Help! My grading burden is crushing me!

Authored by Rich Kingsford, Software Development Manager and Adjunct Instructor

    “Every semester, it seems like I have more and more tedious assignments and essays to grade. If I have to write one more red circle, I’m going to strangle someone.”
    I hear you… Grading is a time suck. Let’s explore a few ways to reduce your grading burden.

    Switch to self-grading

    The quickest way to lessen your grading burden is to identify those assignments which are most painful to create, and then replacing them.  

    For those areas and concepts that require memorization, Atomic Assessments has dozens of question types that can easily grade themselves.  How does zero maintenance sound? 

    For those concepts that need to be applied to real-life scenarios in order to be mastered, you might consider replacing large essay assignments with a series of smaller ones.  Written discussions might be even more effective than one person essays.  After all, it’s much harder for one person to break out of their own mindset or identify blind spots or gaps in their thinking.

    Modern discussion tools such as Slack, Trello, Microsoft Teams, and Atomic Discussions make discussion template management so easy, you can do it in your sleep (or on your phone while your kids are at the splash pad).

    Templates and hotstrings

    Grading templates and rubrics are pretty common, but are yours so flexible that you can grade a two-page essay in less than 30 seconds?  One way I do this is to list out the more common mistakes I see in a given essay and then list out the feedback in a template.  Then, I paste the template into the grading system for the student and manually check and erase any irrelevant feedback items.  Easy.  I can manually grade 20 students’ essays with high quality, personalized feedback (well… semi-personalized) in 15 minutes.  

    If you enjoy dabbling in programming, you might try hotstrings. A hot string is when you press one key or the beginnings of a phrase and then press spacebar and it replaces your text (string) with the defined value. For example, I might type “readabilityIssue” (no spaces) and then press spacebar and my hotstring would replace it with “I caught one or more readability issues in your argument.  Please see Writing Clearly, especially chapter 5.”  

    “Yeah… But then you have to remember 100 hotstrings”

    • The fastest hotstring tools (I like Autohotkey) list out your hot strings in an instant and let you press just a single letter.  Pretty cool, huh? If you want to explore using hotstrings, I even created a blog post to walk you through how to use Autohotkey to reduce your grading burden

    How do you reduce your grading burden in your classes?

    No Comments on Help! My grading burden is crushing me!

    I am so sick of grading papers… Automating part of your grading burden with hotstrings


    I was first asked to adjunct a class in 2012 – I was very excited.  For about 5 minutes…until I discovered adjuncting involved mountains of grading.  Especially essay grading (blech!).  But the non-whiny part of me really wants to build my students’ writing and logic skills…  

    Sound familiar?  Today is your lucky day – I’m going to share some hotstrings with you.  I’ll even throw in some other simple macros.  After we’re done, you’re going to wish you could buy me a meal through DoorDash.

    Intro to hotstrings

    A hotstring is when you type in a short string (series of letters – or a word) and the string gets replaced with whatever other string you’d like.  

    Here’s my ‘mycell’ one:

    I love to set up hotstrings (and other macros) for grading statements.  Here are some grading hotstrings I recently used for a Finance class in my MBA program:

    • Q1.  Must mention EBIT volatility
    • Q3.  K-wacc = 9.41%
    • Q4.  NPV: $7.99.  PI: 1.7.  IRR: 22.6%

    You could make hotstrings like “q1, q2, or q3” and then the hotstring would erase your one string and replace it with another string.  Hint: a string is just a series of letters, like ‘asdf’ or ‘dog.’ 

    To use hotstrings, you first need to create a macro and then run your macro.  A macro is a set of instructions that tell your computer to run a process (e.g. replace ‘this string’ with ‘that string’).  My favorite hotstring or macro tool for Windows is Autohotkey.  For Macs, see how to setup hotstrings on a Mac.

    Your first hotstring (using Autohotkey)

    If you’d like to make your first Autohotkey script, here are some instructions:

    1. Install Autohotkey

    2. Copy the two lines below

    ::Vaguee::Some arguments are a little too general.  It’s good for the arguments to be brief, but they should be specific, insightful, and well defended.
    ::Unclearr::Some readability problems here.  Please reference the guidelines on this clear writing resource:

    3. Open Notepad

    4. Paste the two lines and save the file as whateverYouWant.ahk

    5. Double-click the Autohotkey file to make it run

    6. Type ‘vaguee’ (did it replace the word with your grading statement?)

    Cool huh?

    “Why did you spell ‘Vaguee’ and ‘Unclearr’ like that?”

    • So it wouldn’t mess me up when I type normally. 
    • Remember Jim’s prank on Dwight in The Office?  If not, here’s a youtube video on the topic.  Go ahead and watch it… I’ll wait.

    So… you actually use these?

    I do!  Especially when grading essays.

    Except I often use another method, that’s far easier to setup.  I just copy/paste whatever grading statements I want for the assignment and then just erase the irrelevant ones.  So if a paper was perfect, I’d erase all of them.  When I’m feeling especially motivated, I’d copy/paste the student’s statement right before my feedback. 

    A quick example: 

    “Here’s a dumb sentence a student write.”   Some grammar/sentence structure issues throughout. Suggest using GMAT practice exams to study up on proper grammar.

    I use this method for my finance papers.  I’ll paste my statements again here:

    • Q1.  Must mention EBIT volatility
    • Q3.  K-wacc = 9.41%
    • Q4.  NPV: $7.99.  PI: 1.7.  IRR: 22.6%

    For essays, I used these grading statements (I used my second macro 👆 to navigate these): 

    The response contains too many details describing abstract concepts.  Be brief in describing concepts and do so only when explaining your response to the prompt question.

    Slightly breaches the length limit.  Specificity, thoroughness, clarity, and insightfulness are good, but should be done within the limit.

    A few too many facts from the case without original thought.  The focus should be on original insights in the context of case facts.  Case facts can also be used to illustrate or explain your thinking.

    Argument fails to adequately address the question

    Insufficient detail on some responses.  Arguments should be specific, insightful, and well defended.

    Some grammar/sentence structure issues throughout. Suggest using GMAT practice exams to study up on proper grammar.

    Please include the questions as topic headers in future assignments

    Very good arguments.  Well articulated.  I had a hard time finding flaws in this essay.

    Use topic headers.  These help give the reader context and make it so he or she can interpret the content as fast and effortlessly as possible.

    Some arguments are a little too general.  It’s good for the arguments to be brief, but they should be specific, insightful, and well defended.

    Some readability problems here.  Please reference the guidelines on this clear writing resource:


    I joked around in my intro, but I truly believe the best teachers preserve their energy and apply it to the highest priority activities.  Rarely is grading papers my highest priority activity… I’ll admit to some laziness and desire to minimize the time I spend grading papers, but I also care about my students and want, very deeply, to strengthen their logic and writing muscles.  Macros and hotstrings are fun and help me with all of this.

    Atomic Assessments: The Gridded Question Type

    Authored by Tawny Hoskin

    We love building quiz questions that are 1) self-graded, 2) interesting, and 3) are phone-friendly! Let me introduce you to the Gridded Question type – one of the 64 different item types in Atomic Assessments.

    The Gridded Question type has been developed based on the STAAR science assessments standards (Griddable Questions For Science), which use a type of open-ended question known as a griddable item.

    In this question type, students are presented with a grid of columns containing bubbles, with the numbers 0 to 9 in a vertical list underneath.

    The answer grids can include a fixed decimal point, or floating decimal points where the top bubble in each column contains the decimal point.

    Students enter their answer in the top input field by clicking (or “shading”) a numeral / decimal / plus / minus bubble underneath, or they can type directly inside the input field and the question will automatically “shade” the corresponding bubble in the column underneath.

    When to use it?

    The purpose of griddable items is to provide students with the opportunity to derive answers independently without being influenced by answer choices provided with the questions.

    This question type is not only ideal if you want to truly test student knowledge, but this question type is also graded automatically; no tedious, manual, grading required!

    How to use it?

    First, make sure Atomic Assessments is installed in your Canvas instance. If it is not, you can schedule a demo and get a free 30 day trial for this Canvas plugin. The Gridded Question can be found when you add a new item and navigate to the “Other” tab.

    Location of the Gridded Question Type

    This question type can be used in summative and formative assessments by embedding it into a Canvas page or in quiz form, both options have a wide variety of configuration options available (unscored options, response specific feedback, multiple attempts, penalty points, etc.).

    A gridded question type embedded into a Canvas page with 3 allowed attempts.

    We hope you enjoy creating assessments with Atomic Assessments!

    How do have you used or how do you plan to use the Gridded question type? Happy Gridding 🙂


    Presented by Michael Hakkerinen

    Thank you to Michael Hakkarinen, Harmonize Success Coach at Harmonize for sharing a product demonstration with our team here at Atomic Jolt!  Harmonize has many rich media features that make it fun and easy for students to engage with classmates and course content.  I was especially impressed by the variety of content types (audio recordings, video recordings, annotated images, annotated videos, emojis, text and more).  Below are some highlights.  Thanks again, Michael!


    In case you’d like to jump to a highlight in the video above, here are some highlight timestamps.

    • 1:20: Executive summary of Harmonize
    • 3:10: Basic functionality
    • 5:21: Detailed engagement on a post
    • 8:46: How an instructor creates a topic
    • 13:30: Some advanced features
    • 21:10: Zoom integrations (and other integrations)
    • 25:45: Upcoming features

    Purpose of Harmonize

    Authored by Rich Kingsford, Software Development Manager and Adjunct Instructor

    Harmonize boosts student engagement in the online or in-person classroom through asynchronous communication tools similar to popular social media platforms.  Harmonize integrates with popular Learning Management Systems (LMSs), including Blackboard, Brightspace, Canvas, and Moodle.  This integration makes Harmonize more accessible to students, teachers, and instructional designers (it can also decrease your set-up hassle too – Woohoo!).

    The Essence of Harmonize

    The essence of Harmonize, to me, was its peer-to-peer engagement tools.  I’ve seen a few tools that offer asynchronous discussion, but Harmonize’s tools seemed more intuitive, more attractive, and more accessible.  I loved the card concept, where instead of a standard text discussion they engage with a more visual card-style layout where there are images and reactions that are intuitive to students.  On the back of the card, there are more details and space for responses and comments. It’s designed to help students think of their own discussion questions and engage in their own way.

    Interface view highlighting the assignment and card layout.

    Rich Media

    This part impressed me the most.  Harmonize includes all the popular text-editing capabilities (dynamic links, tags, embedded images, styling, and drag-and-drop attachments) plus the ability for students and teachers to record audio and or video!  Straight from your phone or pre-recorded.  What’s more, students can annotate images and video (timestamps) without needing to use a separate tool.  “A picture says 1,000 words,” indeed!

    These images show the video and image annotation within Harmonize , allowing you to to drop time markers and add notes to help students.

    More Features

    A few additional features I could help but mention:

    • Native 1:1 and group chat, facilitating asynchronous & private conversation (student or teacher initiated). 
    • Student tagging, making it easier for students to get their team members’ attention.  
    • “Flag as question for the teacher” toggle on any post
    • Engagement analytics, including views, comments, responses – both on the positive and negative side, making it easier for the instructor to identify less-engaged students and possibly nudge them.
    • Online presence, making it easy to see who is online in the moment
    • Zoom integration, allowing you to create Zoom rooms without leaving the window and the ability to post recorded zoom sessions easily in the discussion to engage all members of the class (sidenote: I find it easier to just use a single, personal, web conferencing room the entire semester – I just bookmark and hotkey the room url).


    Harmonize offers fantastic engagement capabilities for online, hybrid and face-to-face classes.  Even in my face-to-face courses, I’m using asynchronous discussion tools more often to engage students.  This  can help a shy or embarrassed student move out of their comfort zone and engage in richer conversations. Additionally, it can open the door to self-paced learning, allowing each student in the class to learn as much as they can as individuals. They facilitate organic mentorships – where one student helps another.  Harmonize is easy-to-use and accessible with a WCAG 2.1 Level A and AA rating. I’m especially impressed by their attention to detail on those small, often forgotten, challenges students and instructors face.

    You can learn more about Harmonize by attending a webinar or exploring their Best Practice Guide, eBooks, or Product Reviews.

    GeoGebra – Empowering Learners With Tools of Math Construction

    Presentation by Michael Borcherds, CTO at GeoGebra


    Do you want to take your math instruction to the next level? Use GeoGebra to create endless interactive works and assessments that have the ability to give your students a true intuitive understanding of the topics in your curriculum. This is no simple online graphing calculator, but a powerful mathematical tool capable of expressing concepts as simple as the quadratic formula to more high-level ones such as Möbius transformations and non-Euclidean geometry with the same level of clarity.

    Timestamp outline

    Don’t have the time to watch the whole thing? Here are some highlights

    Authored by Kyle Hovey, Software Developer


    GeoGebra’s suite of tools can work with any math topic. Whether you are giving instruction on algebra, calculus, differential equations, statistics, or topology, GeoGebra will offer a formidable suite of tools to aide you in expressing concepts.


    Constructions in GeoGebra are constraint-based, meaning that you can add certain qualities to your diagrams that must hold, and any remaining degrees of freedom are available for interactivity. For instance, you could create a parabola, a point on that parabola, and a line that goes through that point that is tangent to the parabola. The line is now fixed to the curve, but notice that nothing is specifying where the point must be on the curve. This means that you may move the point around and observe the consequences of the movement you impose.


    With GeoGebra Notes you can use a smart board, touch screen, or tablet to give a lecture on an overpowered whiteboard capable of adding graphics that you can annotate freely. If a student asks a question about something on the whiteboard, rather than re-drawing you could simply interact with the graph or include another one on the fly.


    With GeoGebra Classroom, you can leverage the power of custom interactive constructions in your assessments. Instead of assigning simple fill-in-the-blank style math assessments, you can have students interact with the problem and have GeoGebra determine the correctness of the answer. GeoGebra Classroom also lets you ask your whole class a question and see their responses in real-time as they interact with the problems.


    Give GeoGebra a try in your classroom. It will quickly become your go-to resource for conveying mathematical topics in a clean and understandable fashion.

    Making Mathematics Worthwhile

    Authored by Kyle Hovey, Software Developer

    Math stigma

    Despite the apparent overwhelming stigma against mathematics education, according to a survey of 1,000 students done by Texas Instruments, 46% of students report that they liked learning about mathematics in school. Perhaps the stigma stems from something deeper than preference: practicality. Sixty-eight percent of students responded that they would appreciate mathematics more if they knew where it would be applicable to their own lives. It is odd, then, that no one would question the usefulness of critical thinking in their own lives. Therein lies the current problem of math education: math is viewed as machinery that will provide some immediate and topical utility to your own life.

    Much like critical thinking, however, mathematics skills are more abstract in their benefit and the value is impossible to measure directly. The ties between critical thinking and mathematics go deeper than this fact. Mathematics is built upon an ancient edifice of logic, constructed by some of humanity’s most brilliant logicians. In a way, the reasoning employed by mathematics is dual to that used in science. In science, we rely on the principle of uniformity of nature to uphold that empirical evidence will provide enough certainty about the structure of the world around us and how it will continue to behave in the future. Mathematics, however, relies on deductive reasoning from some very simple truths (axioms) that we accept on the basis of faith alone (there exists a number 0, representing nothing etc…). Along with some rules of inference, we grow these axiomatic seeds into ornate theorems powerful enough to develop understanding of even things we could never hope to interact with.

    Sadly, this structure is not revealed to most students until graduate-level courses. This can make sense if most students will only need to use the results of mathematics for STEM careers, but perhaps participating in it is what would drive a better understanding of its place in our lives and endow learners with an enhanced ability to synthesize heuristics, and not only recall/compose algorithms.

    Procedure or creativity?

    In this way, in order to truly appreciate mathematics, you need to partake in it, not simply absorb its results. Ironically, creativity is not often associated with mathematics. More often, curriculum is based around memorization of procedure, and pattern matching to learn when to apply them. It is important to be adept in these procedures, after all, just like it is important to be fluent in a language before you can speak it. Teaching literacy (despite being the main focus of modern math education) is not the problem, giving students agency in their own creative endeavors is. The challenge, then, is to balance this added context with application. For instance, if a teacher were to explain a concept such as fractal dimension, they could approach it by stating the definition:

    The proportion that a manifold’s hyper-volume scales when all metrics are adjusted by a scalar amount.

    It would be absolutely forgivable to see a class full of bright students glaze over when hearing this, and it could practically be expected that not many would understand. Still, the teacher could proceed with the algorithm of how to calculate this concept given a structure, and the class could pass an exam with flying colors without ever knowing what it was that they were even being tested on. What if, instead, you began with an example:

    Fractal dimension is akin to a measure of roughness. If you were to measure the coastline of Britain with a meter-stick, you would measure a shorter distance than if you were to use a foot-long ruler (due to being able to measure more fine details). Notice that instead of measuring with a smaller ruler, you could also just scale Britain up and use the meter-stick to get the same change. Because of this, the coastline of Britain can be said to be more than one-dimensional, but less than two-dimensional. That is to say that if Britain were to be made n times larger, then the coastline would be n^d times larger where d is the fractal dimension of the coastline, and d is more than one, but less than two.

    Cultivating an appreciation for math

    What if, after explaining this, you let the students converse with one-another and gave them some tools to find other instances of fractal dimension? Perhaps the first assignment could be to simply research this topic, and have students come up with their own thoughts on the matter. Perhaps the teacher could offer an interactive software tool to build fractals and measure their fractal dimension. The next assignment could ask the students to create a fractal with a given fractal dimension. By the time this second assignment was done, maybe the students wouldn’t even need to memorize a formula. They themselves could create the formula themselves, reconstructing it from their total and personal understanding of the concept. Imagine not having to study for a math test, but instead having to come prepared to think creatively about problems and develop solutions based solely on understanding.

    I can offer personal testament to this technique. There was a time I struggled with mathematics. I was profoundly fascinated, but always seemed to fall short of the requisite ability to receive the grade I was aiming for. Then, one day, a close friend of mine walked me through one of their favorite theorems. It was one that was not formally taught in school until graduate classes, yet the way it was explained made it easier to understand than finding the focus of a parabola, or computing the determinant of a matrix. I realized that, armed with this theorem, I could easily derive the 30+ expressions I had diligently written down on flashcards in my backpack and had spent hours memorizing. More than that, I understood at a fundamental level how each of those expressions were derived. Still, I couldn’t tell you the exact value of learning that theorem, or exactly where it would be used in my life from that point on. In fact, the man who developed that theorem (Leonard Euler), though being one of the most brilliant minds to ever grace this earth, could not have expected where this knowledge would be used. We now rely on that theorem to build our bridges so that they won’t collapse in a windstorm, so that we can store thousands of songs on an SD card, so that we can edit photos and view them on our devices, so that we can have wireless communication and broadcast signals into space, and so that we may understand the quantum world that we cannot see.

    I’m omitting much, but it is complete and simple enough to say this: the value of mathematics education does not lie in the heuristics we associate with it, but rather in the development of organized abstract thought that powers the technological advancement of our society. If students can come home with one belief about mathematics, I hope it can be that one.


    Presentation by Jared Smith, Associate Director at WebAIM


    We met with Jared Smith from WebAIM to learn about their online accessibility offerings.  WebAIM trained us on making our websites and apps more accessible to those with disabilities (hearing, visual, and other physical disabilities).  Enlightening!  We wanted to share some highlights and FREE resources, like a free website evaluation tool that identifies potential accessibility issues.

    If you’re short on time, feel free to jump to the topics that most interest you:

    Authored by Rich Kingsford, Software Development Manager and Adjunct Instructor

    What’s accessibility?

    Online accessibility strives to make websites and apps easier to use for those with disabilities or need special accomodations.

    My background with accessibility is mostly with the federal government (503 compliance).  My fellow contractors and I usually viewed this as jumping through a thousand pedantic hoops.  The most annoying one, by far, was we had to make our websites functional even if someone turned off javascript (a very popular scripting language you probably enjoy about a hundred times a minute without realizing it).  Some of the rules were completely reasonable and it felt good to make our site easier to use for those with hearing and visual disabilities.  But the other 90% of our efforts were about jumping through annoying hoops (compliance and such). 

    WebAIM and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from seem mostly about helping people who really need it.  I like it.  Far more motivating than just boring old compliance.  And WebAIM’s tools make it much easier to identify user stories (software developers often write user stories, or short stories from the user’s perspective, to understand and manage requirements, or the features, enhancements, and bug fixes customers want most). 

    WebAIM crawled a million websites and found 98.1% of them had detectable WCAG failures (average of 60 violations on just the homepage).  “One of our goals is to put ourselves out of work.  We have a long way to go.”

    Do you have any questions about accessibility?

    A quick note on standards

    There are several accessibility standards (e.g. 503, WCAG) and sometimes these can be pretty daunting.  The cool thing about standards is they have more power when more people abide by them.  In this instance, a developer can begin learning the standards as she applies them.  She can reach out to the community for help or with a proposal.  She can transfer her mastery from project to project or even to another company.  

    I’d like to share a limitation with standards; sometimes they get stale (old, outdated, and confining).  Let’s remember to periodically challenge the status quo and think outside the box.  A great way to strengthen a standard is to think up a good idea, test its hypothesis, and then build a persuasive proposal (or maybe a new product or service that will make big bucks for you ). 

    What’s your take on accessibility standards?  Are there other standards you like?

    Top violations

    WebAIM shared several common violations.  Let’s walk through a few.

    Low contrast text

    Please remember some people are more sensitive to low contrast than others. Check your own content through WebAim’s Contract Checker.

    Missing alternative (alt=””) text

    Alternative text (or alt text) should be placed on any image (or image tag) on your website or app.  That way, a blind person can better visualize what the image is, even if she can’t see it with her eyes.  Just like captions on a TV show help someone who is hearing impaired, alt text can help someone who is blind (partially or otherwise) enjoy the content on your website or app.  You might ask, “How can a blind person consume (or read) a website or app?”  Usually they use a screen reader tool that reads the content out loud.  Imagine you’re partially blind and are having a hard time reading this article.  Now imagine your personal assistant sitting next to you reading whatever is under your mouse.  If you clicked on an image, the screen reader would read the alt text to you.  Pretty neat, huh? Explore additional alternative text basics here.

    Missing form control labels

    We use forms all the time.  But oftentimes websites and apps are missing form labels, making it hard for screen readers or navigation tools to “see” what’s going on.  Maybe you control your device audibly instead of through a mouse or touchpad.  You might use a navigation tool that lets you go into a text field by saying its name. Learn how to create accessible forms here.

    Missing document language

    Language tags help search engines and content aggregators (e.g. Google or understand the language of your content.  If you don’t have them, the various systems who are ‘wanting’ to consume your content might not be able to guess. Learn more about document language here.

    What are some common violations you’ve seen?

    WebAIM showed us’s tools.  You can send your website through this tool and it will highlight accessibility violations (kind of like spell check).  Don’t forget about the Chrome and Firefox extensions!

    Learn more about’s tools.

    A few questions

    “Do you have any device recommendations for those with disabilities?”

    • iOS devices such as iPhones and iPads are usually pretty good.  They were first to really get accessibility right.  Android devices have also come quite a ways.
    • Several of our customers who have trouble seeing use external bluetooth keyboards with their phones.  Pretty cool.

    “How can we, as a software development company, give assurance we’re compliant?  Or that we will be compliant?

    • There’s no “one and done” type solution.  Just like your usability and security concerns, you should regularly identify and address your accessibility health.

    Do you have questions for WebAIM


    WebAIM trains and helps you strengthen the accessibility features for your website or apps.  Thanks for the great presentation, Jared Smith!

    Interactive courseware and how to use it in Canvas

    Written by Joel Duffin, CEO of Atomic Jolt

    2021 is almost here and we are still advancing in technology and changing the way we use technology. Online education has become more relevant than ever, and will only continue to grow.

    Online education is still a territory that has it’s growing pains. Trying to solve problems like student engagement, student participation, and retention without a physical instructor to help the student can be challenging. 

    Some of these problems can be solved by introducing interactive courseware to your online course.

    What is interactive courseware?

    You might be asking yourself, “What is interactive courseware?”. Interactive courseware is another way of saying “Interactive Questions”, which can be inserted into your course material. These questions provide more engagement for the students and help them understand difficult concepts that they are learning.

    These interactive activities can give the student an opportunity to test their knowledge of the course material directly inside the content, which gives them instant feedback based on their answers. 

    Allowing the student to practice with the course material can help them prepare for exams at the end of each unit. 

    That all sounds great, but how do we add these questions into Canvas? 

    How to add interactive courseware to Canvas?

    How can you add interactive courseware to your Canvas instance? Atomic Jolt has created a tool called Atomic Assessments, that helps instructors and instructional designers create interactive questions for students. 

    Atomic Assessments comes with over 65 unique question types that give you a wide variety of designing course content that can embed into any page, assignment, or quiz. 

    These question types include Fill in the Blanks, Classify, Match & Order, Written & Recorded, Highlight and Drawing, Math, Graphing, Charts and Chemistry.

    In my Introduction to Music course, I added a Match List question type (which you can see in the image below) to allow the students to drag and drop the answers into the right columns.

    Match, Classify, and Order question type

    This question is inserted directly into my Timing lesson where students just learned about the different note types. 

    Atomic Assessments is a great tool to help design your online courses, and it gives your students a unique way to test their knowledge while they are still learning about it.

    Contact Atomic Jolt today to get a free sandbox of Atomic Assessments. 

    Get Free Sandbox

    Derivita – Math Homework Made Easy

    Finally, a comprehensive online solution for the “I don’t get it” math and science homework hurdle.

    Devin Daley, Co-Founder and CEO of Derivita

    Take an inside tour of Derivita courseware; math homework made easy for the educator, but effective for student learning through the use of automated dynamic feedback. Devlin, the co-founder of Instructure and co-creator of the Canvas LMS, takes us down the pathway of not only how and why Derivita was created, but also an in-depth demonstration of everyday student and teacher use.

    Timestamped Outline

    • 0:00 Devlin Daley background and Canvas history
    • 6:50 Talking panda and publishers produce low-quality content
    • 7:50 Derivita introduction and purpose
    • 10:00 How does Derivita reduce costs for the students?
    • 13:45 Derivita’s market approach
    • 14:25 Derivita demo
    • 15:30 Dervita offers mastery-based learning & examples
    • 24:08 Graphic with Derivita
    • 25:50 Derivatives with Derivita
    • 27:10 Do Derivita’s graphs support interactive sliders?
    • 38:58 Create a randomized factor 
    • 41:10 Creating a matrix
    • 45:15 How does Derivita organize its topics?

    Derivita Highlights

    Written by Rich Kingsford

    Show the how; don’t just give the answer

    Sometimes an instructor takes the pencil and solves the problem for the student, then demands the student solve the next problem.  This is heartbreaking; this instructor just stole from the student!  Derivita shines by showing the student, step by step, how to arrive at the answer.  Most math questions have a series of steps.  If I, the student, can walk through one step at a time correctly, I’ll arrive at the right answer – and strengthen my logic and programming muscles as a byproduct.

    Step by step instructions

    Derivita’s step by step instructions blew me away.  When I was learning this stuff, my teacher explained it to the entire class, either going too fast or too slow through every single step in the mathematical process.  Sometimes, I would zone out. Even if I zoned out for one second and then came back, I would still be confused through the remainder of the explanation.  But, today my kids can enjoy the power of one-on-one instruction.  Derivita gives my kids individually paced, one-on-one instruction, adapted to what the kid does or doesn’t understand.  If a kid is struggling with step one of nine, Derivita knows it, and will focus on step one. Amazing.

    Instant feedback

    In many programs and textbooks, the student receives feedback after it’s too late.  “Darn… I missed that question. Oh well, I’ll get the next one right.” But why did you, student, get it wrong?  Students need instant feedback, given the millisecond after she errors to understand the mistake and try again.  Instant approval also tickles the student’s reward centers, encouraging them to keep on fighting!

    Dynamic feedback

    This one was quite impressive too… I’ve never seen this in any math assistant. Derivita gives students dynamic feedback, meaning it uses the numerical inputs they enter in.  For example, given the problem __ * 4 = 32 and the student answers 6, Derivita might reply, “6 multiplied by 4 equals 24, not 32.  Try again!”  Dynamic feedback like this helps the student examine her thinking from another angle. 


    Derivita is an easy to use, attractive, self-grading, and almost-fun (is it possible to make math fun?) math tutor.  Imagine the possibilities as it becomes available to every student in the world.  (Did I mention how easy it is to translate numbers into other languages?  😃)

    See additional Derivita features and information at

    Improve your student engagement with breakout discussions

    How can we intellectually stretch the students without causing too much pain?

    Written by Rich Kingsford

    Which will engage your students more: class-wide discussions or 2-3 person breakout discussions?  Of course it depends on the circumstances, but I have absolutely loved the increased engagement I’ve witnessed by giving students one to seven discussion topics, usually open-ended questions, and then turning them loose.  I teach a series of computer science classes and business classes, so most of the concepts are best learned through case studies and scenario application.  We tend to do less memorization and test taking and more projects. 

    Of course class wide discussions are probably far more comfortable for most teachers and students; after all, 80% of the students can pretend to be paying attention while the other 20% carry most of the conversational and collective thinking burden.  Class wide discussions might also be more interesting for the instructor, because she can explore the more interesting areas.  

    But we don’t go to class to be comfortable… How can we intellectually stretch the students without causing too much pain?  (How much pain is too much pain anyway?  And what are the risks of crossing that line?) I would argue that peer-to-peer discussions in small groups quickly become comfortable, right after the student learns the basics of making an argument, develops a healthy sense of curiosity, practices a little human decency (politeness), and builds a tiny bit of courage. As for the teachers, if you’ve never done a breakout session before, an experiment like this is low risk and very inexpensive, from a time perspective.

    I was first introduced to breakout discussions in a negotiations class.  My instructor shared fewer than five concepts the entire semester and instead gave us challenges and then asked us to pair up and roleplay through the scenario, each with a different role.  It was a little uncomfortable, at first, but we learned how to get through it quickly and efficiently.  

    For most of my subjects, the structured scenarios and roles in my negotiations class seemed too heavy – I simply list a set of questions and ask the students to break out and then reconvene as a class in 20 minutes. 

    “What about virtual classes where all the students are remote?”

    • Collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Discord, Google Hangouts, and even Skype make putting one call on hold while you meet on another call very easy.  Sometimes the students will IM me a quick question.  Works great.

    “Can’t the students just pretend they’re meeting and discussing?”

    • Some will try to do this, yes.  Rather than shooting down the entire idea, I suggest experimenting with a control mechanism.  
    • One control mechanism I often use is requiring one or more students to write out some or all of their arguments. Sometimes I ask the students to meet asynchronously, not vocally, and then copy and paste their text discussion on our class collaboration tool (e.g. Trello, Facebook Workplace, Canvas, or Quora).
    • Another control mechanism I use is to randomly call on students and ask what their team discussed.  Occasionally a student will go AWOL, in which case I dock a few participation points. 

    “Aren’t breakout discussions higher maintenance and therefore more work for me, the instructor?”

    • Nope – they’re a fraction of the work.  I often use the isolation time to catch up on email or improve the quality of my personalized feedback on a project or assignment.
    • Occasionally I will have an idea on how to improve the discussibility or insight of a question.  Modern discussion tools make it very easy to update my discussion templates.  

    How have you used breakout discussions or class discussions in your courses?  (Instructor or student comments are welcome!)

    Are there any discussion-based challenges you’ve faced in your remote or face-to-face classes?  Asynchronous or synchronous?