Engaging Students as Producers Through Online Experiential Assignments

Extending Learning Beyond the Course

Students become more invested in their learning when they are involved in the creation of materials that have value beyond the course (Hendricks, 2015; Wiley, 2013). Educators often use the term “students as producers” (SaP) to describe this approach to learning. Examples of SaP work include student-produced digital videos, blogs, exhibits, case studies, textbooks, posters, mobile apps, and websites.

As opposed to end-of-semester exams and papers, which are disposed of as soon as they have been graded, SaP assignments generate work products that learners can reference as evidence of their accomplishments. Students form a personal connection to their work, and by extension to their learning (Campbell & Cox, 2016). In addition, SaP assignments that yield digital products and can be shared online publicly offer the possibility for extended dialogue with others interested in the topic, including experts (Bruff, 2019).

Students report cognitive benefits as they plan and develop projects, such as learning more about course content and concepts (Campbell & Cox, 2016). When iterative processes of peer feedback are integrated into the production experience, students’ communication is often clearer than when they communicate with only the instructor in mind (Bruff, 2019; Light, 2001). Assignment planning is key to reaping the benefit of SaP assignments. According to Harvard’s Agency by Design project (2015), assignments are ideally designed to engage students intentionally in the following processes: 

  • Looking closely, observing the nuances and details of a given situation; 
  • Exploring relationships between people, objects, and systems; and 
  • Making an original contribution to the world through an iterative process of tinkering and experimentation.


The following tips will help you get started as you design and implement SaP assignments for your own learners:

  • Identify your goals for student learning. What skills and conceptual understandings do you want them to develop and demonstrate? What project formats would align with those aims?
  • Communicate the broader purpose of the assignment to help your students keep the relationship between goals and project in mind. How will the format of instructor and peer feedback help focus students’ attention on these larger goals? Continually referencing goals will help students avoid the pitfall of producing superficial work.
  • Structure the assignment around interim deliverables with rounds of feedback. Encourage students to tinker before finalizing plans for their work. Students might float several ideas, with peer or instructor feedback on the affordances and limitations of each idea, select one idea and produce a storyboard or project plan, develop a first draft, then craft the final piece. This also provides opportunities for an instructor to intervene with feedback if a student is struggling or missing the point of the assignment.
  • Ask students to write about what they have learned, such as the skills they have gained or how the project has informed the development of their thinking about key course ideas. Engaging in this kind of reflection will help students get more out of the assignment, and they can submit this reflection along with their completed work.
  • Provide time and space to celebrate accomplishments. SaP projects may seem daunting to students at first, so recognizing students’ work and effort can help sustain motivation and engagement.  Consider adding a showcase page in Canvas or holding an in-class gallery walk.


Agency by Design. (2015). Maker-centered learning and the development of self: Preliminary findings of the agency by design project [White paper]. Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education. http://www.pz.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/Maker-Centered-Learning-and-the-Development-of-Self_AbD_Jan-2015.pdf 

Bruff, D. (2019) Students as producers: Collaborating toward deeper learning. In A. Jackson, C. Pierard, & S. Schadl (Eds.). Scholarship in the sandbox. Association of College & Research Libraries. https://ir.vanderbilt.edu/bitstream/handle/1803/9446/ScholarshipintheSandbox_Chapter%201.pdf

Campbell, L., Cox, T. (2016). Digital video as a personalized learning assignment: A qualitative study of student authored video using the ICSDR model. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, (18)1. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1169880.pdf

Hendricks, C. (2015). Renewable assignments: Student work adding value to the world. The University of British Columbia. https://flexible.learning.ubc.ca/news-events/renewable-assignments-student-work-adding-value-to-the-world/

Light, R. (2001). Making the most of college: Students speak their minds. Harvard University Press. https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674004788

Wiley, D. (2013). What is Open Pedagogy? Improving Learning. https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975