During the summer of 2017, a number of UCF faculty were able to preview the Canvas Teacher App and use it in their classes. In an effort to better understand the impact of this app and help communicate our experience to Instructure, my colleague Ashley Salter and I conducted a number of face-to-face interviews. In the first of a series of blog posts, here is the story of Rick Brunson. Rick is a beloved Journalism instructor in the Nicholson School of Communication at UCF. He is always willing to learn and bend new technologies if it will have a lasting impact on his students. In fact, he is one of just a few instructors that teachers a mobile journalism class to prepare his students for the workplace.
His belief in the smartphone can be summed up in the following quote "The smartphone is very important to me because 90 percent of the content I capture for my classes is done on a mobile device. This includes photos, videos, and lecture notes - and quizzes too!"
“Grading is hypertension, the silent killer of faculty and this app is the prescription because grading is always waiting."
During the interview, Rick repeatedly praised having access to SpeedGrader on his iPhone as the most important feature. This will enable and empower him more with a mobile device to grade wherever. If he’s at a barber shop, a doctor’s office, or just waiting in line, he can grade assignments. All technology is a double-edged sword and it can help you make more of your time, but also be available when you shouldn’t be working, but that’s up to him, and not the tool. He doesn’t see the Teacher app providing more extensive feedback because the nature of mobile is “short” and quick, but thinks it will be great for short assignments on his iPhone.
“The faculty members greatest enemy is time and this app empowers us more with our time.”
He tells his students on the first day of class to email him through Canvas because he gets a notification in the Canvas app and it’s likely to give them a speedy response. Rick believes that he might let communication bleed a little too much his personal life, but he sees it as a positive. He has relied on the Canvas Student app for years as a communication tool to stay in contact with his students. Even if it’s “I’m at dinner, I’ll get back to you in an hour.” Students aren’t necessarily impatient, but technology has trained us to expect fairly rapid responses when we have questions. The app empowers him to do that and meet those expectations. Even though some faculty manage their communication in blocks of time and set expectations that they only answer in certain hours, which keep their lives organized, he doesn't do this. He tells a story about a student who contacted him about her first internship and she was really excited! Because of the Canvas app, he was able to immediately respond and give that virtual high-five. He doesn’t want to stick to a 24-hour policy because it’s important that he is not only responsive to concerns but celebrates their joys. It means something to his students.
“The app helps me take care of the next task, lessen the load, and use time more effectively.”
The student context cards are going to be helpful in enhancing communication with students because he can verify messages from students when they have questions about grades and assignments. In particular, this will give him more information when a student asks "why did I get this grade?" or "how am I doing in class?" Before the Canvas Teacher app, he would have to run back to a computer, look at their progress and then reply. This can take time and hold up the process by hours or days. With the app, he can do that on the fly and communicate much faster to students.
Rick mentioned that the "Message Students Who" feature inside each assignment will be useful for smaller classes, but still might be hard to use for larger class sizes (125+). This will take more time to explore how this feature can enhance communication and possibly increase student engagement.
Every semester UCF conducts the Student Perception of Instruction (SPI) for each course. These are incredibly important to faculty and can be tied to many important performance factors. Rick consistently gets positive notes on how responsive he is when students have a question or concern. He mentioned a quote by the famous educational researcher Chuck Dzuiban; "Does my instructor care about my learning?" This is always the most important question asked by students. Communication style and responsiveness are important to show you “care” about their learning and the app enables you to do that. Rick believes the Canvas Teacher app will be a valuable tool as he continues to increase communication, engage with students, and be more efficient.