Oncourse Assignments: No more paper cuts!

A few years ago I made the decision to stop grading papers. This might come as a bit of a surprise to my Spanish students, as they still have to do homework and write research papers. What I really did was come to the conclusion that I was done with paper. I was spending way too much time trying to keep track of who had turned in which assignment, when they turned it in, whether or not I had handed it back or recorded the grade… and let’s face it, handwriting skills are not universally emphasized anymore. (Frankly, that goes for me, too – my poor students have had trouble for years deciphering my scrawl). I was done with it all. I went digital.

I became a very heavy user of Oncourse’s Assignments tool, in all of its incarnations. The current version has several features that have made my transition to purely digital assignments much easier.

One of my favorites is the flexibility with due dates and submissions. With Assignments, I can set the open date and time; often, I set the open date for right after class ends on a particular day, so my more wired students won’t end up distracted during class. Having both date and time for the due date is helpful if I want students to turn something in before the next class starts. If I want something submitted by the end of the day, I’ve started making the “due time” 11:59pm. Otherwise I always worry that someone will get confused about the time (is 12:00am midnight or noon?) and date (if it says the due date/time is 12:00am on the 24th, does that mean submissions will be rejected as of 12:01am on the 24th, or not until 12:01am on the 25th? I’ve never been clear on the answer to that, btw).   

Screenshot of Assignments 2 Availabilty options

The “Post Open Date to Announcements on Open Date” option is very helpful. I like having notice of a new assignment appear on the first page of my course site, but it used to be that my announcement would show up as soon as I saved a new assignment… even if it wasn’t open yet. So I’d get flooded with email messages from eager students who tried to start working on the assignment right away only to find it wasn’t available yet. Now, the announcement stays hidden until the day and time I set. Bravo!

If I decide students can earn partial credit on a late assignment, I can set a different “Accept Until” date. This can get confusing for students, however, as they see (Late) after the due date and often assume that it’s too late.  However, if you look closely at the example below, you can see that one of these two assignments has “View Details and Submit” versus just “View Details.” So this is one I still get email messages about from students (this time the desperate ones who didn’t submit before the posted “Due Date” and thus feel compelled to attach their homework to an email message and beg for leniency).


Note that the first assignment here is closed to submissions, but the second one will still allow you to submit – it’ll just be marked “Late.” I always insist that students post their work in Assignments, even if they’ve just sent it to me as an attachment via Oncourse email. As I tell them, I need to have everything in the same place, or I lose track of what has been turned in and what hasn’t. I’ll admit it; I’ve had to change course grades in the past upon discovering a missing assignment in my email instead of in the Assignments tool where it belonged!

The other problem that would crop up from time to time was students submitting their work and then needing to make changes for one reason or another. I’d end up with the updated files sent to my email inbox once again, and I don’t always remember to check my inbox while I’m grading assignments because, well, that’s not where they’re supposed to be. So I made the executive decision to change the “Number of Submissions” to Unlimited for pretty much every assignment.

This way, I can redirect students back to Assignments (instead of getting yet more files via email), and I have a history of all submissions in one handy place. I like that when I’m ready to grade, the most recent submission is listed first, and then I can dig down to look at older submissions if I want.

Every once in a while I’ll have a few students who genuinely learn better if they write things out by hand. I hate to discourage students who know what learning strategies work for them. Then I realized that many of our Student Technology Centers have scanners! Now I simply request that things like diagrams or other handwritten work be scanned and then attached to the assignment in Oncourse.

The best part of all this is I no longer have piles of papers to carry around, or spill coffee on, or drop in puddles, or misplace entirely. I’m never going back!

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