Last term, I collected some important projects from about 200 students. When I returned all of the work the next week, one student claimed that they had submitted their work, but never received it back. A misplaced project was highly unlikely, as they were individually bound in a uniform, bright cover and carried in sealed bags, so I assigned the student a 0. Still, I would like to have proof of “no submit”, especially as my supervisor occasionally wants an explanation for failing grades. But not having something is not proof of never submitting. What method can I use in the future to prove that a student did not submit their work?
I doubt this will work with 200 students, but the first thing I do when I collect assignments is check to see whose assignment is missing, and send the relevant students a message via the class messaging system. This does two things:
- if there was a slipup at either end, this catches it quickly. Most often, the student says that they're turning it in late (I have an automatic submit-late-and-get-deductions policy).
- By using the class messaging system, I'm on record as having asked the student about the missing assignment. If they complain a week later that they did turn it in, I can point to the message and ask why they didn't respond to it.
It's easy to given students the ability to prove that they submitted (some form of receipt only you could have authored). The other direction, however, is harder.
Have them submit electronically with a system that you don't control and that stores timestamps with submissions. It does not show up there on time, you did not submit in time.
Have them sign when handing in (make sure to announce that submissions are only valid if signed off). You receive their submission, they sign some form for you (and you sign their receipt). Have witnesses.
In the end, there is no way you can make sure it's their fault; they can beat any system ("I lost the receipt!", "That's not my signature, somebody must have forged it!", "You never told me to sign!", ...). As far as I know, German courts typically rule in favor of students (if there is any doubt), even in ridiculous circumstances. That may be different in other countries, but you may want to check back with your university's legal department to be safe.
A few thoughts in addition to the above:
Is there a departmental office or library that can help with accepting submissions and giving receipts?
Can the department hire a temp for a day to handle the submissions?
Strongly suggest to the students that they copy and/or photograph their work, in case of disaster. Provide a means for them to upload their photo albums to the department.
For a large class, without or with receipts, set up 4 (or more boxes) split alphabetically. Students drop off the work and possibly sign a sheet. Either give them a quiz immediately while you double-check that you have all work, or check it later that day and query for any missing work.
If you're using a sign-in sheet, and a student wants to turn in someone else's, he or she discusses it with you directly. That way you don't get, "But I had Lisa turn in my work for me!"
I require my students to run a particular program to send their homework in. Positive identification of the students is already done when they log into the server. If your students don't use UNIX, the technique easily extends to a web or phone app with some other form of authentication.
The result is neatly timestamped student files all in one place. If you like, add some form of receipt. I take the opportunity to automatically update a web page showing who's turned in what.
If you use coversheets:
acknowledgement of all policies and adherence thereto, is checked and signed by the student,
a QR or barcode, containing their student number and name, course number and assignment number, and a timestamp is generated,
the QR or barcode forms part of the coversheet, and is scanned in when they submit, then out when it is returned or collected,
an email gets sent to the student confirming their submission for that assignment.
While it takes some thought to set up, the implementation is as simple as taking a picture on a smartphone, and scales extremely well (increasing returns on effort expended per assignment/course/student/year added).