The California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative created a series of Online Readiness Tutorials that help prospective online students decide whether they should take classes in this mode. The tutorials have been available for a few years and I and other faculty at my college have used them within our online classes. Some of us tie assessments to those tutorials so that students earn some points by taking quizzes after viewing them.
I have always wanted one place for my college's students to access those tutorials for a couple of reasons. One is to know which students have accessed them, making future research more authentic. As we ask about so many of the things we do for students, does this make a difference? The second reason is to prevent students from being asked to complete the same assignment for multiple classes. While repeating the same task over and over might reinforce learning, it will also be perceived as busywork.
I solved the first of these problems by creating a self-enroll class in Canvas. It contains the readiness tutorials as well as a quiz so students can demonstrate they understand the content. I put the link to that class on my public-facing "Distance Education" web page, and I contact our counselors, librarians, and faculty teaching online classes and encourage them to refer prospective online students to that resource. I hope in a few years to have a large enough n (or is it N?) to answer that question about difference.
The second problem has been tougher. I am the instructor for the self-enroll class so *could* let the other online instructors know which of their students completed the quiz. While I like to be helpful, I also fear those requests would take up all my time. I would rather spend my time fighting to make readiness activities a requirement before taking an online class.
My solution for now is to link a Google Form in the self-enroll class. Thanks to the requirements options for Modules, the link to the form is not visible until students have passed the quiz. The form asks for a preferred name, collects the form-filler's email address, is limited to people who have user accounts in my college's Canvas instance, and emails the form results back to the form-filler. The form-filler can then forward the email as needed. Fortunately we are a Google Suite for Education client, and Google Forms created within that domain can meet all of these interests. There is also an option to limit to one response, which mitigates against the benefit of unauthorized collaboration among students. The form I designed has a congratulatory message and an image that indicates success, which means it looks nice if printed. Just don't call it a "badge."
However, students have other Google accounts and might already be logged in to those accounts before they access our Canvas instance. Google does not yet perfectly manage that situation, especially when a Google Suite file has its sharing settings limited to users in its domain. This is not so bad for Google Documents, Slides, or Sheets. If a user tries to access a domain-only file while logged in to another Google account, there is a handy button to "Switch accounts." Unfortunately this option does not appear for Google Forms. These display "Need permission" and prompt the user to ask the owner of the form to grant access. This less-than-helpful message is a reason why I have not been an active user of Google Forms when it matters to record who fills out the form. I have used regular expressions to require a properly formatted username that matches our system's format, but that does not prevent one user from typing in another's username.
Single sign-on came to the rescue! We enabled single sign-on for our Canvas and Google systems among others, and now our students cannot log on to Canvas without concurrently being logged on to our Google Suite domain. So now I can set up my self-enroll class with a module requirement to manage access to a Google Form. As originally intended, that form only asks students to type a preferred name and sends them a congratulatory email that they can use to document their readiness to learn online.
In my final testing I discovered a couple of things about vanity URLs and single sign-on. I do not know if there are single sign-on settings that will fix these issues:
- Using our single sign-on URL works perfectly -- even though the student is first logged in to another Google account, they can easily access the domain-only Google Form inside Canvas
- Using our vanity URL works the same, as that redirects to our single sign-on URL
- Using the Instructure URL does not work -- the browser behaves as if the user has not logged in to the Google Suite for Education domain, yet the user is able to access Canvas
Before I start sharing this cool trick with my colleagues who will create undreamt uses for domain-only Google Forms, I figured out a specific set of circumstances that could cause this to fail and present a student with the dreaded "Need permission" message:
- Instructor links a domain-only Google Form from inside a Canvas course
- Instructor gives students a direct link to *any* page in the course (i.e., including instructure.com in the URL)
- Student is already logged in to another Google account when they select that link
- Student navigates to the Google Form and gets the “Need permission” message
Students should need no permission to learn.
In the end I feel confident about the Google Forms solution to my problems with documenting student readiness. The benefits of centralizing data collection on student access to readiness tutorials and the ability for students to share their completion of those tutorials with all instructors hopefully outweighs the risk of having to ask for permission. And this way I'll get a fair idea of how many instructors share direct Canvas links *and* use domain-only Google Forms in the same class.