outcomes.

If you are concerned about Academic Integrity, we suggest you read Tool Box 2 before moving ahead with this activity.

Before we jump into building a new project, we will first explore key elements of designing virtual projects. Then, you will get working on re-designing your project. You will do the following:

  1. Create a Table of Specifications
  2. Build your scoring criteria
  3. Design & build the structure for your new project
  4. Schedule your project deadlines
  5. Create the project requirement lists and supplementary documents
  6. Receive feedback

You will need the project you wish to restructure for this activity.

This section should take you 3 – 4 hours to complete.

Please read the key elements of transitioning to virtual projects below. You will be notified with a STOP: message once you reach the activity portion of the section. 


Activity: Design a Hands-On Project for Online Learning

Work through the following four steps as you build your hands-on project for online learning:

  1. Build your accompanying scoring criteria
  2. Design & build the structure for your new project or alternative assessment
  3. Create a schedule for your projects
  4. Create the project requirement lists and supplementary documents
  5. Receive feedback

Remember to have your course outline and learning outcomes (goals) handy!


Step 1 Create a Table of Specifications 

Create a Table of Specifications to identify the course content you want to assess and the level of thinking you want your students to illustrate. Use the template Table of Specifications. (download the template by clicking the blue text)

A table of specifications outlines the course learning outcomes associated with the discussion forum, the specific content areas you want to cover in the forum, the level of cognitive demand students will use to demonstrate their learning, and the weighted value you place on each content area you will be grading.

See a sample Table of Specifications: SAMPLE Table of Specifications.

Once you have your table of specifications open, follow these five steps to complete the table:



Step 2 Build Your Scoring Criteria 

When you build your assessment and activities, it’s helpful to consider evaluating students’ ability to demonstrate learning rather than focusing on the quality of the final product. This will encourage students to learn online tools and be okay with technologies failing.

The pressure to have a well-designed final product using a new technology is often very real for our students. While a lot of our students may consider themselves ‘tech-savvy,’ they may not have the know-how to use new tools as readily as they think they do.

It will be helpful to have your table of specifications in front of you.

Create your scoring criteria. This is the assessment tool you will use to evaluate your students’ learning. We use scoring criteria to grade students.

TIP: Checklists and Holistic Rubrics are faster and easier to create. However, they look at content and competencies as a ‘have’ or ‘have not.’ Analytic Rubrics are more complex, they provide a stronger evaluation process for grading and student performance.

  1. Choose whether you will be using a checklist, holistic rubric, or analytic rubric to evaluate your forum. Review Section 2 for more information about the differences between these tools. Please use the templates provided to guide you through the creation of your chosen assessment tool. By clicking the text in blue, you will download a template you will use to create your assessment tool.
  2. Open the template. Replace all of the [text in brackets] with specific content related to your assessment. You can use a lot of the information you have outlined in your table of specifications. Your content in your table of specifications can be easily copied into the content for your scoring guide. You may want to be more specific and create more detailed descriptions. You can also use the weight you have identified in your table of specifications as a guide for determining how much content area is worth.

Open the appropriate tab for the assessment tool you want to use. Follow the steps to design your assessment tool:



STOP: You should now have your Table of Specifications and Assessment Tool built for your Online Project.


REMINDER: More than 70% of our student population does not live in Lethbridge and would not be able to drop off an assignment at a location for assessment. Instead, consider how they can share their products virtually. This can be done through a virtual demonstration or photos/scans submitted online.


Step 3 Design & build the structure for your new project or alternative assessment

TIP: You may be hard-pressed to create authentic learning situations for hands-on tasks. However, you can have students critique, analyze, and evaluate curated data or samples of work that has already been created. Remember, you can only work within your constraints.


  1. Design the activities and tasks you want students to complete for the project. Choose an acceptable alternative that students can do for the project that aligns with your assessment tool. Research alternative methods online, use the table we have created, check out Gordon’s Alternative Assessment Guide, the options below, or talk to some colleagues to design your activities.

Here is an excerpt from Tool Box 2 with some portions that may be relevant for you:


TIP: Use your new online learning environment as an asset! You can now gauge student creativity and use of technology for a project in a way you may never have before.


2. Write out the introduction to your assignment for your students to use to navigate your Project requirements. Include the following elements:

  • An introductory, context-setting component;
  • Instructions for the main components and tasks of the assignment;
  • Reminders, notes, and guiding questions; and
  • Options and choices (if applicable).

See CUNY’s (2016) Anatomy of an Assignment Sample to see how you will build the introduction section of your assignment.


Step 4 Schedule your project deadlines

Have your course schedule and calendar in front of you for this portion.

  1. Create a schedule for your project. This is particularly true if you are ‘chunking’ the project (i.e., asking students to hand in parts of the project to build a larger portfolio).

Consider the time it will take your students to complete the assignment based on your chosen method of delivery.

Here is a link to U of L’s Academic Schedule. Important dates include:

  • September 4, 2020: First day of Fall Term Courses
  • October 12, 2020: Thanksgiving
  • November 9 – November 14, 2020: Fall Term Break
  • December 9, 2020: Last day of Fall Term Courses

Keep in mind the due dates and timelines for your other assessments as you plan your deadlines for the project. Remember that students may have jobs, other courses, and family commitments as well as your course.


Step 5 Create the project requirement lists and supplementary documents

  1. Read this  article1 by Kathleen Dudden Rowlands about how to build checklists with samples.
  2. Create a guide for your students to know the steps of how to complete the project.
  • You may want to outline more specific guidelines for how to complete the project well with some do’s and don’ts
  • Provide extra links, documents, worksheets, help pages (especially for technologies), etc.


Step 6 Receive Feedback

It is always helpful to have a second pair of eyes on new teaching tools. Here are two ways you can receive feedback:

  1. Consider having a colleague read through your forum.
  2. Ask the Teaching Centre to review your assessment.

After receiving feedback, you will want to make the necessary changes.


See our FAQ Section for more discussion post tips.

Need more help? Email us (teachingsupport@uleth.ca)


Next step:

You can go back to the beginning of the module and select a new activity, or continue reading more in the tool box sections by clicking here.

Extended Resources

Fidaldo, P. & Thormann, J. (2017, April). Reaching students in online courses using alternative formats. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 18(2), 139 – 161. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v18i2.2601.

Lieberman, M. (2018, April 25). Online students don’t have to work solo. [Web Page]. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/04/25/group-projects-online-classes-create-connections-and-challenge.

Wang, S. K. (2006, Spring). Learning hands-on skills in an online environment: The effectiveness of streaming demonstration animation. Journal of Interactive Online Learning 5(1). www.ncolr.org/jiol

Wilson, M. (2016). Digital alternatives to traditional student projects. [Web Log]. https://psychowith6.com/digital-alternatives-to-traditional-student-projects/.


1This article is reachable through JSTOR. You should have access using your @uleth.ca domain through our library. However, if you do not, you can create a free account to gain access for personal use.



British Columbia Institute of Technology. Developing checklists and rating scales. Retrieved on April 15, 2020 from http://www.northernc.on.ca/leid/docs/ja_developchecklists.pdf.

CUNY School of Professional Studies, Office of Faculty Development and Instructional Technology. (n.d.). Anatomy of a sample assignment. Retrieved on April 15, 2020 from https://spscoursedesign.commons.gc.cuny.edu/files/2015/10/Anatomy-of-a-Sample-Assignment.pdf.

Gordon, D. (n.d.). Don’t panic: The hitch-hiker’s guide to alternative assessment. http://www.damiantgordon.com/Guide.pdf.

Mertler, C. A. (2000). Designing scoring rubrics for your classroom. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 7(25), 1 – 8. https://doi.org/10.7275/gcy8-0w24.

Rowland, K. D. (2007, July). Check it out! Using checklists to support student learning. The English Journal, 96(6), 61 – 66. https://www.jstor.org/stable/30046754.

University of Lethbridge. (n.d.). Academic schedule. [Web Page]. Retrieved on April 15, 2020 from https://www.uleth.ca/ross/academic-schedule?month=5&year=2020.



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Fit for Online Learning Copyright © 2020 by U of L Teaching Centre: Jördis Weilandt, Erin Reid, Kristi Thomas, Brandy Old, and Jeff Meadows is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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