Don’t have a Scanner? Submitting Assignments with a Mobile Device

Much of the work we produce in online classes takes the form of discussions, and assignments. Most of this is done online, using a computer (either desktop or laptop), and using applications such as Word, PowerPoint, SPSS, and more. However, there are times were we might have work to complete “off-screen” such as illustrations, graphs, charts, calculations, musical notation, etc. In these cases you might have a document or paper you’ve written on, and need to submit that work. There are a few ways you can use your mobile device to scan and submit these documents.

1. Scan and Submit Using the Canvas Student App

The Canvas student app is the simplest way to submit mobile-scanned documents. The app is available for both iOS and Android. First you will need to download the app, and sign-in (How do I log in to the Student app on my iOS device with a Canvas URL? iOS Android). From there you can access your courses and navigate to the assignment. Follow these guides (iOS Submit an Assignment; Android Submit an Assignment) in order to access the course and get to the point where you need to choose how to upload your file. The option we are interested in here is option 4. Scanner. Note: File Upload will only appear as an option if your instructor has selected that as an Online Entry Option.

  1. Click Submit Assignment
  2. Click File Upload
  3. Click Scanner
  4. Position your camera and take a photo
  5. Use the four circles to select the area you want to save
  6. Continue taking photos until all documents are scanned. Then click Save (#)
  7. Check that all documents have been selected, then click Submit
  8. Wait until the upload is complete
  9. Celebrate

The accompanying images are using iOS, Android devices may look just a little bit different, but the process should be the same.

2. Submit a File Using the Canvas Student App

Both iOS and Android have the ability to scan documents using the camera on your mobile device. Once the document is scanned and stored as a file on your mobile device you can submit the file using Files in the Upload File menu in the Canvas App. To scan a document in iOS, use the Files Application. To scan a document in Android, use Google Drive.

  1. Click Submit Assignment
  2. Click File Upload
  3. Click Files
  4. Choose the file you wish to upload
  5. Check that all documents have been selected, then click Submit
  6. Wait until the upload is complete
  7. Celebrate

The accompanying images are using iOS, Android devices may look just a little bit different, but the process should be the same.

3. Scan and Send to Yourself for Desktop/Laptop Submission

As stated above, both iOS and Android have the ability to scan documents using the camera on your mobile device. Once the document is scanned and stored as a file on your mobile device you can send the file to yourself (by email for example) and then upload your assignment to Canvas using your desktop or laptop as you normally would.

To scan a document in iOS, use the Files Application. To scan a document in Android, use Google Drive.

To email a file from your iOS device, use the share button. To email a file from your Android device, use attach file or insert from Drive.

Administering Written Exams via Canvas

The Canvas Assignments tool can be used for replicating a “take-home” style of exam, or a written exam, in an online or remote course setting. This post will discuss how to decide if this is the right approach for your course, how to set it up in Canvas, and some details for administering it to ensure a smooth launch come exam time.

Things to Consider Before Going This Route

There are a few things to consider before going with this approach:

  1. In effect, this style of exam must be considered “open book”. Understand that students will have access to their notes and course materials (and yes, even access to the internet) during the exam period. You might want to lean into this by asking students to provide references and citations in their responses, like they would have to with a research paper.
  2. This type of exam is quite easy for students to keep a copy of, and potentially could be distributed to students in future classes. Your best bet to ensure exam integrity term-to-term is to either make a unique variation of the exam each term, or write questions that require very complex higher-order thinking and analysis — i.e., questions that knowing them well in advance won’t save a student from putting in the work to create a well-crafted response.
  3. This type of exam works best for written response questions (i.e., short answer, long answer, and essay response types) in which you expect students to provide you with unique answers. It is not a good option for very objective question types (such as multiple choice and true-false questions); the Canvas Quiz tool is a better option for those. Keep in mind that you can always do a 2-part exam if you want to use both approaches.
  4. When setting your test availability window, you are striking a balance between keeping it small to discourage collusion between students, and widening it to allow for more flexibility and accessibility. For a Final Exam, an availability window of between 3 and 24 hours is a common approach used. Also remember that the window you set should align with the exams schedule set for your course by the university, so that your students will not have conflicts with their other courses.
  5. This is a wonderfully low-bandwidth exam option. Other examination methods, such as Canvas Quizzes or testing that uses proctoring software, require constant internet connectivity, and thus can present a real barrier for students with limited access to the internet. Even for students with reliable internet access, exams with constant connectivity are generally a higher-stress situation because of all that can go wrong with an internet connection during the test period. A take-home (or download/upload) written exam is a great way to increase the accessibility of your course, and also limit the stressful nature of web-based examinations.

Setting it up in Canvas

Replicating the “take-home” or written exam approach in an online/remote setting involves uploading an exam file (likely in a Word document format) to your Canvas course as an “Assignment”, setting the parameters for the release date/time and submission deadline, and them communicating with students so that they know what to expect. To complete the exam, students download the Word file, complete their work and save a copy, and then upload their completed exam — all within the access window you define.

The following instructions and links from the Canvas Instructor Guide will walk you through this process:

  1. First, upload the exam file to your course. Depending on the settings of your course, students may have access to view the content of the “Course Files” folder. For this reason, you should also make sure to restrict the file access (either so that it is “Only available to students with the link”, or you can “Schedule student availability” and restrict it to the test access time). This way, students won’t see the exam file before you want them to see it.
  2. Next, create an Assignment Group, and title it accordingly (this is recommended since often exams will be weighted separately from other elements of the course — e.g., the Final Exam alone might be worth 25% of the course grade).
  3. Within that Assignment Group, create your Assignment, but for now, DO NOT publish it (i.e., hit the “Save” button but not the “Save and Publish” button). This ensures that students won’t see anything you don’t want them to see yet.
  4. Edit the Assignment details to suit your needs. Pay particular attention to the following items:
    1. In the Rich Content Editor, add some instructions to students so that they know what to do to complete their take-home exam. You also want to insert a link to the downloadable exam file (e.g., Word document) into the Rich Content Editor.
    2. Set the number of points you are grading the exam out of.
    3. Make sure you have paired the Assignment to the Assignment Group you made earlier, so that it will be weighted properly in your Gradebook.
    4. Set the “Submission Type” to “Online” and only to “File Uploads”; you can further limit this by selecting “Restrict Upload File Types” to just allow Word documents, for example (i.e., doc, docx). More details here.
    5. Under the “Assign” field, specify the “Due” date with the final deadline, and the “Available from” and “Until” fields with the window of availability in which the Assignment (i.e., exam) will be visible to students. In this case, it makes sense for the “Due” and “Until” fields to contain the same date and time (i.e., the submission deadline). For example, you might set the exam to be Available from: Dec. 1, 9:00AM, Until: Dec. 1, 9:00PM, Due: Dec. 1, 9:00PM. This would give your students a 12-hour window in which to download their exam, complete it, and upload it for grading, after which the exam would disappear from their Canvas course (although they should still have a copy saved locally). More details here.
    6. When you are ready, click to “Save and Publish” your Assignment (i.e., exam). Students will not see anything until the availability date/time that you set. To confirm, you can always toggle to the Student View of your course.

Setting Exemptions for Particular Students

There are numerous reasons why a student might need to have additional time to complete their exam, or might need to access it on a different day/time than the rest of your class. When you edit an Assignment in Canvas, use the “Assign to” feature to alter the “Due” date, and or the “Available from” and “Until” dates, just for a particular student. See the following link for details on how to do this: How do I assign an assignment to an individual student?

Optionally, if a student is writing on a different day and you wish to give them a different version of the exam than what the rest of the class wrote, you will need to create a whole new, separate Assignment; upload your alternate version of the exam, and then assign it only to that student.


Photo by Jeswin Thomas from Pexels

How Much Should I Assign? Estimating Workload in Asynchronous Classes

Over nearly ten years of designing and developing online classes at different Higher Education Institutions in Canada, one question I have found consistently in all contexts is, “how much content should I include in my online class?” Now that we are looking at remote teaching in the fall, that question has become a lot more frequent, so let’s take a deeper look at the question and hopefully provide some useful resources.

First, the question about “how much content” tends to lead to the broader question of, “how much time and effort are students expected to put into a single class?” When we teach face-to-face, in flipped classrooms, blended classrooms, or even in synchronous online classes (those with webinar like sessions), we have a proxy for how much time students spend on our classes based on the assigned class time. We expect that students will come to class (e.g. three 1-hour lectures per week) as well as complete readings, assignments, or other activities out-side of class time.

What does this mean for asynchronous classes? Every class will be a bit different, based on the country, province, institution, Faculty/College/School, and department norms. It will also depend on the level of the class, expectations for 100-level classes are different than 400-level classes and graduate level classes. There is no hard-rule about number of expected hours, but this post will hopefully provide you with some tools to look critically at your course and manage expectations for your students as well as for your own workload teaching remotely.

Overall, we can assume that for a course that was comprised of three 1-hour lectures per week can be the baseline to start with. At the top end of our estimate we might consider a 2:1 ratio of “out of class time” to “in class time”, so about 9 hours per week. Note that students may be taking a number of classes, so if every week was at the top end of this range and a student was taking five classes they reach 45 hours per week very quickly. Many of our students are also working, have classes that also have lab components or tutorials, co-curricular activities and other commitments which should be in the back of our mind while we are planning out a course. Most of the time your course will be more work in one week, and less work another, depending on the topics you are discussing and assignments you have in place. The main takeaway here is that we will work within a range. It’s worth mentioning here that DEU has found that students report spending on average about 6 hours of on task time for online classes including reading, watching videos, completing learning activities, engaging in discussions, and working on assignments.

Take an Inventory of Your Course Activities

This is one way the course design plan really shines as a planning tool. Using the design plan as a guide, you will have a high level view or everything you’re asking a student to review and engage with in a given week. If you’ve selected a textbook chapter, you’ll be able to see the page count. Including websites, articles and other documents here will give you an overall picture of the reading required each week. Next, the media such as podcasts or video can be accounted for based on the segments selected or the total run time. As you fill out the course design plan you might start to get something like this:

Week Module/ Topic Objectives Readings Media Activities and Assessments 
1 Introduction to the discipline

differentiate our topic from similar areas of study

identify conceptual approaches used in our topic

describe examples our topic in the real world

list traits associated with our topic

differentiate these three concepts within our topic

Textbook, chapter 2, pages 21-38 (17 pages)

Lecture Video (5:39)

YouTube video (3:49)

Films on Demand (45:13)

Quiz (15 questions)

Discussion Forum (chain discussion format)


Wake Forest University has developed a second version of an online workload calculator which can assist you in estimating the workload of your class. The calculator does not provide any descriptors, so for further detail expand the relevant content below:

Course Duration
The number of weeks the class is offered. Note that if you are trying to calculate your course at a week by week level, set this to one week and only include information from that row in your course design plan.

Reading Assignments

Using the page count listed in your course design plan you can make more specific adjustments to the reading estimate:

Density (words per page) Difficulty Purpose
450 e.g. paperback book pages, or 6″ x 9″ pages of journal articles No new concepts students have enough background knowledge to immediately understand the ideas Survey students scan the reading an possibly skip entire sections
600 e.g. academic monograph pages Some new concepts students are not familiar with the meaning of some ideas expressed Understand students read to understand each sentence in the text
750 e.g. textbook pages that are 25% images, or full-size pages of two-column journal articles Many new concepts students are not familiar with the meaning of many of the ideas expressed Engage students answer questions or complete tasks related to the reading

The calculator matches the time you put into this field (i.e. if you add one hour of video, it calculates as one hour of effort). While the calculator assumes a 1:1 ratio, DEU recommends increasing this value by 25% (e.g. a one hour video actually takes 1 hour and 15 minutes for students to work through). The reason for this is to account for any active note taking, rewinding and reviewing, or pausing students will do while they watch the video. For example, if you include a series of questions students should be completing  while watching a video, they will need additional time to complete that work.

Writing Assignments

In addition to the number of pages of writing your students will complete, there are other variables that are tabulated as well:

Density (words per page) Genre Drafting
250 e.g. Double-Spaced, Times New Roman, 12-Point Font, 1″ Margins Reflection/ Narrative e.g. journal entries, reflections,  or response format essays requiring little planning No Drafting e.g. a draft essay or paper
500 e.g. Single-Spaced, Times New Roman, 12-Point Font, 1″ Margins Argument e.g. journal entries, reflections, or essays requiring deep engagement with content Minimal Drafting e.g. an essay or paper that was revised at least once
Research e.g. journal entries, reflections, or essays requiring detailed planning an further research Extensive Drafting e.g. an essay or paper with several revisions

Discussion Posts
Discussions come in all shapes, sizes, and formats. Keep in mind that the estimator assumes the more traditional online discussion of “post once, reply twice” format. Alternative discussion formats are available. One notable elements included here is that a 3 minute audio/video recording is calculated as an hour of students activity. If you’ve recorded short learning videos before, this should not come as a surprise.

Once your syllabus is set, you will know how long students will have to write their exam. As students prepare for the exam, you can add that estimate to the calculator as well.

Other Assignments
For assignments in your course such as group presentations, your best guess is what can be used here. Generally speaking, consider how long it might take you to complete the task, and then multiply that by three or four if this is one of the first times students are completing this type of assignment.

Class Meetings
Most of the online and remote learning courses offered will be asynchronous so this field will generally be empty, but if you have informal synchronous meetings or happen to be planning for one of the synchronous course offerings then this field can be filled out based on your class schedule.

What are my options if I’ve asked my students to do more than I assumed?

Now that you have an estimate of the workload for your class you have a high level view of weeks that are more work and those that are less work. For cases where you have a lot more work than the upper range discussed at the beginning of this post you have a few options:

  • Revise the reading list or the expectations of the readings. For example, if the key takeaways for a particular reading are on select pages you can let students know where to focus their attention or write instructional material that weaves portions of a single longer reading together.
  • Let students know the expectations. For example, if they are just meant to survey a reading (as you input into the calculator) then make that clear. If they are meant to engage deeply with the reading, provide guiding questions well in advance.
  • Reduce or consolidate assignments. For example, if students are asked to create a journal entry every week for submission you might consider having students submit a synthesis drawing on several journal entries. While students would still be encouraged to create the journal entries, this would allow them to focus on expressing ideas rather than on the formatting and function of a formal assignment.
  • Provide opportunities for students to check their understanding. If there are key takeaways from a particular video or reading, providing students an opportunity to check their understanding with feedback can help them to focus their attention and promotes learning. This is more effective for learning than having students review material over and over again without an opportunity to practice.
  • Prioritize the types of activities students will do in a given week. If one week the focus in on a discussion, consider moving any readings or videos that are not directly related to that discussion into a “supplementary resources” area in your course. Distinguish for yourself, and for your students what elements in your course are directed-study and which are self-directed study.

The above are just a few suggestions. As always, if you would like assistance with your course planning and development contact the instructional designers at the distance education unit at


Pile of open books flickr photo by bjwhite66212 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Additional Resources

Brysbaert, M. (2019). How many words do we read per minute? A review and meta-analysis of reading rate. Journal of Memory and Language, 109, 104047.

Bjork, R. A., Dunlosky, J., & Kornell, N. (2013). Self-regulated learning: Beliefs, techniques, and illusions. Annual review of psychology, 64, 417-444.

Koedinger, K. R., McLaughlin, E. A., Jia, J. Z., & Bier, N. L. (2016, April). Is the doer effect a causal relationship? How can we tell and why it’s important. In Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Learning Analytics & Knowledge (pp. 388-397).

McDaniel, E. A. (2011). Level of student effort should replace contact time in course design. Journal of Information Technology Education, 10(10). “Time on Task in Online Courses” by Michael Starenko, Rochester Institute of Technology is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Powell, K., Stephens‐Helm, J., Layne, M., & Ice, P. (2012). Quantifying Online Learning Contact Hours. Administration Issues Journal: Education, Practice, and Research, Vol. 2, Issue 2.

Samuels, S. J., & Dahl, P. R. (1975). Establishing Appropriate Purpose for Reading and Its Effect on Flexibility of Reading Rate. Journal of Educational Psychology, 67(1), 38.

Why Asynchronous Modules?

As you consider how to deliver your course remotely for the fall term you may be weighing the pros and cons of synchronous vs. asynchronous content. In this post we hope to persuade you towards a mostly asynchronous course design that will help ensure equitable access to materials and a more flexible environment for students to work with. After all, remote learning is not only new for faculty and instructors, but many of our students as well.

Consider the Infographic below

Requirements for a synchronous lecture can often inhibit active participation by some students. Technology factors alone can contribute to a gap between students who have and those who have not, but there are many reasons why synchronous meetings can be tough. Consider a student who

    • does not have a computer equipped with a camera or microphone
    • has spotty internet or is using WiFi hot spots from cafes or their phone’s data network to connect
    • is a single parent with young children at home
    • shares living spaces with numerous roommates
    • is in a different timezone from the lecturer
    • is working a full time job while trying to complete their studies.

These students can be adversely affected by a required and scheduled, streaming, online, synchronous, delivery method.

Asynchronous delivery strategies create a more flexible environment for students to organize their time within. Giving students weekly modules of content in which to work through and providing asynchronous opportunities to connect with peers and instructors through activity-based discussions and group work will keep them connected to the course community and provide them with the support they need to succeed. So how can you design and develop your lectures and course materials into effective asynchronous learning modules?

Let’s take a look.

First, think about the content of you lecture and try and identify the specific topics you discuss.

  • For each topic write a short introduction in a conversational tone to get students familiar with the major concepts.
  • From there you might provide an embedded YouTube video to further explain a concept with some visual aids.
  • Remember to write a short introduction to the video to explain why it’s being included as learning material and how it connects to the topics and concepts.
  • Now provide some context about your topic or concept that might give students a sense of real world applications or connections to current world events. How is this topic relevant today?
  • Finally let’s make sure that students have an active opportunities to test their knowledge and apply their learning. Discussions, web quests, reflections or at the very least some review questions and answers will provide them with the formative self assessment they need to know they’re on the right track.

Repeat this process for each of the topics within a module until you have what you feel is an adequate learning experience for that week.

The structure of this prototype module can now be followed for each week worth of content creating modules for the full term.

Resources to help guide the Module development process:

Don’t forget to provide clear ways for students to connect with you and their peers. Asynchronous DOES NOT mean building a course that should be completed in isolation. It simply means allowing for the student to have flexible control of how and when they engage with the materials, discussions and activities you’ve designed.

See a previous blog post for ideas on connecting with students throughout the term.

Class Communications at a Distance

And how to promote peer to peer interactions within your asynchronous course.

Promoting Peer to Peer Participation