"I sent it!" "I never got it." Emailing assignments?
August 11, 2007 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Teachers/instructors/professors: What is your policy for accepting assignments through email?

I generally prefer assignments printed up so I can write comments more easily, but I like the idea of saving paper and giving students some flexibility for turning in their assignments if they have a legitimate need.

What I am really looking for is a guideline that will give students an option for email but dissuades them from using it to hand in papers late or skip class the day assignments are due.
posted by starman to Education (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Automatic 5-15 points off for the time stamp being after the start of class OR for them emailing and not showing up to class that day.
posted by odi.et.amo at 6:34 AM on August 11, 2007

I used the Blackboard digital drop box (I am training on ANGEL now). I just present the idea of turning in papers online as exactly the same as turning in papers in person. It needs to be to me before class (as odi.et.amo said) and I have a separate attendance grade. The two are not linked; my students need to be in class and they need to hand in things on time. I take 5 points off a day for lateness. That first 5 points is assessed if the time stamp is later than class.

A bonus electronic submission is that if you have any worries about plagiarism, electronic submission makes it easier to find. I am not even talking about EVE or TurnItIn. Most times, if there is plagiarized material, it is the third Google hit on the topic.
posted by oflinkey at 6:42 AM on August 11, 2007

I strongly discourage emailed papers. They get lost in the flood of my other email, I get students emailing me again "Did you get my paper?", the assignments come to me in odd file formats, and students think it is a substitute for coming to class.

In classroom courses I will occasionally accept a late emailed paper with the proviso that the student bring me a hard copy to the next class meeting.

Your best option for what you want to do is to create a course site in Blackboard or whatever your course management system. In Blackboard you can create an assignment (do not use the digital drop box) where students can submit their papers. They can see if it was successfully submitted (many will email you anyway!) and you can grade the papers digitally and return them via the same assignment category. I receive, grade, and return 300 papers a semester this way.
posted by LarryC at 6:43 AM on August 11, 2007

I love it. Cut & paste is that much easier for doing a plagiarism search, and it's pretty convenient to do editor-style commenting in Word.

It's also impossible for me to spill coffee on email papers, which threatens to drastically change my lifestyle.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:47 AM on August 11, 2007

You can ask them to send the assignments as PDF attachments. These can be commented on and marked up as needed. PDF's can be easily generated. Both Macs and PCs have "print to pdf" functionality from almost all apps.

There are freeware options available for PCs which enables a "PDF printer" in your Printer list.

Lastly there are PDF organizers that let you keep track of all your PDF documents (similar to iTunes).
posted by shr1n1 at 7:01 AM on August 11, 2007

I got an online host with fantastico, and installed Moodle to handle student papers (Installation was about three clicks).
posted by craniac at 7:05 AM on August 11, 2007

Best answer: There was an interesting thread a while back about how a student changed their computers clock a few days back and then emailed in their paper. The moral of the story: Email headers can be forged and cannot be trusted to timestamp. You need to use a central drop box (e.g. a file upload tool on a website) so there's no monkey business.
posted by kamelhoecker at 7:10 AM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've used blackboard drop box as a student and it was fine. Just a suggestion - if your computer labs allow them to print to PDF or if they can print to PDF on their own (free service?) you can comment on the PDFs, which is very easy. And to me as a writer, way less annoying than markup in word.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:26 AM on August 11, 2007

After some bad experiences my first semester, I told them I strongly, strongly discouraged the emailing of papers and that it was on them if for any reason I didn't get it. I haven't had to follow through with my threat to dock someone for not getting their paper in on time because they all come in hard copy now.

Email is extremely unreliable when papers are being sent, and seemingly only then.
posted by BackwardsCity at 7:38 AM on August 11, 2007

Inform students that they will get an emailed receipt of their paper. Receipt each emailed assignment with a different code.

Student: I emailed my assignment.
Teacher: what was the receipt number I gave you?
Student: Uhhh...

If they don't get a receipt back from you within a specified amount of time after submission, they should contact you -- make it their responsibility to ensure you got the assignment.
posted by media_itoku at 7:51 AM on August 11, 2007

Best answer: Be sure to specify up-front what formats you will accept. As in, .doc or .pdf only, with nothing from office 2007. Also, specify a due time in addition to a due date.

I would be wary of putting any sanctions on not being in class when papers are due. The few times I e-mailed papers to my professor were the times when I was legitimately sick--it's easier and more reliable just to turn in a hard copy. Impress this upon your students the first day--you'll accept e-mailed papers, but it's not a license to skip class, etc.

I like the idea of making it a habit to reply to every e-mailed paper that gets turned in with a "got it. thank you." message. Let your students know that they should expect a reply if they e-mail in stuff, and if they don't get one after a day or two, they need to contact you or see you after class or whatever.
posted by almostmanda at 8:11 AM on August 11, 2007

I don't accept emailed assignments (with occasional exceptions). I ask students to submit their papers to Blackboard (for plagiarism checks) and ask for hard copies. Emailed assignments clog up my mailer and I don't want to deal with students claiming that they emailed but I never received it.
posted by bluesky43 at 8:31 AM on August 11, 2007

You can ask them to send the assignments as PDF attachments.

I have to disagree. We've always used .rtf, and unless the student is using some wicked formatting, everything will come out fine and virtually any text reader will be able to open up the document. Plus, by forcing the students to save in rtf, it will allow them to use any computer and OS to work on their papers.
posted by jmd82 at 8:37 AM on August 11, 2007

Best answer: One semester I had all the students email their papers to me for every assignment. It really wasn't a terrible system. I set up an email account just for papers. The files HAD to be in Microsoft Word. I used timestamp as a lateness indicator and checked right after class just in case. I used auto email receipts. I really liked the ability to write my comments using the Word tracking system. You can print or email them back and the comments will still be intact. You can also change things right in the paper instead of correcting them on top of the words. The student will see the changes in bright red and can "uncorrect" them if they want. This was a good system for me during that particular class because I used parts of their work in my class plans. Cut and paste was really awesome.

Email assignments can be OK, but only if you plan for them. You are certainly within your bounds not to accept them at all so long as you make your policy clear at the beginning of the semester in the syllabus and stick to it. If you want to accept email assignments under dire circumstances, I would still employ the timestamp policy. Also, receipts may be useful to you. Then, the burden is on them.
posted by theantikitty at 8:51 AM on August 11, 2007

I do suggest using PDF. I have had problems with formatting using other formats. I'd say the best thing to do is to recommend using PDF. That way, the student knows that what they sent and what you see are exactly the same. If they want to send as rtf, doc, or some other reasonable format, fine. And make sure you are able to open whatever file format they throw at you. Some students are not as savvy as others, and will look at you with blank stares when you talk about choosing file types. I would let them just send their stuff in whatever file type they use as default (probably .doc).

I don't know how blackboard works, but if you have them send to your email instead, you'll of course want to avoid it getting dumped as spam, as you alluded. Make sure you collect the email addresses that all your students actually intend to use to send in their papers. Add them all to your contacts so they don't get sent to the spam folder. You could have them use their university email whenever they send something to you, but when I was a student, I would have thought that to be fascist. My university's email sucked. Also, if you can figure out a way for your account to send an auto response to your students saying basically "your email a (#) attachments were received." That way they know they don't need to worry. And finally, I would recommend, or require, that they include the plain text of their assignment in the body of the email as well, just in case there are crazy formatting and file type issues. I always did this when I was a student.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 8:58 AM on August 11, 2007

Also, my understanding is that timestamps can be forged, and fairly easily, by someone who knows a thing or two about smtp.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 9:02 AM on August 11, 2007

No. I'm not their printer. I really comment a lot, and don't want to type. I underline and circle and write all over their papers.
I had one assignment I needed electronic versions for. I offered extra credit for sending me the paper via email. It was a nightmare.
So, no. never.
posted by cccorlew at 9:07 AM on August 11, 2007

Windows XP does not come with a print-to-PDF feature. You have to buy Acrobat or its equivalent. I don't know about Vista.
posted by mendel at 9:15 AM on August 11, 2007

Thankfully, you never have to worry about this with math assignments. Unless, of course, your students know TeX, in which case they're probably too cool for school anyhow.
posted by TypographicalError at 9:32 AM on August 11, 2007

I let my students use either the digital drop-box or email for weekly response papers, but they have to hand in hard copies of their final papers.
posted by craichead at 9:39 AM on August 11, 2007

Also, a Tablet PC is the bee's knees for grading papers digitally. If you google "grading papers tablet pc" you will see what I mean.
posted by LarryC at 10:40 AM on August 11, 2007

I hate emailed assignments. I grade on paper, so it's no different for me except I get the hassle of printing students' papers.

I allow students to turn in papers by email if and only if they also bring a hard copy to school the next class. So the email copy is really just proving that they did it on time, and then I grade the hard copy, checking here and there for congruity with the emailed version.

I tell students that when I get their assignment, I will send a reply. If they do not get a reply, they should send it again or phone my office, because I didn't get it. Also, emailed assignments are at their risk -- if they email it and I get it late or never get it for whatever reason, including my spam filters eating it or me deleting it unread because it comes from sexycoed69@yahoo.com and I'm not going to open anything from that address, that's entirely their problem.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:29 AM on August 11, 2007

I don't accept them, generally. That said, if a student talks to me beforehand, and has a really good reason to not submit it personally, I'll probably let them e-mail it in RTF. (I'd be fine with PDFs, too, but I don't want to count on a student knowing how to get it to PDF).
posted by synecdoche at 11:30 AM on August 11, 2007

mendel: CutePDF Writer is a free, easy-to-install utility that allows you to print to PDF from any Windows application. I believe this is what shr1n1 was referring to.
posted by pantheON at 12:07 PM on August 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In my last class the professor only accepted papers via email. Each student sent the paper to the professor at a "grading only" email account and cc'd the Department admin support person.

The professor's account returned an automated response and the admin also sent a response manually. The admin was there as an impartial 3rd party to verify what was sent and when it was sent. We never had a problem.

Of course, this is a graduate program with a small number of students. If you have 500 students, it may not work. You might be able to have your TA substitute for the admin.
posted by 26.2 at 12:30 PM on August 11, 2007

I discourage email submissions, and while I'll take them in emergencies, I don’t give my students the benefit of the doubt if I don’t receive their email. My school uses WebCT (evil, evil, evil), and students have the option of submitting their paper through the Assignments link. There, they can check to see if their paper has uploaded, but again, if it didn't come through in a readable format, they get docked for lateness.

I had to be a hard-ass on this matter. When I accepted email submissions, I was getting too many late, sloppy papers or too many excuses for missing papers. Some students would wait until 10 weeks into the class to complain that I’d never returned a paper to them, and I got tired of tracking people down and saying “Now, did you mean to skip this assignment?”

On days that major papers are due, I set aside class time to work on specific grammatical/stylistic issues or proofreading strategies. (These workshops are graded too, to encourage attendance). At the end of class, they can submit their essays through WebCT, and I'll help them if they want. Some of my students who don't have a good word processing program or printer at home like this option.
posted by bibliowench at 1:15 PM on August 11, 2007

I accept them, but have relatively small classes (no more than 200 students across 3 courses per term). I go low tech: Must be in Word attachment (all submission details are on the assignment sheet), and I reply for receipt, their responsibility to ensure I receive it if I don't reply. I use tracking changes for comments. It works for me, and students like it. I get fewer excuses about 'the printer broke' blah blah and fewer late papers.
posted by kch at 3:54 PM on August 11, 2007

There's nothing more irksome than a student trying to e-mail an assignment that's already late. Sometimes I accept it, because I'm a nice person, but then it doesn't always get printed out, or it's not with the stack, and then it sometimes gets misplaced...I don't recommend it.

I grade on paper, so even though it seems like it's not a good use of paper, I still require hardcopies. It would be an interesting experiment to try to do the grading in word or Preview or something...but I think it would be harder.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:50 PM on August 11, 2007

doesn't word let you export to pdf? i'm pretty sure open office does.
posted by tremspeed at 7:47 PM on August 11, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks. I'll look into how easy it is to comment in PDF, have never tried before. Getting everyone on the same page for handing it in PDF might be tricky though.

I think a dedicated email account for assignments is a good idea, with auto-reply. Unfortunately gmail (my personal choice) will only send one auto-reply (vacation reply) per four days.

The key will be setting clear guidelines and sticking to them. Email at your own risk...
posted by starman at 8:38 PM on August 11, 2007

Both Macs and PCs have "print to pdf" functionality from almost all apps.

This is not the case for PCs if they're running a version of Windows earlier than Vista, which pretty much everyone is.

Email headers can be forged and cannot be trusted to timestamp.

If their e-mail account is either external to your university, or they're using your university's SMTP server to send mail, the time at which it arrived at your university's incoming servers will positively be in the headers.
posted by oaf at 9:52 AM on August 12, 2007

Same as most above; hard deadline, specify the file format (for me, MS Word); separate from attendance grading.

I vastly prefer email submission, especially for shorter assignments. I don't have to carry around 45 papers with me all week while I am grading. I can search quickly if I lose track of a paper. I have a permanent record of all assignments archived -- for years -- so that when students want a letter of rec from me I can go back and find their old work. And it saves paper. Yay.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:48 AM on August 13, 2007

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