Lettings students ignore exercises

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Kieran Mathieson

Laura Gibbs (@OnlineCrsLady) has been tweeting her annoyance with Canvas, her LMS. One of her complaints is something that Canvas and Skilling both do. This blog post explores a new feature that could fix it. What do you think?

(I'll write about Skilling. Canvas is SEP [somebody else's problem]).

What happens now

With online courses, it's easy for students to fall behind on their exercises. Skilling tries to help. There's a timeline, with a status indicator for each exercise.


Students see icons on exercises, showing their status. A red ! means the exercise is late.

My courses have 40 - 50 exercises. There's a lot of data in the timeline. To make things easier, Skilling suggests to students how they should feel about their progress, with an emoticon.


The emoticon ranges from deliriously happy to freaked out, depending on how many exercises have been submitted early, or are late.

These are useful features, and I don't plan on getting rid of them.

The problem

This approach reduces student agency. I want students to be in charge of their learning. This isn't just lip service; I really want them to make decisions. If they choose to skip some exercises, so be it. If they want to skip an exam, fine, if they're OK with the consequences. Students get to decide how to use their time.

Another issue is with optional exercises. Suppose there are 70 exercises available in a course, and students have to submit 50 to get full credit. Clearly, missing exercises in just fine.

The status indicators can be misleading. A freaked out emoji might be inappropriate for a student who is behind by eight exercises, if the student has chosen not to do those exercises. However, if the student is behind by twelve, it would be useful for the emoji to show concern, since the student is not meeting her own standards.

The proposed solution

Students could tell Skilling to ignore some exercises when computing the progress score that's behind the emoji. The data Skilling offers would then more accurately reflect student progress, given their own choices.

The timeline would still show ignored exercises. However, they would be struck out (have a line through them). and would not have a status icon.

The instructor's student progress report would also be affected. The report shows - you guessed it - the progress scores of every student in a class. The progress scores on that report would reflect student choices.

I'm not sure what the best UI (user interface) would be. I'm thinking of an "Ignore" button or checkbox on the exercises themselves, with a link that explains what it's for. There'd also be a filtering option on the report students get about their own work. They could show ignored exercises, or not.


Some questions for wise and worldly readers (to channel Matt Reed).

  • Letting students ignore exercises. Good idea? Bad? Something else?
  • Should instructors be able to turn off this feature for some classes?
  • The class progress report that instructors get. Should it show how many exercises each student has decided to ignore?
  • Anything else?

Answer here, or tweet to @kierancyco.