Building Assignments in Canvas

“But I want my students to learn to keep their own calendars.  Auto-scheduling assignments for them doesn’t support this life skill.”

This was a colleague’s comment earlier this year as I was touting the benefits of building assignments in Canvas.  She collects papers in hard copy and had planned to provide students with PDF assignments through Canvas, and she felt strongly that students needed to be responsible for their own calendar.  While I too think it is crucial that students take responsibility for their learning, including keeping track of deadlines, building assignments in Canvas offers advantages to students and instructors alike that I find far outweigh my colleague’s concern.

Among the benefits to instructors:

  • We can easily link to any assignment from any other point in the course website
  • We can readily control the times when assignments are available
  • Due dates appear automatically in the CI calendar (Outlook/Mac)
  • We can set different due dates for different students (extensions, DASS)
  • We can grade with rubrics and with the Speedgrader (See my Grading with Rubrics blog post.)
  • Grades for assignments pull automatically into the Canvas Gradebook

Students’ advantages include:

  • A full list of published assignments appears as a “tickler” on the syllabus page
  • Assignments are automatically scheduled onto their Canvas calendar (no excuses!)
  • They can access all assignments directly through the ‘Assignments’ page on Canvas
  • Uploading through Canvas is very easy
  • And to my colleague’s concern, they learn to work with a digital calendar

In fact, just like instructors, students can pull their Canvas calendar into whatever calendar app they prefer.  To my mind, this mirrors the current real world quite effectively!

Building assignments in Canvas is very easy. If you are new to Canvas, I recommend working through Canvas 101: Canvas Self-Paced for Instructors, available on the CI Canvas Support page . It contains a module in which you will learn to build assignments.

Here are a few tips to supplement the assignments module in Canvas 101:

  • You can enter the assignment directly into the text box on Canvas, either typing it in or copying and pasting text from a word-processed document. Or, you can upload a file to which you then link in the text box. (I recommend PDF files, or if you need students to work inside a document .doc, .xsl, .ppt files, as not all students can open .docx, .xslx, .pptx files.)
  • Always specify the ‘Submission Type’ as students will rely on this information to know how to submit their assignments. (i.e., if they are submitting a hard copy be sure to change the setting to ‘On Paper,’ or else they may think that they don’t need to submit anything at all!)
  • Use the ‘Available from’ and ‘Until’ calendar elements to limit when students have access to the assignment.
    • The dues date for the assignment will appear on the Canvas calendar as soon as you publish the assignment, but students will not be able to see the instructions or work on the assignment until the ‘available from’ date rolls around.
    • Students will be able to submit late assignments until the ‘until’ date is reached
  • Note that students can resubmit new versions of assignments until the ‘until’ deadline is reached. This gives you flexibility to permit students to revise and resubmit for a new grade on an assignment—but it also means that you need to exercise care when grading items early as students might take your feedback and resubmit, or they might realize and error and resubmit while you are in the process of grading.
  • If you want to offer extra credit, create an assignment that is worth 0 points. You can still give points when you grade this assignment. (See my upcoming Extra-Credit in Canvas blog post.)
  • See my next blog post Grading with Rubrics to see how to maximize the advantages of the Assignment and SpeedGrader features, for swift and consistent grading.

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