How instructors and students share files

When you create an assignment, you can attach files such as Google Docs, PDFs, or other materials for students to work on. For example, you might include:

  • A Docs essay assignment
  • A PDF worksheet
  • A reference image

After you publish the assignment, students work on the files and can add their own materials. When students turn in their work, you can review and grade their work and files.

As you exchange files with students, Assignments automatically transfers ownership and updates file permissions to View only or Edit access. When you receive student work, edit access transfers to you. When you return the work, edit access transfers to the student. 

Note: Students can unsubmit work before an assignment’s due date. After the due date, students can’t unsubmit their work. If an assignment doesn’t have a due date, students can unsubmit their work at any time.

The workflow in action

Action: Instructor creates assignment, attaches files, and publishes assignment.

Result: Copies of attached files are made for each student. File ownership transfers to the student. Instructors can't view or edit the files.

Action: Student attaches materials or edits files and turns in their work.

Result: File ownership temporarily transfers to the instructor. Student can’t edit or view their files.

Action: Instructor grades and returns the student's assignment.

Result: File ownership transfers back to the student, and the student's editing rights are restored.

Action: Student sees their grades and feedback.

Optional: Student can edit and resubmit assignment.

1. Instructor attaches file and publishes assignment

File permissions at this stage
  • Instructor—After you publish an assignment, you can’t view or edit individual student files until they’re turned in. Also, after publishing, you can’t remove assigned files from an assignment.
  • Students—After instructors publish the assignment, students have full edit access to the files.
For instructions on adding files to assignments, go to Add attachments to an assignment.

2. Student completes and turns in assignment

File permissions at this stage
  • Instructor—After a student turns in an assignment, you have full edit access to their files.
  • Students—After turning in their assignment, students can't edit their files or view your grading progress. 
After a student turns in their work, file ownership transfers to you. The file stays in the student’s Drive, but the student’s permission setting changes to View. This setting means a student can’t edit the file or see comments while you grade.
A backup copy of every file saves to the student’s Drive, inside a course folder in the Assignments folder. The student owns the backup copy; it isn’t shared with you.
For student instructions on submitting assignments, go to Turn in an assignment

3. Instructor grades and returns assignments

File permissions at this stage
  • Instructor—After you return the assignment, file ownership transfers back to the student. A backup copy of every graded file is automatically created in your Drive. 
  • Student—Students can review and revise their files.
After you grade and return an assignment, file ownership transfers to the student. You can still view and comment on the shared file, but you can't edit it.
In an Assignments folder in your Drive, a backup copy of every graded file saves to an automatically created course folder. The backup copies include any margin comments or feedback and give you a permanent reference of the assignment. You own the backup copy; it isn’t shared with the student.
For instructions to return assignments, go to Grade and return an assignment.

4. Student sees their grade and can edit

When you return assignments, students regain edit access to the file.
At your discretion, students can make edits to their work and resubmit their files. 


How do I make a copy of each file for my students?

When you publish an assignment with coursework files attached from your device or Google Drive, Assignments creates a copy of each file for each student. The file is saved to an automatically created course folder inside the student’s Drive Assignments folder.

Can students submit Drive files they don’t own?

No. A student must own a Drive file to submit it with an assignment. Students can’t submit files others share with them. However, a student can make a copy of the shared file and submit the copy.
For instructions on how to turn in assignments, go to Turn in an assignment

What happens if I accidentally remove a student's file?

In Drive, if you accidentally delete a student’s file, it might be available in your Trash folder. You can restore the file from there. However, if you deleted the file from the Trash, you need your admin to restore it.
If your admin can’t restore the file, ask your student to unsubmit their assignment and resubmit it using the backup copy from their Assignments folder in Drive.
For more information on restoring a file from your Trash, go to Find or recover a file.

Can a student unshare a returned file?

Yes. However, if you need to view the file, you can open the backup copy in your Drive course folder.

How do I view a file I returned?

If the student’s file is still shared, you can open the file in Assignments and see any current edits. If the student has unshared the file, ask them to share it again in Docs or Drive.
To view files in their returned state, you can go to the Assignments folder in Drive and open the backup file. Backup file names begin with the prefix “Copy of”.

Why can't I edit my file?

  • Check if your file permissions are View only or Edit access. With View only, you can’t edit a file. You get edit access when students submit files. When you return a file, edit access transfers to the student.
  • Check that you have Editing selected on the toolbar. If you have Suggesting selected, your edits show in green text with suggestions in the margin.
    Select Editing mode

What are file permissions?

File permissions determine what you can do with a file, based on your role. In Assignments, you have 2 types of file permissions: Edit access and View only. Assignments automatically sets the correct permissions for students and instructors when files are turned in or returned.
Note: If students have a file open in more than one tab, their permissions change to View only in all tabs when they submit the file.
With this file permission... I can: 
Edit access Make changes to the file. Create or delete content. Leave comments, suggested edits, or direct edits.
View only View the file, but not make any changes.


How can I check my file permissions?

You can check file permissions when you open a file. If you can edit the file, you have Edit access. If you can’t edit the file, your permissions are View only. Permissions update as students and instructors exchange files.

How can I collaborate on a file before a student submits it?

Tell the student to share the file with you before they submit it, giving you edit access. You can then review the student’s work and give feedback. The student can see your feedback, such as comments or suggested edits, and make changes before submitting their assignment.

How can I collaborate on a file before I return it?

Students can see your direct edits to a file before you return it. They can’t see your comments or suggested edits until you return the file.
If you want students to see your comments and suggested edits before you return the file:
  1. Open the student’s file in the grading tool.
  2. Under Files, click Open in new window "".
  3. Share the file with the student, giving them edit access.
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