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2017

Today is the day that the University launches Canvas to all staff in preparation of using the system for Learning and Teaching at the start of academic year 2017/2018.

 

Although all staff have access to Canvas from today, we did develop an ‘Early Adopter’ program that consisted of 22 course, 1000 students and 90 academic staff who began teaching with Canvas at the start of September 2016.

 

As well as having access to Canvas, staff will be able to book on a variety of online and face to face training sessions. We are hoping to utilise the power of Social Media by promoting the training and having pedagogical discussions with Canvas. Follow us on our Facebook and twitter pages

 

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/WLVCoLT/

Twitter - https://twitter.com/WLV_CoLT

 

Here's a quick example of how we've been using Periscope to talk about the use of Canvas. This is one of our Early Adopter students talking about his experience. @

 

All of our staff will have access to a ‘Blank Canvas’ course which is designed for them to test, familiarise and to support any training courses they attend. It will allow them to ‘play’ with Canvas in a safe and private setting, enabling them to build up confidence with the system, before Learning and Teaching courses are shared and developed.

 

I look forward to sharing with you our journey in using Canvas

In the endless quest to declutter my Canvas course sites and eliminate unnecessary "call-outs" to separate pages I've been playing with HTML, specifically Anchor Tags.

 

For the unaware, Anchor Tags are essentially hyperlinks that allow you to jump from one place to another WITHIN a page instead of jumping to a separate page. (Experts please forgive me, I'm trying to keep things low key here).

 

After looking in several excellent discussions here on Canvas, most especially Damon Ellis' expert summary drawn from other work by Stefanie Sanders here, I figured out Anchor Tags, but it wasn't easy. Most examples other than Damon's (including this example of how to do it on the syllabus page from UW) have extraneous bits of formatting that aren't part of the essential Anchor Tag itself. Damon's explanation is wonderfully divorced from extraneous code, but expects knowledge of HTML/coding language that still might be beyond some of us beginners. I realized that the problems I was having are similar to those that my own students have in introductory Latin and I'll philosophize at the end of the post, but in the mean time I offer an explanation of Anchor Tags that might be easier for the non-expert HTML dabblers like myself to use. (I've also included some Best Practice Suggestions after the philosophizing).

 

To create an Anchor Tag you have to be working inside the HTML editor, not the Rich Content Editor.

 

There are two basic elements when using an Anchor Tag:

  1. The place FROM which you are jumping (the FROM text).
  2. The place TO which you are jumping (your destination).

 

Step-by-step instructions:

The DEPARTURE POINT!

  1. Locate/Create the text for the place FROM which you want to jump.
  2. Think of an easy to remember "shorthand" name (unique identifier) for your anchor—each anchor needs a unique identifier so that it will find its destination appropriately. In the step below, use that name for your unique identifier.
  3. In the HTML editor you will modify the text around your FROM text by adding the bold (blue and green for recognition here) as follows—the FROM text does not get altered, just add the code and label around it:
  • <a href="#YourUniqueIdentifierTermHere">FROM text</a>
    • IMPORTANT: Notice that the Destination Point Unique Identifier MUST HAVE the hashtag (#) symbol at its beginning after the first set of quotation marks.

 

The DESTINATION POINT!

  1. Locate/Create the text for the place TO which you want to jump.
  2. In the HTML editor, modify the text around your TO text by adding the bold (blue and green for recognition here) as follows—again, the TO text does not get altered, just add the code and label around it:
  • <a id="YourUniqueIdentifierTermHere"></a> TO text
    • IMPORTANT: Notice that the Destination Point Unique Identifier MUST NOT HAVE have the hashtag (#) at its beginning after the first set of quotation marks.
    • Also important, if you want to use Anchor Tags in a blog post here in the Canvas Community, replace id with name in the above command.

 

The Philosophizing Bit—yes, if you clicked on "at the end of the post above" that was an anchor tag at work!:

HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language and it IS a language. Many people learn words or phrases in other languages and use them with varying degrees of success and appropriateness. It is entirely possible to utilize other languages without being fluent in those languages. Many of the explanations of HTML from the wonderful people in the Canvas Community assume a level of basic understanding that is still a bit beyond some of us just because we have gotten used to being able to function using bits and pieces of HTML without true fluency (like being able to order a coffee or beer in a foreign country without speaking the language).

 

Two of the main problems my Latin students have revolve around grammar/syntax labels and word order. In terms of grammar/syntax use direct and indirect objects, transitive and intransitive verbs, copulative verbs, subjects, predicate adjectives, independent and dependent/subordinate clauses, et cetera all the time, but they are confused by those labels for the parts of their sentences because they don't think in those terms and sometimes have never learned them (or only in the very distant past...or so they claim). In terms of word order, meaning in Latin is largely based in the endings of the words themselves as opposed to English, where word order is essential:

 

Take, for example, the following Latin sentences:

  • Canis virum mordet.
  • Canis mordet virum.
  • Mordet canis virum.
  • Virum canis mordet.
  • Virum mordet canis.
  • Mordet virum canis.

 

In those sentences we have six different examples of word order, but they all translate to "(The) dog bites (the) man." [The changes in word order do emphasize different things because the first position in a sentence is usually most important. Thus when the dog is first, he is what is being emphasized as the actor. When the man is first, he is what is being emphasized as the victim. When the verb mordet (he/she/it bites) is first, the action of biting is what is important.]

 

Blissfully, HTML requires pretty rigid word order using signals that turn things on and off by the use of an opening symbol such as <a> and a closing symbol such as </a>. There are some places this happens in Latin and I find it useful to remind my students of Algebraic expressions, specifically the good old PEMDAS order of operations. In HTML we have to remember that we are dealing with a series of nesting, paired frames/bookends/parentheses and everything that happens has to be nested within an opening and closing pair. [Disclaimer, I know you can leave end tags off occasionally just like we eliminate forms of the verb "to be" at times in Latin, but ideally and for simplicity lets say we should close our parentheses).

 

In re the "word order" situation, delving into HTML reminded me that when trying to understand and use a new bit of code one should always look for the bookends/parentheses that start and finish the sentence.

 

Best Practice Suggestions:

You might note that in the explanation above I used both bold text and colored text to aid in visual identification of the constituent parts of the code. This is a practice I would suggest to others when sharing explanations in Canvas. Being able to easily discriminate pieces of a puzzle help ALL of us, not just those with various processing difficulties. [Disclaimer, I am reminding myself that I need to remember to do this as I revise my visuals, not just with colored markers on a white board.]

 

In re the grammar/syntax situation, remember that we always need to define our terms. While "UniqueIdentifier" might mean something to an experienced HTML coder, to others it will NOT be obvious. Taking the time to provide the simplest explanation you can think of for your audience helps. When I explain transitive vs. intransitive verbs to my students I know that some of them already understand what I am talking about, but others do not and defining my terms makes sure we are all on the same page.

 

One of the explanations of anchor tags I read used the same order I did (departure point....destination point) and another reversed the process (destination point...departure point). I will admit, that although the explanation in the reversed process was somewhat clearer, part of the difficulty in understanding it was the process being reversed. I find that students for whom English is their primary language do much better with beginning to end, left to right, top to bottom explanations. However, there are plenty of people who have no problem with the reverse approach. Whatever the order you choose, if you define your terms well most learning styles should be able to follow your explanation.

 

 

Disclaimer: I've tried to model Anchor Tags within this post, but I may have to edit it several times because I am nowhere near fluent in HTML. It was during the editing to make sure the HTML worked that I discovered that, whereas in "Canvas" the bit of code for the anchor tag is <a id="identifier"</a>, IN THE CANVAS COMMUNITY (where this Blog is posted) it is <a name="identifier"</a>

 

I am sure another brilliant user can explain that difference, I only thought to try substituting "name" for "id" because I saw the different tags while researching Anchor Tags!

Last week was the 19th Canvas Camp hosted at the University of Oklahoma. Looking back on its evolution from May 2016 to today, the dozens of courses developed by participating instructors, and the feedback I've received, Canvas Camp is an ongoing success.

 

Background

Canvas Camp is intended to teach instructors how to use Canvas while they are producing their first Canvas course. Most of our time is spent exploring notable features, developing courses, and problem solving how to design courses in Canvas. All levels of expertise are welcome because Canvas Camp is flexible enough to scale and adapt to suit everyone's needs—there’s always something to learn in our open-ended sessions! That being said, although this training is meant to teach several components of Canvas, there are many more pieces beyond what we introduce.

 

Canvas Camp occurs face-to-face in 2-hour sessions over 4 consecutive days. Demonstrations of Canvas, exploration of features, and discussions of course design all take place during this training, however the main focus is the development and completion of participants' courses!

 

Before I jump into the design of this training, be aware that my curriculum for Canvas Camp is openly shared using a Creative Commons license and you are welcome to take, adapt, use, repurpose, etc. all of the materials without permission as long as you abide by the license. Additionally, feel free to reach out to me on twitter or via email—I'm always up for a video chat.

 

Canvas Camp website annotated Gif of home page

 

Canvas Camp Design

Canvas Camp was built around five main components:

  1. Teaching the technical skills to use Canvas
  2. Engaging faculty in course development
  3. Producing Canvas courses
  4. Reflecting on why the University switched to Canvas
  5. Learning Canvas as part of a community

 

1. Technical Skills

As with any new tool or software, there are varying degrees of digital literacy and technical expertise of the Canvas Campers. For individuals who possess high technical skills, the Canvas Camp website aims to empower them to progress through the Canvas Camp curriculum at their own pace. For participants who have just started to learn Canvas, the face-to-face sessions provide them with a safe space to ask questions, learn, and experiment on their own or in community with others (including the facilitator).

 

Canvas Camp is intentionally flexible in design to serve the needs of a wide range of technical expertise.

 

2. Course Development

Working with instructors over several days offers the opportunity to engage them in course design and discuss the pedagogical implications of their Canvas course decisions. This aspect of instructional design is intertwined with learning the technical skills of Canvas as the camp facilitators explain and discuss the ramifications of decisions made while developing courses. Depending on the feature or design in question these interactions might occur on a one-on-one basis, however there also opportunities to draw on the collective expertise of the instructors present—this often yields rich discussion.

 

As an example of how course development takes place, a significant shift in organizing course materials has occurred, in part, due to the popularity of Canvas Camp. I see many more instructors organize their course materials chronologically than topically like they did in the previous learning management system (LMS). Granted, both types of organization offer their own benefits and shortcomings. However, now faculty are being more intentional in this design decision. They are engaging with each other and the camp facilitators to pursue what is best for their students. For example, most of the faculty that participate in Canvas Camp opt to use the Modules feature of Canvas to arrange their content by week, unit, chapter, etc. This chronological presentation of material is intended to give their students greater levels of context for the materials they are studying during the semester.

 

3. Producing A Course

The notable draw to Canvas Camp is the promise to come away with a course, built and finalized. In most cases, we see faculty members complete 75-100% of their course. Sometimes instructors have completed more than one course during this professional development. Regardless, this is heavily marketed to bring people into Canvas Camp.

 

4. Why Switch To Canvas?

Arguably the most important aspect of Canvas Camp is engaging in discussion with the participants throughout the week. For example, after faculty members have wrestled with Canvas—learned and experienced its strengths and shortcomings—we ask them to tell us why they think the University decided to switch to Canvas. Inevitably, someone always brings up the monetary aspect, but after several minutes of discussion, faculty often suggest the change was made because "Canvas is better for the students," "easier to use," and/or "nicer to look at." All of these reasons are recorded on the whiteboard at the front of the room to highlight positive aspects of Canvas. This reflection is crucial. If you hope to change perspectives about Canvas, give instructors meaningful experiences with the tool and follow up with reflection and discussion. In other words, Canvas Camp also functions a primer (and potentially a model) to tackle larger digital literacy questions related to educational technology and learning management systems.

 

5. Learning Canvas Together

Training is always more fun together! Canvas Camp benefits from diversity of disciplines, types of teachers, and the people present. The community aspect of this training is integral since participants must turn to one another when they have questions or need recommendations. In particular, this occurs when the facilitators are assisting other attendees. Overall, Canvas Camp is a wonderful learning environment to engage faculty in technological and pedagogical practices of Canvas, but this training shines when it empowers faculty to become both students and teachers to one another.

 

Reflection

The reason Canvas Camp is our most important training at the University of Oklahoma is not only because it's our most comprehensive, face-to-face training, but because it's our most fun.

 

I know that sounds weird. I realize building courses can be tedious and far from fun. There's just something special about Canvas Camp that I hope to bring into every other training program I build/facilitate. The comradely of learning Canvas in community paired with the feelings of accomplishment from completing courses is fun. The energetic discussion and informal instructional design that occurred during each session is fun. The creative challenge that coincides with building engaging courses is fun. There's a lively spirit present with each cohort of instructors at Canvas Camp, and yes you guessed it, that makes it fun!

 

Beyond the fun of Canvas Camp, this professional development strives to do more than teach software. Canvas Camp aims to shift the culture of the University. Yes, there are many more components to such a process than a single training, but as of January 12th, 143 instructors now have greater confidence to build courses in Canvas (and you have to start somewhere)!

 

The discussion that happens on the final day of Canvas Camp is crucial for shifting culture. During every Canvas Camp, participants openly express their apprehension and frustrations with switching learning management systems. Giving instructors time to interact with Canvas and see how their courses look and behave in the system affords them the opportunity to naturally grow knowledgeable and comfortable with the change. Highlighting this perspective change during discussion while reflecting on the week of Canvas Camp, emphasizes and reinforces the cultural shift.

 

There are plenty more aspects of Canvas Camp I could touch on, but this is enough from me for now (feel free to reach out with questions). Instead, here's a few testimonies from the participants of Canvas Camp:

 

Testimony

What was the most valuable/useful aspect of this session?

gaining familiarity through doing.
Overall, the camp was terrific. I enjoyed engaging with faculty from other departments.
Very hands on and practical--lots of time to work directly on courses.
The balance of some delivered content, and some 'free time' for us to explore Canvas and explore our own content in it. But the free time had the facilitator present to answer questions. That was very helpful.
The most valuable aspect for me was learning the basic mechanics of Canvas. It is overwhelming for anyone trying to self-teach. I also like that the canvas instructors gave specific recommendations for how to optimize course use (ex: enter rubrics directly to use Speed Grader instead of uploading files, etc.)
No doubt: it was the instructor. A truly exceptional educator. He took his time, making sure everyone was able to keep up, yet kept things moving along. Very nice, articulate delivery, good organization.

 


This post was originally published on Keegan's blog under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Creative Commons License

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