2. Assignment Brief Design:
These guidelines refer to the design choices involved in organizing, formatting and expressing the instructions.
"It was like a map, broken down into sections so easy to find your way around ..."
" There were a lot of things we needed to do, but it was hard to extract them from the brief - we were all very confused ..."
To ensure students’ attention when processing the brief is not unnecessarily dispersed:
Aim to ensure that information on the various assignment elements are not unnecessarily scattered throughout the instructions. Assemble these in distinct sub-sections of the brief while making use of paragraphing, sub-headings and sub-section indexing to highlight the effective chunking of information.
For example, rather than dispersing the requirements relating to deadlines, hand in requirements and technical details (such as font, line spacing, submission mode) throughout the brief, assemble these in a section entitled ‘Hand-in Requirements’ and within this, the necessary sub-headings such as ‘Deadlines’, ‘Font Requirements’ and ‘Cover Sheet’.
To ensure students can quickly and easily locate the assignment task itself and are focused on the core requirements from the outset:
Aim to include a concise statement of the core assessment task. Locate this preferably near the beginning of the instructions, highlighted by means of font, formatting or layout. Ensure this is easy to locate on the page rather than being embedded in a long piece of text along with information about other assignment elements, such as the rationale for the task, the submission details, the cover sheet details and so on. This allows student to not only find the core task quickly, but then to process effectively the more in-depth guidelines provided in the rest of the brief.
To ensure students’ attention is focused logically and efficiently:
Aim to order the constituents of the brief so that they reflect the order that students are most likely to work logically through and process the task instructions to process its requirements.
For example, use the order: Assignment Title, Core Task, Learning Outcomes, Task Requirements, Assessment Criteria, Submission Details, Deadlines.
If there are institutional requirements, such as a standard format, which stipulates a different order, then this would take precedence.
To ensure students can find learning outcomes easily and are more likely to relate these appropriately to the assignment and its requirements:
Consider placing the learning outcomes as close as possible to the core task or the specific task requirement to which they refer.
If, at this stage of their assessment literacy development, students are expected or required to link the assessment task to the relevant learning outcomes autonomously, then consider stating this explicitly in the brief.
To ensure students can identify key information quickly and easily:
Aim to make maximum use of formatting and font tools such as bold, italics, shaded text and so on, to increase salience of key information. This allows students to identify key information at the outset and then to process priority requirements and expectations in a more effective manner.
If it is one of the assessed learning outcomes that students identify and prioritise key information autonomously, then this would not be appropriate.
To ensure students do not have to waste time and cognitive resources in reordering steps for task completion from the instructions:
Consider, depending on the complexity of the processes involved in the task, sequencing the written instructions so that they mirror the order of the stages the students will go through when doing the assignment. Use a step-by-step approach, with layout options to make these stages clear. This is especially the case when the task is highly complex with numerous stages and processes involved.
For example, use a numbered list of stages or when there are multiple, complex processes involved, use a flow chart.
If it is integral to the assessment that students, at this stage of their development, figure this out for themselves, then state this explicitly in the brief.
To ensure students can process the instructions efficiently and are fully aware of everything they need to submit from the outset:
Where there are a number of parts to the assignment task students have to complete, consider including these in a format that makes it easy to identify the assignment task components.
To ensure inclusivity in catering for differing individual learning and information processing style preferences and degree of familiarity with academic tasks:
Consider, where feasible, using visuals, diagrams or illustrations instead of, or in addition to the written instructions. This will clarify or contextualise the assessment task components and processes and show how these combine to contribute to the whole. This is especially important when the task has several components.
This is especially important when the task has several components.
To ensure readability of the brief is optimized:
Aim for an effective use of white space on the page between constituents of the brief.
Use horizontal white spacing on the page between headings and text as well as between the main sections and sub sections of the brief and use this consistently. This helps students to get an idea of the overall structure of information in the brief and its constituents and so to process the instructions more effectively.
To ensure students are able to process and interpret the task requirements efficiently:
Aim for brief briefs. Keep the overall brief as short as possible, minimising non-essential information in the brief itself, while maintaining clarity and comprehensiveness.