Assignments for Virtual Courses: A Survival Guide for Faculty

One key challenge for virtual courses is assignments. Because students and instructors do not have face-to-face interaction, managing the process can be quite a challenge – and doubly so in these trying times. Here I offer two simple suggestions for effective management of assignment.

Suggestion #1: Use an Online Learning Platform


To receive assignments, using an online platform such as Blackboard or Canvas can be a huge help. You can set a deadline and instructions, and students will then submit their work through the system. This approach avoids a huge amount of email traffic.


In using an online learning platform, it is important to inform students of deadlines well in advance and send reminders. Allowing late submissions is also a good idea, as otherwise students will start sending assignments on email. This creates chaos and confusion.


If you do not have access to an online learning platform, you may need to get innovative. You could, for example, ask students to have the work ready for a synchronous session and set aside the last 5 minutes for students to send on email, so that you can give clear instructions and receive all the submissions at the same time.


Suggestion #2: Centralize and Structure Feedback


One challenge with feedback in a virtual course is that it can get chaotic. To avoid constant back-and-forth with students, set aside certain time blocks during the week for reviewing student feedback. If you receive any queries or follow-ups, archive them and deal with them in one go, again during another time slot.


This approach benefits both you and, less obviously, the student. You will avoid distraction, which is fatal to any serious academic work. But it will also help the student, as you will offer feedback when you are “in the zone”, instead of in a haste. You can also communicate your feedback timeline to the students, so that they are aware of the structure.


About the Author

Johannes Urpelainen is the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Professor and Director of Energy, Resources and Environment at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (Washington DC, USA). He is the Founding Director of the Initiative for Sustainable Energy Policy (ISEP). He serves as a senior advisor for ViaX Online Education, a a Beijing-based learning and education company.


Johannes Urpelainen works as a senior advisor for ViaX Online Education. The views presented in this blog are the author’s alone.