3D Rotary Telephone

Lesson 3: Communicating Expectations

Clearly communicate what students should learn by doing the assignment

Clearly communicate what students should learn by doing the assignment, how it should be completed, submitted, and how it will be graded. It is critical to have clear communication about what is expected of students for assignments and assessments in online learning environments. Thorough assignment guidelines help students know what they should be learning and clarify the instructor’s expectations regarding due dates, the scope of the assignment, how it will be graded, and how to ask questions. Likewise, clarity regarding online exams is essential since many students have limited experience with this form of assessment.  

What to include in assignment guidelines

Learning outcomes and assignment description

Clearly explain to students what they are being asked to do and what learning they are expected to demonstrate by completing the assignment.

Topic and scope

If students are allowed to select the topic, tell them what the parameters are. Consider listing topics that are not allowed or are outside the parameters of the assignment. Clarify expectations about mode and length. For example, if the assignment is written, include the word range. If it is a media production (eg. podcast, video, performance, etc.), include the expected time frame.


Include information about how the assignment will be graded. If you are using a rubric, include it in the assignment guidelines. 


State whether the assignment will be completed individually or as a group project. If it is to be completed as a group, describe potential group roles as well as how grades will be allocated. If it is an individual assignment, are students permitted to discuss the assignment with peers? Can they provide feedback to one another? 

Academic integrity

Remind students of the university’s expectation that they follow the Academic Integrity Policy as they complete the assignment.

See the University of Calgary Academic Integrity Policy


Include a range for the number of references needed, as well as what can be used as a reference.  Specify the format that you expect students to use for both in-text and bibliography citations (eg., APA, MLA, etc.)

File format and naming

If you require a certain format such as .doc, state it in the assignment guidelines. If you want students to name their file submissions a particular way, let them know. Otherwise, you will get an entire set of assignments named “essay” or “paper”. One strategy is to ask them to name the file by their last name, assignment and course number (eg. Smith-essay-420).

Due date and submission guidelines

Include the due date for the assignment. If there is a specific cutoff time for submission, state it, including the time zone. Include information on how to submit, such as in D2L (rather than email). 

Assignment guidelines template

Download the assignment guidelines templates and use it clearly communicate your expectations to your students. 

Download the template

Lesson checklist

  • Gain strategies for communicating expectations around assessment in online environments to students 

  • Examine sample assignment guidelines  

  • Modify a template for assignment guidelines 

More lessons

3D Game Console

Lesson 4: Grading and Feedback

3D Yellow Brain

Lesson 5: Types of Assessment

3D Orange Lion

Lesson 6: Academic Integrity in Online Assessments