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In the third week of training for the Academic Technology Scholars program, we looked at assignments, activities, and assessments in an online format. Since I could probably write a book about these topics, as they are vast and have been my greatest interest and strength in my teaching career (still with tons of room for improvement), I will restrict this post to a singular idea: Moving forward, I believe that all assignments that students submit (within reason) should be submitted on Canvas, regardless of the pandemic. Below are my reasons why, in no particular order.

1. Assignments can never be lost.

Maybe this isn’t a problem for most people, but I always have to be very careful with student work because I am terrified of losing it. This is a simple benefit of online submission. On the student side, they also will not lose the graded assignment.

2. Assignments are all in one place.

Having assignments automatically organized for both teachers and students is very convenient. Last semester I was a grader during the transition to online learning, and while Blackboard’s tools were not as intuitive as Canvas’, I appreciated having everything in one place.

3. Flexibility in due dates is easier.

Most professors I’ve had have been nice enough to give extensions when I need them. As an experienced teacher, I know that it can be a pain to deal with these late assignments. Part of that pain is the fact that the late assignment might come in a different form. For example, maybe the on-time assignments were handed in during class on paper, but the late assignments are pdfs sent via email. Then, if you want to grade everything the same way, you have to print out the late assignment. Online submission removes this barrier, as all assignments have the same form and go to the same place.

4. Feedback can be given without altering the original submission.

Even though most assignments are completed in order to be seen and graded, I do sometimes feel bad marking up an assignment. In my high-school teaching days, I would often use rubrics, but I would also usually give students the opportunity to fix mistakes, so I would still need to point out where errors occurred using a small dot. Online, that is not a problem. The original work is preserved. However, rubrics can still be used, and are integrated directly into the grading tool!

5. Students can keep annotated versions of their assignments digitally.

Following up our previous points is the feature that lets students download their assignments that include the grader’s feedback. As a student, I try to save digital versions of everything I do, but that is difficult with graded homework assignments. I could take out the staple and run it through a scanner, but that is a tedious process. It would be much easier to simply download the annotated pdf from Canvas. I will note that I have not found a way to save the general comments, so I hope such a feature is added in the future.

6. Different types of feedback can be given.

The tools available in the Canvas grader are pretty neat. You can make boxes, highlight or strike through text, indicate points, draw freehand, or just put text directly on the assignment as you might while grading normally. Each of these features can be accompanied with a text comment, so it is very quick to make feedback clear. These tools are just translations from grading with pen and paper to grading online. A feature that I had not considered until seeing it this week is adding video comments. We learned that professors who give video comments spend a little more time giving feedback but give substantially more feedback. Additionally, while video feedback does not necessarily produce better grades for the students, it does increase student satisfaction with the course. This type of feedback is only possible with technology (outside of sitting down with each student, which is usually not feasible.) I will strongly encourage professors to try out this feature.

7. The types of assignments that are available could inspire different types of assignments.

When creating a new assignment on Canvas, there is a long list of external tools that can be used for submission. Just looking through this list gives me ideas for different types of submissions that I had not considered before. Perhaps a short research assignment could be submitted as an infographic using Adobe Spark. Perhaps an assignment could be submitted as a podcast or blog. These are not revolutionary ideas, but having the tools at your fingertips is a great way to inspire creativity.