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2017

We've created a module in Canvas Commons:  Using Badges (with Badgr) in your Canvas Courseto help faculty create and implement Badges [uses Canva and Badgr] in their course. There is also an Assignment, which has been shared via Canvas Commonthat ties to our Students: Intro to Canvas course (not shared to Canvas Commons).  Please take a look and let us know how we might improve these resources.

At Northwestern University, instructors in the music school are using Canvas in an inventive way to critique "voice juries".  They used to go through reams of paper and frantic handwriting sessions to provide feedback to students, but have streamlined the process using Assignments and the Speedgrader in Canvas.  The new process not only allows the instructors to provide immediate feedback to students but is easier for the instructors to type and for the students to read!  To learn more about the process, listen to our Digital Learning podcast.

 

Note: The image above is the recently completed Bienen School of Music on the Northwestern campus, along Lake Michigan.

NB: This is the fourth post in a series on what we learned in our Fall 2017 Blueprint Course pilot. The previous posts provide an overview of our experience (Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Introduction), address how we got buy-in from teaching teams and administrative stakeholders for our target courses (Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Getting Buy-In), and consider our "failed" Blueprint pilot course (Lessons Learned about Blueprint: When Blueprint Wasn't the Solution).

 

For our school, perhaps the most obvious use of Blueprint courses (Canvas Release: Blueprint Courses) is for courses where we had previously used a Course Copy workflow.

 

In the first post in this series, I described one of our pilot Blueprint courses as follows:

WHCP 611 -- a half-term core MBA course that is the first of several required communications courses. Staff in the Wharton Communications Program had been asking for years for a way to ensure consistency across Canvas sites and to prevent instructors from being able to make changes to that content. Blueprint was an ideal solution! We were a bit concerned about including this course in the pilot, as this half-term course has 56 associated Canvas sites in Fall Q1, and an additional 53 associated sites in Fall Q2. And if things didn't work as expected ... well, that could have been a lot of sites that needed fixing!

As you can see from this description, Blueprint offered a key feature that the teaching team had been asking for: the ability to ensure course content consistency across Canvas sites and to prevent instructors from changing content. The Wharton Communications Program (WHCP) courses have a shared curriculum across all sections, so maintaining consistency was a long-desired goal. Because of this requirement, Blueprint was an easy sell. For this course, there are more than 50 sections in each quarter-term in the fall (so about 110 sections in total in the Fall semester). In the spring, there are several options for the next required communications course in the curriculum, which also have the same requirement for content consistency.

 

Previous Course Copy Workflow

Previously, our workflow looked something like this: A member of our team works with the lead faculty member for the course to develop the Canvas site template. After the template is finalized, approved, and signed off on by all program stakeholders, we begin building and replicating the sites. Our ability to begin this work has several dependencies, including having a finalized The specified item was not found. course pack attached to the template site. Each section uses the same readings, and we use a course-level LTI tool to distribute the shared course pack to all sections.

 

Course shells were built using a script that created a Canvas site for each section and applied the appropriate attributes (named the site appropriately, set the Course Code and SIS ID, added the faculty, set the term and sub-account, etc.). 

 

This course meets once a week, with sections meeting Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, with start times ranging from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. With 56 sections each term, there were usually two or three sections that met at each day/time possibility. To get the class meeting and assignment due date times correctly, we would do the following:

  1. Adjust the class meeting and assignment days on the template site to the correct day of the week by drag and dropping assignments and events on the Canvas course calendar (What is the Calendar?). This step was necessary only when beginning a new class start day (Tuesdays classes, then Wednesday classes, etc.).
  2. Do a course copy of all content (How do I copy content from another Canvas course using the Course Import tool?) to import everything from the date-adjusted template to the course shell. (Due to irregularities in the meeting schedule, we could not rely on Canvas's ability to adjust dates during content import.)
  3. Adjust the due date time of each assignment to match the course meeting time.
  4. Verify that everything was set/copied appropriately, students were enrolled, etc., and then publish.

 

This, times 56 sections, twice each fall. We could achieve some efficiencies when subsequent copies were of sections with the same meeting day and time. But each individual site required a separate content import, which can involve a minute or two of waiting. When all that time is added together, it's a significant amount! Overall, this was a big task for our team -- and one we were usually doing at the height of beginning-semester crazy. The total amount of work is such that we'd typically distribute it across multiple team members, each working on different start days.

 

And on multiple occasions, there has been some minor problem with the template discovered only after the sites were replicated. This required manual updating of each site, either by our team or by the teaching team. (So maybe you can see why we were eager to try Blueprint!)

 

Canvas Site Replication with Blueprint

Setting up the Blueprint template for this site is straightforward (How do I enable a course as a blueprint course in an account?).

 

Setting Up the Blueprint Template

We set default locked attributes in Course Settings, and for this course we locked content and points for assignments (because we needed to adjust the due dates) and content for both files and pages.

Blueprint settings

 

We ensured that all assignments, files, and pages were locked, which would ensure that instructors could not change any assignments or other content within their Canvas sites. Locked items are easily identifiable by the blue locked Blueprint icon on the Modules index page, Assignments Index page, etc. in a Canvas site.

Locked items in associated courses have a "locked" Blueprint icon.

 

Site Replication Workflow with Blueprint

The site replication workflow we are now using is much simpler and faster, and it provides the teaching team with the ability to update late in the process if necessary. Course shells are still created using a script that added a Canvas site for each section and applied the appropriate attributes (named the site appropriately, set the Course Code and SIS ID, added the faculty, set the term and sub-account, added the student enrollment section, etc.).  

 

Content is copied automatically when the Canvas sites are associated to a Blueprint course. You search for Canvas sites in the Blueprint menu, and then select them to associate with a Blueprint template site. Associated sites must be in the same term and account or sub-account as the Blueprint.

Add associated courses

 

The initial sync immediately copies over all content, including course settings (How do I sync course content in a blueprint course as an instructor?). This will copy LTI tools, course navigation menu settings, and other attributes. Subsequent course syncs copy only content, with course settings as an option.

Blueprint menu for WHCP 611

 

Syncing content across all 56 Canvas sites at the same time saves a lot of time compared to performing 56 separate course copies!

 

Adjusting Assignment Due Dates

There's one last major task for each site: adjusting the due dates and times for all assignments. The small efficiencies we were able to take advantage of using course copy were no longer available to us using Blueprint. So we sought alternatives. (The Canvas Community to the rescue!)

 

We used James Jones's Canvas enhancement for adjusting all due dates on a single page to do this task (Adjust All Assignment Dates on One Page). Using this tool, it took just a minute or so to change the due dates and times for each section. This approach saved us A LOT OF TIME. If you haven't tried it, try it. Seriously. So. Much. Faster!

 

So our workflow now looks something like this, after the associated sites have been synced to the Blueprint:

  1. Adjust due dates/times using James Jones's tool.
  2. Verify content is correct, dates and times are set correctly, instructors and students are enrolled, and adjust if necessary (in the fall we needed to manually set some course nav menu options, but a bug fix has taken care of this problem, so the one manual task we needed to do in the fall won't be necessary in the spring).
  3. Publish.

 

See? Faster!

 

So, How Did it Go?

Overall, this was a huge productivity win for our Courseware Team and for the Wharton Communications Program teaching team. We no longer have to wait for the course pack to be finalized and made available to students to begin replicating content, which means we can begin this process much earlier -- a win for everyone involved.

NB: This is the third post in a series on what we learned in our Fall 2017 Blueprint Course pilot. The previous posts provide an overview of our experience (Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Introduction) and address how we got buy-in from teaching teams and administrative stakeholders for our target courses (Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Getting Buy-In), and a later post discusses replacing a course copy workflow with Blueprint (Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Replacing Course Copy Workflows).

 

Perhaps not surprisingly, Blueprint Courses (Canvas Release: Blueprint Courses) turn out not to be the right solution for every large-enrollment, multi-section course. In this blog post, I'll talk about the "failed" Blueprint pilot course, where the teaching and admin teams decided not to continue using Blueprint.

 

Why We Considered Blueprint

In the first post in this series, I described one of our pilot Blueprint courses like this:

MGEC 611 -- a half-term core MBA course with four faculty members each teaching three sections, a small army of TAs, and several support staff. Previously, this course had a single Canvas site (with all 12 sections!) in order to maintain consistency. Some of the faculty, however, wanted to customize the content for their assignments and course materials. We selected Blueprint to provide the teaching team with a common starting point, the ability to keep content in sync (if they chose not to modify their Canvas sites), and the ability to customize content if they chose. This Blueprint course has four associated Canvas courses, each with three sections (more than 800 students in total).

The second half of this course (MGEC 612) is offered in Q2, again with 12 sections taught by a slightly different set of faculty, and with basically the entire MBA class (about 850 or so students).

 

The teaching and admin teams agreed to use Blueprint during the Q1 course, and we all had the expectation that we'd also use it for the Q2 course (MGEC 612). All the upfront planning and communications included faculty who would be teaching in Q1 and Q2. (Again, I can't stress strongly enough how helpful Ken Black's post on Tips for Designing and Maintaining Blueprint Courses is for this kind of planning, especially his sections "Plan, Plan, Plan" and on deciding whether to lock items.) But in the end, they chose NOT to use Blueprint in Q2 -- and this says a lot more about their evolving understanding of their course needs then it does about the tool.

Challenges Inherent in this Course 

These course were challenging for our Courseware Team to set up. (Our team creates Canvas site and populates them with assignments for our teaching teams as part of our standard site setup process.):

  • Teaching and administrative teams wanted a single Canvas site for all 12 sections to facilitate distribution of cross-course materials and announcements, to allow TAs to easily assist in grading across sections, to post announcements to all students, and to provide a discussion board accessible to all enrolled students.
  • We create both ungraded course preparation assignment and assignments for deliverables (papers, exams, etc.) with varied due dates by sections. (How do I assign an assignment to a course section?) With 12 sections in the same site, making sure that the correct section is assigned to the correct due date and time requires meticulous attention to detail.
  • AND there's one faculty member who wants to do his own thing with the ability to modify assignments, but only for his own students. So the assignments index page from Fall 2016 looks something like this:

Assignments Index page showing multiple versions of each class participation assignment.

See the (C3) after what appears to be a duplicate assignment? One faculty member (responsible for "Cluster 3") wanted to be able to modify assignments for the sections he teaches. So each assignment has multiple sections assigned to it with multiple due dates. This makes it hard at a glance to see if we got everything right.

 

So this level of complexity across all the assignments, twice each fall for these quarter-term courses.

 

What Blueprint Allowed

When we approached the admin coordinator about trying Blueprint for this course, we used many of the reasons discussed in Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Getting Buy-In -- so please check out that post for discussions of each of these benefits. The key selling points for this course were:

  • Consistent starting point for course content, but with the ability for faculty to make changes if they wanted
  • Ability to update content (that wasn't changed) at a later date
  • Ability to replicate LTI tools (The specified item was not found., specifically because the course uses a shared course pack across all sections)
  • Ability to post announcement across all sites at the same time

 

The combination of these features provided the central functionality that the course required -- the ability to have a common starting point for everyone (with the ability to update that content in a single place, just one), combined with the ability for faculty members to change that content if they chose. And not have those changes overridden. The way that Blueprint handles synced changes for unlocked content fit the bill. (See How do I sync course content in a blueprint course as an instructor? )

 

Configuring Blueprint for this Course

We created a Blueprint template site, along with four associated Canvas sites -- one for each "cluster" of three sections taught by one of four faculty members.

 

Configuring the Blueprint site was remarkably straight-forward: We left everything unlocked (How do I lock course objects in a blueprint course as an instructor? - this, we didn't do any of this), which provided faculty with control over what they wanted students to see and what content should be in the assignments, files, and other content. So, they could use the content from the Blueprint as a starting point, but were not required to use it.

 

Assignments were left unlocked in this Blueprint course.

Setting up section-differentiated assignments was faster and easier with only three sections (instead of 12!), and there was much less concern about accidental errors.

 

Teaching Team Enrollment

Our Courseware Team created the template from the shared syllabus and worked with the teaching team to determine who should have access to the Blueprint site and each of the associated cluster sites. In the end, they decided everyone should have access to everything: all five faculty members (teaching in either Q1 or Q2) and eight TAs (two assigned to each cluster) were enrolled in all five sites (the Blueprint template, plus four associated "cluster" sites).

 

Files and Folders

We spent a while talking through the logistics of how the Files areas should be set up and what (if any) files should be uploaded to the Blueprint template. And ultimately, the faculty members realized that they wanted to upload their own versions of the slide decks for each class meeting, so the template provided a file folder structure but only minimal shared files.

 

Where We Needed a Workaround: Discussions

By moving to four Canvas sites (one for each faculty member's section) instead of one, the primary functionality that they lost was giving students access to a shared discussion board. After investigating options, we installed Piazza as a course-level LTI tool, and then paired each Canvas site to the same shared Piazza board. This gave all 800+ students a centralized place to discuss course content, problem sets, ask and answer questions, etc.

What Worked?

Most of the Blueprint worked as expected:

  • The one faculty member who wanted the ability to make changes did so. Unconstrained, he completely reorganized the navigation of his Canvas site and provided students with links to everything from the home page, hiding basically all other course navigational elements.
  • Faculty appreciated being able to control what files their students saw, and especially appreciated that students could now access slide decks and other files posted only by their own instructors.
  • Faculty appreciated that they could more readily control the visibility of classroom recordings -- we use The specified item was not found. for classroom lecture capture, without having recordings from one faculty member visible to all members of all sections.
  • Announcements (using delay posting -- How do I delay posting an announcement until a specific date in a course?) could be posted across all sites at once.

 

What Didn't Work?

Though we haven't (yet) surveyed the teaching teams using Blueprint this semester, we have a pretty good idea of what didn't work.

  • Learning curve: There's a learning curve and some overhead in keeping track of where changes need to be made (in the Blueprint site) and to remember NOT to make changes in an associated site, if you want to be able to sync the content to any changes made in the Blueprint. If you NEED the functionality offered by Blueprint, then there's incentive to tackle that learning curve.
  • Managing multiple enrollments: For many members of the teaching team, their enrollments for the semester went from one (or two) to five (with the expectation of another five for Q2. Concurrent enrollment in so many sites can lead to a variety of challenges: problems keeping track of notifications from Canvas, grading to-do lists, Canvas calendar limits, etc. This was especially difficult for TAs, who also had their own set of Canvas sites for their course work.
  • Bugs, and more bugs: In the initial weeks using Blueprint, we reported a number of bugs. And some of these contributed to the learning curve of using Blueprint.

 

What Are They Doing Now?

In the end, the teaching team realized that what they needed was simply an initial shared starting point, and that they didn't really need the ability to keep content, assignments, files, etc. in sync. Faculty members appreciated the ability to make changes and updates, as well as having complete control over the files and class recordings. So for the Q2 course, they dropped Blueprint and we simply copied the course content from one site to the next -- and this eliminated the extra administrative overhead that comes with Blueprint.

 

We still count this as a win, though: This teaching team would not have arrived at their current configuration without first trying Blueprint. Blueprint ended up being a way to ease them into having separate Canvas sites.

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