Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Digital Assignment: How Do You Accept Assignments?

When I look back even 5 years ago, I've seen a significant change in the ways in which faculty take assignments. I know faculty have been taking digital assignments as far back as the 1990s but it often seemed the exception whereas now it feels much more like the rule. We all remember the frantic whirlwind of getting an assignment to an instructor (often after waiting until the last minute to write it) by battling printers or lines at the printers, traffic, crowded hallways, etc just to get that paper in before the end of class, only to repeat this several times each semester.

While there are many benefits to taking online assignments (less chance of losing it, time stamps, environmentally friendly, less redundancy, etc), there are definitely some drawbacks and every person has their own method of doing it.  Below are some of the different methods of taking digital assignments that you may be using or considering using. 

EMAIL
Email is still a popular method of receiving digital assignments as it remains a standard go-to place for students and faculty alike. 
Benefits
Email is easily accessible for most people.  You don't have to dig too far down into a learning management system to find it and you can do searches to find things.  With NSCC's Gmail server, we have a large space (30 gigabytes and counting) with which to store our emails and attachments.  You will also have an exact time stamp of when the student sent it.
Drawbacks 
Organizing assignments as they come in can be challenging. Finding and sorting along with downloading each assignment can be time-consuming; especially if you intend to send them back with comments (and thus have to upload the assignments again).  Improper file formats mean more back and forth with the student.  The excuse "I sent it, you didn't get it?" can be come fairly common (whether truthful or not).
Tips
  • Have students put a specific but unique word in their subject line (such as your course code) to make it easier to find and search.
  • Create labels and use filters
  • Be sure to reply to students to let them know you received their paper.  It can be a very simple response that you copy and paste into each, but it will be useful for the students to know.
  • Include in your syllabus and elsewhere that this will be the method of submission for course assignments.
ANGEL DROPBOX
Every course at NSCC has an ANGEL shell and you can create dropboxes for your assignments.  Students would then log into ANGEL and go into the course shell in order to upload their assignment. 
Benefits
All of the assignments are in one place for you to see and to download in a single batch.  You can see what time students passed in their assignment and grade them all in the same place as well as use a grading rubric.  If you use ANGEL's Automate feature, you can have an email sent to students who haven't uploaded the paper by the appointed time.  Students can receive an email when their grade is posted. 
Drawbacks 
Using the dropbox still requires students to be shown what it is and how to use it within class time.  It also means setting up a dropbox for assignment to prevent confusion for students.  Also, it's best used when using the gradebook in full.  While there is batch download, you still need to upload graded papers with comments one by one.  Like email, there is still the issue of file format since students may not upload the preferred or required file format, causing delays. 
Tips
  • Make sure you spend some class time (5 minutes or so) showing students how to get into ANGEL and upload their file.
  • When setting up the dropbox, be sure to include instructions (including file format, due date, links to relevant resources, etc) in the message box.  
  • Make use of the advance settings in the dropbox to determine when you will stop submissions, how many submissions you will take and other matters to make it more efficient for you. 
  • Include in your syllabus and elsewhere that this will be the method of submission for course assignments.
GOOGLE DRIVE
Faculty are increasingly using and enjoying the benefits of Google Drive with its suite of programs including a word processing program, spreadsheet program, and presentation program that students can use and save themselves money by not buying expensive programs like Microsoft Office.
Benefits
The ability to create student folders where all of a student's work can be found.  No uploading or downloading.  Easy to comment and provide feedback to the student.  Opportunity to use text-chat or the comment feature to have back and forth discussions about assignment.  The program is already tied to the students' School email so it's easy to locate.  The Google Drive app allows for students and faculty to access the content regularly without signing in and out of the school's system.  Easy citation system.  Lots of good How-To resources to direct students towards (as well as for yourself).  One singular file format.
Drawbacks
There's a big learning curve since many students haven't used it yet.  The sharing of files and folders can get confusing.  Though there are work-arounds, if the student doesn't have consistent internet access, it can be cumbersome.  Google regularly updates or changes their suite of tools which can confuse faculty and students.
Tips
  • Have the students create their own Folder that they share directly with you (and then put all of their folders into your own "Class Folder."
  • Make note of the "Revision" feature under the File menu.  This can provide a history of the project being made which can be useful in understanding how a student is working.
  • Include in your syllabus and elsewhere that this will be the method of submission for course assignments.
eCONTENT DROPBOX
Publishers are now creating very robust learning management systems that are accompanying their books.  These eContent web-based (and sometimes software-based or app-based) programs will have a dropbox similar to the one in ANGEL but may have some extra features. 
Benefits
If you are using the other eContent, then it is one central place to house your materials.  The eContent site will often have clear instructions on how to use the dropbox.  All of the assignments in one central location.  Some of them will allow for any file format to be uploaded and for the instructor to download in a preferred format.
Drawbacks
If you're not using much else of the eContent, this becomes more cumbersome to students (especially, if they did not buy a new book).
 Students may have access problems and not be able to complete the work or just email it instead. 
Tips
  • Be sure to spend some class time familarizing your students with the environment.
  • Include in your syllabus and elsewhere that this will be the method of submission for course assignments.


What methods and programs do you take digital assignments in?  What obstacles do you contend with when doing so?  What solutions have you found?  What tips would you add to the ones above?