The big question from any student taking an online class is always, “what’s due this week?”
This second blog on Learning Management Systems will focus on setting up and managing due dates.
One of the things I always preach in my Secrets to Teaching Online seminars is that it’s critical that the requirements of the class are readily apparent to the students. From the course design perspective, this means that due dates should be attached to all the assignments and discussion forums, and the students should be able to see at a glance what’s due, and when its due.
Canvas provides the most functionality in this area. Canvas allows the instructor to assign due dates to both assignment and to the discussion forums. For instance, for the last week of my class, I indicated that all assignment submissions and discussion forum posts were due by 11:59 pm on Sunday December 14.
Canvas also displays the due dates to students in several ways. First, when looking at the class modules, the due dates are listed on the right side of screen following the assignment. So if a student is looking at either the module for a given week (and you’ve organized the assignments and discussions in a logical way), the student can tell at a glance what’s due on what date. Canvas also lists upcoming deliverables on the right side of the screen, an additional way to tell at a glance what’s due.
Additionally, Canvas has an Assignments tab that can be set up to show students all the assignments and other activities for the class along with their respective due dates.
One drawback with Canvas is that it only displays the due dates, not the times. I had an instance where some assignments were due at 6 pm the night of class and others where due at midnight following the class, but only the dates were visible, so students ended up confused as to the requirements. If you are teaching an online class, it’s a good practice to keep the times consistent across all the assignments to avoid this type of confusion. I’ll adapt the class to the software the next go round.
A second drawback with Canvas is that only one due date is allowed for a discussion forum. In my classes, I require an initial post by Friday with the response posts due by Sunday. Since Canvas only allows one due date, I’ve been setting the due date to be Sunday, and students have to remember the Friday deadline without a prompt from the system. Multiple posting prompts would be a great enhancement.
One other consideration in setting up due dates in Canvas is they have to be maintained. Canvas’s copy a class and adjust the dates function tends not to work very well, so I usually plan about an hour to update the due dates when reusing a class shell. It’s a little bit of extra effort, but it saves confusion later on.
Blackboard and Moodle don’t have a place to put due dates for assignments or discussions. This saves a bit on set up time, but makes it more difficult for students to track what’s due.
When using these systems, its important that the content of each course module be grouped in such a way that a student can see what’s required for that week. For instance, I’ll create a topic heading of “Assignments” and then group all of the assignments for the week under this heading. I’ll do the same thing for the “Discussions,” “Exercises,” etc. This technique is not as robust as what Canvas allows, but it does the job.
The absence of due date functionality in Blackboard and Moodle is most apparent when the course is not laid out clearly, and students are forced to hunt through the course to figure out what’s due, all the while hoping they haven’t missed something.
I should note that there is functionally in both Blackboard and Moodle that allows access to an assignment or discussion to be restricted to a certain date range. You can control late submissions by having an assignment disappear Sunday at midnight, but this functionality does not replace a due date function or well organized class that let’s students see what’s due at a glance.
Score: 2 points Canvas, 0 points Blackboard and Canvas.
If I actually were allowed to build my ideal here, each student deliverable would have a due date, and the due dates would be built dynamically off a user entered course start date.
Want to run the class again next semester, simply adjust the course start date and all the other dates automatically adjust. Canvas tries to include this functionally with their course copy functions, but my experience has been that the results are