A&S Learning Design & Technology Knowledge Base

Managing Writing Assignments in UVACanvas

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These tips, though not meant to be exhaustive, will help instructors get started with designing and grading writing assignments in Canvas.

Support resources are available via Canvas 24/7, and through UVA staff in Learning Technology Services (aka collab-support) and A&S Learning Design & Technology (A&S instructors & graduate TAs).

Writing assignments can be designed and evaluated in a variety of ways. They can be submitted individually or specified as a collaborative group effort. They may require a single deliverable or be a multi-step, developmental process. They may involve peer reviews. Canvas offers several options to support the different writing assignment configurations and assessments:

Writing Processes

1. Multiple Submissions for an Assignment

Allow unlimited or a specific number of submission attempts for one assignment.  

Both instructor and student are able to see all submissions, and comments can can be connected to each individual submission. The instructor gives a grade/number of points for the assignment, not for each submission.

2.  Multiple Drafts or Writing Stages

Create separate Assignments and name them descriptively (e.g. Essay First Draft, Essay Final version, etc.)

A column will be created for each separate assignment in the gradebook and the corresponding points or percentages specified will go towards the final grade.

You can also Create an Assignment Group to organize the multiple drafts or writing stages of a project. In this case, the Assignment Group is assigned a weight, which is used to calculate the final grade.

3.  Journaling

A student records periodic reflections on a specific topic or assigned reading over time. The commentary is visible only to the instructor. While Canvas does not have a “journal” assignment type, here are a couple of ways to implement this functionality:

a. Discussion as Group Assignment

A Discussion can function as conversation between the instructor and one student, similar to the journaling process. To facilitate this dialogue with each student, a Discussion is created as a group assignment. 

Canvas uses group sets to assign group assignments. A group set consists of different groups. In this scenario, a group set is created where each "group" consists of an individual student. The Discussion group assignment is then assigned to each student "group" in the group set.

Discussions can be graded or ungraded.

b. Journal Assignment Group

An Assignment Group for journal entries is created, and under it, the individual assignments for each entry. In the example below, the Assignment Group is simply named Journals. If there is more than one type of journal, then another assignment group would be created, and a clear naming convention determined to differentiate them.

4.  Annotations

Students provide commentary on specific portions of a text. This can be implemented through Canvas as a built-in assignment option for Student Annotation, or via Hypothesis, an integrated external tool.

Student annotation, an option available under the Online assignment submission type, allows the instructor to provide a file for in-line markup by a student. Each student submits an individual annotation, which is visible only to the instructor.

If a collaborative annotation by the class or a group is desired, the external tool Hypothesis should be used. Hypothesis, an external tool which allows groups to annotate a single file simultaneously, supports collaborative commentary. Students can see each other’s annotations and respond to each other.

Annotations made using Hypothesis do not support Peer Review.

5.  Peer Review

Students can provide feedback on classmates' assignment submissions if Peer Review is enabled. The instructor can assign reviewers manually or automatically, and adjust the number of peer reviews required per submission. 

Peer Review can be set for an Assignment 

Peer Review can be set for a graded Discussion

This article walks through the steps for creating peer reviewed assignments and discussions.

Peer review is a multi-step process which requires some planning and facilitation on the instructor's part. 

6.  Minute Paper

A Minute Paper is a quick assignment designed to elicit feedback from the students about specific aspects of the course. Canvas surveys can be used to implement this specific type of assessment.

7.  Collaborations

Canvas Collaborations allow multiple users to work together on the same document at the same time. Collaborative documents are saved in real-time, meaning a change made by any of its users will be immediately visible to everyone. 

You can create a collaboration with the Microsoft Office 365 suite of tools, which is integrated into Canvas as an external app. You can select individual users, groups, or both as part of a collaboration that uses a Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint file.

Assessment and Feedback

1.  Speedgrader

Speedgrader allows you to view and grade student assignment submissions in one place. You can access Speedgrader from Grades or from an Assignment, Quiz, or graded Discussion.

Once you are in Speedgrader, you can view student submissions for each assessment, enter a grade, and provide feedback through the comments.

2.  Rubrics

A Rubric is an assessment tool for communicating expectations of quality. Rubrics can be used as grading criteria for students and can be added to Assignments, graded Discussions, and Quizzes. Rubrics can also be used as a non-grading way to provide feedback. 

Rubrics can be used across course sites and are not limited to the course they are created within.

When creating a rubric, it may be beneficial to name it to indicate the criteria being evaluated (for example: clarity, style, grammar, etc. for writing) rather than the assignment name so that it is easier to locate and use in future assignments/courses if desired.

3. Feedback Assignment 

Allowing multiple submission attempts for a single writing assignment, as discussed earlier under Writing Processes, provides an opportunity for feedback with every submission. 

Another way to structure the feedback cycle is to create a specific assignment for feedback, separate from the original assignment. The feedback assignment has unlimited attempts, but is not counted towards the final grade. The original assignment has one submission attempt, which should be the finalized version resulting from the feedback cycle. The following settings are suggested for the feedback assignment:

  • The name of the assignment should clearly indicate that it is the feedback submission (e.g., Poetry Analysis Draft – Feedback).
  • The description should include additional clarifying language indicating that the assignment is for feedback purposes and although there is an associated score, it will not count toward the final grade for the course.
  • Total points must be at least 1 (one).
  • Select the “Do not count this assignment toward final grade” checkbox.
  • Submission type: Online → File Uploads.
  • Allowed Attempts: Unlimited.
  • Due dates can be used and set as desired.


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