Students As Makers: Renewable Assignments

Maker-Centered Learning

What Are They?

David Wiley of Brigham Young University makes the distinction between “disposable assignments,” which students are likely to toss away after they have been graded, and “renewable assignments” that add value to the world (Hendricks, 2015; Wiley, 2013). With renewable assignments, students are more likely to invest effort and thought because they perceive that the products of their work will endure long after the class is completed. If this work is made available on the web, it also can be of use beyond school: regionally, nationally, and even globally.

Students are engaged as “makers” throughout the learning process during renewable assignments. According to Harvard’s Agency by Design project (2015), maker-centered learning challenges students to:

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

Sample maker assignments include developing resources for future sections of your course, curating and creating online exhibits, and even contributing to national and international research initiatives.


Below are some tips for engaging your students in maker-centered learning:

  • Examine the syllabi for other courses in your program. How might the work in your class build upon or contribute to the other work that the students are doing elsewhere? How might the coursework contribute to a portfolio of accomplishments?
  • Identify an authentic piece of work that would demonstrate that your students have met the course objectives, and design the course around that work. Authentic assignments “are similar to what students might do with the skills they are learning in the ‘real world’” (Svinicki, 2004).
  • Break down larger authentic assignments into smaller parts that students work on throughout the semester, with iterative rounds of instructor and peer feedback. In this way, your students’ work can “add up” to something that’s worth saving.
  • Consider partnering with organizations beyond the university to involve your students in addressing an unmet need.


Agency by Design. (2015). Maker-centered learning and the development of self.

Hendricks, C. (2015). Renewable assignments: Student work adding value to the world.

Svinicki, M. D. (2004). Authentic assessment: Testing in realityNew Directions in Teaching and Learning100, 23-29.

Wiley, D. (2013). Iterating toward openness.