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Improve Lab Report Submissions

Lab reports. Across our college, faculty collect a lot of lab reports that take on many shapes and sizes.

Dr. Gregory Smith Dr. Gregory Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, is trying some cool new stuff with his lab submissions this semester. His new plan inspired me to compile this post with several options you can try. But before we get to that, let’s go over what Dr. Smith is doing.

Dr. Smith recently got a new tablet and wanted to use it for grading so that he wouldn’t always be lugging around a stack of papers. But Dr. Smith’s lab reports are worksheets that students complete while they are in lab.

So we worked through two ways that students can electronically submit their lab reports: (1) visiting the computer lab, scanning their paper, and logging into Blackboard to attach the submission, or (2) using a combination of two mobile apps.

The mobile submissions are fairly easy for today’s student. Here’s the instructions they are given:

  1. Download the Bb Student app and the Dropbox app.
  2. Login to Dropbox using your ASU credentials. Then use the built-in scanner in Dropbox to scan your document.
  3. Login to Bb Student and navigate to the lab report assignment. Choose to attach a file from Dropbox.
  4. Hit Submit and you’re done!

Dr. Smith says he’s been pleased so far with the results. In addition to trying something similar to what he is doing, here are a couple other ideas to get you going.

Accept Submissions Via Blackboard

No, I’m not trying to cram Blackboard down your throat, but from my perspective there are a few key advantages to using it to accept lab reports. Here goes:

Plagiarism Checker

Blackboard has two tools, SafeAssign and TurnItIn, that can be used to check the originality of student submissions. In general, we recommend TurnItIn because the database it checks against is more robust. Submissions are compared with websites, such as Wikipedia, as well as with submissions from other classes and other universities. If you are concerned with students re-submitting lab reports from their roommates or friends, this is a great way to check.

Another advantage with TurnItIn is that you can attach a rubric to your assignment. You can even categorize your comments based on the criteria in your rubric, so when you are finished reading through a lab report, you can quickly see the comments you made for each criteria. This can help inform your grading decision.

The trick to using a plagiarism checker is all in configuring the settings to your preferences. If you’ve never used one before, feel free to give me a call and we can walk through it together.

Submission Receipt

If you have issues with students telling you “Well, I turned it in. I don’t know why you don’t have it now,” the submission receipt may benefit you. Students receive a receipt number for each Blackboard submission, so if you do have a dispute about work not coming through, we can open a ticket with Information Technology and see what’s going on.

Record of All Your Comments

Within Blackboard, you can easily annotate student work and provide feedback to students. Students will be able to see your comments, and you will also be able to go back and reference what you said. This can be especially helpful if a student is contesting a grade or if you need to produce examples of graded student work for assessment purposes.

Use a Grading Rubric

I’m sure nearly all faculty make a point to communicate their expectations to students, but including a grading rubric can provide a level of detail that gives students some much-needed direction.

In addition to clearly outlining the grade awarded for different levels of effort, originality and accuracy, a grading rubric will also help you use your time more efficiently. Grading based on the criteria you established makes the task much less daunting. It’s also helpful if you need to produce student data for assessment purposes.

Share Example Work

It can also be really helpful to share an example of a good lab report from a previous semester (and maybe from a different class that doesn’t complete the same lab activity). Example work can often serve as a guide for students, especially non-majors who may feel out of their element. 

The key, however, to good example work is authenticity. Don’t write up your own “perfect” lab report — use a real-life example from a student, and maybe even one that isn’t 100 percent perfect. This helps students connect that they should also be capable of producing work of this caliber and that you understand that they are human and might make small mistakes along the way.

In Conclusion

Hopefully this has demonstrated that there are several options for improving lab reports, no matter what format you prefer for your submissions. I would love to hear about some of your own efforts, so please email me with some of the strategies you have tried out.

Jayna Phinney
Jayna Phinney

Jayna Phinney is the Instructional Technology Specialist for the ASU College of Science and Engineering. Contact her at or 325-486-6264.



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