Skip navigation
All Places > Higher Education > Blog > Authors josh.emmitt@auckland.ac.nz

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.

I was first introduced to Canvas somewhat jet lagged on my way back from a conference in Europe, being told by my supervisor (whom I didn't know was on the flight) at 3am somewhere that we would be using it for the class starting the next day. In my jet lagged state I had the course running my the mid-morning, and then with a small revision I had it looking a bit better a few days later when I had caught up a bit, the result of which is here Creating a "button" oriented syllabus page. Our course was a part of the pre-release of about 10 courses, part of the advanced users group as we called ourselves, each from very different disciplines of the University, and me being the most junior person in the room. I did not have the benefit of the training the others had received before going it, but I soon caught up and was finding new ways to use Canvas. One of which resulted in a way to manage the lecture recording links that we use iframes (UoA Lecture Recordings).

 

Before long, whether by nagging, luck, or skill, I was offered a part-time position as a Canvas Facilitator for the University, helping to train the staff at the University of Auckland in the use of Canvas. I ended up just focusing in the Faculty of Arts due to my PhD and teaching commitments. I have posted other blogs about some of the challenges I have encountered while doing this job; Paper Pumpkin - Moving marking online, the uphill battle and You can lead a horse to water..., but for the most part the result of the training sessions have been interesting to see. What the other facilitators and myself are seeing is people taking the LMS on board and using it in new and innovative ways. Some people are playing more with the html editor, while others are salivating about all the ways they can improve their teaching styles. This is all in contrast to our old LMS, which while it was state-of-the-art when we got it many many years ago, is now tired and needed replacing. What is exciting is to see what people can do with Canvas and what they will continue to do with it as they are introduced to it, hopefully without the jet lag.

We are now well into teaching Canvas to all the staff in preparation for next year at my institution. In my Faculty, the overwhelming response has been positive to the switch to Canvas, with people getting very excited about what they will be able to do with their courses in Canvas. But, and yes you knew there was a "but" coming, this is not always the case. Some staff simply do not want to put any more effort into their courses than what they currently do, which is to upload a few pdf's and maybe some power-points and call it a day. This response mostly comes from tired and jaded staff, but also surprisingly from some people who you would assume would be excited. To them, the prospect of putting in a bit of extra time to set up their courses is unthinkable. I have tried to sell it to them as an investment of time, if they put it in now to make an awesome course, it can be copied over to the next time they teach it, but that line only works about half the time.

 

Along with Canvas, my institution is introducing Talis Aspire to help manage our copyrighted content, which again brings a collective groan from those same staff. In one case, a staff member suggested that they may retire instead of deal with adding the copyright to all of their 30,000 images that they have. Whether or not they use all 30,000 images in their course I never did ascertain.

 

I was a bit disheartened at some of these responses, I couldn't see why people would not want to make their courses a bit better, which is part of their jobs after all. While my initial response to these negative attitudes was that of disappointment, I have come to see the situation another way. The people who don't want to learn Canvas or put in any time at all, probably weren't doing it in the first place with our old LMS. I have done my job and tried to get them enthusiastic about Canvas and what it can do, but at the end of the day I can't do much more than that. All I can do is help those people who want it to make their courses as good as they can be.

 

You can lead a horse to water... but you can't make it drink.

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.

There have been some great blog posts so far about how to start the semester right and tips and tricks for running the semester. What I would like to do here is to outline a few things that I have found to be helpful when starting a new semester with Canvas for the first time.

 

1. As other blogs have said, communication is key. Be up front with your students about the software, what it can do, and how you will be using it. Let them know it is ok if they cannot get something to work, as chances are someone else is having the same problem. The same goes with teachers. Make sure there are open lines of communication between those who are making the courses and those who are making the software work.

 

2. It is ok if something goes wrong. No one gets everything right the first time. There are very few things that cannot be fixed if broken/messed up. Your institution will have help lines you can follow for help, and also the Canvas community has a large archive of help topics and a very fast turn around on questions. You are not alone.

 

3. Encourage innovation. The main thing that I see is people just wanting to do the bare minimum to get their courses working, which is fine. However, try and foster those people who want to try and do something new or different with their course. Everyone will benefit from it.

 

4. With number 3 said, remember it is ok to say "we will come back to that". Chances are that the beginning of semester will be one of the busiest times, especially when using Canvas for the first time. The bare minimum gets everyone working and happy, it is ok if innovation doesn't happen until the second week.

 

5. Don't panic. Canvas is a tested LMS and your institution has put it through its paces before implementing it. We were all new to it once. It is intuitive and as mentioned there are a lot of support lines. Again, if in doubt, ask.

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: