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The problem: a focus on faculty

I run a successful twice-weekly faculty engagement program called Active Teaching Labs that gets instructors sharing how they use (want to use, fail to use, figure out how to be successful in using, etc.) technology in their teaching. Since we're a Canvas campus, just about everything we talk about we try to tie back to its implementation in Canvas.

 

This is all well and good. We've developed an environment where people feel comfortable sharing successes and frustrations. Often, they ask about students — what do students think about [x,y,z]? I've been trying for years to investigate this question, but I'm in the "Faculty Engagement" service here, not in Student Engagement [sigh...].

 

Helping faculty understand their students

The good news is that I've successfully made the case that knowing more about students helps us help faculty, so I'm embarking this semester on a fellowship where we talk to students about their learning habits and practices. We're developing relationships that are somewhat new to our generally-faculty-facing Academic Technology department — to student-facing organizations like Residence Life, the Center for the First Year Experience, and others. Since our goals are to improve teaching and learning, they tend to align with their goals of supporting students, so they're often willing to work with us.

 

When we're able to identify and connect with a group of students, we survey them with questions like: 

  • What have you learned about learning?
  • How did you learn it?
  • What were your best/worst class learning activities? (and why?)
  • Advice to instructors?

After we survey the students, we meet with as many groups of them as we can schedule to unpack and clarify the results. We find that the survey primes them to think about their learning, and sharing the results back with them gets them talking back and forth. 

 

What students say

They hate Canvas "Discussions" btw, and mention of the Canvas "To Do" list elicited an exasperated "Murder!" from one of the students in last night's discussion. I find these things fascinating because, while I agree that Discussions is terrible (an online forum ≠ a discussion; calling it that makes people think it should work like one, but it cannot because it has a whole different set of constraints and affordances! But I digress), I would not have suspected a strong reaction against the To Do list.

 

This isn't a research project by any means, and we won't be publishing or sharing any meaningful results, but rather it's a means to get insight from students in order to learn from them. And yes, we realize that students are not necessarily experts on good learning practices; part of the reason we're asking them is so we can develop useful faculty-created interventions such as Week 0 Modules, and integrating Universal Design for Learning into course design and activities.

 

How do you get student feedback?

In our faculty development programs we encourage instructors to get formative feedback from students as often, and in as many ways as they can — from reflection elements in assignments and activities like the Muddiest Point (on post-it notes, or in Canvas's graded pseudo-anonymous surveys), to forums in Piazza, to SGIDs or class representative councils — but we know there are many other methods that we don't know about.

 

  • What do you use? What has worked and not worked? 
  • Have you done any large-scale surveys? (best questions?)
  • How can instructors build mechanisms for feedback into their Canvas courses?
  • Other advice?

Thanks!

How do you do Professional Development of Teaching? With >230 sessions reaching 3400+ educators, the Active Teaching Labs at UW-Madison facilitate teaching & learning development for the price of bagels & coffee. We've honed a one-hour highly-rated, dynamic, and respectful format that consistently draws campus educators without a need for stipends. During the campus transition to Canvas, the focus was on how to rebuild courses in Canvas. Now that campus is all Canvas, the focus has turned to pedagogical involving all sorts of technology, and problem-solving how to make them work well with a structure that is centered in Canvas.

 

BUT...

 

Issues

We think we've got a good thing here, but we still struggle with several issues. Maybe you can help us out with ideas?

  • How to prepare for the questions we don't know about in advance? Inevitably, instructors come to our sessions with a secret desire — so secret that they might not know about it themselves until something in the session sparks it. So secret that they might not share it with us until they fill out an evaluation, disappointed that we didn't answer it.
  • How to reach faculty too busy to come to professional development sessions? At our R1 university, teaching is (sadly) not valued as much as research, so faculty naturally focus on what earns them tenure. 
  • What titles draw people in? Because we recognize they're busy, we've been balancing "teach better" with "teach faster" — trying to share tips and tricks to be more efficient so they can teach well without spending too much time doing it!

 

So, this blog post has two goals:

  1. share what we do, and
  2. pick your brain for good ideas we're missing!

 


WHAT WE DO. Our sessions are:

  • SHORT: We find that people are willing to come to a 1-hour session (we add 15 minutes to the front on Friday mornings so they can get coffee and bagels), but much more time than that, and they stay away.
  • STRUCTURED: Single-page paper Activity Sheets provide topic overview, researched solutions, and challenges for Beginners to Experts. The digital version (bit.ly/eliLab) offers links, shareability, and participant-provided resources.
  • RESPONSIVE: Labs solicit and respond to participants’ specific interests in topics, allowing participants to share their own just-in-time questions, and solutions to each others’ challenges — building community connections across disciplinary silos. 
  • COLLABORATIVE: Participants learn from others' experiences and have structured time to contribute their own resources, ideas, and experiences. Expert participants learn from each other and also from novices through elaborative interrogation.
  • SCAFFOLDED: Labs flow from a topic overview to shared and individual participant challenges, connecting them to educational research — and because they draw on social learning, result in individualized peer-supported development.
  • MULTIMODAL: Participants can engage at their comfort level in person or online, and continue digitally afterwards.

 


EASY: Review some Labs

NB: Rather than provide a “polished” program, we model flexibility, vulnerability, and mistakes. Participants don’t see perfection (realistically impractical for instructors who teach new topics each class), but they see us try, fail, and get better. Our program similarly evolves — 2020 Labs are better than 2015 ones, and we feel some are still pretty bad, but participants love them. See them all (warts and all) in our eText: bit.ly/ATL-ejournal.

  • We started in Spring 2015 by inviting different faculty each week to share a way they use technology to teach. They prepared a 10-minute overview. Participants dug into the tool for 15 minutes to get some experience. Then it was Q&A. Counter to ID law, we led with the technology, and then sprung T&L research on them — luring instructors in with Twitter, Google Communities, Wikipedia, etc. See our first Lab on Google+ Communities Lab for a good example of this iteration.
  • As UW-Madison transitioned to Canvas, our focus shifted to address it, and the Hands-on Experience component was highlighted with Activity Sheets that welcomed different skill levels (EASY=no experience; MEDIUM=some; HARD= things we haven’t figured out yet). See the Canvas Navigations Solutions Lab for a good example of this iteration.
  • When Canvas was familiar, participants wanted to focus more on Pedagogy (WHY) than Technical (HOW), but some still wanted step-by-step directions. We put these in the Activity Sheet (like this one), but now focus sessions on Teaching practice. See the Trigger Warnings Lab for a good example of this iteration.
  • Recently, instead of inviting individuals to share a story on using tech to teach, we’ve been inviting 3-4 “ringers” to participate on a topic, we ask all participants what they want answered, and we discuss. It’s not a panel (panels= weird power dynamics); they sit with everyone else, and we carefully facilitate the conversation to address the questions.  See the UDL and Rubrics Lab for a good example of this iteration.

 


EASY: Set the Mood. Show you Care. Model Vulnerability.

At UW-Madison Labs, we play Jazz (Pandora Herbie Hancock station) before we start so participants don’t walk into a dead room. The instrumental-only background music creates a welcoming ambience while encouraging attendees to chat with each other. We welcome them when they sign in, and we make sure they make a table tent (or name tag) so others can address them by name. If they come back, we say “Welcome back!” and ask them about their semester, week, etc. We have rolling slides up introducing the Lab, setting expectations, and sharing interesting T&L articles, upcoming events, etc. We have coffee and bagels for morning Labs, and cold brew, fruit, and cookies for afternoon ones. Supplying food suggests we value them. 

  • What do you do to put participants at ease and generate discussion that meets their goals?

 


MEDIUM: Let go of preconceived plans to follow participant needs.

We’ve found people often come to events hoping to get something specific answered — often not what the event page describes. But they don’t tell us what they want, and they leave disappointed (and tell us on evaluations), so now we ask! When we start, we ask them to introduce themselves and share what, about the topic, they want to discuss. We put that on a white board and check off the questions as we address them. We start with the basic, or most popular questions, and generally ask our “ringers” (or anyone) to share any answers or suggestions they have. We use the Activity Sheet to address the technical and pedagogical questions on the topic that we anticipated. We refer to it when we can, but often find ourselves going in unanticipated directions. There’s a lot of improvisation in this approach, and we rely on people in the room to help us figure it out. We often say “I don’t know. Does anyone here have thoughts?” At the end of the Lab, we ask them to fill out Reflection Sheets (not “Evaluations”) — this, and their initial questions bookend the Lab and subtly remind them of their agency in their learning. When we get unanswered questions, we respond to them on the Recap page.

  • How do/can you personalize learning in sessions you lead?
  • How do/can you promote participants’ agency and responsibility in addressing their own learning goals?

 


MEDIUM: Focus on the folks who most impact campus teaching.

Like many T&L development programs, we initially tried to reach tenure-track Faculty, but struggled to pull them away from research (what they get tenure based on). Recently, we’ve been reaching them through the TAs that help them teach, the support folks they go to for technical questions. We balance better (for students) and more efficient (for instructors) teaching.

 


CHALLENGE: Try new things. Break rules.

After 10 semesters, 230 Labs, and ~3400 participants (including those coming back multiple times!) We think we’ve got a pretty good framework that we can continue evolving. But each semester we shake things up by trying something new. Starting with technology (Ooh! shiny!) instead of the (boring) educational challenge to lure people in; now we almost always start with challenges. Double-sided, jam-packed paper (the sin of no whitespace!) Activity Sheets became digital (links work — no need to type them in!), and then crowd-sourced (participants now regularly add to the RESOURCES and LAB NOTES sections!). Video recording turned into YouTube live streaming (saves hours of editing/uploading each week) — but we still have not figured out how to live stream effectively (Picture-in-Picture for screen and discussion)

  • Have you figured out live streaming?
  • Any advice on engaging both face-to-face and online participants?

 


HELP!

I'd love to hear your thoughts! How have you have dealt with these challenges? What are you doing that avoids some of the issues? Other advice?

 

My colleagues and I will be presenting on this topic at ELI 2020, so if you're there please stop me for a conversation!

 

Thanks!

John

 

Rachael Sweeten

Commitment to Learning

Posted by Rachael Sweeten Feb 19, 2020

As designers and teachers, we are on a relentless quest to present the best quality information for our students in the most effective ways possible. We acknowledge we can always do better and our students deserve this effort!

 

With that in mind, I offer this support to teachers to help each of your students embrace the Growth Mindset and personal commitment to learning. 

 

Rachael's Recommendation for Starting Each Semester

I introduce myself and state my commitment:

 

"My commitment to you is that I will do my best to teach you valuable information that will make your life better. The sum total of my life's knowledge will be your starting point. In return, I'm asking you to be committed to learning. 

Remember, the worst teacher in the world cannot stop you if you are committed to learning."-NRS

 

***

Heartfelt credits for the inspiration go to the old-school motivational speaker Zig Ziglar:

Zig Ziglar

“If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you. If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.”


 Zig Ziglar

There are some common misconceptions in New Quizzes that can be quite frustrating. Here are a few.

 

 

Hot Spot Questions: Click, Not Draw

A misconception about Hot Spot questions is that these questions require students to click on the correct target area, NOT draw a shape. Let's say that in your art class, you want students to discover hidden shapes in the photograph below:

 

Harper @ InstCon 2020

 

You then ask the following question:

 

INCORRECT QUESTION

There is one hidden shape in this image. Draw it.

 

EXPLANATION

You might think that you want students to draw the shape similar to the blue highlight below (in this case, it is a heart), but this is something the teacher has to do, not the students. However, this would make for a great feature idea (see Quiz Question Type - Drawing for more info).

 

Misconception

 

CORRECT QUESTION

There is one hidden shape in this image. Tap/click on the region where you think it might be.

 

EXPLANATION

It only takes one click or tap to answer a Hot Spot Question. This shouldn't take very long to answer, especially on one-question quizzes with a very short time limit (~30 seconds).

 

Hot Spot Click

 

 

The Sky's the Limit (But with Exceptions, Though)

Some people might think, "Oh well, the sky's the limit, let's turn this quiz into a marathon race, so they set the time limit for a very long time (1 month, 3 months, 6 months, even longer). We've converted to the largest possible time limit (from smallest to largest, seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years).

 

  • Less than 1 hour: mm:ss
  • 1 - 48 hours: hh:mm:ss
  • 2 - 60 days: DD days
  • 2 - 24 months: MM months
  • 2+ years: YY years

 

In this example, the time limit shows 9,993,600 minutes, but we converted it to 19 years for students to see it more clearly.

 

Old Quizzes

 

But that's no longer the case with New Quizzes, where time limits are limited to 7 days (excluding time accommodations). Accommodations will be needed to bypass the maximum limit up to a maximum of 16,800 hours (or 100 weeks).

 

7 days limit

 

Availability Dates: Not Just for Taking the Assessment, But Also for Showing/Hiding Student Responses

This should probably answer the question for the following feature idea: Show and Hide Quiz Results by Date

You know a common question we get is: You thought you can still view your results after the availability date has passed, isn't that right? Wrong. In this case for New Quizzes, once the availability dates have passed, you can no longer take the quiz nor see the items you got wrong, as shown below.

 

Time Is Up!

 

(This has not yet appeared in New Quizzes, but it is a concept...)

A better workaround for this lockout is that in Settings, there should be an item called Disallow Late Submissions. When this box is checked, students can no longer take the quiz, but they will still be able to review the items that they got wrong, provided that the current date is before the Until date (if set).

 

Disallow Late Submissions

 

This will be denoted by the sentence "Late submissions are disallowed for this assessment," as shown below:

 

Late Submissions Disallowed

 

 

Assign

Apologies for the mixed fonts here...

Availability Dates

 

ASSIGN TO

Select the group you want to assign to.

 

DUE

Select the due date for the assignment. This will be displayed next to the time limit in the New Quizzes Instructions screen (on the right side).

 

7 days limit

 

AVAILABLE FROM

Select the date and time when the assessment will become available to students. Students will be able to take the quiz and view their results. This is like "Let Students Take the Quiz and See Their Quiz Responses Starting From..."

 

UNTIL

Select the date and time when students can no longer submit the assignment nor see their results. This is like "Let Students Take the Quiz and See Their Quiz Responses Until..."

 

Be sure to keep these tips in mind as you continue to build assessments.

 

We hope you continue to enjoy New Quizzes!

 

Trivia

Curious why the New Quizzes text in the banner is pink? That's because it's Valentine's Day today!

 

Looking for something else?

 

Ideas

 

Guides

Teacher

Student

Higher ed hosts a bewildering number of professors who 1.) fail to provide examples of completed projects and assignments, 2.) actively avoid examples on the premise of promoting creativity, and 3.) presumably enjoy a comfort zone of non-clarity.

Possible Solutions:

Rubrics and Examples
  • Rubrics clarify assignment expectations, guiding students on where to spend their energy and creativity.
    • Rubrics support teachers in grading neutrally, quickly, and clearly.
  • Examples communicate vast amounts of information about quality, completeness, and acceptable work.
    • Multiple examples inspire creativity instead of limiting it. 

 

"Two or more vastly different examples of successful A-grade assignments encourage student inferences and higher-order critical analysis. Multiple examples expand creativity rather than limiting it." —NRS


Addressing Privacy/Copyright Issues

  • Get written permission from previous students to display their work.
  • Bite the bullet. Start from scratch and create new project examples yourself.
  • State copyright and ownership of the work clearly the course introduction, including that students may not copy or reuse the examples provided.  
  • Define plagiarism clearly—with examples--and reiterate the school’s policies. Many international students bring vastly different cultural and institutional perspectives on plagiarism, citations, original work, sharing, cheating, etc. 

Treasure Map

Enjoy this efficient Reading Response formula for encouraging higher-level Bloom’s Synthesis and Evaluation skills in higher ed.

Major benefits: 

  • Students invest more effort to glean value from the readings and provide succinct evidence for grading.
  • Format encourages clarity and expansion for students who write minimally.
  • Student writers who provide too much length get to practice refinement and brevity. 
  • Instructor gets to grade 4 carefully crafted sentences per student. Done!
4-Part Student Reading Response Format
  1. Reading assignment Title and Author. (May include the full APA/MLA reference for practice.)
  2. Summarize author’s thesis statement. (Quote a single sentence or summarize what you believe to the be the author’s main point in a single sentence.)
  3. Quote the best line from the writing. (Take notes and be prepared to defend your choice in follow-up discussion. Your personal definition of “best” may be based on sentence-crafting, novel ideals, metaphors, key points, convincing arguments, etc.)
  4. Share your response. (State your reaction to the reading. Do you agree or disagree and why? Expand on the topic and share your own opinions and rationale.)

jjones@lynn.edu

InstructureCon 2020

Posted by jjones@lynn.edu Champion Jan 24, 2020

Greetings, Canvas world!

 

As I am sitting thinking about my proposal for InstructureCon2020, I thought, wouldn't it be a great idea if CanvasAdvocates had space where they can present to other users from a direct end-user perspective! These presentations can stretch from beginner to advanced or even open Q and A panel with a panel of "Canvas Advocates" from varying levels of knowledge, we can bounce ideas off of each other, share experiences and provide much-needed advice to users of all levels. We've all had our struggles and random questions. We can pay it forward in 2020 and lend that helping hand to all users!

 

If this were an opportunity that Instructure would allow, I'm curious as to what type of workshops you like to see?  

Did you know that you can embed images in a unit that dynamically size, according to your page size?

 

This is ideal for embedding images into your Canvas unit that can be viewed on a mobile with no issues.

 

The embed code from the HTML editor will refer to the width and height of the image:

<p><img src="https://xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx/courses/22607/files/6877530/preview" alt="Adobe Creative Cloud by application" width="1000" height="1600" data-api-endpoint="https://xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx//api/v1/courses/22607/files/6877530" data-api-returntype="File" /></p>

 

If we change the width to be 100%, the image will dynamically resize depending on the resolution of your screen/browser window:

<p><img src="https://xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx/courses/22607/files/6877530/preview" alt="Adobe Creative Cloud by application" width="100%" height="1600" data-api-endpoint="https://xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx//api/v1/courses/22607/files/6877530" data-api-returntype="File" /></p>

The rising popularity of online college courses creates new opportunities for completion and success. Unfortunately, more students who sign up for online courses also fail or wash out!  Students and instructors alike benefit from clarifying the skills needed to succeed and the mental preparation needed to prime students for online success.

 

While the goal is to encourage enrollment--not discourage it--students must be prepared and personally responsible for their online experiences especially if they are fresh from high school or not yet used to the discipline and organizational skills college courses demand. 

 

Ideally, the online courses of today are engaging, relevant, and organized with instructors who are truly present online and student-to-student interactions adding immense value. Online courses also demand a higher level of empathetic user experience design (UX), clear instructions, clear expectations, zero instructor "winging it," and superhuman anticipation of all possible roadblocks that diverse students might encounter!

Advantages of Online Courses

  • Online courses allow additional schedule options for busy students. 
  • Online courses may mean less time and money wasted commuting, sitting in traffic, adding to air pollution, searching for parking, etc.
  • Online course scheduling may be more feasible if you work full-time or have other obligations. 
  • Some online courses may allow you to work a week ahead, for example, if you have upcoming events or vacations. 
  • Well-designed online courses allow you to review materials--at any time--to gain full benefit.
  • Review and self-pacing can additionally benefit diverse student populations including students who require accessibility accommodations or ESL assistance.
  • The online format encourages you to interact with your instructor and other students in writing and discussions even more than you might in a classroom lecture format. 
  • The online format provides opportunities to practice higher-level reading, writing, and technology skills.

Questions to Ask Yourself in Preparing for an Online Course

  1. Am I prepared to spend the same amount of time (or more) in an online course as I would in a traditional classroom format?  Typically, colleges advise students to plan for 2-3 personal hours of homework time minimum for each credit hour during a week. For example, a 3 credit hour class may require approx. 6-9 hours each week for a typical student or possibly even more homework time.
  2. Am I aware that online classes are not easier or faster? For some students, online courses are significantly more difficult. Are the trade-offs worth it for you?
  3. Am I self-motivated and organized with completing my homework and scheduled deadlines even without continual guidance from an instructor
  4. Am I willing to ask questions, persistently communicate, and ask for help in advance of due dates?
  5. Am I persistent with technology hassles, including reading directions and solving issues?
  6. Do I have continual access to a reliable computer and high-speed internet?
  7. Am I personally responsible for gaining the full value from course materials and finishing what I begin?
  8. I am prepared to focus my attention and gain meaning from written text or videos with or without additional explanation from an instructor?
  9. Am I prepared to complete college-level writing assignments and/or seek assistance from writing centers to bring my writing skills up to expectations?
  10. Am I aware of options to take courses for credit, non-credit, technical training, hybrid mixtures of online and classroom interaction, etc. with a clear understanding of financial repercussions in worst-case scenarios? 

a Handshake with one arm reaching out through a computer screen

***

Resource links:

https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/01/16/online-learning-fails-deliver-finds-report-aimed-disc… 

Online Courses Are Harming the Students Who Need the Most Help - The New York Times 

Updated 1/23/2020 with new RCE information

Introduction

A new year and a new semester is a time of renewal.  As you refresh and revise your courses for the coming semester, please consider making your content more accessible.

 

I hope you've heard that word, but here's what you really need to know about accessibility: it's about making your content easy for everyone to understand.  Yes, there are laws that require accessibility, before you get a student needing it, for those that are differently-abled.  But really, making content easy to understand benefits everyone.

 

This blog will cover really easy things you can do with the Canvas Rich Content Editor that will make your content much clearer and at the same time, more accessible.

 

This image below are two images, the current* and the new rich content editor.  The 4 circled icons that have functions that will help you create accessible content in Canvas.

 

Current Rich Content Editor

Lists, headings, Images, and accessibility checker icons are circled

 

New Rich Content Editor

alt text, headings, lists and accessibility icons are circled

Headings

Headings are the easiest way to start making your content clearer. In the past, you may have simple bolded the font of a heading and made it large.  Stop doing that!  Instead use the rich content editor and choose the heading level.  What this does it is allows a student that uses a screen reader to interact with the content the same way a sighted student would, all through the miracle of the background coding you don't have to know.

 

Header dropdown listWhen you want a heading, click "Paragraph" in the rich content editor.  In the dropdown, you can choose the heading that fits the level of your content.

  • You should use the Headings in order - In Canvas, the list starts with Heading 2, because Title and Heading 1 are already used in the standard Canvas layout.
  • Sample Headings could include: Overview, Introduction, Instructions, Examples, Grading.
  • When you hit enter after a header, the next line is automatically set to paragraph so you can start entering content.

 

When you set headings correctly this gives all students:

  • chunked content that is easily scanned.
  • a quick overview of the type of content on the page. 
  • a way to organize the content they read so they better understand and retain it. 
  • an easy way jump to the section with the content they need.

 

It is true, the format for heading 1 comes standard, and it may not be exactly what you want.  You can let that go.  What you loose in control you gain in consistency and accessibility.  (Ok, once you set the heading, you can change its font, but what a lot of extra trouble! Just be sure you set the heading level first and try to be consistent throughout your Canvas site.  This is why using the standard font for each heading is just easier.)

 

Lists

To further clarify your content, you should consider if a list is better than a paragraph.  When the answer is yes, use bullets for a list with no sequence and numbers for a list where sequence matters.  You may have been doing this, but having you been using dashes or asterisks or typing in the numbers yourself?  Use the rich content editor instead.

 

When you are ready for a list

  1. click the list icon that matches your needs
  2. type a list item
  3. Hit enter and continue entering items
  4. At the end of the list simply hit enter again or click the list icon to return to paragraph formatting. 

 

If you have already typed a list, highlight all the list items and choose the bullet list icon or the number list icon depending on your needs.

 

Here's what lists get you:

  • Organized, easily read content.
  • Content that is easy to rearrange. When you move an item in a numbered list, the list renumbers itself.
  • Automatic indenting for nice white space. 
    • Hit tab while in a list item and the numbering or bullets will change.
  • Clearly ordered sequences.

Again, using the rich content editor creates background information that will allow sight disabled students to interact with lists in the same way as sighted students, so the lists are useful to everyone.

 

Images with Alt Text

Ever have an image not load and wonder what it was?  Alt text would have saved your day.  For some students, alt text is essential.  The best time to add alt text is when you are adding images to your content.

 

  1. Click the image icon in the rich content editor.Alt text entry box
  2. Find your image.
  3. Create alt text for your image or designate it as decorative.
    • Note for the new RCE: Once inserted you click on the image and click the options button to insert the alt text.
    • In the current RCE: If you already have an image, select it and hit the image icon to add alt text.

 

Wow, I made that sound easy, but alt text takes practice.  The text you put in should answer this question: What is the content conveyed by the image?  So it isn't necessarily a description, but the point of the image.  Here are some other guidelines:

  • It should not be file names with things like ".jpeg" at the end. At least remove the ".jpeg".
  • Keep it under 125 characters.  Longer descriptions should be part of the accompanying text.
  • Do NOT use the phrases "image of ..." or "graphic of ..." to describe the image.
  • Context matters.  Only you as the content creator really know the point of the image, so you get to decide the alt text.

 

Just know that having alt text is so essential for some students that you should make an attempt. With practice, it will get easier.  WebAIM Alternative Text analyzes the same image several ways so you can see some examples that will help you improve your use of alt text.

 

Accessibility Checker

The last icon circled on the rich content editor image above is the stick person which takes you to the accessibility checker.  This will review the content on the page, identify what may need improvement and even give you some guidance on how to fix issues.

 

A Final Word

Please do not think that Canvas is the only place where you have tools to improve your accessibility; they are in every content creation program!  Hopefully you will now recognize the headings, lists, and image icons in everything from Google Docs to Microsoft Powerpoint.  Make accessibility just a part of how you work, and your content will be better for everyone.

 

 

*Please note that this image is from the University of Minnesota Canvas Rich content Editor. Yours may appear slightly different but should have many of the same features.  For more on accessibility, check out Accessibility.umn.edu.

One of the things that I have learned from taking final exams online is the use of the force completion method. 

 

What is Force Completion?

At our institution, which uses Blackboard, our business teacher activates the Force Completion feature. What that means is that once the test is launched, we must finish it. We may only access the test ONE TIME. Although answers are saved periodically as we work through them, we cannot exit and re-enter the test. From Blackboard, the instructions note that the test must be completed in one sitting once started, and we cannot leave the test before submitting it. Without Force Completion, we may save our progress, navigate away, and return to complete the test.


Let's say that if I accidentally close my browser, leave the test page, or lose power or my internet connection, I can't continue. I must contact the instructor and ask for a new attempt.

Teachers may want to reserve the Force Completion option. Instead, they can require us to take a test on campus, connected to an Ethernet cable instead of Wi-Fi, and with a proctor. If issues occur, the proctor can reset the test.

 

How is Force Completion different on Canvas than on Blackboard?

In order to effectively create a test with Force Completion, it is recommended that you use the +Assignment button, NOT the +Quiz/Test button, to create the quiz. That is because you cannot use Load this tool in a new tab when using the +Quiz/Test button, to hide the Global Navigation bar on the left.

 

Access Codes

 

Consider one effective scenario of using Force Completion. Teachers pass out Access Codes to each student for them to enter.

 

Test Overview with Access Code

 

Once entered, students MUST return the codes back to the instructor after entering it.

Access Code Successful

 

The test begins as normal.

Access Code Correct

 

However, a few minutes later, a student forgets to plug in her charger, and the device shuts down. They will need to reenter the access code to get back in.

Locked Out

 

In Blackboard, if a student accidentally closes their browser, leaves the test page, or loses power or their internet connection, he/she can't continue. He/she must contact the instructor and ask for a new attempt. This is not the case with New Quizzes in Canvas. Starting a new attempt is NOT allowed, even if unlimited attempts are given. While some teachers may be nice and show the access code on the board for the students, others hide the code once the test begins. Furthermore, refreshing the page during the quiz will result in a Loading loop. We strongly recommend that you do not use the Force Completion feature unless it is really necessary.

The element that sets successful online courses apart from old-style correspondence courses is: presence. Well-taught, well-designed online courses can allow students to get to know each other and their instructors even better than in traditional lecture classrooms. Interaction is the key. Online course presence may require instructors to communicate much differently than in their classroom comfort zones. Online communication focuses less—or not at all--on body language and tone of voice.

So, how do you communicate online?

Keep in mind, online courses do not run themselves. Effective instructors leverage clear, frequent messaging and considerate planning. Ongoing instructor availability for timely questions is vital. Instructors must stay engaged daily to keep students progressing and adding value for each other. Online teaching takes as much time as classroom teaching; it just happens at different times and locations. Here are some ideas:

Create a Good Beginning

  • Create introductory Discussions with detailed question prompts to break the ice and help students connect personally. Example:

"Please introduce yourself to your fellow classmates. Include your name and why you are taking this class. You may also choose to include your major, your personal interests, hobbies, a photo, and something fun or memorable that will help people get to know you. (Approximately 5-10 sentences.) As you reply to your classmates’ posts, ask questions, look for interesting details, and keep your upcoming group projects in mind.”

  • Shy students who may not speak up at all in classrooms will often write more in an online discussion post.
  • Clarify expectations. In addition to the official policies in a syllabus, be sure to include separate discussion board etiquette instructions and basic explanations of the course structure. Example: “All materials and assignments are accessed through the Modules link. Discussions are due each Wednesday by 11:59 pm and major assignments are due on Sundays by 11:59 pm.”
  • Include an Instructor Bio content page with a photo or short, personal video. Avoid reciting information that is already in the syllabus. Reveal what you love about your field, what you want students to gain from the semester, and assure students that you are looking forward to working with them.
  • Include Week 1 setup assignments for Instructure Canvas LMS system success (notifications, profile, assignment submissions and system requirements.) Include an email requirement for immediate student questions or comments to you as the instructor.
  • Answer each email personally. Use repeated student questions to trigger your creation of general Announcements and course improvements.
  • Grade weekly assignments before the next assignment is due. Students cannot improve without timely feedback.
  • Post due dates for the entire semester on day 1 so that busy students can plan for success. Lack of pacing and direction is counterproductive. Canvas Assignment Due Dates trigger the To-Do List reminder system and populate the student calendar for your course combined with all of their other courses. (To reduce your instructor communication burden, avoid available and until dates unless absolutely necessary. Example: A Final Exam with a solid end date and no re-takes needs an until date.)
  • Use the Canvas Gradebook reminder/messaging feature to quickly remind students who miss assignments, if late work is accepted.
  • Be present in your course daily and strive to complete some type of communication with each login.
  • Aim for twice-daily [minimum] to respond to messages and questions. State your communication policy in advance to inform students who may be used to a 15-second response to messages.

Design for Success

  • Be clear. Detailed instructions are written for the least tech-savvy students. Make no assumptions. Include info links, definitions of terminology and expectations of writing length. Include links to specific Canvas Guides for Students in your assignment instructions for those who need step-by-step tutorials.
  • Be sure you understand Canvas and get help from Canvas Instructor Guides to avoid creating navigation dead-ends and frustration for your students. (Example: Make sure that hyperlinks to outside sites are functioning and use built-in modules navigation. Internal Canvas links can open in a neighboring tab. (Use HTML code snippet target="_blank" to avoid links within text that divert your students to another location in Canvas. Students won't finish reading a page if they click a link mid-sentence and land elsewhere.)
  • Curate multiple examples of successfully completed assignments for students to emulate and surpass. Varied assignment examples will invite deeper learning inferences and creative thinking.
  • Use Rubrics. Students will know where to spend their energy on assignments and have fewer complaints or questions. Rubrics help instructors give consistent, fast feedback without writing the same comments again and again.
  • UX. User test your navigation and course layout to ensure it is not confusing. The adventure is in the course materials, not in the navigation. (Research QM Quality Matters Rubric for Online Course DesignQOLT, and other quality assurance standards.)
  • Plan your course assignment due dates and pacing with the Academic Calendar and Holiday Calendar. Many students work during the week and appreciate Sunday night due dates. 
  • Be available for questions immediately prior to deadlines. Clarify your anticipated response times and weekend availability for questions.
  • Include early course feedback—approximately week 2-3 in a semester—to gather student feedback on the course design, not the instructor! Minor course adjustments and clarifications can create major attitude improvements and student success. Use the Quiz tool for a required survey, grading only the student’s participation and not the answers.
  • Aim for quality, not quantity. Use the auto-grading quiz tool for low-stakes chapter quizzes to ensure that students read materials. Save precious grading time for the most meaningful projects and writings that require your human touch.

Reward

  • Reward Curiosity. Make your ePortfolio assignments the most memorable, impactful part of your course. (Research topics: Problem-Based/Project Based LearningBackwards Design, and High Impact Teaching Practices.)
  • Be flexible. Keep assignment settings unlocked wherever possible so that students can look ahead. 
  • Consider. Many students take online courses specifically for flexibility. Allow responsible students to submit early for holidays, vacations, and personal obligations.
  • Reward Persistence. Ease student anxiety by using low-stakes quiz settings that allow multiple attempts to raise grades. Allow major writing assignments to be resubmitted after feedback and revisions.
  • Reward Contributions. Create opportunities for students to locate and share content from current events with each other in course Discussions.

Maximize Student Interactions

  • Participate with your own instructor comments intermittently for strongest results. Watch discussion spaces and participate subtly to allow students to converse more authentically.
  • Plan group projects in detail. Include detailed outlines, expectations, and suggestions for group roles that align with grading rubrics. Use collaboration spaces like GoogleDocs and Presentations that allow group members to work asynchronously and visibly.
  • Offer forums and opportunities for students to answer questions for each other.
  • Create open peer reviews in Discussions and set parameters for meaningful feedback where students take on the teaching & feedback role for each other.

Experiment with Your Role

  • Become a coach. Online courses are designed and polished in advance to free instructors for the coaching role rather than being the Sage on the stage.
  • Distill your life wisdom to re-examine the most efficient ways to think like an expert. Then, add inspirations for creativity and allow your students to add value by teaching you in return. Courses are improved semester-to-semester by engaged students.
  • Help students create their own tools for life and work.
  • Help students create proud evidence of what they have learned in the form of research papers, meaningful projects, and creative ePortfolio artifacts.
  • Keep feedback positive and encouraging, wherever possible.
  • Be specific when revisions are needed. If your requirements are strict, then assignment instructions and rubrics must match that precision. If your instructions are loose and flexible, your grading should reflect this style of teaching.
  • Be human. Use a conversational style in your Announcements and assignment directions that balances professionalism and friendliness. Written format is automatically more cold sounding, so account for this in your writing. 

* This article is offered based upon experiences as an Instructional Designer, Institutional LMS support staff member, and online higher ed. instructor. These suggestions are not affiliated with nor compensated by Instructure Canvas.

Canvas Dashboard

The Dashboard is the very first screen when we come arrive into Canvas after successful authentication.  At the University of Minnesota it goes to “Card View” by default, which represents your courses as “cards” but I tend to call them tiles. The cards  may have images, or they may simply be a color.  

 

image of Canvas Dashboard

Anatomy of a course card

image indicating the parts of a dashboard card

If you do nothing to your cards

If you don’t customize the Dashboard at all, Canvas decides what is on there, and in what order.  Usually it does not do a great job of guessing what courses you want to be in the cards, so it’s best to dictate that yourself.

Customize the Dashboard “Card View”

Customizing the “Card View”  is easy, but not obvious.

The first thing you should know it that if you add even 1 course manually to the Dashboard, the default automatic  list will disappear. So, once you start customizing you control it all. 

 

Adding & Removing a course from the Dashboard

Use to change the courses button image to change the cards in the dashboard button.

 

  • First, click on “Courses”, then “All Courses”
  • Then click on the star next to each course you want on your Dashboard.  
    • Click a unselected star image to become at selected star imageto add a course to the dashboard button
    • Click a selected star image to become a unselected star image to remove a course from the dashboard button

 

Once you understand this is the way it works, and you are able to remember this again next semester, you are in business.  You can change your Dashboard quickly to match your semester.

Remove a course from the Dashboard “using” the Dashboard

You can click on your course card menu, click “move” then select “unfavorite”

 

card using unselect

Next, Rearrange your course “cards”

Drag and Drop your cards into your order of preference. 

Summary

Customizing the “Card View”  is easy, but not obvious. Once you understand how it works, you’ll be able to make your daily interactions with Canvas easier, more feng shui (digitally speaking). 

 

 

Related to this:

How do I add an image to my course card in the Dashboard?

One of the big hassles with testing accommodations is having students submit a testing request EVERY TIME for each individual test within any course. This is no longer the case with New Quizzes.

 

Here is an example from Pasadena City College (PCC), our closest local community college, which also utilizes Canvas as their LMS. 

 

Pasadena City College

 

Students will be prompted to submit their current Accommodation Plans and let their instructors know that they will take tests under accommodated conditions and that the local Disabled Student Program department will contact the instructors. They will need to have their syllabi ready.

 

For New Quizzes, the same rules apply. However:

  • Instead of submitting a test accommodation form for each test, students only need to submit a form only once for each course that they would like to request testing accommodations for. That's because these settings will be applied to all course assessments in New Quizzes for this student, making things more convenient.
  • Students will only need to resubmit if there are changes to accommodations.

 

TEST REQUEST FORM AVAILABILITY

Some institutions have various availability times when the request form will be open. Check with your school for more info.

 

As always, students should submit their requests as early as possible to guarantee a spot, especially during finals.

Introduction

 

Students working in groups to learn just learn better.  That is what years of research have shown us.  Managing groups can be difficult, and not just during class.  Canvas has some group functionality that instructors can use to manage group work:

 

 

There are tricks to using groups, group assignments, and group discussions, but today we are focusing on how to change group membership in the middle of a term.

 

Changing Group Membership - Heeding the Warning

 

When you attempt to move a student into a new group after group submissions have already occurred, you get a very special warning:

 

Clone Groups warning

 

Being safe, most instructors will then Create a New Group Set and Submit.  Here are the problems that follow:

 

      
  • The change they were attempting to make initially did not occur in the original group, and it was also not done in the cloned group set.  So NO MEMBERSHIP CHANGES ARE MADE!
  •   
  • The new Cloned group set is not assigned to any assignments or discussions.

 

You have several more things to do to finish changing the membership. Here's what you need to do next.

 

      
  1. In People, click on the Cloned group set tab.
  2.   
  3. Change the membership of the groups, including the one you started with that prompted this whole process.
  4.   
  5. Go to every future assignment and future discussion.
  6.   
  7. Edit the activity.
  8.   
  9. Change the group setting from the original group set to the (Clone) group set and save.

 

Now you have adjusted the groups and all the future group assignments and discussions will be set up for the new groups.

Unless you missed one.  And if you did, once there is a submission, you can't change the group set.  Your only option is to duplicate the assignment, choosing the correct group set and asking students to submit again.

 

Advantages

 

      
  • Keeps an accurate history of group changes.
  •   
  • It is the option prompted by Canvas.
  •   
  • When you import and copy this Canvas site into a blank course site, only one group set is created and all previous group assignments/discussions are set to that "Project Groups" group set

 

Disadvantages

 

      
  • You MUST change the assignment/discussion settings for remaining semester.
  •   
  • If you want to maintain the group assignments to specific group sets when importing, you must create the exact group sets in the blank course site before importing the course content.

 

The Other Way - Ignoring the Warning

 

This way may not work for all instructors because it requires one best practice that must always be done when grading Group Assignments:

 

Once Group grades are entered, edit the assignment and check Assign Grades to Each Student Individually and save.

 

Check the grade individually box

 

There may be reasons you are already doing this.  It allows you to change the scores of group members that did not contribute or were absent.  The key is that this setting LOCKS IN all the grades as individual grades.  That gives you the freedom to change the existing group.

 

      
  1.  Attempt to move a student into a new group.
  2.   
  3. In the warning box, choose Change Existing Group and Submit.

 

That's it, you are done.  Future assignments are still using this group set with the newly modified group.  Past graded assignments have the grades locked to the individuals and are not changed.

 

Unless you weren't done grading a group assignment.  That's the only condition; you must have any group grading done and set to Assign Grades to Each Student Individually.  And this could be a pain if you have many changes to make.

 

Advantages

 

      
  • You do not have to change assignment group settings
  •   
  • The change you were intending to make is made.

 

Disadvantages

 

      
  • You have to be sure to check the “Grade individually” settings of assignments BEFORE you make the group change.
  •   
  • You do not have an accurate running history of group changes.

 

Which will you choose?

 

You can imagine that which you will choose will depend on where you are in the semester and what your normal grading practice is for group grades. Because Canvas prompts users to clone the group, that is the easiest, safest solution but the additional work of making the group changes and then changing the future assignments/discussions must be done.  If you always change group grades to the individually graded option, ignoring the warning might be for you.  

 

Need more information or a different explanation?  Check out Canvas: Changing Group Membership during a Semester.

 

*The CBS-RLT Tech Tip is written by academic technologists at the University of Minnesota, College of Biological Sciences.  It may contain references to Canvas settings and integrations that are specific to that institution. 

 

My favorite Ideas for improving groups in Canvas.  The ones without links are feature Ideas I haven't found yet.

 

 

Updated 11/4/19

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