Best Practices for Online Projects

Students working on their laptops sitting at a circular desk in Newswaves 32 office

Should circumstances arise that require you to teach online, you may also find it necessary for students to complete projects remotely and then submit them in some sort of digital format. In the guidance that follows, the term projects includes written reports, oral presentations, crafted objects, and similar types of products that serve as the culmination of students' individual or group work. Best practices for online tests (roughly conceived as documents that students receive, complete, and return to the professor) are available elsewhere.

Tools for Receiving Project Documents

Some student projects will result in some type of "deliverable" document such as a report, presentation slide deck, or work of art. (For projects that culminate in some type of performance, see the next section.) In the online context, these deliverables will usually need to be recorded in a digital format that can be transmitted over the internet.

Courses Assignments Tool

The Assignments tool within Courses is a powerful vehicle for assigning, receiving, grading, and providing feedback on such projects—not least because the Assignments tool gathers all of those functions into a single convenient space. The Assignments tool has been designed specifically for this purpose, complies with FERPA, provides for accessibility, and offers a range of pedagogical options, including student group submissions and Turnitin. If you need any assistance setting up assignments to be gathered through the Assignments tool, Pepperdine's Technology and Learning team or your division's Technology Liaison can provide individual support.

Courses Drop Box Tool

If you prefer a less structured approach and just want to exchange files with students individually, the Drop Box tool within Courses provides a simpler alternative to the Assignments tool. (Please note that the Drop Box tool within Courses has nothing to do with the commercial file-sharing service called Dropbox, except for similar functionality.) The Drop Box tool creates a folder for each student, which the instructor can also access. Unlike the Assignments tool, the Drop Box tool does not support due dates, Gradebook integration, commenting, student groups, and the like. The Drop Box tool is recommended for casual or occasional file sharing; the Assignments tool is recommended for assessments that will be graded.

Google Drive

A Google Drive folder can provide similar functionality to the Courses Drop Box tool, but if you choose to use this method, make very sure that you do not inadvertently violate FERPA by giving students inappropriate access to each others' information. Setting this up usually requires significantly more work than simply using the Courses Drop Box tool. You could also use a Google Form as a channel for students to submit their work (but not for you to return feedback, since Google Forms flow only one direction), though the Courses Assignments tool will be a better choice in most cases.

Courses Messages Tool

Of course, you can always ask students simply to attach their files to an email, or a message composed using the Messages tool within Courses, although this will usually put a larger file management burden on you than using the Assignments or Drop Box tool.

In some situations, you might be able to receive physical products from students through the mail or a delivery service. For some objects, however, this option may prove prohibitively expensive.

Tools for Receiving Project Performances

Some student projects will result in some type of presentation, such as a speech, demonstration, or performance. (For projects that typically culminate in some type of document, see the previous section.) In the online context, these performances will usually need to be transmitted over the internet in a digital format, either synchronously or asynchronously.

Asynchronous Tools

If the learning objectives for the assignment can be met with a recorded (asynchronous) performance, invite students to record their performance in an appropriate format. Most Seaver College students will have access to a laptop computer or mobile device capable of recording fairly good quality audio and video. Depending on the particulars of the assignment, you might ask students to record audio only, an audio voiceover to a slideshow, a video, or some variation on these formats. Students can then upload the recording using the Assignments or Drop Box tool in Courses, or one of the other tools already described.

Synchronous Tools

If the learning objectives for the assignment are best met with a real-time (synchronous) performance, Zoom would be the preferred University-supported tool. Admittedly, the audio and video fidelity of a Zoom transmission will not be as good as a direct personal experience in a face-to-face context, especially for the subtleties of a musical or dramatic performance, but may be the best we can achieve under the circumstances.

Specialized Tools

If the performance you need to assess requires access to specialized tools (such as laboratory equipment) or facilities (such as a dance floor), it may be necessary to arrange for additional support local to the student. Please consult with your Program Coordinator, Divisional Dean, or Seaver Dean's office personnel as appropriate for help arranging an appropriate partnership. Your division's Technology Liaison and the TechLearn team can offer guidance and some assistance with the technical aspects of recording and transmitting such performances. The CTE can assist with designing alternative assignments if necessary.

Designing and Administering Projects for Online Contexts


Students who receive accommodations for onsite testing must receive equivalent accommodations for projects that will be conducted or delivered online. Please consult the OSA for policy guidance and the CTE, the TechLearn team, or your divisional Technology Liaison for help with implementation.

Limits on Project Scope

For projects that might ordinarily be submitted as physical, printed documents, the same word or page counts and other such limits apply equally well to digital rather than physical versions of the documents. The same applies to time limits for presentations delivered asynchronously. For online presentations or performances delivered synchronously in a group session, such as a Zoom meeting for the whole class, you may wish to consider shortening the time limits slightly in case it takes more time to transition between students or groups using Zoom than it would on-site. However, such additional delays should be minimal.

Academic Integrity

For most projects of the types discussed here, the same practices around academic integrity apply whether the student submits the project on-site or online. For example, if you would normally have students scan papers using Turnitin, continue to do so for remote submissions; if you would not normally use Turnitin, the physical distance between instructor and student does not increase the service's value.

Challenging Adaptations

Some types of assignments will be particularly challenging to adapt for remote instruction. The most obvious assignments in this category are those where the college provides specialized tools and facilities (such as laboratories and art studios) to which the student may not otherwise have access, and those where physical proximity to other students (as in a musical ensemble) is integral to desired activities. If your course includes such activities and you must transition to remote instruction, remember that course activities should advance students toward, and measure their progress toward, course learning outcomes. Undoubtedly you chose certain course activities because you found them to be particularly apt tools for this purpose, but consider whether alternate activities might also serve the same functions, even if in a less satisfying manner. For example:

  • If students must produce a physical object (like a painting or sculpture) and students would have the necessary tools and facilities to produce the object in their remote locations, consider whether still pictures or video recordings of the object, along with appropriate metadata (such as dimensions, materials used, and so forth), could provide a sufficient basis for your assessment of student progress toward the learning outcomes.
  • If students would have produced a physical object on-site, but would not have the necessary tools and facilities to produce the object in their remote locations, consider whether digital artwork, a model for 3D printing, or something similar would suffice to demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes.
  • If students would have visited sites that they can no longer access, such as museums local to Pepperdine but not to the students' remote locations, consider whether virtual tours of the same or other locations might suffice to demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes.

It may be very difficult to conceive of appropriate alternatives that students can reasonably complete in their individual spaces. The Center for Teaching Excellence can serve as a conversation partner to help you think through such adaptations.

Preparing Students for Online Project Submissions

The watchword for any instructions that you provide students for remote project completion and online submission is clarity. A useful rule of thumb is to give students more details about assignment submission than you really think you need. Most students will appreciate the lack of ambiguity.

Moreover, in the wake of a sudden transition to remote learning, students may need to adapt quickly to unfamiliar software. Therefore, assigning a practice submission—ungraded and smaller in scale, but otherwise similar in terms of the essential elements—can help students get accustomed to the tools they must use to complete their higher-stakes graded assignments.

File Formats

Tell students exactly which file formats you will accept, and explicitly state the consequences for submitting work in other formats. If you are not sure which format will best meet your needs, please consult the CTE, the TechLearn team, or your division's Technology Liaison. In general:

  • For most text-based or image-based projects, PDF should serve well.
  • For most audio-only projects, MP3 should serve well.
  • For most video projects, MP4 should serve well.

Project Parameters

If various formatting parameters such as page or slide size, image resolution, font size, and so forth will affect students' grades—or even if you just want these things to be standardized to avoid potential inconsistencies—be sure to tell students about these factors up front. Please note that the default values for various software packages were determined by the applications' publishers for their own reasons, which generally do not include conformity with common academic style guides.