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2 Posts authored by: Stefanie Sanders Administrator

My school had the luxury of a gradual transition to Canvas. Over an 18-month period, a small team of instructional designers and one contractor (me) met with professors to redesign and reformat their courses to bring them over to the new learning platform. Since I taught humanities and philosophy courses, I primarily worked with professors who teach English, history, and of course humanities courses: writing-intensive courses. The first few semesters of transitioning consisted of migrating those courses that were already conducted fully online.


That was the easy part. We were now faced with helping those professors who primarily taught face-to-face to consider adopting some aspects of Canvas. One of my roles during this part of the transition was to meet with groups of these professors to obtain their buy-in.


I decided to showcase SpeedGrader, Turnitin/GradeMark, and Crocodoc's annotation tools. I traveled around our campuses to show professors of brick-and-mortar writing-intensive courses how they could leverage Canvas tools and integrations to simplify and streamline the grading and revision process for themselves and for their students.


At this point in the story, you should know that all of my experience in teaching college-level courses has been online. Having never stood before a lecture hall of college students, and having never used a pen to mark comments on an actual piece of paper, I embrace a mindset of saving trees, eschewing print cartridges, and indeed, happily allowing the printer sitting in the corner of my office to gather copious amounts of dust. I even made a game of keeping a mental count in my head of how many pieces of paper I had to print over the course of a semester, with the goal of keeping that number in single digits (and even that entirely due to administrative stuff like contracts and withdrawal forms): the "Under 10 Club," if you will. So when these professors asked me what was--for them--an obvious question, it took me a moment to think it through:


If we use SpeedGrader to mark up papers, can our students print their annotated papers to bring them to the Writing Center for review and revision?


I confess I hadn't given that any thought, and indeed, at that time, I didn't even know the answer. But what flashed through my head was the memory of my own professors complying with FERPA by laboriously placing every single student's graded and annotated paper in a separate envelope, writing the student's name across the front, and sealing the envelope to leave them for pickup. The old days, I thought, at the same time realizing that what for me were "the old days" were "these days" for the professors sitting before me--and "today," for many more even now.


I can be fast on my feet when I need to be.


"They don't have to! Save trees," I quickly replied. "Students can pull up their courses from anywhere where they have access to a computer and an internet connection. So once you've annotated your students' papers (and please, let's start calling them 'Essays' or 'Submissions,' since I hope you will agree that the term 'papers' is increasingly becoming anachronistic), they can go to the Writing Center and pull up their Canvas course. They can sit side-by-side with a tutor and look at the annotations together. Your students can launch the essay in a separate window so they can work on corrections to their draft. They can resubmit the revised assignment on the spot. Or, they can go home or to the library to continue to work on it, or they can pull it up at Starbucks. Wherever they are, they can continue to work on their assignments, and they never have to hit a 'Print' button again.


"And neither do you."


After the first meeting I learned that yes, of course, students can print their Crocodoc- or GradeMark-annotated assignments. But they don't have to! I hope that hundreds of instructors and students joined my Under 10 Club during our transition to Canvas and are no longer plowing through thousands of reams of paper.


Has your transition to Canvas allowed you to join the Under 10 Club?

Before I get to my beginning-of-semester MO, I'd like to acknowledge the blogs contributed thus far by Kona Jones, Kelley L. Meeusen, and Chris Hofer:


(A few more than) Five things I do to start the semester right!

5 Things I do to help students get off to a good start!

Five Things to Ensure a Healthy Start to the School Year


You simply can't lose by following their advice.

Now, on to my process.


I liken the period immediately preceding and following the first day of classes as a process of herding cats (a phrase I co-opted from a former colleague).


To set students' expectations and avoid surprises, I communicate early and often. Redundancy is better than scarcity.


  1. Two to three weeks before the first day of classes: Communicate! Using the list of currently-enrolled students, I send an external email to all enrolled students. The email thanks them for enrolling in the course, provides a link to the textbook information, a link to the school's Canvas orientation, a link to a self test for determining suitability for online learning, and a copy of the course syllabus. This email also tells students that the course will be available on the first day of classes and that I will let them know exactly when it becomes available. I then double-check enrollments daily and send the same email individually to new students as they enroll. Sometimes students receive this email and realize they aren't suited for online learning, or the course content isn't quite what they expected, or they signed up for the wrong class. Starting this process two to three weeks before the first day of classes gives them plenty of time to enroll in a different course.
  2. One day before the first day of classes: Communicate! I send an external email reminding students that the course will be available on Canvas the next day, the first day of classes.
  3. The morning of the first day of classes: Communicate! I send an external email informing students that the course is now available in Canvas ("Welcome to the Course!"). This is the email I promised them earlier. In this email, I provide the direct URL to the course home page, tell students that they should bookmark this link and use it to access the course in case the Portal is down (it happens, but Canvas is never down), and inform them that subsequent communications must be conducted with me through the Canvas Inbox. This email also includes a link to the first course announcement, which explains the specifics of the course navigation. At this time, I set an auto reply on my external email that tells students that if they have just sent a message to my external email address, they must resend it to me through the Canvas Inbox if they expect to receive a reply. As much as it pains me to ignore a message (it kills me! it keeps me up at night!), I absolutely stick to this policy, and students learn quickly that I am not kidding.
  4. Daily through the last day of the add-drop period: Communicate! I check for new enrollments, and as they occur, I send them a copy of the "Welcome to the Course!" email, and explain that they are receiving it as a newly-enrolled student in the course. Time is ticking, I tell them.
  5. The day before attendance verification is due, and daily as needed thereafter: Communicate! I check my Canvas course to see which students have not completed the attendance verification assignments (there are three, none of which contribute to the course grade, but all of which must be completed in order to unlock the course), and send them messages both in Canvas and via external email informing them that they must log into the class and complete the attendance verification assignments before I will verify their attendance in the course (this has implications for their financial aid). At this point, I enlist the help of our student support specialist in bringing these students into the fold. We have achieved cohesion--the process of herding cats is behind us--and we can all move forward in the course.


Did I say "communicate" enough times?

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