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Online Teaching & Learning Guide: Readings, Assignments, Projects & Discussions

Readings, Assignments, Projects, and Discussions

When moving a class online without much time to prepare, focus on the core learning objectives, and let go of unnecessary formality. For instance, if students usually turn in a lab report printed on paper, consider an alternative such as completing an interactive simulation, comparing it with the textbook, and then writing an analysis essay to submit electronically. Check out the advice piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Going Online in a Hurry," for more insights into rethinking assignments for online instruction.
The information on this page includes:

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What are my options for finding and posting readings that students can access electronically?

How can I hold students accountable for readings in an online learning setting?

Students can:

Assignments include Quizzes, graded Discussions, and online submissions (i.e. files, images, text, URLs, etc.). See the Canvas Guide for how to create an online assignment for more information. 
Depending on the type of assignment, there are a variety of ways for students to submit their work online. If a live class presentation is required, then a web-based conferencing program like WebEx would be the best choice. Students can use WebEx to give class presentations using PowerPoint slides, audio, video, or text chat. Students can also use WebEx to record presentations that can be accessed through their Canvas course site and viewed later by the entire class. Check out our WebEx for Teaching and Learning guides here: WebEx for faculty, WebEx for students. (Note: For recordings and video conferencing involving observing clinical sessions, telemedicine activities, discussing patient information, etc., please refer to subject-specific HIPPA guidelines.)
Grades can be recorded and monitored in the Gradebook in your Canvas course site. Speed grader can be used to provide feedback and comments on student work. You can track student work and notify students of their progress by using Canvas Analytics.
Canvas Discussions: The following are recommended best practices for using the discussion board in Canvas.
  • Require student participation
  • Grade students' posts
  • Require students to comment on each others' work
  • Structure discussions
  • Relate discussions to your course objectives
  • Pose questions and scenarios that require students to relate the discussion to their own experience
Canvas Conferences: This is a synchronous collaboration tool for text chats, whiteboarding, and guided instruction. (No audio or video conferencing capability.) See a detailed description and setup instructions on the Canvas Community site. This online annotation tool can be used to hold discussions, read socially, organize your research, and take personal notes. For more information about using, see our presentation slides, our handout with step-by-step instructions for instructors, and video tutorials by

For asynchronous discussion groups, you can use the People menu in the Canvas to create small groups. See the Canvas Community site for instructions on how to set up a group in Canvas. is another asynchronous option for small group electronic discussions. This online annotation tool allows instructors to create and moderate groups in which students can share annotations and comments with their classmates. Read the Annotating with Groups guide from or refer to the previous FAQ on this page for more information. 
For synchronous (real-time) discussion, you can use Canvas Conferences or WebEx training sessions through Canvas. WebEx allows you to create breakout rooms that simulate small group discussion. These can include group whiteboard, application sharing, audio, video, and text chat. Students can work together on projects, record and save their work, and share with the rest of the class. See this PDF tutorial from UNC, Charlotte for tips on getting started.
  • Before implementing a grading scheme for a discussion board, consider why you want students to add posts. If your goal is participation, you can determine how many posts each student has contributed to the discussion and have Canvas automatically grade the forum based on the number of posts. These grades can be directly added to the Grade Center for your course.
  • If you want to grade the posts for content or length of post, you will have to manually grade each post and enter the grades into the Grade Center.
  • Finally, students can grade each other using the same rubric that you provided for the discussion board. This strategy helps students reflect on the quality of the conversation rather than the quantity of posts or post length.
  • Note: You are welcome to use the rubrics, assignment templates, and syllabus templates that we have created for JMU faculty. Log in with your JMU e-ID to get started.

How do students present to the class?

Students' individual presentations can be done asynchronously with a screen recording tool like Screencast-o-Matic, which allows recordings up to 15 minutes for free. Students can upload their recordings to Youtube with the privacy set to Unlisted and share the Youtube link to class Discussions on Canvas. Check out the Beginner's Guide to Screencast-O-Matic for videos and written instructions on getting started.

Students can also collaborate on a FlipGrid through Canvas to present as a group with short videos. If you are already familiar with FlipGrid, check out slides from our presentation on FlipGrid and Canvas or this Canvas blog article: Using FlipGrid in Canvas. Using FlipGrid for the first time? Check out this tutorial video for beginners on Creating Video Assignments in FlipGrid.

Students can also audio narrate with video/audio posts to Discussions in Canvas. Learn more in this Discussions Overview video from Canvas.