Having taught high school English for ten years, I’ve dealt with lots and lots of paper. It seemed like every piece of information, every classroom activity, and every exercise and assignment required paper. With more than 100 students handing me a minimum of two or three pieces of paper every week, this became hundreds of papers I shuffled into folders, squeezed into paper clips, and lugged home and back.
This was my way of life for nearly a decade, until this year, when I availed myself of the technology in the classroom Schoology LMS that allows students to submit homework electronically. Now I feel like I’ve experienced grading and feedback in a whole new way. Schoology is not the only LMS available for electronic work submissions, and the reasons why I love student work submitted electronically extend to several other systems any teacher could use.
Perhaps it’s time you reconsider how you’re currently collecting, grading, and returning work to students, and if shifting this process to a digital landscape via technology n the classroom might be right for you.
Technology in the Classroom: The Perks of Digital Student Work Submissions
Here are the top reasons why I feel digital student work submissions have proven beneficial to both my students and me:
All work is stored online. Digital work submissions mean that when students turn in homework, their work is now accessible to both the teacher and the student simultaneously. Instead of only one person or the other having it at any one time, both parties can access their work any time, from anywhere they have an Internet connection. It also means the end of folders, crumpled papers, and lost work.
Feedback can be more extensive: I often found myself squeezing feedback into narrow margins or limited space at the top or bottom of pages. For as important as feedback was, my shoving it into tiny spaces only minimally served students. With digital work, the feedback is digital, too. This means that I can type much longer comments, giving students the easily readable and fully explained feedback they deserve.
Feedback is accessible at any point in the future: Digital feedback is stored online, so it’s accessible at any point in the future students need to refer back to it. This is especially useful as you focus on and off on certain skills throughout a year; students can look at all of their past feedback associated with particular areas and be better equipped to succeed with their next attempt.
Assignments and due dates are electronically posted: Just like student work is accessible any time, so are the assignment descriptions and due dates you give out. Students can’t lose your assignment description or forget what your due date is – it’s all there online!
Eliminates excuses: Like you can tell from many of the above perks, having digital work submissions helps to increase accountability for students. They can’t lose items; they can’t say they forgot details about it; they can’t claim misunderstandings. Teachers, too, benefit from not having to worry about keeping items organized with endless folders, rubber bands, and stacks. “The dog ate my homework” no longer applies. Although students may sometimes claim “the technology ate my homework,” it is hardly a viable or long-term excuse students can hide behind.
Lightens the load: All a teacher needs for working with student submissions now is a computer or tablet. That greatly decreases the quantity of items needed to be transported around school or back and forth to home. Hooray!
Of Course, There Are Things I Miss
Switching the manner of collecting and assessing work is an adjustment, and there are a few minor detriments that I’ve noticed along the way. I’ve gotten over these detriments fairly quickly, but still they’re worth of consideration if you’re thinking about making the switch.
Work exists “somewhere else”: Just like reading a digital book feels different than reading a physical one, the same is true for student work. I can’t hold or touch their work, and I can only see it when I access it through designated portals. Student work loses its tangible nature, and there’s an adjustment to seeing online submissions instead of that familiar stack of work.
Different kinds of feedback: There are many sophisticated feedback tools available through digital portals, but they’re not quite the same as ink-on-the-page methods. It’s easier on paper to fix comma errors, draw arrows and boxes, and generally interact with the text. Not that there’s not worthy digital replacements for these, but the way we provide feedback is somewhat adjusted.
Tech glitches or tech excuses: Sometimes “there was an issue with the technology” becomes the new “the dog ate my homework.” Technology is supposed to offer more solutions to problems, but sometimes it creates a few problems of its own. Students can easily claim “I submitted my work, I swear … it’s an Internet issue!” or “My device wasn’t working properly and I couldn’t turn it in!” Switching to an LMS doesn’t eradicate excuses, it just changes them.
The Best Way to Find Out
If switching to having students turn in their work electronically is an option for you, then the best way to see if it will work is to try it yourself. Paper is not going extinct and you can always resort back to it when you like. But if there is an opportunity for you to switch to an online system, definitely consider taking the leap! Like I said, I have found many more benefits than detriments, and I hope that you will too.
What do you think about having students submit their work electronically? What are the pros or cons that you’ve experienced? Talk to us about it in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.
Students learn quicker, and teaching is made easier
Overleaf is being used to teach mathematics, physics and other courses in universities around the world. Teachers use Overleaf for interactive demonstrations during class, and provide students with templated assignments which they can open & edit securely online - there's nothing for them to install to get started.
How do templates work? Open this homework assignment to see for yourself; it's as simple as that. Every student who clicks the link will create their own personal copy to complete and hand in. We can provide you with standard templates for assignments, problem sheets, and course notes, or you can upload your own.
The Teaching Toolkit provides management tools for easily collecting and distributing assignments - get in touch to discuss.
A short video introduction to creating and using a teach team
1) Create "Open in Overleaf" links to your resources
To open .tex files (e.g. course assignments) in Overleaf, simply use a link of the form below, replacing YourLink with the path to your .tex file:
Your students can now open them in Overleaf with one click! Here's an example in action: Open Escher Illusions in Overleaf.
2) Each student gets their own project
Every time the link is clicked it creates a new, unique Overleaf project from your original, so each student will have their own personal copy to work on.
3) You can make changes as your course progresses
If you update your file, simply tell your students to click on the link again - your changes will be visible instantly in the new Overleaf version.
Further options are available - please contact us or see our developers page if you have experience with html coding.
The Teaching Toolkit
The Teaching Toolkit package includes all the benefits of the free service plus:
1) Teacher's portal for tracking & reviewing assignments
Keep track of your students' work - our convenient portal page lets you track the last edits made by your students, and quickly collect and download the versions they submit for marking.
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We know things change - as well as the flexibility to change your files, you can re-allocate your licenses as required & add more if your class grows.
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Example Course: An Interactive Introduction to LaTeX
Students complete interactive exercises as they progress through this LaTeX course, originally given at Bristol University by Overleaf founder Dr John Lees-Miller.
Your success stories
“I have been a LaTeX user for the past 10 years and am an avid fan of cloud solutions, however, I've never found an online editor that was good enough. That is until Overleaf came along. The website and interface is excellent, so much so that I've designed the entire LaTeX part of the curriculum for a course I teach to now use Overleaf.”
Vincent Knight, LANCS Lecturer in Operational Research at Cardiff University.
“The good folks over at Overleaf have just pre-loaded my homework template so that my students no longer have to copy the contents from GitHub and then paste them into a new project at Overleaf. In fact, it's even better than that. They created a button for me that I just added to the bottom of the homework page of our course webpage that you can click to open Overleaf with the template preloaded. Awesomeness.I'm so glad that I chose Overleaf as the platform my students use to typeset their homework. And it just keeps getting better!”
Dana Ernst, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Northern Arizona University.
“It worked great. I posted the link to Moodle and had my students bring their laptops to class. Worked fine. I really like that the link includes the URL to my own file -- after class, based on their questions, I just updated my own webpage and told them to visit the link again. Very convenient interface, great job!”
Dan Drake, Visiting Assistant Professor, Mathematics and Computer Science, University of Puget Sound.