For the next semester, I'd like to give students a reflection exercise after their first assignment -- specifically to confirm that they can access the feedback I leave in the online homework system. However, it seems like a blocker in the case of students who simply skip the initial assignment. What are the best options for handling this kind of situation?

A little more detail: I give programming (sometimes math) assignments weekly, collected and graded via our online learning management system. There's an online rubric attached to each assignment, with gradations checked off in several categories, as well as custom-written feedback from myself to each student. How to access this feedback is presented both in class and via handouts.

Unfortunately, it's nonetheless commonplace in the last few weeks of any semester for one or more students to interact with me and wind up saying, "oh, I never knew there was feedback on the assignments" (so apparently it's been a waste of time for me to do it). My thought for the upcoming semester is to have a reflection exercise immediately after the first assignment in which students access the feedback, prove that to me, and make some improvement based on that. But what should be done if a student skips the initial assignment, such that there isn't any grade or feedback in the first place?

  • In your intro lecture, why not just let students know that there is feedback on every assignment, and they should talk to you if they can't find it? Aug 21, 2023 at 15:33
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    @ScottSeidman: As noted, "How to access this feedback is presented both in class and via handouts." Aug 21, 2023 at 15:36
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    Extra points for 1st assignment and reflection
    – mkennedy
    Aug 21, 2023 at 15:53

5 Answers 5


I think this is such a common problem; it becomes a real disincentive for giving feedback. You are right that there are students who never figure this out as opposed to not being interested.

You don't say what LMS you are using, but in Blackboard you can manually submit the assignment and give a grade of 0. Then you can give feedback on that. Then do the reflection assignment.

One thing is you could encourage students to install the LMS app on their phones and have them view the feedback during class time. That might also help the confused because they can see what their neighbors are doing.

  • I'm selecting this as the solution to my personal case -- try to get some time to check the feedback live in a lab session, in lieu of the reflection assignment idea. All the other answers to date are valuable in different ways (I upvoted all of them), and recommend that readers check all of those, too. Aug 28, 2023 at 3:11

I'd keep it very simple: if a student didn't do the first assignment, then they won't be able to do the reflection either, and so they will get zero points for both of them.

If you want to make it less harsh, you could allow the first assignment to be turned in late (possibly with some deduction of points). When a student notices that they got zero points for the reflection, this might motivate them to go back and complete the original assignment. You could then allow them to complete the reflection after receiving feedback.

In all cases, the students should be informed of the policy, and of the existence of the reflection assignment, in advance.


Suggestion 1

  • Have them perform the exercise with a submission and feedback that you provide. Since you are not doing this for the first time, you probably have some previous submissions that you can anonymise for this purpose. Ideally, the feedback system allows you to give feedback on a non-submission, so your students still train using the system. Of course, working in feedback on a submission that is not your own is more difficult, therefore:

  • Announce beforehand which assignment will be subject to the reflection exercise and what that entails. Recommend to prioritise submitting this assignment as the reflection exercise will be more difficult otherwise.

Suggestion 2

Make the reflection exercise such that it can be done at any time with any assignment (although there is a default assignment for it). Thus, as soon as a student submits any assignment, they can do the reflection exercise in the next week. It’s not as if they could copy their solution to the reflection exercise from somebody else or benefit from a group discussion, so the normal reasons for having exercises simultaneously are absent.

Of course, depending on how you grade the inflection exercise and how crucial the choice of the reflected assignment is, this may be more work for you.


Canvas (I don't know about other LMSes) allows you to lock things until something is done.

So you have the first intro assignment, which doing it unlocks a module with only the reflection, which doing that unlocks the next class module, after which everything else is hidden behind.


If you're up for an interesting but non-traditional idea --

Obviously, making sure students can see and understand their feedback is very critical, and worth spending some time doing.

In the past, I've given a really short quiz on things that appear in the syllabus to get students to read the syllabus. I thought it was fairly effective. I recommend trying something similar here -- but it might be a bit tricky to instantiate it within your LMS.

Here's how I would do it using tools available to me in blackboard. First, I would create a group assignment. The members of the group would include you and the whole class. Then, I would create a zero-credit group assignment. This whole scheme would rely upon the instructor being able to submit that assignment (left for you to verify). If that doesn't allow you to submit, you would need to create a permanent test user using the student preview tools, and not delete it upon leaving preview mode.

Then, you would simply submit some nonsense to the assignment. Since it's a group assignment, every student should be able to see it. "Grade" it and leave a few comments. Then, give a quiz asking what the comments are.

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