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2017

CROSSPOSTED. Updates will appear at Teaching with Canvas blog. I've posted this in the Instructional Designers group, but it would be the kind of post that I would otherwise put into a Connected Learning group if we can get something like that here at Canvas. Interest? Please vote for a Connected Learning group! :-)

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Next week (Week 8 of our semester) is a Review Week in my classes. The review is NOT because we have a test or exam to review for, but because reviewing and reflecting are essential for learning. Plus, I need feedback! I've written elsewhere about feedback for students (feedback, not grades), but even more important is the feedback that I get from the students about how the class is going. How else can I hope to improve? Like every learner, I need feedback too!

I am guessing other schools at at their mid-semester point right about now too, so I am curious what people are doing for mid-semester evaluations. Do you have institutional mid-semester evaluations? (My school has only end-of-semester evaluations.) In the absence of an institutional mid-semester evaluation, do you conduct your own?

Since I get a lot of value from conducting my own mid-semester evaluation, I thought I would write about it here!

So, in Week 8 of the semester, I replace the usual reading-reading-storytelling assignments that would normally occupy the first half of the week with a different set of assignments; here are all the Week 8 assignments, and these are the three assignments specifically designed for reflection and feedback:

Class Reflections. This is an open-ended blog post where the students reflect on the three types of activities they are engaged in each week: reading, writing, connecting. My hope is that this can encourage students to do some self-assessment, and I also learn a lot from hearing what they say; I read all these blog posts using Inoreader.

Growth Mindset. In this blog post, students look back on the Growth Mindset approach that they learned about back in Week 1 of the semester. Some students have done optional Growth Mindset reflection posts each week; other students have not engaged with it again since the start of the semester. I am really pleased with the chart I created to help students see mindset as a multidimensional construct, and the blog post prompts encourage them to see how their mindset might be different in different classes and in different areas of their lives.

I really enjoy these posts a lot because Growth Mindset is a topic that seems very good at shaking students free from their normal grade-seeking behavior in order to step back and think about learning instead. I usually learn more from these posts than from the Reflections post, but having the Reflection post come first is a good way for the students to get ready to write a really good Growth Mindset post.

Mid-Semester Surveys. Then, after those two posts, there are two surveys I ask the students to complete: one is about Canvas (since Canvas is new at our school), and the other is about the learning activities of the class, which is where I ask them to give me feedback specifically about how the class is going and what I could/should do differently. I used the same two surveys last semester (last semester was our first Canvas semester), and you can see the results here:

  • Canvas Survey: Week 8, Fall 2016. In the Canvas Survey, I got the best results from the questions that asked the students to give advice to other students using Canvas and advice to instructors setting up their Canvas courses. So, for this semester, I eliminated some of the other questions that did not really elicit useful or surprising responses in order to zoom in on this "advice-oriented" approach. I've also written about the students' comments on Canvas here at this blog: Student Voices about CanvasStudent Tech Support for Canvas, and More Student Voices from Fall 2016.
  • Class Survey: Week 8, Fall 2016. In this survey, there are four simple open-ended questions (favorite things, least favorite things, obstacles, things I could do differently as the instructor), plus I set up two grids: one asks the students to rate the importance of the seven different learning dimensions of the class, and the other asks the students to rate their learning in those dimensions. I found these results to be extremely useful! I didn't run any fancy statistics, but even just as a simple aggregate measure, it offered me some insight that was different from the insight I get from the open-ended questions.



Value of  the mid-semester evaluation:

Designing these activities is very helpful for me because it helps me to think clearly about the different components of my course design so that I can gather feedback about them separately. Yes, there is a holistic quality about the learning experience, but it's also true that as I work on the class to improve it, I need specific goals to work on, and the students are the ones who help me to define those goals.

This process also lets me show the students that their input really does matter to me. The end-of-semester evaluations are very pro forma and generic, and I suspect the students are (understandably) cynical about their importance. In the case of these custom mid-semester evaluations, the students can tell that the feedback matters to me. I think this also leads to better quality feedback on the end-of-semester evaluations too; because I have shown the students mid-semester that I care about their feedback, they know that I value their feedback at the end of the semester also.

I also really believe in the power of self-assessment. So much about school is focused on rushing to finish things: get the grade, and then move on to the next thing, never look back. I definitely believe in moving forward and making progress, but looking back is an important part of how we succeed in moving forward. So, by reserving part of Week 8 for reflection and feedback, I hope to encourage the students to do something similar in their other classes too, even if it is not something the instructor makes a formal part of the class.

Growth Mindset Cat says: Take some time to reflect. :-)

Last week I went to check to see if a student had completed some assignments from earlier in the semester, and when I clicked, I saw a new panel pop up; here's what it looks like for the Test Student:

From Chris Hofer I learned that this is a new "Student Context Card," and my school chose to turn it on (without telling us, which is odd) when it was released last week. Canvas has invested what is clearly a lot of effort and resources in order to give us this new gradebook view with information that shows me each student's latest graded items, ranking them compared to the rest of the class.

And I find this to be very depressing.

By emphasizing this "view" of students, Canvas shows us (the instructors, the students) that it really is all about the grades, ranking student against student. Not about the learning. Not about growth.

As I've documented elsewhere, I find the Canvas Gradebook to be mostly useless because I cannot include my own data fields ("Feature Request: Text Fields in the Gradebook"). In D2L, I could create little text fields to record important information about a student that I needed to remember (out with flu Weeks 3-4... needs Tuesday reminders... waiting on 2nd Portfolio story revisions... etc. etc.). Because the Canvas Gradebook refuses to let me enter information I consider important, I run my own spreadsheet outside the system. I definitely believe in analytics, but the data I need are not the grades: I need data about the whole student and about their learning process.

And that leads to my bigger concern here: by making it all about the grades, we are doing our students a huge disservice. We tell them to care about the grades as if the grades were a true representation of the learning. But we all know... if we are honest about it... that grades are a poor proxy for learning at best. And at worst, they are a huge hindrance to learning, a reward-and-punishment system that has negative consequences for many students. (Don't believe me? Read Carol Dweck.)

To learn more and to learn better, students need FEEDBACK. Lots of it. And grades are a terrible form of feedback.

I have written about this often; here are all the posts at my Teaching With Canvas blog labeled Grading, and I've also collected materials at Grading.MythFolklore.net, where you will find links and resources about the un-grading movement; see also the hashtag #TTOG (Teachers Throwing Out Grades) at Twitter.

Short version: I'm ALL-feedback and NO-grades. That has been my approach since I first started teaching online in 2002, and it works. How do I know it works? Because the students tell me it does: What Students Say About Un-Grading.

For information about what good feedback can and should be, check out my Feedback Resources at Diigo. Yep, that's an RSS feed inside a Canvas page... and RSS is just one technology we could be using to bring real evidence of student learning from their own webspaces into the Canvas space.

So, instead of a dynamic whiz-bang Gradebook view of students, we instead need a dynamic whiz-bang LEARNING view that helps students and instructors see what their learning looks like and that also allows them to connect with others based on what we are all learning together. To get a sense of the dynamics of connected, visible learning in my classes, take a look at the blog hubs for Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics. Take a look at the student projects, past and present at eStorybook Central.

I've also proposed creating a Connected Learning Group here at Canvas; if you are interested, let me know!

To help students learn more and learn better, I need to see what they are learning. To help them in their work, I need to see their work. Not quizzes, not tests. Their work.

The work, not the grades, is what matters, and I show the students that their work matters by giving them detailed feedback about it, by creating opportunities for them to share their work with others, and by saving their work in the class archives to sustain my classes in the future.

Grades penalize mistakes... feedback helps you learn from them. That's what we need: feedback, not grades.

Because I feel safe, I can learn from my mistakes.

A meme inspired by this infographic:

Crossposted at Canvas Community.

CROSSPOSTED. Updates will appear at Teaching with Canvas blog.  And no, this is not really a post about Canvas per se... it's a post about a great tool to use to fill a gap in the Canvas tool ecosystem: if you want your students to create websites, as I always do (the power of connected learning!), then I have good things to say about the new Google Sites. This might be of special interest to people who are using Google Suite at their schools.

 

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This post is to report that things are going really well with the NEW Google Sites, far better than I ever expected. I need a reliable, free web publishing option to recommend to my students, and for the past seven years I've been using Google Sites (before that I used Netscape Composer and its successor, Mozilla Seamonkey, until my university abruptly stopped supporting student web spaces in 2010). If students want to use Wix, Weebly, WordPress, Tumblr, etc., that is fine with me, but I choose just one platform where I provide detailed step-by-step tech support, and for seven years that platform was Google Sites.

So, it was with considerable trepidation that I switched to the new Google Sites this semester... but now that the students' websites are up and running for the semester, I can say that I am very happy about it! The new Google Sites approach to web design is not something that would appeal to me personally, but it sure does appeal to my students. The sites look like websites are "supposed" to look!

Plus, it has proved far easier to support than the old Google Sites. With the new system, I've managed so far just to provide three support pages: Create a Site, Images, and Sections. That's all! I may or may not need to add a page to help with navigation, but so far that is going well and the students have not had any questions (as opposed to the nightmare that was the old Google Sites navigation system).

I'll have more to say about this in a few weeks as students add more and more pages to their sites! I've got 40 websites going this semester, which is about half of my students; the other half opted to just do their projects inside their existing blogs. That's about typical, but my guess is that next Fall, when the students see these nice-looking websites from the Spring, I am guessing more of them will want to try creating their own (the Google Sites of the past did not exactly inspire in that way as you can see in the archive).

It's all about peer learning: thanks to the brave pioneers of this semester, I will have student-created sites to use as examples with next semester's students!

And just to provide a glimpse, here are a few screenshots and links to some of the sites so far; as the weeks go on, each student will be adding three or four story pages to go with the current homepage and Introduction page; here's how it all works: Student Projects.

Site Homepages:

This is a project about the love life of Pegasus the flying horse:

 

This student is collecting lesson materials to use when she begins teaching school next year:

This is a project about the proverbial nine lives of cats:

 

Introduction Pages:

This is a project on Indian Epics stories retold in the American Wild West:

This student has traveled in India, so her project is a food and travel guide:

This project will be using medical urban legends from Snopes.com retold as Grey's Anatomy stories:

CROSSPOSTED. Updates will appear at Teaching with Canvas blog.  

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One of my favorite motivational posters happened to pop up today when I checked something on my class calendar, and that prompted me to write up a post here about how I integrated a randomizer into the class calendar page last year... and now I cannot imagine doing the calendar without that. Here's a screenshot, and below I explain how it works:


So, the Class Calendar is a page at my wiki, but of course the same approach could work as a Canvas Page. There's nothing fancy as you can see: I have a table with three columns: the week, the start-stop dates, and a link to the week's assignments (I have two links since I use the same calendar page for both of my classes).

Go ahead and take a look: Class Calendar. As you can see, I list the current week at the very top, with all the future weeks below, and then at the bottom you'll also find the completed weeks. On Monday, I just move the top row of the table down to the bottom.

The randomizer comes between the top two rows and the rest of the table. The top two rows because I strongly encourage my students to work ahead, so in any given week, students are either working on the current week or the coming week. A few students are even more ahead than that, but only a few, so they can just scroll down below the graphic to get to their active week.

So, the randomizer: each time you come to the Calendar, an item pops up at random, and each item has a link where students can learn more about the item if it really grabs their attention. That is always my great hope: please be curious! please click! please go go go and learn more on the Internet following your curiosity!

But even without click-and-go, the graphic conveys something that I hope will be of value to the student. Try it yourself; you will probably see something new each time the page reloads. There are 20 items, so it's not a lot, but enough to provide a decently random experience.

That particular randomizer shows time-related items, which I thought would be appropriate for a calendar page! Here is more information about it: Time Randomizer Widget.


That widget is just one of many at my Widget Warehouse, which I built to keep track of my own widgets but also to share with others. You can grab the javascript to use in your own blog or website or wiki. You can grab the https-iframe version to use in a Canvas Page. You can grab the raw source table to adapt for your own purposes. Or you can just build your own widget with the wonderful free tool from Randy Hoyt: RotateContent.com (I am proud to say he is a former student... and genius designer of board games also!).

I need to try to write more in this blog about my use of randomizers, but this can be a start anyway. And here again is the motivational poster that prompted me to write this post. Have a wonderful day! :-)

This is a wonderful day;
I have never seen this one before.
(H.E.A.R.T. blog)

How does one effectively train faculty on a new LMS?

 

Training faculty, especially in a large organization with diverse faculty needs is challenging to say the least. I work at a community college with full-time, part-time, and adjunct faculty who teach online, hybrid, and web-enhanced face-to-face courses. LMS usage runs the gamut here as does experience level and training and support preferences.

 

So, how does one meet everyone's training needs and do an effective job?

 

We focused on making our training fully online (with optional workshop and appointment hours), self-paced, and asynchronous. We all know that faculty have busy schedules with many demands on their time.

 

Some other features of our course:

  • It follows universal design (UDL) best practices. For example, we offer multiple ways to learn the training content – video, reading, etc. 
  • It's visually pleasing.
  • The material is chunked and meaningfully organized.
  • The course allows for self-directed consumption of learning materials, while also using requirements, so that learners can track their progress.
  • It offers authentic assessment opportunities. Participants are evaluated on their ability to build out parts of a course.
  • The content dynamically updates when embedded webpages are changed. Canvas Community webpages are embedded and update in our course when they are updated by Instructure, which means less maintenance for the course developers and more time to support faculty.
  • It demonstrates good design and pedagogy.
  • It uses badging to reward faculty who complete the course. Certified Canvas users can share their badge on their social media networks.

 

How do we know it's working?

 

Ninety-five percent of faculty surveyed were satisfied or very satisfied with their training on Canvas. Participants have been able to access the level of support they need to complete the course. For example, novice users supplement the online course with a workshop or one-on-one appointment with online learning staff. Participants who have used Canvas elsewhere can demonstrate their skills with an existing or practice site. Some participants complete the course in a day; others complete the course slowly over a period of months.

 

We don't attempt to teach course participants everything about building a course in Canvas. We show them the basics and empower them with the tools the need to learn more when they're ready.

 

Are you working on a Canvas training course and looking for inspiration?

 

Our Canvas Certification course can be found in Canvas Commons. Please check it out and leave us a review. We're always looking for ways to improve.

 

Canvas Certification course in commons

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