By Teachers, For Teachers
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.
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!
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.
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.