Resources for Teaching Online


Crowdmark is an online grading platform. It was originally created by James Colliander as a tool for handling grading for a massive high school mathematics contest run by the Canadian Mathematical Society. Note that the intended use case is work that students would ordinarily do using pencil and paper, like a math test. If you expect students to type their work, and submit using a format like Word, you probably want to use something like Turn It In.

Crowdmark supports two grading workflows: administered assessments, which involve in-class tests, and assigned assessments, intended for take-home assignments. Given the current situation with COVID-19, we are interested in the assigned assessment option. (Administered assessments do have a remote proctor option, but it seems unlikely that we discover an army of remote proctors for this.)

To use Crowdmark for a take-home test or assignment, proceed as follows:

  1. Log into your course on Moodle as usual; turn editing on.
  2. Choose the section where you want the assessment to live, and click on the "Add activity or resource" button.
  3. Choose "External Tool" among the list of options.
  4. Give your assessment a name (like Test 3 or Assignment 92), and choose Crowdmark Assessment from the drop-down menu of pre-configured tools.
  5. Optionally, under Grade, choose the gradebook category, and total points for the assessment.
  6. Save, and then click the link that was created. On first use, you may be promted to create an account.
  7. You should now be in the Crowdmark system. It will automatically import your students from Moodle. Import of teaching staff seems to not work automatically, but can be done later.
  8. You will be presented with two options: Administered assessment, or Assigned assessment. As explained above, you want to choose Assigned Assessment.
  9. Create your assessment by adding questions. The text box supports basic Markdown formatting for bold, italics, etc. (This is explained in Crowdmark.)
  10. Once all your questions are in place, and point values are assigned, you can save the assessment.
  11. You will now be presented with a button you can click to automatically email all your students to let them know the asssement is available.

You will want to follow up the email from Crowdmark with one of your own from Moodle, telling students to use the link you created in Moodle to access the assignment. Because we set everything up using LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability), authentication is handled by Moodle, and not a username and password.

Studens will submit their work electronically via Crowdmark. They can upload work in PDF, PNG, or JPG format. The intended use is that they will use their phones or a scanner to create a photo of their work and upload it. Best results, for students who can still access campus, is to use Scan To Me on any of the machines on campus, and then simply drag and drop from Gmail to Crowdmark. Each question needs to be uploaded as a separate file.

For a video walkthrough of assignment setup, see below. (Disclaimer: ignore the part where I realize that I should have edited my math markup before trying to copy and paste. Unless you need a lot of mathematical notation, you can just type your questions in plain text, or simply upload a file.)

Once students have uploaded their work, and the deadline has passed, make sure your graders have been added to Crowdmark. Grading workflow is by question. There are simple markup tools, like check marks, comments, and highlighting. Comments are saved, and can be reused! You can also assign points (both added and deducted) to comments. In many cases, grading is as simple as dragging and dropping the appropriate comment (with autograding set up), and then hitting enter to move on to the next paper. Here is another video showing the grading process, along with steps like adding graders to your team, and exporting grades once grading is complete. (Apologies for the sound -- the headset mic I was using wasn't configured correctly.) Thanks to Todd Doucette in the Teaching Centre for the editing help.

Additional support is available through the Crowdmark website:

Screen recording

The University of Lethbridge provides access to TechSmith Relay, which provides a simple program for doing screen recording, and uploading it to either the university's relay server, or directly to YouTube. However, the relay server wasn't set up for the sort of volume we need now. So if you don't already have an account, you probably don't have access to this option.

Other good screen recording options include VokoscreenNG (Linux only, I think) and OBS. OBS has support for "YouTube Live" if you're looking for an alternative to Zoom. Install OBS, connect it to your YouTube account, and you can broadcast from your desktop directly to YouTube. This is the software I've used in the Teaching Centre to do Lightboard videos. I haven't tried it yet for YouTube live. (I've installed it but haven't tried it yet. If you're using Ubuntu Linux, you can install OBS-studio as a snap package. For other operating systems, you can download an installer from the OBS website.)

If you want to see videos I've done so far, with both screncast and lightboard, I've just made everything public on YouTube. (There are over 750 videos to keep you entertained while quarantined.)


Speaking of the lightboard... In anticipation of increased demand, there are plans to move it from the Teaching Centre to a dedicated room. This is still a work in progress, apparently. (There was a room, then it got claimed for meetings. Search for a room continues.) I expect that we'll hear details soon from either the Teaching Centre or the Dean's Office on how to book it.

If my videos have you interested in trying it, here are details on the setup, followed by tips from someone who has used it over 400 times.

The setup is pretty simple: there's the board, which is basically a big pane of glass with lights, some studio lights, a camera, and a laptop. The camera shoots into a mirror, so that you can write on the opposite side of the glass, and have your writing show up the right away around for the viewer. You wear a lapel microphone for audio, and the laptop handles recording using the program OBS. Basically, you click the record button on the laptop, do your thing on the board, and then click again to stop the recording. When you're done, you save all the files to a flash drive, and upload them to YouTube or some other site.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure the microphone is on! You should be able to see the sound meter moving on the computer.
  • You'll be able to see the camera feed in the OBS program. Make sure everything looks all right.
  • Don't forget to switch on the lightboard lights, and plug in the studio lights.
  • Try to plan for nothing over 10 minutes in length, for two reasons:

    1. That's about as long as students tend to watch in one go
    2. Unless you don't need to write much, you're going to run out of board space.

  • One way to reduce the length of your videos is to add some of what you need to the screen (statements of examples, diagrams, etc.) before you hit record.
  • Which brings us to... erasing the board.

    • The board isn't easy to erase. Actually, it's not much worse than a whiteboard, but the lights are going to show all the residue you leave behind!
    • We've had best results with a two cloth system, and water. Spray water where you need to erase (just a bit!), and wipe with the first cloth until everything is smudged. Wait a second or two for excess water to evaporate, and then wipe clean with the second cloth. You want the second cloth to stay mostly dry.
    • Try to avoid dropping the cloths: if they pick up sand from the floor, you'll accidentally scratch the glass!
    • Erasing is a bit of a pain, but you'll get the hang of it after your first 100 videos or so.
    • Since it's a pain, please, please, please make sure you leave the board spotless when you're done!

  • There are two types of markers. One type is similar to a whiteboard marker. It's easier to use, and to erase, but you might want something sharper or brighter.
  • The other type is wet erase. There's a finer tip, and your writing shows up much better. But erasing takes more effort. And new pens take a couple of minutes of priming before they start working.
  • Files are saved in MP4 format. You can transfer them to your computer, and then upload to YouTube or similar. YouTube is nice because students can subscribe, and it's easy for them to watch on a mobile device. It's also relatively easy to embed the videos in Moodle or your web page.