The value of worksheets for asynchronous online courses

When I started teaching 15 years ago, I came to the profession with the belief that worksheets were an example of lazy teaching at the elementary school level. I don’t know where this idea came from, but it was a strongly held notion – and it was shared by other professors as well. Since then, I have discovered that worksheets are often the key to high quality student work, and I use them in all of my classes. I use them most often in my online classes, but there are times when they are invaluable in person as well. The following article focuses on the value of worksheets in asynchronous online courses, as I found them essential for this type of format.

When to implement worksheets

When I add new material to a class or create a new class, I tend to start simple and add worksheets when it becomes clear that they will be of benefit. For example, for a fairly long but essential reading, I assigned a short prompt: “Please read Chapter 10 and write a paragraph of at least 200 words on how the content of the chapter relates to your studies and to your goals, and what you can learn. from that. ”For my online courses in particular, the paragraphs written by the students indicated that most of them had only read part of the chapter or, in some cases, had not read everything. This was a particular problem as we weren’t able to discuss and interact with the material in person. I later added, “Please make sure to reference several concepts covered in the chapter.” , but it made little difference. The top five percent of the top performing students in those classes performed well, but the rest did not. It was a failure – not students but homework – and I was determined to remediate.

As I prepare for fall 2021, I have started to make some major changes. One obvious solution was to divide the reading into two parts. I have also expanded the “purpose” section of the assignment to make it clear why I am asking students to do reading and how much value they will gain by reading it. But the most significant change was the creation of a pair of worksheets (one for each part of reading) that required students to think about essential concepts of reading, and then apply them to short scenarios that I ‘ve created and their own studies. Although I only had proof after reading the full answers to both worksheets, I was sure the results would be a dramatic improvement – and they were.

Editing worksheets

There are still changes that I am learning that I will have to make. For example, I have to ask questions individually and not in pairs, otherwise some students will only answer one of the questions. When I asked the following questions: “In what ways are you involved in your community? How could you increase your civic engagement? This last question was often ignored, perhaps because they didn’t want to develop Part 2 after thinking about Part 1. Homework development is an ongoing process, but the work of the students I see on these worksheets is already much better. The students got interested in the material, they analyzed the readings and applied it to real life scenarios, and I think they clearly understand the concepts better now than they did when they started.

I also commonly use worksheets for the classroom workshop and asynchronous articles (vital!), Reflections, and group member assessments for group presentations. These are clearly more useful to me, but the answers are exponentially more thoughtful, insightful, and also useful for students. Worksheets also create an opportunity to reflect on homework, which is a great way to enhance student learning. And because it’s so hard to pretend you’ve done the job, when a worksheet is well designed, you have an indication of whether a student is struggling or understanding the material.

Spreadsheet complications

One area where worksheets can be problematic is if there is a section that students often miss or ignore. I have this problem with a worksheet in an interdisciplinary studies class where students offer their understanding of each individual discipline in which they work, followed by a discussion of their intersections and complications. Because students work with a different number of disciplines, most often two or three, my worksheet offers them three places to discuss their disciplines, followed by a final prompt. In practice, students who only focus on two disciplines often simply delete the end of the worksheet and call it finished. I give them a chance to add to the final section to improve their grade if they missed it, and they usually do, but it takes time.

There are a few good approaches to solving this kind of problem. The simpler, but potentially less efficient, approach is to put a note in the assignment instructions that the last and final prompt section should be completed. This solution depends on the complete reading and following of the instructions by your students. Each professor will have to determine for himself whether his students are likely to do so. In addition, making the rubric visible to students can also have a similar effect. Although for a smaller, lower stakes assignment, students may not take the time to read a topic entirely.

The next approach, which I have found to be very effective, is to create the spreadsheet as a quiz in Canvas. (Note, I have never tried doing this in Blackboard, so I can’t say if it would be effective, but I have colleagues who use Google Forms for a similar effect, and they are very excited about this. solution.) Each The quiz question can include text, links, images, and even a video, and each answer to the question comes in the form of an essay (or other answer format). Canvas allows students to start, save, and finish their work later, as long as you don’t limit the time allotted to take the quiz or set a very long time limit. Based on my experience, however, I would limit the amount of reading that students have to do for each question in the quiz. You can also assure students that this is not a quiz, despite the name, but an assignment; sometimes they ask and are worried.


Worksheets are basically instructions that tell students the steps needed to complete a task or describe the specific results we want to see. Too often we offer brief instructions, such as my example brainstorming prompt, and think that’s enough or imagine that students will dig in and persist even when they don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Conversations about the extent to which we should have to offer detailed instruction to students can be interesting, but the main concern is whether the job is done and understood. While creating spreadsheets takes time, the results can be absolutely wonderful if we do it right. The payoff for me as a teacher and facilitator of learning has been enormous.

Examples of worksheets

Meriah Crawford, PhD, is Associate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in the Department of Focused Investigation, where Crawford has taught for 15.5 years. Crawford holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine and a PhD in Literature and Criticism from Indiana University in Pennsylvania. She has published numerous short stories, one co-authored novel, a variety of non-fiction, and two poems. His academic work focuses on point of view and trauma. For more information, please visit the Crawford website:

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