A Guide to Collecting Drafts in Moodle Assignments

I recently completed my graduate studies, and after 3+ years of intensive study and a lot of writing, I have an ardent belief that scholarly writing is NOT a solitary activity. Good teachers show students to that writing is a process. Usually, this requires collecting drafts and creating opportunities for feedback and iterative improvement.

But, how to be paperless and also manage lots and lots of student drafts? I know that from an instructor’s standpoint, it’s not always apparent how to best set-up Moodle assignments to support drafts, feedback, and revisions. With that in mind, I wanted to write up a quick post on some of the possible workflow options for instructors to collect multiple drafts with Moodle Assignments. There is no perfect combination of settings, but these are some important settings to consider.

Submission types

There are a few powerful settings under the Submission types heading in the Assignment settings.

Files: One or Many?

The question here is: when collecting work at various stages, do you want students to upload a new file each time that sits alongside the previous draft, or replace the previous draft with a new one? If you expect multiple versions to be uploaded at once, ensure that the Maximum number of uploaded files is set to a number that will allow for this. Conversely, if you’d rather just deal with a single file from each student, make sure to set this to 1. As they move through different drafts, students will be able to replace their previous drafts with a new version of their document.

The other settings are less crucial for drafts but may still be on interest. For instance, if you depend on using Track Changes in Microsoft Word, you can use the Accepted file types option to prevent students from submitting PDFs or Apple Pages files.

Pro tip

If you are adventurous, you can skip students uploading files altogether. Instead, ask them to upload a file to a cloud service (at UP we have Microsoft OneDrive) and share a link to an online document with you. This allows a more involved and collaborative feedback process. To try this out, disable the File submissions option under Submission types and enable Online text that students can paste a sharing link to. Note that students may need an extra bit of support if they have not shared writing in this way before.

Submission settings

You’ll want to attend carefully to these settings as they determine how Moodle treats submissions.

Use the Submit Button?

One approach is to let students decide when to share a work-in-progress and when to ask you to consider a submission as final. Moodle assignments can allow for this if you enable the optional Submit button. This works with multiple file or single file submissions.

When the Submit button is on, students can upload files to an assignment, but they will be considered a draft until the student clicks the Submit button. You can provide feedback or grades for a student to review and they can choose what (if any) changes to make to their submission before hitting the Submit button.

One other possible benefit of this approach is that students can no longer make changes to their submissions after clicking the Submit button. When a file is submitted automatically upon upload, their file is considered submitted, but they can still make changes to it unless you manually lock submissions.

You can find this option under Submission settings by clicking Show more… to reveal the Require student to click the submit button selection field.

Note: because our default setting for Assignments is for the Submit button to be off, you should proactively remind students that they will need to click the submit button for your assignment.


If you want to allow students to optionally resubmit to work towards a higher grade, you can set the Maximum number of allowed attempts option to a specific number, or to unlimited attempts. You can then set the Attempts reopened setting to Manually if you want to reopen attempts yourself, or Automatically until pass if you set a Passing grade for the assignment.


If you feel it would be helpful to get email notices when a student submits, look under the Notifications options and set Notify graders about submissions to Yes.

One Assignment, or Many?

A final piece to consider is if you might want to use separate assignment activities for each draft. In the end this might be the simplest approach, especially if the drafts have different due dates or if you would like to grade each one separately. Another option that I have enjoyed as a student is to use an ungraded activity, like a forum, for learners to post early drafts. This allows the instructor and peers to give constructive feedback that the whole class might benefit from. Longer drafts and the final submission would then be uploaded to a separate Moodle Assignment for grading.


Moodle assignments offer a lot of choices to customize how you want to collect drafts. It can be a bit complex, but hopefully you see how these options can be combined to create a workflow that supports an effective digital writing, feedback and revision process.

Photo by ron dyar on Unsplash

On Grammarly

I’ll be the first to admit it: my spelling acumen leaves something to be desired. As part of the generation who began writing via word processing at an early age, I learned I could always count on red squiggly lines to catch my misspellings. Things haven’t improved much as I’ve gotten older. In the connected smartphone era, adaptive and intelligent auto-correct usually fixes my mistakes before I even notice them. What’s next? An app lets me off the hook if I fail to form a grammatically sound sentence? As it turns out, yes.

I’ve been using Grammarly to help catch mistakes in emails and to give my academic and professional writing a second pair of (electronic) eyes for about four months.
Grammarly is available and most useful as a free browser extension. It can also be installed as a standalone Mac app and as an add-in to Microsoft Office in Windows. The free version checks for spelling and basic grammar issues. You can also subscribe to the Premium version, which is frankly pretty expensive but does add some extra functionality to the free apps. Either way, as you write Grammarly adds comments and suggested corrections to the margins of your work. An explanation of the grammatical principles involved and what you might do to improve are always available via a pop-out “card” that can be expanded with a click.

To give you an idea of the types of differences you might see, I ran an early draft of this post through both the free and paid versions. The free app caught all spelling errors and obvious grammatical issues such as incorrect conjugations. The paid version detects additional potential problem areas. In this case, Grammarly scolded my use of the passive voice, accused a paragraph of “excessive wordiness,” and reprimanded me for writing a sentence fragment.

In my use, I’ve found Grammarly to offer the greatest utility in semi-formal writing scenarios such as composing an email at work or writing in a forum in an online class, probably because the browser extension works online in the tools I tend to use for these purposes. In Gmail, Office 365 mail, on forums, and even when writing in the WordPress text editor, Grammarly rides shotgun and offers a helping hand in real time.

Where I tend to do more serious writing – in the Mac version of Word or Google Docs – Grammarly is not natively supported. So, I tend to write as I always have, revising and correcting as I go and proofing the document myself. Then I send the finished piece to Grammarly as if I’m submitting it to an editor.

This dual-use system seems to be working reasonably well. At work, the number of trivial but embarrassing mistakes left in my emails seems to be on the decline. When you’re always pressed for time and trying to keep many responsibilities balanced, it’s easy to overlook a typo, a repeated word, or a forgotten apostrophe. Grammarly lets me focus on crafting a message and getting my point across without worrying too much about looking unprofessional.

In my more involved writing, using Grammarly as a review tool keeps it from distracting me from the writing process. At best, by helping me catch repeated mistakes, it does offer useful feedback and an idea of bad habits to work on or misconceptions to correct.

I do wonder, though, if those worrying about the gradual erosion of foundational but mechanical writing skills are missing a bigger idea. Perhaps the need to learn fussy punctuation and syntax to the point of automaticity is becoming antiquated. There will probably always be people who enjoy preoccupying themselves with correct grammar, but there are people that enjoy horseback riding and churning their own butter, too.

In an ideal world, can the delegation of spelling and grammar to artificial copy-editors leave us free to devote our attention to the art of writing and the craft of meaning-making? Or does the endless march of automation mean that our ability to form a coherent thought without help from a computer is next on the chopping block? I don’t know, but as a harried grad student and technologist who feels like I’m typing all day, I’m willing to take one for the team and find out.

Writing is Hard, Y’all

Many teachers find technology difficult or frustrating. Many technologists, like myself, find expressing ourselves eloquently and effectively challenging or intimidating. In either case, improving is a matter of practice and approach.

As a graduate student coming back to school after many years away, I experienced a bit of a shock to the system because of the sheer amount of writing required. Academia is writing. Write and write some more. Then, reflect on what you wrote. In writing, please.

One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2017 was to write more. Writing in many different forms, for different audiences, getting practice. To sharpen those skills. This will only help me to succeed in academics, professionally, and in my own personal growth, and hopefully provide some fun and satisfaction. Here are a few of the other things I’m doing outside of this blog to keep on writin’.

At Work

Last year I took over and relaunched the Teaching & Learning blog at the University of Portland. I view as a chance to participate in a small community of teachers and those who support them at UP. I contribute thoughts there fairly regularly, and also publish #uptechtips which are aimed at the very specific audience of UP faculty. A goal of Teacher With Tech is to extend what I’m doing at UP to a broader audience.

Just For Me

I started using Day One to write privately. I need a free space to practice away from likes, comments, grades or feedback. It’s not a journal exactly but it is just for me, and there’s some power to that. I also love the way this app can pull in photos, GPS data, etc for inspiration.

For Fun

Balancing school, work, and life doesn’t leave a ton of time to read for pleasure. A joy I have re-discovered in the last year is in reading comic books (or graphic novels if you prefer). There are definitely some negative stereotypes about comics that I won’t spend the time to debunk here – but I personally love them and think they are worth writing about. If you’re interested in my reflections on the best of the creator-owned comics I’m reading, you can find them my new Tumblr, Trade Waiter. I’ve always wanted to explore Tumblr and this seemed like a good fit. I’m aiming for one post a month for 2017.