Laura Gibbs

Non-Disposable Assignments & Circulating Student-Created Content

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Oct 29, 2017

The student-created content is the most important part of my classes (and, IMO, it should be the most important part of any class... more on the topic of non-disposable assignments here and here and here; search Google for more).


Once you retool your syllabus to shift from disposable to non-disposable assignments, that means you then have a lot of student-created content that needs to be "surfaced" in the class, connecting the content to an audience. Canvas doesn't really offer anything to help with this, but it's a really important aspect of course design, and in this post I'll quickly review the tools I currently use for surfacing student content.


You can see three strategies on the same page in my class Project Directories: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics. Each of those directories displays the student projects in three different ways:
a static list of links (boring, but useful)
a randomizer (reload the page to see a new project at random)
a stream of recent work (with thumbnail images)


screenshot of directory


The idea is that students have different ways to find content when they come to the Directory page. They can scan the list of links, which is most useful when they already know what they are looking for, like when they have a favorite project they want to read and comment on again. They can see a project at random (the commenting assignment each week usually involves at least one random assignment; that's how I try to make sure there's a good distribution of comments). And they can also scan the thumbnails to see if something grabs their attention; images can be powerful attention-getters.




Link List. I create the static link list using a spreadsheet, which also contains the same raw data that I use to create the randomizer. So, creating the link list doesn't require anything extra, and the spreadsheet data is useful in all kinds of ways:


screenshot of spreadsheet


Randomizer. I create the randomizer using the amazing tool by Randy Hoyt; I just copy-and-paste the HTML out of the spreadsheet into a text file, upload the file to, and, presto! — I have a javascript which I can deploy anywhere that javascripts are accepted, and that includes Canvas (visit my Canvas Widget Warehouse for lots of randomizing scripts).

screenshot of


Stream. To create the live stream with thumbnails, I use Diigo to bookmark each new page at the students' projects as they turn them in (each project usually has about four or five pages total over the semester), and I save an image from the page to Diigo also. I am subscribed to the Diigo RSS via Inoreader, which gives me that nice magazine view display. I can also tweak the Diigo feed during revision weeks when a student has turned in an assignment but not a new page; I just add "bump" to the Inoreader tags to update the record, which causes it to come to the top again in the stream. Here's the stream as it appears in Diigo:



screenshot of Diigo




A static list of links doesn't have any reuse value (except that you can copy and paste it... but then you have to remember to update it in every location, ugh), but the javascript and the RSS stream can be reused in multiple locations. For example:


Reusing randomizers. I can put the javascript randomizers in assignment pages, like this Week 10 Commenting assignment:


screenshot of comment assignment


Reusing the stream. I embed the project stream with thumbnails inside Canvas like this (that's an open course, so click and look for the current view); the content updates automatically as I bookmark new items in Diigo.


screenshot of stream in Canvas


I also have that same project stream as the homepage at the course content website, putting student content right there on the front page. It's the same content stream as in Canvas and in the Directory, automatically updated here for students to see whenever they visit this site to choose their weekly reading.


screenshot of course site





I've been teaching with a focus on student content for many years, and the advent of some new tools, especially Inoreader, have really helped me in getting that content into circulation so that students can have audiences for their work. I don't know if/when Canvas will ever switch its focus from quizzing/grading to student-created content, but that is a development I would welcome, especially given that many faculty are not going to use other tools and are relying on Canvas to lead the way. If Canvas can lead the way to more non-disposable assignments, I think that would be a good direction to go!


Pinging Jared Stein since non-disposable students assignments are just as important as OER in my opinion. Even more so. :-)