Interesting Online Assignments To Engage Online Students

Interesting Online Assignments To Engage Online Students
Summary: In my philosophy and business ethics online courses I have been experimenting with some unique online assignments which differ from conventional exams and papers. Here are a few of the more interesting of these online assignments.

How To Engage Online Students With Online Assignments

I teach philosophy courses online and while these courses don't seem ripe for innovative assignments I think I've developed some interesting online assignments in the various courses I teach that get online students away from the computer, gets them thinking, and encourages them to apply what they've learned in interesting ways to everyday life.

So, here are some of my more interesting online assignments by class:

Introduction To Philosophy

  1. "Take a Picture"
    We discuss a lot of ideas related to perception and reality.  This online assignment asks online students to take a picture of a scene outside their window and then describe the scene with reference to various philosophical theories such as the rationalism of Rene Descartes and the empiricism of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume.
  2. "Philosophical Perspective"
    This online assignment asks online students to pick a philosophical issue they feel strongly about (their perspective on knowledge and reality or their belief in God are good examples) and imagine that the belief they are currently holding about this issue is wrong. Then develop a scenario to explain how that could be true. This helps online students to see the limitations of their own beliefs.
  3. "Knowledge"
    This online assignment relates to Rene Descartes' method of doubt and asks online students to list three things they know for certain. For each of them answer the following questions:

    1. How do you know this is true?
    2. How do you know that is true (referring to your answer to question 1)?
    3. Have you verified that 1 and 2 are true?
    4. If yes, how have you verified their truth? If no, proceed to verify the truth of them.

Business Ethics

The nature of this course lends itself to applying ethical theories in real world settings and many of the online assignments focus on that.  But, here are a few more interesting ones that I think get online students thinking in new ways:

  1. "Dare to Disagree"
    In this online assignment online students are asked to think about a commonly held view in business or economics and then disagree with this point of view.  Like the philosophical perspective online assignment above online students are then asked to formulate the arguments for their disagreement.
  2. "The Interview"
    In this online assignment online students are given a mock interview with various logic puzzle and creative thinking questions such as:

    1. "If you could remove any one of the 50 states which one would you remove and why? "
    2. "Explain to me what has happened in the last 10 years in this country."
    3. "How would you make a tuna fish sandwich?"
      Since more and more companies are using questions like this to assess potential candidates' critical thinking and problem solving skills online students need to be practicing these skills now.
  3. "The Nametag"
    In this online assignment, inspired by Scott Ginsberg's Name tag Manifesto online students are asked to wear a nametag for an entire week 24 hours a day and report on their results.
  4. Take "The Other" to Lunch
    This online assignment is based on a TED talk by Elizabeth Lesser. Online students are asked to have an in depth conversation with someone they disagree with concerning a major ethical issue and ask each other the following questions:

    1. Share some of your life experiences.
    2. What issues deeply concern you?
    3. What have you always wanted to ask someone from the "other side?" (meaning the other side of the issue or belief).

The point of all of these online assignments is to get online students thinking in ways that they do not often think when preparing other assignments. I want online students to see that what they think and what they do can have implications in the world outside the classroom. In order to really see that, they need to get out of the classroom. With online courses this is easier than ever since they are already out of the classroom!

Do you have any unique engaging online assignments you use?  I would love to hear about them.  I'm always looking for new ideas!