Are Your Assignments Renewable or Disposable?

Author: 
Bob Casper
assignment design, open pedagogy
A wind turbine farm at dusk.

It may be hard for us as faculty to admit to ourselves that many assignments end up being forgotten—dumped in an actual or virtual trash can—once we’ve graded them. Educator David Wiley has dubbed these assignments “disposable” because they “add no value to the world— after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away.”

Wiley instead encourages faculty to craft “renewable assignments” that add value to the world (in and/or outside of the course) after they are completed. What the students produce through their coursework can be useful to and usable by fellow students, the instructor, and others. Examples include:

  • Students write or edit articles for Wikipedia.
  • Students conduct a research project (rather than just planning one) and present their findings at a conference or in a publication of some kind.
  • History students use primary sources to produce historical research about their local area, which proves useful to community groups.
  • Students create learning objects (including videos, PowerPoint slides, and diagrams) to help teach course concepts to others.
  • Students in a course on open education put together an Open Education Reader, a collection of readings and commentary on open education. They released it as a free, open, online book that anyone with access to the internet can use.

Why renewable?

Wiley says, “Students tell me that they invest significantly more time and effort in these assignments and enjoy doing them more.” It is understandable that if students are working for a wider audience, and if they think the work is valuable to others, they might have a larger buy-in than disposable assignments. In addition, higher education institutions might be able to connect renewable assignments to the University’s broader learning outcomes. As for improving student learning, if authentic assessments are valuable in that regard, what could be more authentic than actually doing work that one might otherwise be asking students to simulate?

Finally, students must be given a choice as to whether or not they want their work to be public, and if so, whether they wish to give their work an open license. After all, the copyright for their work belongs to them.

Learn more

Adapted from

Hendricks, C. (2015, Oct. 29). Renewable assignments: Student work adding value to the world. Retrieved July 5, 2018.

Bob Casper is an Instructional Design Consultant at Boise State University’s Center for Teaching and Learning

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.

Photo by Narcisa Aciko from Pexels
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