Giving students meaningful choices about how they demonstrate their learning can help students become self-directed learners who can apply the skills they learn with us in their future endeavours. However, for instructors in an online learning environment, giving meaningful choices can quickly become a logistical nightmare. Thankfully, there are things you can do to facilitate meaningful choices in an online learning environment without creating a mess in your course. 

Choose Your Own Assignment Topic

There are several ways you can give students a choice of what topic they want to focus on for their assignment. I’ve chosen three and ordered them from simplest to most complex in terms of set up in VIULearn. 

1. Free Topic Choice 

The easiest way to allow students to choose a topic is to allow students to freely choose with no limits on how many students can select a specific topic. With this approach, you can give a list of topics to choose from, or ask students to come up with their own topic and all students can submit their assignments to a single assignment submission folder for evaluation. 

If you want to approve student topic choices, you can do this through email or set up a discussion topic to contain all of your students’ topic choices and questions about the assignment in one easily accessible place. 

Steps: Set up a private discussion

A video walk through can be found here.

A private discussion space allows students to communicate with you inside your VIULearn course without making their posts or your replies visible to other members of the course. There are two pieces to setting this up: (1) set up individual groups, and (2) set up the discussion. 

Set up individual groups:
  1.  Go to the Groups tool by selecting Communication and then Groups from the course navigation bar 
  2. Click New Category 
  3. Give the Category a Name
  4. Under Enrolment Type select Single user, member-specific groups 
  5. Click Save 
  6. VIULearn will automatically create one group for each student in your classlist and the group will be named for the student enrolled in that group.   
Set up a group discussion: 
  1. Go to the Discussions tool by selecting Communication and Discussions in the navigation bar 
  2. If you already have a forum set up, skip to step 6. 
  3. Click New andthen  New Forum 
  4. Enter the title for your forum 
  5. Click Save and Close 
  6. Click New and then New Topic
  7. Select the forum you want the topic to be located in 
  8. Select “Group or section topic, everyone can access this topic but students only see threads from their own group or section” 
  9. Give your topic a Title 
  10. Enter a description if desired
  11. Click Save and Close 
Add your discussion to Content (optional)
  1. Go to the Content tool by clicking Content in the course navigation bar
  2. Go to the module you want to add the discussion to 
  3. Click Add Existing Activities and select Discussions from the list
  4. Click on the forum that contains your discussion topic 
  5. Click the title of the topic to add a link to Content 

2. Choose From a List of Assignments

Another way to give students choice is to offer more assignments over the course than any one student needs to submit for grades. Students can then choose which assignments are the most interesting or relevant to them and complete those assignments for grades. 

VIULearn makes it easy to exempt students from assignments they don’t need to complete towards their final grade. There are two ways you can set this up. The best way will depend on whether all assignments will be equally weighted, or if students will complete varying numbers of assignments based on individual assignment weights. 

Steps: Assignments are equally weighted

If all of your assignments have the same weight, you can set up a grade category to drop a specified number of assignments for students so only their grades for the assignments they choose to count towards their grade will be calculated into their final grade. 

Set up Grade Category
  1. Go to the Grades tool by clicking Assessment and Grades in the course navigation bar
  2. Click New and then Category 
  3. Give the category a Name
  4. Enter the total weight of all items within the category towards the final grade in the weight field 
  5. Under Distribution, select Distribute weight evenly across all items
  6. Enter the number of assignments that students will not be responsible for completing in the box for “Number of lowest non-bonus items to drop for each user” 
  7. Click Save and Close
Create Grade Items in the Category 

Repeat these steps for each assignment or activity in the category.

  1. Go to the Grades tool by clicking Assessment and Grades in the course navigation bar
  2. Click New and then Item 
  3. Select Numeric 
  4. Give your grade item a Name 
  5. Select your category from the Category drop-down
  6. Enter the maximum number of points a student can achieve on that activity in the Maximum Points field. 
    1. The weight field will be greyed out and will automatically update as you add items to the category
  7. Click Save and Close

If you have already created grade items for your activities, you can edit existing activities to add them to a category by selecting the grade items and clicking Bulk Edit. You can assign a grade item to a category in the rightmost column. When you are finished, click Save to apply the changes.

Steps: Assignments have different weights

If students will be completing a variable number of assignments to make up their grade for the course, you can configure your gradebook to drop any item that does not have a grade. 

  1. Go to the Grades tool by clicking Assessment and Grades in the course navigation bar
  2. In the upper right corner, click Settings
  3. Go to the Calculation Options tab
  4. Scroll down to Grade Calculations and select Drop ungraded items
  5. Click Save and then Close 

VIULearn will automatically treat any grade item where a student does not receive a grade as a dropped (or exempted) item. 

Please Note: If students do not complete enough activities to make up the total weight of the course, you will need to manually enter a grade of 0 for activities to get an accurate final calculated grade for that student. If the total weight of the graded items for a student does not add to 100, VIULearn will reweight the items that have grades in order to calculate a final grade out of 100. 

3. Limit How Many Students Can Choose Each Topic 

When offering students a list of topics, you may want to limit how many students can work on which topics. This makes your marking more interesting by assuring you won’t have to grade 30 papers on the exact same topic and helps promote academic integrity as students will be focusing on different elements of the course. 

Steps: Create sign up using Groups

VIULearn’s Groups tool allows you to create groups that a limited number of students can sign up for. This is a great way to set up a first come, first serve sign up sheet for assignment topics. You will need to create a set of self-enrolment groups and then rename these groups to reflect the topic choices. 

Create Groups
  1.  Go to the Groups tool by selecting Communication and then Groups from the course navigation bar 
  2. Click New Category 
  3. Give the Category a Name
  4. Add instructors or a description in the Description box (optional) 
  5. Under Enrolment Type select # of Groups, Capacity of # – Self Enrolment
  6. Enter how many students can choose each topic in the Number of Users box 
  7. Enter the number of available topics students can choose from in the Number of Groups box 
  8. Click Save 
Rename Group 

Repeat for each group in the category

  1. In the Groups tool, make sure you have selected the correct group category (the most recently created category will display by default) 
  2. Click on the name of the Group you want to rename 
  3. Edit the Group Name and add a description if desired 
    1. Students will see the group name and description when they go to sign up for a group. 
  4. Click Save
Give students a direct sign-up link (optional) 

To make it easier for students to sign up for their topic, you can create a direct link inside a content file to the sign up page. 

  1. Go to the Content tool by clicking Content in the course navigation bar
  2. Go to the module you want to add the link to
  3. Click Upload/Create and choose Create a File from the menu 
  4. Give the file a title 
  5. Enter any text you want to accompany the link. 
  6. Click Insert Quicklink (the third icon from the left, shaped like chain links)
  7. Choose Self-Enrollment Groups from the list 
  8. Click on the name of your Self-Enrollment Groups category. A link will be added to the file. 
  9. Make any additional changes to the file content and then click Save and Close 
  10. Students who follow the link will see a page like this:

Choose Your Own Assignment Format

The format or mode of an assignment is another element where you can give students choice in their assignment. Instead of just asking every student to write a research paper, you might allow them to demonstrate their research findings in any format they like ( a video, an infographic, a painting with an explanation etc.)  In VIULearn, this kind of choice is very easy to accommodate. 

VIULearn assignment folders can accept a wide range of file types which allows students to submit written documents, images, video, or audio files as their assignment. Students also get a comment area when submitting their assignment where they can embed web objects or link to a website. This flexibility allows you to collect a wide range of assignments in a single assignment folder for evaluation. 

When it comes to evaluating assignments where the mode of demonstrating knowledge is up to the student, a rubric that focuses on the core competencies students must demonstrate can help students know exactly what they need to do and make your marking easier. 

Steps: Create a VIULearn Rubric

Set Up a Rubric in VIULearn 

Rubrics can vary widely from discipline to discipline, and instructor to instructor. These steps are for creating a scored rubric which has flexibility to weight some rubric criteria more heavily than others. You can also watch a video demo of how to build a basic rubric here.

  1. Go to the Course Administration page by clicking Faculty Tools and then Course Admin in the course navigation bar 
  2. Locate and click on Rubrics (if your Course Administration area is sorted by categories,  you will find Rubrics under Assessment) 
  3. Click New Rubric 
  4. Give your rubric a name 
  5. Select Type: Analytic, and Scoring: Custom Points
  6. Adjust the number of levels you want to include in your rubric using the Plus icon to add levels or the trash can icon to remove a level 
  7. Enter your Criteria into the rubric. You can add additional criteria by clicking Add Criterion or remove criteria by clicking the trask icon at the end of a criteria row. 
  8. For each criterion, enter the maximum number of points a student can achieve on that criterion in the leftmost column. 
    1. VIULearn will automatically scale the points for each level based on that maximum. You can then adjust the points per level to match the maximum number of points a student could receive for each level. 
  9. For the overall Rubric level, set the points to the minimum number of points required to reach that level.
  10. The Rubric tool saves as you work. When you are finished making changes, click Close
Connect Rubric to Assignment in VIULearn 

Once you have created your rubric, you can connect it to an assignment so that students can see the rubric before submitting and so you can use it when you evaluate submissions. 

Using the new assignment creation experience 
  1. Go to the Assignment tool by clicking Assessment and then Assignments from the course navigation bar
  2. Click the arrow beside the assignment you want to connect your rubric to and choose Edit Assignment from the menu 
  3. Click on Evaluation & Feedback 
  4. Click Add Rubric and Add Existing 
  5. Check the box next to the rubric you want to add (if you’re not sure, you can preview the rubric by clicking the page and magnifying glass icon on the left)
  6. Click Add Selected 
  7. Click Save and Close
Using the classic assignment creation experience 
  1. Go to the Assignment tool by clicking Assessment and then Assignments from the course navigation bar
  2. Click the arrow beside the assignment you want to connect your rubric to and choose Edit Assignment from the menu 
  3. Scroll down until you see Rubrics 
  4. Click Add Rubric 
  5. Check the box next to the rubric you want to add (if you’re not sure, you can preview the rubric by clicking on the rubric title)
  6. Click Add Selected 

Click Save and Close

Choose Your Own Grade Distribution 

Allowing students to choose which elements of the course are most important towards their final grade is a way to give students the freedom to play to their strengths or make room for risk taking within your course. 

In order to not create a significant burden on you, we recommend choosing a few grade distributions students can choose between rather than allowing students to select any weight in a range for each item. Having a predefined 2-3 choices for how the courses’ weight can be distributed, you can set up your VIULearn course to automatically calculate students’ overall grades as you focus on grading and giving feedback on individual assignments and other assessments. 

Step 1: Create copies of assignment

Create Assignment 
  1. Go to the Assignment tool by clicking Assessment and then Assignments from the course navigation bar
  2. Click New Assignment 
  3. Give your assignment a name 
  4. Adjust other settings as required (more details on assignment options here)
  5. Click Save and Close
Copy Existing Assignment 
  1. Go to the Assignment tool by clicking Assessment and then Assignments from the course navigation bar
  2. Click the arrow beside the assignment you want to connect your rubric to and choose Copy Assignment 
  3. A copy of the assignment will be created with “copy of” added to the name. The copy will share all the same settings as the original. 

Copy your assignments as many times as necessary. Once you’re done copying, you can rename your assignments: 

  1. Check the box next to all the assignments you want to rename (or check the topmost checkbox to select all assignments 
  2. Click Bulk Edit 
  3. Rename your assignments 
  4. Click Save and Close

Step 2: Set up Grades to count only assignments chosen by students

Set up Grade Category
  1. Go to the Grades tool by clicking Assessment and Grades in the course navigation bar
  2. Click New and then Category 
  3. Give the category a Name
  4. Enter the total weight of all items within the category towards the final grade in the weight field 
  5. Under Distribution, select Distribute weight evenly across all items
  6. Enter the number of assignments that students will not be responsible for completing in the box for “Number of lowest non-bonus items to drop for each user” 
  7. Click Save and Close
Create Grade Items in the Category

Repeat these steps for each assignment or activity in the category 

  1. Go to the Grades tool by clicking Assessment and Grades in the course navigation bar
  2. Click New and then Item 
  3. Select Numeric 
  4. Give your grade item a Name 
  5. Select your category from the Category drop-down
  6. Enter the maximum number of points a student can achieve on that activity in the Maximum Points field. 
    1. The weight field will be greyed out and will automatically update as you add items to the category
  7. Click Save and Close

If you have already created grade items for your activities, you can edit existing activities to add them to a category by selecting the grade items and clicking Bulk Edit. You can assign a grade item to a category in the rightmost column. When you are finished, click Save to apply the changes.  

Step 3 (optional): Assess all assignments in one place

VIULearn’s Quick Eval tool allows you to assess all ungraded assignments in one place. This can be especially helpful if you have students submitting to different assignment folders based on the weight they selected to assign to that assignment. 

  1. Go to the Course Administration page by clicking Faculty Tools and then Course Admin in the course navigation bar 
  2. Locate and click on Quick Eval (In your Course Administration is sorted by category this will be under Assessment) 
  3. You will see a list of assignments, discussions and quizzes in your course that are awaiting assessment. You can choose to view activities or a list of all submissions 
  4. Click on the Assessment or Submission to begin assessing submissions.  
  5. Click Back to Quick Eval to return to the Quick Eval screen at any time

If you are concerned that students may be confused with seeing multiple Assignment folders, you can go a step further and set up Release Conditions which will hide the irrelevant activities and grades from students based on which weighting option they choose. 

Step 1: Set up grade option sign up

VIULearn’s Groups tool allows you to create groups that students can sign up for. You can set up self enrollment groups with no limits on how many students can choose which option so students can self-determine which grade distribution they want and then attach this group membership to restrictions that control which submission folders and grade items students see in order to keep the student view very straightforward for assignments and grades. 

Create Groups
  1.  Go to the Groups tool by selecting Communication and then Groups from the course navigation bar 
  2. Click New Category 
  3. Give the Category a Name
  4. Add instructors or a description in the Description box (optional) 
  5. Under Enrolment Type select # of Groups – Self Enrolment
  6. Enter the number of grade distribution options students can choose from in the Number of Groups box 
  7. Click Save 

Rename Group 

Repeat these steps for each group in the category

  1. In the Groups tool, make sure you have selected the correct group category (the most recently created category will display by default) 
  2. Click on the name of the Group you want to rename 
  3. Edit the Group Name and add a description 
    1. Students will see the group name and description when they go to sign up for a group. 
  4. Click Save
Give students a direct sign-up link (optional) 

To make it easier for students to sign up for their topic, you can create a direct link inside a content file to the sign up page. 

  1. Go to the Content tool by clicking Content in the course navigation bar
  2. Go to the module you want to add the link to
  3. Click Upload/Create and choose Create a File from the menu 
  4. Give the file a title 
  5. Enter any text you want to accompany the link. 
  6. Click Insert Quicklink (the third icon from the left, shaped like chain links)
  7. Choose Self-Enrollment Groups from the list 
  8. Click on the name of your Self-Enrollment Groups category. A link will be added to the file. 
  9. Make any additional changes to the file content and then click Save and Close 

Students who follow the link will see a page like this: 

Step 2: Show students only the assignment folders and grades that are relevant to them 

If you have set up copies of assignments and grade items with different weights to accommodate student choice in grade distribution, it can be helpful to only show students the assignment folders and grade items that match their choice. If you use Groups in VIULearn to have students commit to one option, you can then use the steps below to release individual assignments and grades only to those students those items are relevant to. 

Attach Release Condition to Assignment Folder  (New Assignment Experience) 
  1.  Go to the Assignment tool by clicking Assessment and then Assignments from the course navigation bar
  2. Click the arrow beside the assignment you want to restrict access to and choose Edit Assignment from the menu 
  3.  Click Add Release Conditions 
  4. If you have already created the Release Condition you want to attach, choose Attach Existing and select the already created condition. If you have not yet created the Release Condition, click Create and Attach  
    1. Select Group Enrolment from the first drop down menu 
    2. Select the appropriate group from the second dropdown menu 
    3. Click Create
  5. Once you have attached your Release Condition, click Save and Close
Attach Release Condition to Assignment Folder  (Classic Assignment Experience) 
  1.  Go to the Assignment tool by clicking Assessment and then Assignments from the course navigation bar
  2. Click the arrow beside the assignment you want to restrict access to and choose Edit Assignment from the menu 
  3. Go to the Restrictions tab 
  4. If you have already created the Release Condition you want to attach, click Attach Existing and select the already created condition. If you have not yet created the Release Condition, click Create and Attach  
    1. Select Group Enrolment from the first drop down menu 
    2. Select the appropriate group from the second dropdown menu 
    3. Click Create
  5. Once you have attached your Release Condition, click Save and Close
Attach Release Condition to Grade Item
  1. Go to the Grades tool by clicking Assessment and then Grades from the course navigation bar
  2. Click the arrow beside the grade item you want to restrict access to and choose Edit Assignment from the menu 
  3. Go to the Restrictions tab 
  4. If you have already created the Release Condition you want to attach, click Attach Existing and select the already created condition. If you have not yet created the Release Condition, click Create and Attach  
    1. Select Group Enrolment from the first drop down menu 
    2. Select the appropriate group from the second dropdown menu 
    3. Click Create
  5. Once you have attached your Release Condition, click Save and Close

Questions?

If you would like to book a consultation with one of our Curriculum, Teaching and Learning Specialists or Learning Technology Support Specialists to talk about your assessments or setting these up in VIULearn, please email learnsupport@viu.ca