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2016

This blog could also be a very interesting discussion for another time. What I would like to briefly cover is not what people's different backgrounds are, but more what they could be, and how it doesn't really matter. Canvas has now been taught to academics from all over my institution in all the different disciplines and sub-disciplines that that entails. The original Canvas Facilitators at my institution were PhD students from all over the University. What we do for out academic careers really has nothing to do with it. By training I am an archaeologist, I have worked in Egypt and visit museums all over the place for my research. In my studies I have had a bit of exposure to different technologies and without talking myself up I am competent at a number of them. That was probably part of the reason why I was offered a job to teach Canvas to others, my day job involves teaching and my skills included technology.

 

I have had some emails recently of people saying that things are a bit too difficult or that they "don't understand this stuff". In particular I have had people saying that this guide on how to manage the lecture recordings is too difficult iframes (UoA Lecture Recordings) because it involves a little bit of copy and paste html. The second people see that they seem to switch off or dismiss it immediately. To be honest, I don't really know a great deal of html either, but I can figure it out if needed. That is the main skill that I see lacking in people who find these things too hard, they simply need to give it a go and try figure it out. These people are Academics from all disciplines. There are other people at the other end of the spectrum of course, who understand it and improve on it, which is great.

 

So, with Canvas, it doesn't really matter what you do if Canvas or e-learning is not your main job, it can be learnt either way. It doesn't matter if you don't do computer science or use computers for much beyond documents and email. I see Canvas as an augmentation of my teaching skills. Does it have anything to do with archaeology? No of course not, but that doesn't mean I'm not willing to sit down and figure it out. So if Canvas is not your day job, that doesn't matter, it can be figured out with patience, willingness, and time.

Back in October I participated in the Paper Pumpkin challenge, which encouraged conversations around online marking: Paper Pumpkin - Moving marking online, the uphill battle. Five months on I thought it would be time for an update. Since then we have not had many assignments due as it was the Christmas/Summer break and Summer School, but at my institution we have trained several thousand academics and professional staff in the use of Canvas. I have briefly summed up some of my thoughts on that process here: Keep on keeping on.

 

In the original post I talked about how great online marking is without all the bits of paper and the promise of quicker grading. Also, it is better for the environment due to less printing, and cheaper for the faculty and students for the same reason. Some staff have decided to give online only a go which is great, and the team I work with are doing all we can to make sure that that goes smoothly. As with all things, public (in this case staff) opinion is half the battle. Unfortunately not much has changed to sway the majority of the paper markers, although from more interaction with these people, some common themes have emerged as to why they don't want to do online marking:

 

  • There is a generational gap - A lot (but not all) of those who have a problem with online marking are from the older generations. They could cite any of the reasons below, but they are more likely to have a problem with the concept. The same people likely struggle because they don't understand computers either, and we frequently have people not knowing what an internet browser or a "tab" is.
  • Health reasons - Some complaints have been that screens hurt peoples eyes, or working on a computer is uncomfortable. While I can sympathize with these issues, there are a range of technologies available which can help with this. Tablets and laptops enable the use of a computer wherever suits you. Software such as f.lux: software to make your life better can adjust the brightness on your screen depending on the time of day. "Harden up" is something I wish I could say in these circumstances, but that doesn't really help the situation.
  • Internet connectivity issues - Some people want to mark where there is no internet connection. This is a tough one. Submissions can be downloaded, marked, and then re-uploaded but this is a bit clunky. There isn't much more that can be done. Having said that, internet connections and wifi are increasingly common everywhere, and devices now often will be able to have their own modem or be able to tether to a device which does.
  • It doesn't have all the options - This one is just an education issue. With tools such as Speedgrader and Grademark there isn't much you cannot do online now. One thing is the ability to just assign a letter grade without the student seeing the raw points, that would be a great help to encourage people to go online, this feature idea is suggesting that this option is added to Canvas: Allow final grade to be letter grade only
  • They just don't want to - Even if they were force to mark online, some people just don't want to and will print out all the submissions anyway. There really isn't much that can be done in this circumstance except to either revoke their ability to print (yes I am kidding here, mostly), or to continually encourage them to give it a go and demonstrate how easy it can make things.

 

In the end all we can do is offer support to the staff that cite (consciously or unconsciously) cite one of the above reasons for not marking online. An official decree from those in charge would not work in my opinion, we need to use the carrot not the stick in these circumstances. Although over time I suspect that neither will be necessary and the transition will happen "naturally". Time will tell.

I am a part of the team to train people in Canvas at my institution. I have also touched on some of the issues I mention below in these blogs You can lead a horse to water...  Seeing the digital world unfold Introducing Canvas to a new University - 5 things Paper Pumpkin - Moving marking online, the uphill battle . I hope that some people find this useful.

 

We have been using Canvas in a training and trial capacity since last year, but it only went live in January this year and full implemented for the start of semester one in March. I have been a part of the team learning the system and training people since just about day one, and in some cases being on committees which were a bit above my station. Through all this I have been trying to keep up with my PhD which is in Archaeology. There have been challenges throughout this process from all sides, but none have been any that were not eventually figured out by the support teams or one of the facilitators. It has been a wonderfully frustrating journey, some days I wanted to quit, others I was excited about what has happening around me.

 

The first challenge I realized was that some of the people in support roles did not understand or realize what the "boots on the ground" a.k.a. teachers would want from Canvas. The other issue I realized straight away was that we were going to have a generational challenge ahead of us, with some of the more technically un-proficient people would struggle with this new software. I worked with these teams and committees and gave my naive opinions about what I thought should be done, some comments were listened to, some were not. Things were compromised between the needs of the system and the wants of the teaching staff. Things were getting done and the trial classes were going well.

 

We started training the staff in a variety of ways, and for the most part it was successful, we had people taking the system with both hands and using it to teach how they wanted. Others, not so much. Some teachers simply wanted to know what they had to do, why they had to do it, how long it would take, and how do they replicate what they had always done into the new system. On some of those days I wanted to tear my hair out. Then I stopped worrying. We were never going to get everyone on board with this, and to be honest we did not have to, we just had to get the system working, teach people the basics, and deal with any issues as they came. The majority of the people with a problem with the system were from the older generation, those who genuinely did not know what a internet browser or tabs meant, and for those people we had to shift the training accordingly. For other people we had to try and slow them down as they ran through the system like a bull in a china shop, doing everything they had always dreamed of, without knowing the tricks of the software or how to use it. Muting assignments before marking is still something we are drilling into peoples heads. Training sessions needed to be tailored for who we were talking to, often on the fly.

 

Getting all the systems and tricks that teachers would want into Canvas was another issue. The Canvas software is fantastic, but there will always be institutionally dependent tools that need to be made in house. Sometimes we didn't have time for a feature request to go through the community, or knew that this was something unique to us and our systems. In these cases the IT developers worked miracles and did a great job. In other cases there were features that certain areas of the institution needed that others did not, these were discussed, meetings held, administrations consulted, and ultimately the ideas were put on the list of additions or rejected. The problem then was telling the teachers who needed this addition that it either wasn't going to happen or that it would be awhile, and to try and find a mid-term or permanent solution for them. It is all about thinking on your feet to solve the problem, kind of like on The Martian but without the potentially dying on Mars part.

 

Other times it was just something to make peoples lives easier, which is where these guides came from Creating a "button" oriented syllabus page iframes (UoA Lecture Recordings) Embedding a webpage in an assignment (iframes) Embedding a pdf in the rich content editor. What was a bit heartbreaking was when you showed someone these and they didn't want to because it either took too much time or looked too complicated. Neither of which is true, but they could instead be working on a journal article or something else. I keep making guides and things in spite of these people, as there are some people who use these resources and are getting really great feedback about them. My hope is that these people will help to raise the standard that students expect that that those who don't want to will have to.

 

I can see some other issues that will likely come up in the coming months, and I will be there to help solve these when they come up too. You just need to keep on keeping on.

 

It's not over yet.

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