Collecting Digital Assignments From Students in Office 365 Education Schools

When you go digital, it's time to retire your red pen for good!
When you go digital, it's time to retire your red pen for good! | Source

The Paperless Microsoft Classroom

If you are a teacher who uses Office 365 Education at school, you will probably have spent some time thinking about the best way to receive digital assignments from students. Paperless classrooms are all the rage, but are they practical? Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, not harder, so there must be a good way to do this, right? There are, in fact, a number of ways that this can be done, but the solution you choose should be the one that works best for you. What follows are some of the workflows, ideas and processes that a teacher could use to collect, grade and organize student assignments in schools that use Office 365 Education.

1. Let's Take a Look at Outlook

If you live your life in Outlook, (as many educators do), you may want to have students email their assignments to you. This is a flexible way to receive assignments because almost any kind of digital file can be added to an email, whether it was created with Office products or not. Students could include hyperlinks to online assignments, add PDFs, image files, videos, and more.

So far so good, except for the fact that you will quickly find your inbox has a lot more email than it used to. Don't worry.There is a solution for that. You can create rules in Outlook to deal with your newly increased mail load and have Outlook sort it nicely in a folder so you can access it when you are ready to grade the assignments you have received. Instructions on how to do that are below:

  1. Begin by choosing a key phrase for students to add to the subject line of their email before they send it. For instance, Math 1st Hour.
  2. Next, open Outlook, and on the Home tab, click Rules > Create Rule…
  3. Check the box that says Subject Contains, and enter your key phrase, e.g. Math 1st Hour.
  4. Now check the box that says Move the item to folder.
  5. Click Select Folder and then New… to create a class folder for your assignments. Name the folder and click OK to continue.
  6. Double check that you have checked the boxes for Subject Contains and Move the item to folder, then click OK to create your rule.
  7. Send yourself a test message with the correct key phrase in the subject line to test your rule. It should bypass your inbox, so look for it in the class folder you just created.

Creating rules in Outlook 2013 is quick and easy to accomplish
Creating rules in Outlook 2013 is quick and easy to accomplish | Source

If your test email was successful, you can now talk to your students about the key phrase that they will need to include in the subject of their email when they submit their assignments. If you have multiple classes, you can have multiple rules and multiple class folders for student submissions. This method of collection may be prone to student submission errors early on, but once they remember the required format, it can be a very efficient way of collecting and organizing assignments.

How to Create a Rule for Student Assignments in Outlook 2013

2. Creating an Assignment Submission Form with Excel Surveys

Want to try something different? If you use an Excel survey, you can quickly set up an online assignment submission form that will let students add the link to their Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote or other digital assignment. If you have never created an Excel Survey before, relax. You can learn how to create an Excel Survey in no time at all by reading this article, or by watching the video below.

The survey does not need to be long. Typical questions include: first name, last name, email address, and a box to add a URL link to an assignment. You should make all of these entries required questions. However, you may also want to include a paragraph box for comments that the student could include as part of their submission. This would not be a required question, but might be useful in certain scenarios, or for when the teacher needs more information about a given assignment.

When the survey is finished, you can post a link to it on your classroom website, on a learning management system like Edmodo, Moodle or Canvas, or make a memorable version of the link as a shortened or link. You could even make a QR code for it and add it to classroom communications or display it inside your room.

Screenshot of the editing mode in Excel Surveys
Screenshot of the editing mode in Excel Surveys | Source

Reviewing and Organizing Assignments in Excel & OneDrive

When students submit their assignments, the data will appear in the spreadsheet you created when you made the Excel Survey. The only question that remains is whether you want to reuse one survey for the duration of your class, or create a new survey for each assignment. There are pros and cons for both methods, so it just depends on what works best for you as a teacher.

If you choose to use just one survey, you will want to add a multiple choice question that lets students pick the assignment they are adding. That way you can sort by assignment name in Excel. Following this method will require you to update the assignment name question every time you create a new assignment for students to submit.

If you choose to use a new survey for every assignment, you will soon have a lot of additional files in your OneDrive. However, you can create an assignment folder for your class and add the surveys to this folder so that you can quickly access them when you need them.

Learn How to Create Your First Excel Survey!

Office 365 at Home for up to 5 PCs/Macs & 5 Mobile Devices!

3. The Amazing OneNote Class Notebook Creator

OneNote teachers have another interesting option - the OneNote Class Notebook Creator. If you have never used it before, this app has to be added by a 365 Administrator at your school, but once you have access to it, you can quickly take advantage of the OneNote Class Notebook Creator as an assignment workflow solution in your classroom.

The free OneNote Class Notebook Creator tool quickly automates several tasks at once by creating one class notebook that has three specific types of sub-notebooks.

  1. Content Library - A place for teachers to share view only material with students - handouts, study guides, content examples, etc.
  2. Collaboration Space - A place where students can work collaboratively.
  3. Student Notebooks - A private notebook for each student in your class that is shared between the teacher and the student. The teacher can see all the student notebooks, but the students can only see their own.


So, as well as accessing all class materials and collaborating with their peers, students can use their private notebooks to add the assignments they are given by their teacher. They never need to copy a link, fill in a form or even send an email. The teacher can see their notebook at all times, and knows exactly where to go when it is time to grade the assignment.

Of course, OneNote allows for a variety of different types of assignments. They could be in the form of text that students type on a OneNote page, it could be a link to a OneDrive file, a link to another other online project, or it could be a file attachment. It could even be an audio or video recording that the student creates using the multimedia recording features inside of OneNote 2013. As such, the OneNote Class Notebook Creator is an extremely flexible way to collect assignments.

Creating Your First OneNote Class Notebook

4. Teacher Dashboard for Microsoft Office 365

Another option for schools would be to invest in a third-party solution like Teacher Dashboard for Microsoft Office 365. This web-based tool allows teachers to monitor and manage student OneDrive files. Teacher Dashboard also lets you distribute, collect and grade assignments from students all from a simple to use interface. It also lets you create custom groups of students to help sort your students by grade, ability, or subject. Assignments can then be assigned to classes, groups, or individuals as you see fit. Teachers can see all the completed assignments in one place and track student activity too. Teacher Dashboard for Microsoft Office 365 is available in the Sharepoint store and is now free for up to 100 teachers! An overview of all that it has to offer can be seen in the video below.

The Paperless Transition: It's Easier Than You Might Think

Any of these workflow solutions can seem a little complex at first, but once you (and your students) get used to one, you will be surprised at just how intuitive they can be. They are a great time saver for students (and teachers), as well as being a great way to model how powerful technology can be when used to enhance efficiency and productivity. Which one is best? The one that saves you the most time, the one that you are most comfortable with, and the one that makes you life in a digital classroom easier.

Is there something to be said about a consistent assignment model across all classes in your school? Absolutely, so think about having that conversation with your school administrators. Using the same assignment collection model will be a lot easier for students if the process is the same in all their classes. It can also be good for teachers who can get peer support from those who are able to support them as they begin to go paperless. It can be a daunting process, but with tools like these the rewards are there for all to see.

© 2014 Jonathan Wylie

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Comments 2 comments

askformore lm profile image

askformore lm 2 years ago

Thank you for these very detailed tips. Very helpful!

I am not a teacher, but I strongly believe that your hub can be useful for parents too.

Jonathan Wylie profile image

Jonathan Wylie 2 years ago from Iowa, USA Author

Thanks, I appreciate the comment.

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