How to use anything on the web as an LMS assignment

Ed Tech

Ed Tech | Tuesday, August 10, 2021

How to use anything on the web as an LMS assignment

Canvas. Blackboard. Schoology. Google Classroom. No matter your LMS, you have LOTS of power to create great assignments!

We educators often see digital learning through the lens of our learning management system (LMS). Many times, because we're looking for our LMS, it keeps us from seeing what's possible.

Some examples:

  • "I could really use some examples of some Canvas LMS assignments."
  • "There's no way we could do that in Schoology because we don't have Google Classroom."
  • "Blackboard doesn't let us do that."

Sure, sometimes there are limitations to any learning management system (LMS). But for the most part, the good news is this:

You can use practically anything on the web to create an assignment in your LMS -- no matter what LMS you use. 

Even if your favorite apps or digital tools aren't integrated with your LMS, you can still use them to create great assignments. Example: Google Classroom is integrated nicely with all of the G Suite / Google Workspace tools like Docs, Slides, Sheets, etc. There are buttons inside Google Classroom assignments that make it really easy to use them.

But even if your LMS doesn't have those, you can still use Google tools, Microsoft tools ... really, just about any educational technology tool or any website to make an assignment!

Here, you'll find several simple -- and very powerful -- ways to create those assignments. Plus, I'll share hundreds of lesson ideas so you can get started!

1. Link to online articles, videos, and other materials.

Difficulty level: Very easy

There's an article out on the web that you want students to read. Or a video to watch. Let's say you've created an online document you want students to look at. What do you do?

Provide them with a link. Easy as that. 

  1. Find the link. My favorite way is to pull up the article, video, or other webpage and just copy the link out of my web browser. (Sometimes, if you copy a link directly out of a search engine search, it creates a super complicated, really long link. Pulling it up in a browser and copying the link avoids that.)
  2. If it's file you created, make sure you've set the sharing setting so students can access it. If it's from G Suite or Microsoft Office, hit the "Share" button and make sure the settings give students access. My favorite: "Anyone with the link can view" if you just want students to be able to see it.
  3. Add your link to the description of your assignment. Make sure you give students instructions on what to do with it. 

Where to find articles, videos, and interactive activities:

2. Students create a new file.

Difficulty level: Easy

If your students have a Google account or Microsoft account, that means they probably are able to use G Suite / Google Workspace or Microsoft 365. They can create online documents, edit them, and share them.

Documents? Slide presentations? Spreadsheets? Other such files? Those can be used in assignments in your learning management system (LMS) -- even if your LMS doesn't integrate it neatly and easily in the assignments. 

  1. Tell students what kind of file to create (document, slide presentation, spreadsheet, etc.) from their own Google/Microsoft account.
  2. Students create a new file and do their work. 
  3. Students use the "Share" button to adjust sharing settings so you can view and grade their work. Ask them to change it to "Anyone with the link can comment" if you don't want to make changes to the file but just leave comments for feedback. Otherwise, have them use "Anyone with the link can edit" if you do want to make changes to the file. 
  4. Students copy the link and turn it in with their assignment. In some LMS, you can specify what type of submission students make. In the image below, Canvas LMS lets you choose a website URL as the thing students turn in. Even if your LMS doesn't do this, students can find a way to submit the link to their file to you -- even if they paste that link into a document that they submit to you. (Note: With Google and Microsoft files, students can often download them as files that they can upload to submit.)

What happens if students -- or teachers -- don't adjust their sharing settings? In step 3 above, students changed their sharing settings to "Anyone with the link can view" or "Anyone with the link can comment." Google and Microsoft files are set as private by default. If students just copy the link without changing the sharing settings, they're giving you a link to a file they haven't given you sharing permissions to view. That goes for teachers, too ... make sure you check your sharing settings before giving students a link!

PRO TIP: Check your sharing in an incognito window. I use this tip whenever I share a link to a file and want to make for sure the sharing settings are correct. I'll use the "Share" button, adjust the settings, and then copy the link. Then, I open an incognito window in Google Chrome (also called InPrivate window in Microsoft Edge). These windows show what the Internet looks like when you're not signed in. (You can open a file that's private to you if you're logged in to your own account -- even if students can't.) Check the link you want to share with students by pasting it in an incognito window to see if it loads properly.

Activities where students create a new file:

3. Students respond in another app/website.

Difficulty level: Easy/Medium

Lots of apps, websites, and digital tools around the Internet let students answer questions or leave responses directly on their app. After they do, you're able to view their responses, leave feedback, grade them, etc. Some examples:

Any of these can be used with your LMS to create an assignment! These are great to have because most of them offer features and special "super powers" your LMS doesn't have on its own. You can assign students through your LMS to go to these sites and do certain tasks. 

  1. Set up your activity on the app/site. There, you can give students instructions, ask questions, etc. 
  2. Get a link to give students in an assignment. Most of these apps/sites make it clear what link to give students so they can submit their work. Copy the link and paste it into the instructions just like you did in the first two scenarios above. The assign students the assignment. (Note: You can always paste the student link in an incognito window (see note above) to see what the student experience will look like.) 
  3. Students click the link in the assignment to go to the app/site to do their work. 
  4. Students submit their work when they finish. You will likely be able to view their work by logging in to your teacher account. Students may get a link to their finished product, which they can turn in through the assignment in your LMS.

Where to find lesson ideas for other apps and websites:

4. Students make their own copy of a template.

Difficulty level: Medium

You can set up a document, slide presentation, spreadsheet, or any type of file in Google or Microsoft as a template for students to use. Students can make their own copy of your template so they can put their responses on it and turn it in.

Think of this like a digital photocopier. You make a file for students to work on (like a master copy of a paper worksheet). Students get their own copy of it to write their own answers on it. 

  1. Create your template. Think of what you want students to do on this file. Leave spaces for them to put their responses, and make it clear what you want them to do (i.e. write a response, take a picture, drag a circle over the right answer, etc.)
  2. Copy a link to the file. If it's a Google or Microsoft file, click the "Share" button and change it to "Anyone with the link can view."
  3. Paste your link into the instructions in your assignment in your LMS.
  4. Change the end of the link. When you paste your link into the instructions, find the word "edit" at the end of the link. Delete the word "edit" and everything after it. Replace it with the word "copy." This will force students to make a copy of your template (see "copy document" image above). The image below shows you how to change your link.
  5. Assign students the assignment. They will click the "copy" link you provide them. It'll prompt them to make their own copy of your template. They'll work on it, adding their responses throughout.
  6. Students use the "Share" button to adjust sharing settings so you can view and grade their work. Ask them to change it to "Anyone with the link can comment" if you don't want to make changes to the file but just leave comments for feedback. Otherwise, have them use "Anyone with the link can edit" if you do want to make changes to the file. 
  7. Students copy the link to their work and turn it in through your assignment.

Where to find templates you can copy:

5. Create a collaborative file where all students will work.

Difficulty level: Medium

Create one file for all of your students to work in. (Or a small group.) I'm a big fan of making one Google Slides (or PowerPoint) file, sharing it with students with an "Anyone with the link can edit" link, and giving each student his/her own slide. That slide becomes like each student's digital real estate for our classroom work for the day.

When students finish, they can go check out each other's work and even leave digital comments for each other.

  1. Create a file. I like making a slide presentation so each student can have his/her own slide. Documents and spreadsheets work well here, too. Pick what works best for you.
  2. Change the sharing settings. Click the "Share" button and change settings to "Anyone with the link can edit." That way, students can open your file, go a slide, and start adding their work.
  3. Copy the link to your shared file so you can share it with your students.
  4. Paste the link in the assignment instructions. Give students instructions on what you want them to do in the file.
  5. Assign students the assignment. They will click the link you provide them. They will join the file, find their spot to do their work, and get to work.

Where to find collaborative activities:

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    Very good work, but why you embed link when you can?

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  • Nice work, Matt, but why link when you can embed? Most of those links can be embedded in an LMS like Schoology. 1. Embed the video – no flamewar comments and you can put several on a page. 2. Several options with Test/Quiz, Discussions, Assessments, or Assignments. Plus, see #4. 3. Almost all of those can be integrated via LTI or using tools in the LMS. FlipGrid or have students record A/V responses to a discussion? Same effect, no third party. 4. With Google integration, and the Google Drive Assignment App (GDAA) you don’t even have to alter a doc ending to ‘copy’ as it will copy it for you, rename it with the Ss name, and share it back with you. Once they submit and the due date is past, they only have viewing and commenting access. 5. I’ve done exactly that in an assignment. Plus, I can individually assign or assign using grading groups. I can see the full history so, no changing someone else’s work. (They can also work in their own set and copy/paste into the master.)

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