Sunday, November 1, 2015

Tips for Streamlining Assignment Workflows

After the first few assignments of the semester, you may begin wondering what you can do to streamline your workflow in collecting, grading, and distributing feedback for assignments. Though there are a number of ways to collect Assignments, such as by email or using the Sakai Dropbox, the Sakai Assignments tool provides a robust workflow for both faculty and students to submit and manage assignments in a course. Below are three tips you might consider for streamlining assignment workflows for you and your students.

Tip 1: Use Sakai Assignments Tool

With the Sakai Assignments tool, faculty can create assignments, set automatic release and due dates, include Turnitin originality checking, grade assignments, provide feedback to students, and release grades to students. Students can submit their assignments, view scores, and view faculty feedback. For both faculty and students the Assignments summary screen (shown below) provides an organized list of assignments, open and dues dates, and their current status in the workflow.

Check out the following video for an overview of the Assignment tool and a quick-start for adding an assignment to your course:

Detailed instructions on adding an assignment to your course can be found at:

Not all students may have used the Sakai Assignments tool before, so you may want to include instructions about how to submit assignments and view assignment grades and feedback. Some instructors include a low/no stakes assignment (such as personal introductions) at the beginning of their course so students can get familiar with submitting assignments successfully. You might consider providing links for students to the following Sakai Help resources:

Tip 2: Provide Clear Assignment Instructions for Students

From a student perspective, clear assignment instructions are essential since students often will be working on their own when preparing to complete and submit an assignment. They may have a number of questions about the assignment itself as well as the mechanics of submitting an assignment online. The Sakai Assignments tool provides a rich text editor for articulating instructions as well as the option of adding document attachments such as readings, templates, worksheets, or exemplars.

As students work on completing an assignment, clear assignment instructions can provide information and answers to questions in the context of the assignment workflow, potentially resulting in less confusion and interruptions in completing the assignment. Below are eight components of assignment instructions (adapted from O’Reilly and Kelly, 2008) that are likely to address student questions: 
  • Assignment Title - To avoid confusion, use exactly the same title in syllabus, Sakai pages, assessment plan, and gradebook.
  • Learning Objective(s) - Reference relevant learning objectives for the assignment.
  • Assignment Due Date - Specify due date and time as well as late acceptance policies. For electronic submissions, include time zone (e.g PST, Pacific Standard Time).
  • Submission Details - Specify electronic and/or inline submissions, required file formats, and any file naming schema. 
  • Grading Criteria - Describe how the assignment will be scored and graded and whether a rubric will be used. 
  • Level of Group Participation - Define your expectations for group participation. Are the assignments individual assignments, group or team projects, or entire class projects? 
  • Mechanical Details and Expectations - Suggest number of words/pages, preferred style guide for citations, number/type of citations, etc.
  • Supporting Resources - List and/or attach supporting resources necessary for assignment completion. Many students find it useful to see one or more completed examples of the assignment. 

O’Reilly, D. and Kelly, K. (2008). Assessment and evaluation. In Commonwealth of Learning (Ed.) Education for a Digital World: Advice, Guidelines, and Effective Practice from Around the Globe. p.240.

Tip 3: Use the Assignments Tool Grading Workflow to Provide Feedback and Grades

The Assignments tool provides an organized way to view the current status of an assignment and individually grade each student submission. The summary screen (shown below) lists students, when their assignments were submitted, the status of their assignment, the grade, and whether it was released to the student.

Clicking on the “Grade” link on a student row allows you to view the student’s submission, which can be an inline entry in the Sakai rich text editor and/or a file attachment. If you have Turnitin originality checking enabled, you’ll see a link to view the Turnitin report. You can optionally toggle the Assignment Instructions on so you can see the student submission in context.

To grade the assignment you can enter the grade in the box provided and provide feedback to the student via the “Instructor Summary Comments” area using the rich text editor. If students submitted an inline assignment in the text editor, you can surround your comments with double curly braces {{like this}} and they will appear as red text to the student. You can also add one or more file attachments, such as a marked-up version of a student paper.

If you have specific detailed criteria, rubrics, or notes for grading you might consider putting this information in a Private Note when you create the assignment. Then, you’ll be able to see the Private Note for you (or other instructors, if you choose) to view in the grading screen. Once you’re finished grading and providing feedback, you can save the grade and release the grade to the student or save it for later release.

The Assignments tool has several other handy features:
  • An email notification option can be enabled when you create an assignment so that you’ll receive an email notification when an assignment is submitted and ready for grading. 
  • Grades can optionally be sent to the Gradebook. You can enable this setting when creating an assignment. 
  • If you prefer to work with submitted files offline, you can batch download assignment files and inline submissions using the “Download All” link on the assignment summary page. 

More information about grading assignments and providing feedback can be found in the following video and help document:

If you need help with the Sakai Assignments tool or any of these tips, don’t hesitate to contact to set up a consultation.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Quick Tips for Improving Your Sakai Site for Students

Now that the semester is underway and much of the heavy lifting of creating and populating your Sakai course site is complete, perhaps you’re ready to consider some fine-tuning to improve your course site for students. One option to consider would be to review your course using the Quality Matters Rubric Standards checklist, but that may take more time than you have to invest right now.

Alternatively, what are some relatively quick adjustments you can make to improve your Sakai course site for students? Below are two tips you might consider for improving your Sakai course site for your students, along with actionable links on how to implement them. Applicable Quality Matters standards are referenced for each tip.

Tip 1: Remove or Hide Tools Students Don’t Need (QM 6.1, 8.1)

In the summer of 2013 the Sakai Support team interviewed several students to find out what they liked and disliked about how Sakai was used in their courses. All students interviewed said they had taken courses where some tools on the Sakai site menu were not used. They described their frustration as a scavenger hunt where they clicked on the tool menu item but found a dead end with no content, wondering why the tool was even there or if they had missed something.

When you create your Sakai site, it includes a default set of commonly used tools that appear in the left menu. But you can easily remove tools that you’re not using or hide tools that students don’t need to see. Both of these tasks can be accomplished via the Site Info tool.

Remove Tools - Use the “Edit Tools” button to remove tools. Simply uncheck the tools you want to remove, click the “Continue” button, then the “Finish” button. Detailed instructions can be found at:

Hide Tools
- There are some tools that students don’t need to see, and you can hide these tools to declutter what student see in their menu. Examples include the Site Info, Roster, and Statistics tools. Use the “Page Order” button to hide tools. Here you’ll see each tool and you can hide a tool by clicking on the light bulb and toggling it to the off (gray) position. You (in the course Instructor role) will still see the tool in your menu, but it will be italicized as a cue that the tool is hidden to students. Detailed instructions and other options can be found at:

Tip 2: Organize Your Site with the Lessons Tool - (QM 4.2, 8.1)

Another common theme from student interviews was confusion in navigating through the course content by using the tool-centric approach of the tool menu. For instance, some assignments were located in Resources, others used the Drop Box, and still others used the Assignment tool. Students had to move in and out of the tool menu to search for relevant resources and activities.

The Lessons tool allows you to create pages, provide a context and navigational flow for an instructional unit, and combine materials such as text, resources, assignments, and assessments into a smooth sequence for students. Students appreciate the organization and flow that lesson pages can provide.

Students taking online courses in the summer of 2015 were asked what they liked best about online courses and nearly a third responded that they liked the organization of the courses (most courses used the Lessons tool). In particular they liked the clear expectations, to-do lists, self pacing, and easy navigation -- all features that can be implemented in your course with the Lessons tool.

Check out the following video for an overview and quick-start for using the Lessons tool:

Detailed instructions and other resources for using the Lessons tool can be found at:

If you need help with any of these tips or with fine tuning your Sakai site, don’t hesitate to contact to set up a consultation.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Summer Technology Renovations 2015

For most people, the beginning of summer signifies the start of barbeques, campfires, and lazy river rafting. Unlike most people, the beginning of summer marks the start of something else for Instructional Technologies: install season.

Every summer, a few classrooms are selected for media technology upgrades. Unlike many universities in the area, these upgrades are performed by in-house staff as well as a student workforce. Over a few days the room’s outdated equipment is dismantled, and replaced by state-of-the-art equipment which has become standard across campus. This equipment includes a wide-screen projector, screen, and media podium.
Updated media podiums were installed in six rooms
across campus this summer.

This season of installations marks the start of a new era for Instructional Technologies. While three of the six rooms (Ramstad 202, 203, and 205) received our standard equipment, the other half (Ingram 116, Rieke 210, and Garfield 102) have been outfitted with hybrid digital systems. The details of  “hybrid digital systems” may be rather boring, but the results may be exciting for users across campus. In addition to VGA inputs, these new podiums now have HDMI inputs for laptops, so users will be able to connect their digital devices.  Even the installation was easier: rather than pulling six 30 foot cables through the ceiling, this new hybrid system requires a single ethernet connection to the projector

We hope people will enjoy these upgrades and have a wonderful start to the semester!

Finished installation in Ingram 116

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fall 2015 Technology Workshops

Check out the schedule of Fall 2015 Technology workshops at along with full workshop descriptions and registration information. Workshops include a diversity of topics such as: 
  • Flipping vs. Blending: Course Design Options
  • Engaging Students Outside the Classroom with Google Blogger
  • Collaboration with Google Docs and Drive
  • Sakai Lessons Tool
  • Recording Weekly Videos with iMovie
  • Easy Steps for Making Your Course Content Accessible
  • Backups and Data Security at PLU
  • And more...!

For a complete listing of workshops, see the workshop listings page.

If you have a particular need for specialized and customized technology workshops for your class or department, contact Layne Nordgren (, 253-535-7197) and we'll do our best to meet your specific needs.

Need one-on-one assistance with technology? Contact to schedule a consultation. We'll find the right staff to assist you with your specific needs. In addition, Instructional Technologies provides a design lab with computers and software for digital editing projects. The Digital Design Lab is located on the first floor of the Library near the Help Desk.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sakai Rich-Text Editor Upgrade on Aug. 8, 2015

On Saturday, August 8, 2015, Sakai will be out of service from 7:00AM to 7:30AM PDT in order to upgrade the CKEditor, the rich-text editor in Sakai. The CKEditor is embedded within many Sakai tools including Lessons, Mailtool, Assignments, Announcements, etc.

Click image to enlarge.

As a result of this upgrade, the new CKEditor will have a new look-and-feel, most noticeably with updated tool icons. However, the current ordering of the CKEditor’s buttons and drop-down menus will remain the same. Furthermore, many of the quirks users experience with this editor will be resolved as a result of this upgrade.

For a closer look at each of the new CKEditor buttons and menus, see the document What is the purpose of each of the CKEditor controls? If you have any questions or concerns please email

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sunset for ½” VHS Videotape Players

For over 25 years Video Home System (better known as ½” VHS) players provided access to analog video recordings in classrooms. But as technology continued to improve, this format was gradually supplanted by DVD players. What this means at PLU, is that what was once a standard component of classroom podiums, is now obsolete.

In May of 2013, Instructional Technologies emailed all faculty to let you know about the sunsetting of the ½” VHS video format. Since the Spring of 2013 we have not been able to purchase new ½” VHS players because they are no longer being manufactured. At this time we have only a few spares left to replace players in the classroom that become inoperable. If you're still using 1/2" VHS cassettes in the classroom, please be aware of the following change that will take place this summer and learn what you can do to make this transition as smooth as possible.

Removing ½” VCRs from Classroom Podiums

To address this issue and conserve our remaining VHS player spares, Instructional Technologies plans to make the following changes in classroom technology this summer:
  • Remove all remaining ½” VHS/DVD players in classrooms and make them available for faculty checkout as needed.
  • Replace ½” VHS/DVD players with region free DVD players that play NTSC, PAL, and SECAM DVD formats.
If you still use ½” VHS videos in your classes, you may check out a VHS player that can be easily patched into a podium or even stationed in a classroom for the semester if used frequently. You can reserve a ½” VCR from Instructional Technologies by emailing

Replacing ½” VHS Videotapes

Ultimately though, you will need to take action to replace these videotapes or find alternative instructional content.
  • Un-copyrighted ½” VHS tapes may be converted to the DVD format using commercial conversion services. 
  • Copyrighted ½” VHS tapes might be available for purchase. Contact your department/school faculty library liaison for assistance in researching options for purchasing videos in DVD format.

If you have any questions or concerns about this transition, please contact either of us at Thanks!

    Layne Nordgren, Director for User Services/Instructional Technologies
    Travis Pagel, Classroom and Event Technologies Team Lead

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Exploring “GradeMark” for Sakai Turnitin Assignments

by Dana Bodewes, Instructional Designer

Most faculty are familiar with the software Turnitin for its Originality Check of student papers, but it also offers a grading tool called GradeMark. On May 30, PLU will upgrade its Turnitin service in Sakai and with it receive improved access to the GradeMark tool. For student work submitted through Sakai Assignment’s Turnitin service, faculty will now have access to GradeMark’s grading functions. I am always keen to explore ways to streamline the time-consuming and arduous process of reviewing student work, so I have been exploring some of the new features this tool can bring to the grading process.

GradeMark is probably used most often for the evaluation of student papers. The digital grading process can be more efficient while also providing an electronic record of feedback, benefiting both instructors and students. Here are a few features I thought provided the most potential for faculty:

Quick Marks: Grademark allows you to highlight and easily insert feedback on students assignments. Comments can be personalized or you may utilize a library of comments created to reflect the needs of a specific course or assignment.

Rubrics: Using rubrics during the evaluation process helps to encourage clarity and specificity. GradeMark rubrics can be easily created and added to an assignment review. With the rubric and assignment side-by-side, the grading process moves much faster.

Voice Feedback: Recorded messages hasten the feedback process while providing a personal touch. GradeMark allows you to record up to 3 minutes of feedback for the overall assignment. However, the feature does not allow for feedback pointed to specific parts of student work.

If you are interested in trying GradeMark, Turnitin has an interactive tutorial that allows users to simulate the grading of a student paper while exploring the tool. You may even want to explore mobile grading using Turnitin on your iPad. Keep in mind that specific uses of GradeMark in Sakai might vary from what is presented in the videos and tutorials on Turnitin’s website. Also, because the integration between GradeMark and the Sakai Assignments tool is not entirely seamless, please refer to the Sakai help documentation, or schedule a consultation with Instructional Technologies ( for more information.