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When I work with a faculty member who is a bit of a technophobe, all I have to do is show them the wonders of SpeedGrader and Crocodoc and they're sold on Canvas.


I start by asking by them how they normally grade written work (essays, research papers, etc...). They all tell me some version of, "The student emails it to me, I download it, print it out, make corrections by hand, and then make a copy for my files and give the student the original in class a week later.


I respond by asking if they'd like to save paper and hours of time. They look skeptical until I walk them through the work flow of grading written assignments in SpeedGrader and using Crocodoc to leave comments on the document.


Hands down, it's been the biggest tool in my toolbox for converting folks to using Canvas in their courses.


Plus it saves trees! What's not to love?

How do I go paperless in Canvas for my hybrid Statistics course? Here are nine ways I've cut down or cut out using paper for my class and instead use Canvas!


  • Textbook - My textbook is OER and I provide the PDF in my Canvas Course!
  • Syllabus - No printing of my 15+ page syllabus! It's in Canvas for my students to read!
  • Handouts - I have a lot of handouts ranging from the course calendar to content specific handouts and they all get uploaded into Canvas and added to the appropriate Module!
  • Assignment Directions/Instructions - All assignment directions/instructions are in Canvas and always available! No more" I lost the directions" or "I couldn't find them"!
  • Statistics Tables - No more printed statistics tables! I provide the link to an awesome online Probability Distribution Calculator.
  • Quizzes - No paper/pencil quizzes in my class! All quizzing is done in Canvas! My favorite part is that the questions are formula based (or there is a large question pool to draw from) so I can let students have multiple attempts. This helps students who aren't getting it to try and figure out what they aren't understanding and do better (or ask questions!!).
  • Assignments - The majority of the Assignments for my class are turned in on Canvas (we do some hands-on stuff in the classroom) and graded in Canvas (I LOVE Speedgrader!). This works well because I'm not collecting papers from the students and it's easier/quicker to grade!
  • Google Collaborations - I use Google Collaborations to create and share information/data with my students and my students use them all the time for their group projects!
  • Attendance - Instead of keeping paper attendance I keep track of attendance in Canvas!

My institution is known for elementary and secondary teacher education.  In the past, student teachers had to complete both a work sample and portfolio.  Students often turned in bulky three-ring binders to their supervisors.  It was cumbersome, paper rubrics were used, and students had to coordinate a time with their supervisors for feedback sessions. Since our implementation of Canvas, both of these assignments have been converted to submissions in Canvas.  Naturally, the portfolio assignment utilizes the e-portfolio section of Canvas.  Supervisors now have the opportunity to grade these submissions online, using the coordinating rubrics to provide feedback.  No bulky binders, no hassle of setting up follow-up sessions; it is now all online!  A great and simple solution for two very important submissions! 

My school had the luxury of a gradual transition to Canvas. Over an 18-month period, a small team of instructional designers and one contractor (me) met with professors to redesign and reformat their courses to bring them over to the new learning platform. Since I taught humanities and philosophy courses, I primarily worked with professors who teach English, history, and of course humanities courses: writing-intensive courses. The first few semesters of transitioning consisted of migrating those courses that were already conducted fully online.


That was the easy part. We were now faced with helping those professors who primarily taught face-to-face to consider adopting some aspects of Canvas. One of my roles during this part of the transition was to meet with groups of these professors to obtain their buy-in.


I decided to showcase SpeedGrader, Turnitin/GradeMark, and Crocodoc's annotation tools. I traveled around our campuses to show professors of brick-and-mortar writing-intensive courses how they could leverage Canvas tools and integrations to simplify and streamline the grading and revision process for themselves and for their students.


At this point in the story, you should know that all of my experience in teaching college-level courses has been online. Having never stood before a lecture hall of college students, and having never used a pen to mark comments on an actual piece of paper, I embrace a mindset of saving trees, eschewing print cartridges, and indeed, happily allowing the printer sitting in the corner of my office to gather copious amounts of dust. I even made a game of keeping a mental count in my head of how many pieces of paper I had to print over the course of a semester, with the goal of keeping that number in single digits (and even that entirely due to administrative stuff like contracts and withdrawal forms): the "Under 10 Club," if you will. So when these professors asked me what was--for them--an obvious question, it took me a moment to think it through:


If we use SpeedGrader to mark up papers, can our students print their annotated papers to bring them to the Writing Center for review and revision?


I confess I hadn't given that any thought, and indeed, at that time, I didn't even know the answer. But what flashed through my head was the memory of my own professors complying with FERPA by laboriously placing every single student's graded and annotated paper in a separate envelope, writing the student's name across the front, and sealing the envelope to leave them for pickup. The old days, I thought, at the same time realizing that what for me were "the old days" were "these days" for the professors sitting before me--and "today," for many more even now.


I can be fast on my feet when I need to be.


"They don't have to! Save trees," I quickly replied. "Students can pull up their courses from anywhere where they have access to a computer and an internet connection. So once you've annotated your students' papers (and please, let's start calling them 'Essays' or 'Submissions,' since I hope you will agree that the term 'papers' is increasingly becoming anachronistic), they can go to the Writing Center and pull up their Canvas course. They can sit side-by-side with a tutor and look at the annotations together. Your students can launch the essay in a separate window so they can work on corrections to their draft. They can resubmit the revised assignment on the spot. Or, they can go home or to the library to continue to work on it, or they can pull it up at Starbucks. Wherever they are, they can continue to work on their assignments, and they never have to hit a 'Print' button again.


"And neither do you."


After the first meeting I learned that yes, of course, students can print their Crocodoc- or GradeMark-annotated assignments. But they don't have to! I hope that hundreds of instructors and students joined my Under 10 Club during our transition to Canvas and are no longer plowing through thousands of reams of paper.


Has your transition to Canvas allowed you to join the Under 10 Club?

Not to get all John Hughes on you, but Speed Grader is where it's at for grading. Electronically submitting comments is more effective for students and teachers. Reading comments from your instructor no longer feels like trying to interpret hieroglyphics. The feedback is precise. Teachers can effectively and efficiently leave comments all while having a rubric in front of them. One more benefit of Speed Grader? Students and teachers have an electronic record of essays with specific feedback. This is useful for revisions and general reflection in the classroom. Speed Grader for the win!

     Now, this is a story all about how,

my life got flipped-turned upside down.

        And I'd like to take a minute,

              so just sit right there;

  I'll tell you how I became the prince

           of a town called Bay-lor.


Flipped classrooms are nothing new to world of higher education, but they aren't nearly as ubiquitous as they should be.  Since Canvas uses LTI standards to integrate with hundreds of third-party applications, we recently integrated Kaltura into every course in Canvas.  Now, recording short lectures online is as easy as one-click!  Instructors can spend quality class time evaluating, expanding on, and re-visiting information with students who come to class already prepared.

I can't take credit for coming up with this, but since the faculty member who did is not in the community as of yet, I will share their project here for them.


One of our Biology Instructors has students take a bare bones (no pun intended) model of the human body, and then use modeling clay to create muscle groups and attach them to the models. He then sets up each of these models into stages around the classroom and uses pins with labels to indicate a specific muscle groups on each model. The labels just have letters, not the names of the groups. In the past, he would create paper quizzes and hand them out at the beginning of class and have students split up into groups and then go to each stage and try to answer which muscle group was indicated by the pins at that model. As soon as a group completed all the stages they would turn in their quizzes to him, he would furiously grade them as fast as possible, return them, and let them go over what they got right and wrong.


He has now transitioned to using college provided tablets and Canvas Quizzes to replace the paper quizzes. Students get immediate feedback, all of the grading is automatic, and he can provide rich comments if the students missed any questions. This is saving tons of time and tons of paper and the students really enjoy the activity. They are up and out of their seats engaging with real physical objects while at the same time leveraging technology to create a wonderful learning experience.

The example I have is from our nursing department.  Prior to Canvas, students in the practicums had to turn in daily  logs detailing the goings on of the day.  The students would record these logs with a phone, digital camera or even software installed on a laptop or tablet.  This was time consuming for the students and a headache for the instructors as they had to have a number of different video tools to watch these videos.


When we switched to Canvas, the nursing faculty loved the built-in video tool that you could use in assignments.  This made the creation of the daily video logs much more simple and removed the barrier of all the needed video recording software and playback software.

As a student, I gave many presentations in class. I hated standing in the front of the class. I hated the unrevisable nature of a live presentation. Sure, I understand that live presentations have their place, but online presentations also have their place, and Canvas makes online presentations easy for both faculty and students.


The built in media tool is great. It can be used to record video presentations by both faculty and students. It is so easy that I have found myself offering more video messages in discussions, conversations, and announcements. These quick and easy videos help me feel a greater sense of presence, connection, and communication with my students. Besides, if I mess up, I can revise.


My students report the same experience I have: ease of use and better feelings of connection.


For more formal presentations, Canvas does a great job of integrating with web services. I like to create slides with Haiku Deck and use Screencast-O-Matic to record the slides, audio, and webcam for a polished lecture type of video. The whole thing ends up as a YouTube video that embeds nicely on any page, discussion, or announcement in Canvas by simply pasting in the url. While my students find these more involved presentations, most of them report enjoying the process.

Our various health care career programs have to grade students by observation at their clinical practicum sites. Previously this was accomplished with a clipboard using check-off sheets for each task observed - one sheet per student. Then the instructor would come back to campus, tally the sheets, and enter each student's clinical observation grade. Tedious! They now convert those check-off sheets to a Canvas grading rubric, attach the rubric to a Canvas assignment, then use the SpeedGrader app on an iPad and the rubric to grade their clinical observations. No paper, quicker, and student grades are immediately available to the student.


Now, many of our other technical programs are using this same method to grade any hands-on observational tasks in their programs. Observe a student painting a car, and grade as you observe. Observe a hemodialysis student perform a venipuncture, and grade as you watch. Too cool, folks. I actually did a presentation on this at InstructureCon 2014.

Groups.jpgOver the past few months, I've helped answer a handful of questions re: people wanting to set up a campus club or group in Canvas that lives outside of any course.  The club/group isn't tied to any one course.  For example, we have a Multicultural Club, an Auto Technicians Club, an Accounting Club, and a Chiropractic Specialist Club (to name a few) in our Canvas instance.


In order to set this up, you need to have Admin access to your Canvas instance.  If you don't have this kind of access, speak to someone who is at your school.  Here's what you get: Home, Announcements, Pages, People, Discussions, Files, Conferences, and Collaborations.


Here are the steps to setting this up:


Go to your Admin Pages (Managed Account) of Canvas.


  1. Go to your Admin Pages (Managed Account) of Canvas.
  2. Click People on the left nav.
  3. On the upper right corner of the screen, click on the More People Options (three dots) button.
  4. Select View user groups.
  5. Click the + Group Set button to name your group set (for example, "Clubs").
  6. Click the + Group button to add the name of a group within that Group Set.
  7. Begin adding people to the Group by clicking on the round + icon next to the name of the group.  You can search for a person's name or their e-mail address.
  8. Click on the cog wheel to set the Group Leader.  At this time, there can only be one Leader per group.


Keep in mind that if you have the same person in multiple groups, it will be necessary to first create an additional Group Set (step #5) since an individual cannot currently be assigned to two or more Groups within the same Group Set.

As we all know, traditionally the marking of assignments has been on paper. At the beginning of the computer age when students wrote their assignments electronically, some teachers would take and mark electronic copies of their students work. This largely continued on with tracked changes in word documents and the like. With Canvas and other tools such as Turnitin teachers can receive all their assignments digitally and mark them online, and in the process reduce the amount of paper flying around, the clutter it causes in offices, and the hassle of the handing in/returning the paper assignments. Sounds great doesn't it?


In theory, it is great. In practice, people have been slower at adopting it than would be expected (hoped). One of the main complaints is that screens are harder to read than paper. Also, people like to mark in places without internet and scribble all over their students work. With increasingly common access to cheap readable touch-screens, and the increasing number of places with wifi, a lot of these issues are disappearing. Speedgrader is a great tool for this, as is Turnitin's grademark. The two are very similar, with the exception that Speedgrader does not generate an originality report or talk to Turnitin well, which has resulted in our staff who want to mark online and use Turnitin choose to just use Turnitin in lieu of Speedgrader. What is seen is that once people move to online marking, they don't usually move back.


Maybe it is a generational thing that results in some people being open to online marking more than others, however there are always exceptions which cause doubt on this hypothesis. What is seen is that as more people mark only electronically, their colleagues follow suit as the stigma or fear of it is removed by example. Maybe in a few years time we won't need a physical place for students to hand in assignments, and on that day we will all reclaim some of our office-space.

Communicating to members of advanced degree programs has historically been problematic - primarily because many such students work full time and are pursuing their post-baccalaureate degrees in off hours and potentially only online. Email can be unreliable and important communications can get lost in user inboxes or filtered into junk mail. The distribution of paper forms, brochures, newsletters, posters, bulletins, etc is costly both from a production and a delivery standpoint.


To facilitate communication and mitigate these difficulties, several programs have begun using Canvas courses as their source for communication, storage, and distribution of information. Students are already accessing Canvas on a regular basis for their academic courses, so they will see when there is new information posted in these additional courses. Course shells are manually created each school year, with department-designated teacher(s) who manages the content and invites the students to join the course.


Important information, forms, documents are then posted electronically rather than printed and mailed or handed out. Students can view materials online, or print if they so choose. Distance learners are not at a disadvantage having to wait for hard copy materials to be delivered.


We expect this usage to expand as our departments, instructors, and staff become more comfortable and familiar with Canvas and aware of its potential!

To make recording of academic activities (verification of work by students in a course to qualify for their financial aid disbursement) easier on teachers and faster for both the financial aid office and students we started a process using available canvas features, the APIs and our SIS.


Teachers can now record attendance, give quizzes/exams, or homework assignments. Once those items are completed our SIS using the APIs can see if an "activity" has been recorded. Now teachers no longer have to fill in a form or going into the SIS and manually enter information.


This process is now used by teachers who teach only face to face classes to those who only teach online and everyone in-between.

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