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Hi Community!

 

I have been teaching in a higher education graduate school for more than fourteen years and until my fall 2017 semester, I had been calculating my students' grades based on an 80% paper and a 20% multiple choice exam. This was tradition.  This was simply the way things had always been done.  Sure, one paper being worth 80% of a student's final grade was a high stake (when I was in school, this paper was worth 100% - that's progress!), but I figured that was simply what students needed to take the assignment seriously and put in the time and effort needed to earn a good grade. Were there problems from year to year? Yes. Other faculty members would notice and often complain that the students who were so consumed with the high-stakes paper were unprepared in their other classes - or worse - were absent from their other classes.  The concentration on my high-stakes paper was having a negative impact on the students' learning in their other classes. Also, the students themselves often complained about the stress they felt from feeling overwhelmed by having their grade ride almost entirely on this one assignment. 

 

This past fall, I decided to try a new approach.  Instead of two, I had five graded assessments. The assessments ranged in value from 5% to 40%. I found that the students took each assignment and my feedback seriously under this new assessment strategy, as they knew each assessment would impact their grade to some degree. I also found that they were eager to ask questions to be sure they understood the material. The 40% assessment was for the final paper.  While this was much less than 80%, I found that students were still feeling some anxiety from the weight given.  I will be tweaking my value system next semester so that no assessment will have a value greater than 25% and I am hopeful that this will reduce even more stress. In addition, I will be using Canvas for the first time this semester (I am part of the initial pilot program at my institution) and I am thankful for its organization and clarity - another stress reducer. If anyone has any similar experiences or has used Canvas effectively for a class with multiple, low-stakes assessments, please feel free to share.

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.

 

The 2017 OpenSimulator Community Conference will be held in the OpenSimulator Community Conference Grid (or OSCC Grid) virtual world AND streamed live (@ https://gaming.youtube.com/c/AvaconOrg/live) on December 9th and 10th. In turn, even if you have never been in a virtual world, attending the OSCC event will enable you to gain first-hand experience attending a virtual world event as well as will introduce you numerous examples of how virtual world simulations are used in education. To learn more about how to register for the [no cost] event and move around within the conference grid, follow the step-by-step guide below.

 

A Few Highlights from the OSCC Program

 

If you still need to be convinced virtual world simulations and events are beneficial to educators, here are just a few of the highlights from the upcoming OSCC program (at http://conference.opensimulator.org/2017/program)…

  • The Liverpool & Manchester Railway circa 1830 (Graham Mills) - Presentation will detail how (in the absence of a photographic record of the railway) OpenSim is being used to model parts of the railway and adjacent areas.
  • 40 Virtual Cities Online (Christer Lindstrom) - Learn how public and private stakeholders are working together – using the OpenSimulator platform – to visualize, simulate, and plan future urban landscapes.
  • Spanish Language Learning (Martha Eugenia Lino and James Abraham) - Presentation will detail how students interact with learning objects and chatbots while strolling through a plaza or pyramid (to practice their Spanish language skills).
  • Case Study Simulations for In- and Out-of-World Use (Kay McLennan) - Learn how to create case study simulations (with NPC and chatbots) in an OpenSimulator grid and how the same simulations can be used for in-world tours and out-of-world instructional materials.
  • SLurtles Research (Carina Girvan) – Presentation profiles the research conducted on [the constructionist learning possible through] the use of shareable artifacts in virtual world learning simulations.
  • Bringing Literature to Life in OpenSim (Mary Howard and Andrew Wheelock) – A discussion of the Understanding the Holocaust Project (that correlates with the Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank) and the Westing Mansion Project (that correlates with the fictional story The Westing Game).
  • Developing Usable Prototypes for Serious Games in OpenSim (Rachel Umoren and Evalyn Gossett) - An overview of the development process for serious games, including prototyping, usability testing, and more.
  • Virtual Worlds Database (Alyse Dunavant-Jones, Valerie Hill, and Marie Vans) – Learn how the Virtual Worlds Database is promoting the best educational content virtual worlds have to offer, including the Digital Citizenship Museum.

Again, see the complete conference program at http://conference.opensimulator.org/2017/program.

 

How to Register for the OpenSimulator Community Conference

 

Register for the OSCC17 event on the web site at oscc17.eventbrite.com. Note: While the conference will be hypergrid-enabled, please be sure to request an OSCC Grid avatar. That is, when trying to login (at the same time a lot of other attendees are trying to login), it is easier to gain access to the grid through a “native” avatar.

Also, if you are too shy to use your real name when you register, you can always use a nom de plume (for your avatar’s name)!

 

How to Download & Set-Up the Needed Viewer

 

The Firestorm 64bit Viewer is recommended to access the OSCC Grid (with the download page for the Firestorm viewer at http://www.firestormviewer.org/downloads). More specifically, first choose your operating system (see below).

 

Next, click on the 64bit Firestorm Viewer for OpenSim.  Then, after the Firestorm Viewer is installed on your computer, you need to load the OSCC Grid into the viewer. To load the OSCC Grid, click on the “Viewer” drop down menu in the upper left-hand corner of the viewer. Next, click on “Preferences” and “OpenSim” (items #1 in the image below). Next, enter the URI for the OSCC Grid (http://cc.opensimulator.org:8002 = item #2 in the image below). Finally, click on “Apply” (item #3 in the image below) and “OK” (item #4 in the image below).

Next (after you receive your OSCC Grid login information), to login to the OSCC Grid, enter your avatar’s name (#1 in the image below), password (#2 in the image below), make sure “OpenSim Community Conference” is the grid selected (#3 in the image below), and click on the “Log In” button (#4 in the image below).

 

As an aside, while the Firestorm Viewer is recommended for the OSCC event, there is another viewer – the Singularity Viewer at http://www.singularityviewer.org/downloads -- that allows the use of the URI in the grid text box WITHOUT the need for entering the grid URI into the viewer Preferences tab. See steps #1, #2, and #3 for the Singularity Viewer in the image below. In turn, since the Sinularity Viewer enables more rapid access to private OpenSim grids, it is a good choice for students.

 

How to Navigate around the OSCC Grid Virtual World

After you login to the OSCC Grid, your avatar will be on one of the four Landing Zone islands (see the image below).

While you are on one of the Landing Zone islands, use your keyboard arrow keys to practice “walking” your avatar around (see the directions in the image below).

Next, activate your movement control and camera control panels by clicking on each in the “Avatar” drop down menu in your Firestorm Viewer (see the image below).

 

Next, to teleport your avatar to the OSCC Keynote region, click on map icon located in the menu located in the lower band of your viewer (#1 in the image below), locate OSCC Keynote (in the scroll-able map – #2 in the image below – OR “Find” text box -- #3 in the image below), and click on the “Teleport” button (#4 in the image below). Note: To better spread out the load of multiple avatars logging into the region at the same time, conference attendees are assigned to one of the four landing zones and their OSCC Keynote region access matches their landing zone access. For example, if you are assigned Landing Zone 4 you need to click on OSCC Keynote 4 in the map OR type OSCC Keynote 4 in the “Find” text box.

 

After you arrive at the Keynote region, immediately right click on one of the chairs and click on “Sit Here” to seat your avatar in the chair. [Immediately seating your avatar minimizes the lag on the region (so more avatars can enter the region in time for the start of the event). Further, it is ALWAYS a good idea to arrive at a virtual world event venue EARLY. In contrast, waiting for the last minute to login often means you will miss five or ten minutes of the presentation (as you await your chance/turn to login).]

After your avatar is seated in the audience at the Keynote auditorium, the script in the chair your avatar is sitting in will automatically focus your view on the stage and the presentation screen. To pan around the auditorium, click on the ESC button on your keyboard and use your camera controls to change the angle on your viewer. Also, click on the chat button in the menu located in the lower band of your viewer (#1 in the image below) – so the “Local [typed] Chat” will be visible (#2 in the image below) and so you will be able to read any additional instructions from the conference organizers (#3 in the image below).

 

Also, prior to the start of the event, you will need to double-check to make sure your computer speaker (or headset) is turned on and set at the right volume. 

 

Note: Do not hesitate to login to the OSCC Grid in advance of the event – to gain additional experience navigating around a virtual world grid. Further, if you do login to the grid, you can tour the OSCC Shopping Zone (see the image below).

Finally, please consider attending the Educators’ Meet-Up [scheduled for 5:00 p.m. PST (7:00 p.m. CT) on Friday, December 8, 2017, on the Expo Zone 3 in the OSCC Grid (@ 71, 70, 25)] – to network with other educators currently teaching in virtual worlds AND for educators and others interested in learning more about teaching in virtual worlds.  Again, drop by to visit with colleagues, ask a question, share/locate content, and more!

In addition to the Educators' Meet-Up on 12/8/17, please be sure to join the Educators in OpenSim group (in the OSCC grid). More specifically, after you are logged into the OSCC grid:

  • Right click on your avatar;
  • Click on Groups;
  • Search for "Educators" (without the quotation marks);
  • Click on the "Join" button; and
  • Click on the "Yes" button.

Also, feel free to use the group chat function to network with other educators during the Open Simulator Community Conference!

Student retention is a concern in probably every college and university in America. We wouldn’t be in education if we didn’t feel it is a transformative experience and benefits not only the individual, but their family, community, and society as a whole. Many students start college and fail to finish often leaving them without the benefit of a degree/certificate and student loans to repay. Frequently institutions spend a great deal of effort trying to identify struggling students and connect them with resources intended to help them succeed, but at some point turn to what is generally referred to as early alert (EA) systems to increase the efficiency of their efforts.


I have been involved in early alert system efforts at two universities. At the first, I was very involved with evaluating products and ultimately selecting a system, but was not present for the majority of the implementation. At my current institution, I was not as involved in selecting the system, but will be in the implementation and future use. Where I am now we are just beginning the implementation process, and just completed the in-person discovery visit with the early alert system we selected, Nuro. I wanted to blog about my experience implementing the system, not related necessrily to a particular product but to relay what I learned through the process that may be beneficial for others considering or implementing a system as well.


I will attempt not to mention the same information that is easily found on the internet. The following are sites that have valuable information for anyone who is interested:


http://www.ecsu.edu/documents/faculty-staff-conference/bestPractices-CaseExamplesinEarlyAlert.pdf 
https://journals.uncc.edu/facultyguide/article/view/384/381


As we continue or implementation journey I hope to add additional blogs.


During Selection of a System
Here are a few thoughts about selecting a system that have shown to be very important.

1. Evaluate why a system is being considered. This may seem obvious but as word spreads on campus that this project is underway those who may be impacted (faculty, staff, etc.) will begin talking about what a new effort will mean to them and commonly why a change is warranted. Having information on retention rates, graduation rates, a clear picture of what resources are currently being spent on retention efforts, and what problems an early alert program could help solve is important in messaging across campus. Clearly mapping the current process and flow of information is valuable.
2. What administrative support exists for the effort? Early alert efforts normally impact the entire campus and require concerted and sustained effort from individuals with different reporting structures. IT, academics, student affairs, and financial aid are a few examples. Often these individuals report to different deans or vice presidents, and if any of these units are not fully committed, it could jeopardize the project as a whole. At our institution, the president and provost are behind the efforts and we have hired a consulting group to help manage and advise during the process. This level of commitment will hopefully ensure that those in each unit collaborate and do what is necessary to get the system up and running as smoothly as possible.
3. Ensure key individuals are involved in the decision-making process. Selection of a system should include frequent meetings and product evaluations from a number of key stakeholders on campus, including those from the most likely impacted units (IT, academic affairs, advising, business office, etc.). I encourage the process to be transparent so that those not involved directly can still feel connected and have input into the process at some level. Having a clear indication of what needs a product must fulfill helps guide this process. I suggest considering what an early alert system currently does, not what is planned for the future, or what it could possibly do as it is difficult to determine when particular features will be added or if the system could be altered to meet a particular need if it hasn’t been done before.
4. How easy is it to use? This goes without saying, but individuals will not use a system that is difficult or time-consuming to learn.


Early Stages of Implementation
We are still in the early stages of implementation, but here are a few things I would suggest based on experience so far.

1- Have subcommittees responsible for various aspects of early alert implementation with clear responsibilities, reporting, and accountability structures. I am a member of a subcommittee to look at data that will be included in the system and how we can improve our current system until a new process is in place.
2- Make a detailed map of current processes, who does what in this flow, and where information or students can fall through the cracks. We had a map, but I wish we had made ours more detailed. Share this will the entire early alert committee because many on the committee will not know how all of the current pieces fit (or don’t fit) together.
3- Make a list of all of current data that is being collected on students, how long that data has been collected, and how complete those data sets are. Also, identify where this data is stored (SIS, LMS, other system, etc.) and how, if at all, this data is passed from one system to another. Most EA programs have a predictive element where existing data is used to try and identify students who are at a higher risk of retention, and a current behavior/achievement element that would look at how students are performing and attempt to identify students in trouble to connect them with resources before they get to the point they cannot recover. Knowing what data the institution has collected gives insight into how it can be used to identify students at risk.
4- Specifically for a discovery meeting to kick off formal implementation:

a. If provided with a list of initial questions from the vendor, fill this out with as much detail as possible prior to the meeting. Ensure that everyone on the committee has read this information and has had a bit of time to process the data. This will help time be used more efficiently when working with individuals from the early alert company and make discussions within the committee more meaningful (shift the focus from what data exists to how it can be best used).
b. Ensure the right individuals attend the meeting in person. We had member of the committee attend, but a couple of our faculty members couldn’t be there due to class schedules. A few of us have experience as faculty, so could speak into that aspect a bit, but it would have been better to have current faculty in that meeting themselves. I also would suggest having the person who heads institutional research attend. Our institutional researcher helped fill out documentation, but what not present at the discovery meeting. In hindsight, it would have been better had she been there to answer follow-up questions. Similarly, many of our students are athletes but we didn’t have someone specifically from athletics a part of the meeting, but it would have been useful. We do have a medical and optometry school, and a member of the student services from these units attended. This was valuable as their needs for early alert are unique.
c. Administrative support is important. Our provost and president both stopped by during the on-campus meeting. I believe this showed full institutional support for the effort and set the right tone for everyone on the committee.
d. IT was key. Much of the discussion surrounded how data flows at the institution and what is needed to make all of the key system speak to one another. IT individuals with knowledge of all of these systems (SIS, LMS, etc.) was vital during this meeting.

 

Next steps
The discovery meeting was a good opportunity to determine steps moving forward, discuss data that will be included initially, and determine what access is necessary to make the early alert program communicate with other systems on campus. We will have a better feel of implementation timeline when we know that systems are speaking to each other as needed, but I am confident that we should be able to test the system before the end of our academic year. This is important so everything will be ready for full use in the Fall 2018 term when most of our students will arrive. Here are a few items that I know we will need to work on to make the system most effective.

1. Continue data determination- A number of common data points such GPA, gender, SAT/ACT, etc. will be included but we are also looking at including some of the results from national surveys given to students and involvement in athletics. There is the possibility of including some measurement from our student conduct system as well as information on students traveling to campus. Before long we will launch degree mapping software so next year this data may be integrated as well.  We have a lot of data that has been collected over time, but some may not have been given regularly enough or have enough value in determining student risk to include.
2. Grades- We as an institution will need to look at how we keep grades and how often these are updated. Prior to Canvas, many faculty kept their own gradebooks and entered a midterm score in our SIS. This will be too late to identify students with academic issues. When we began using Canvas in Fall 2017, the expectation was that faculty would start keeping gradebooks in Canvas. We will need to more clearly determine the requirement for keeping gradebooks and when grades need to be entered if the EA system will be able to reliably use this data.
3. Attendance- Similar to grades, in the past keeping attendance has been done a number of ways. We need to find a consistent and reliable way to keep attendance so that this information can be utilized effectively. Canvas is used, but there are some instances in which this has been problematic such as in courses where we have a combined lecture and lab, as there are instances where a person can be present or absent to either the lecture or lab on the same day. There may be ways around the issues we have faced, but it needs to be addressed.
4. Publishing courses- We will need to have guidance on when courses in Canvas need to be published. This is strait forward for our online classes but the majority of our courses are still F2F and there are questions about whether courses should be published the first day of the term, after the first class, by the end of the first week of classes, etc.


The early alert committee will be evaluating the need for changes in our policy or procedures and making recommendations to the administration.


We are excited to move forward and the potential to both using our existing resources more effectively and help students thrive at our institution. There is much work to be done, but as long as our community works together in this effort we have the opportunity to make substantive positive change.

 

I would love any insight from those who have been in a similar situation!

NB: This is the second post in a series on what we learned in our Fall 2017 Blueprint Course pilot. The previous post provides an overview of our experience (Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Introduction), and  later posts consider our "failed" Blueprint pilot course (Lessons Learned about Blueprint: When Blueprint Wasn't the Solution) and replacing a course copy workflow with Blueprint (Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Replacing Course Copy Workflows).

 

In my previous blog post,Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Introduction, I provided an overview of our experience using Blueprint Courses (Canvas Release: Blueprint Courses) in Fall 2017. That post focused on our selection of four use cases for the initial pilot and some of the considerations (that is, course needs) in selecting these courses. Here I'm going to discuss one of the early steps: getting buy-in from teaching and administrative teams.

 

It's important to acknowledge that there are various types of buy-in that may be necessary. First, securing buy-in from teaching teams and other stakeholders for using consistent course content that faculty may (or may not) be able to change. Second, getting buy-in for using Canvas Blueprint Courses as a tech solution for providing this functionality.

 

Although I recognize that there is interest in the former (indeed, during the Fall Community Showcase (2017-11-1), where I discussed our use of Blueprint Courses, someone asked a question about this issue), here I'm really talking about the latter. Indeed, I strongly believe that requiring a common starting point for a course -- or common content throughout the course -- is a decision most appropriately made at the program or course level. As an instructional designer and Canvas admin/support, this program/course-specific requirement is not my call to make.

 

That caveat out of the way, if there is a course or program need to deliver consistency in Canvas content -- either as a starting point or maintained throughout the semester -- then we can and should recommend the best technology to meet that need.

 

Selling Blueprint Courses to Teaching Teams

We had a relatively easy time convincing our target teaching and administrative teams to participate in our Blueprint pilot. This was partially because our Courseware Team has a generally excellent relationship with the faculty and programs we support. They trust our team to make appropriate recommendations. But it's also because Blueprint offers functionality that solves problems for them.

 

That being said, it can be a risk to be first to try something new -- so you want to make sure that the benefits gained will outweigh the risks. Knowledge of course and program needs is crucial!

 

So here are some of the selling points we used to promote Blueprint to our target pilot courses. They fall broadly into two categories: features that the teaching teams want and productivity enhancements (either for our Courseware Team and/or for the teaching teams):

  • Consistent starting point for course content: Certainly, a consistent starting point can also be accomplished by importing content from another course. But Blueprint is faster and easier, as content is replicated across all associated courses at the same time.
  • Ability to update content at a later date: When teaching teams are tweaking courses until the last minute, that can create an unfortunate bottleneck just before the semester begins -- because we wouldn't want to manually import content in numerous sites after we've already set it up. Because Blueprint can sync updates after the initial course sync (How do I sync course content in a blueprint course as an instructor? ), it's no longer necessary to delay Canvas site replication until the template content is finalized. If an assignment needs to be added or changed at a later point, that's no problem! Blueprint can make it practical to create Canvas sites much earlier in the process, giving teaching teams (and possibly students) access to their sites much sooner. 
  • Ability to replicate some LTI tools: For multi-section, large-enrollment courses (like our communications courses that run in 56 sections in each quarter) with the same course readings, we often had to wait until the The specified item was not found. course pack was made available to students before creating and replicating content across sites. We wanted to make sure that the course pack (provided through a course-level Study.Net LTI integration) was part of any content import. Again, this often meant creating and replicating sites later than the teaching team wanted in order to minimize avoidable extra work. The ability sync some LTI tools with Blueprint made it easy. 
  • Maintain content consistency after Canvas site creation: For courses where content in Canvas sites really has to be the same, Canvas previously had a limited ability to deliver this functionality, beyond an initial course copy. The only guaranteed way to ensure consistency in content was to enroll all course sections into the same section. (This, of course, raises FERPA concerns, though different institutions interpret these requirements in different ways, see New FERPA requirements for cross-listed courses! for more.) Enrolling multiple sections (with multiple teachers and TAs, all with editing privileges within a Canvas site) can create it's own problems. With the ability to lock content (How do I lock course objects in a blueprint course as an instructor? ) of various types -- assignments, files, discussions, pages, and quizzes -- Blueprint becomes an easier sell when this is a requirement. Three of the four courses in pilot needed this functionality.
  • Limit the people who can change content: If one of the previous workarounds for content consistency had been to have a multi-section Canvas site, this can increase the number of people with editing capabilities. Blueprint removes this potential problem by allowing only people enrolled in the Blueprint template site to be able to change locked items. Problem solved!
  • Ability to update content across multiple courses at the same time: Of course, the biggest benefit that Blueprint Courses offer is being able to automatically update or add new content across multiple associated Canvas sites at the same time. If a large-enrollment, multi-section course needs this capability, then this is all it might take to sell Blueprint to a teaching team.
  • Post announcements to all Canvas sites at the same time: Lastly, several of our courses needed the ability to be able to post an announcement to multiple Canvas sites at the same time. Teaching teams found it frustrating to copy-and-paste the announcement content across site -- and if those announcements included links to files, pages, assignments, etc., the links need to be updated if the content is copy-and-pasted. But those links updated automatically when synced using Blueprint! For two of our pilot courses, this ability was a significant benefit.

 

 

Acknowledging where there might be Challenges

But Blueprint is a newly introduced feature, and it will mean new processes for teaching and administrative teams. Like any new feature, there can be a learning curve. So it's best to be upfront about where the challenges might be.

  • Communication issues among teaching team members, and communicating when a Blueprint synches changes to associated courses: Ken Black addresses issues of communication and planning in Tips for Designing and Maintaining Blueprint Courses
  • Need to train teaching and administrative teams in a new technology: It will be important to set aside time to meet with faculty, TAs, course coordinators, and other admin folks to make sure that everyone knows what they're doing. In our experience, the course that had the least satisfaction with Blueprint also had the largest number of faculty and TAs -- and not all of them participated in training sessions.
  • New technology/tool means there might be unexpected issues: This one is hard to predict! We encountered many, many issues where the Blueprint documentation wasn't detailed enough, or the documentation didn't match the behavior we observed. We opened lots of Service Cloud cases and new feature ideas. Over time, such problems should become fewer and further between, we hope. But it's best to acknowledge up front that there might be unexpected behaviors, and to agree on a plan for how you'll address them.

NB: This is the first post in a series on what we learned in our Fall 2017 Blueprint Course pilot. This post provides an overview of our experience, and later posts address how we got buy-in from teaching teams and administrative stakeholders for our target courses (Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Getting Buy-In), our experience with a "failed" Blueprint pilot course (Lessons Learned about Blueprint: When Blueprint Wasn't the Solution), and replacing a course copy workflow with Blueprint (Lessons Learned about Blueprint Courses: Replacing Course Copy Workflows).

 

In Fall 2017, the Wharton School piloted Blueprint Courses (Canvas Release: Blueprint Courses) as a way to meet the needs of teaching teams that need to maintain consistency across course sections and Canvas sites. When Blueprint Courses were introduced during summer 2017, our Courseware Team was immediately excited, and we identified several courses that would greatly benefit from the capabilities offered by Blueprint.

 

We rolled out Blueprint in four courses during Q1 of Fall 2017. All were multi-section, large-enrollment courses that needed consistent content across multiple Canvas sites. Each course represents a slightly different use case, and in a series of blog posts, I'll talk about how things went. I'll discuss some of the lessons we learned, what worked well and what worked less well, as well as where we encountered unexpected challenges with this new feature. Some of what I'll address in this series includes:

  • Selling Blueprint to teaching teams
  • Setting up a Blueprint template site
  • What syncs and what doesn't (and when)
  • Syncing LTI tools with Blueprint
  • Communication, planning, and managing enrollment in multiple Canvas sites
  • Replacing Course Copy workflow with Blueprint
  • Groups and group assignments with Blueprint Courses
  • Modules in Blueprint

 

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

(It turns out that organizing and syncing content with Modules in Blueprint courses is more complicated than we expected.)

 

The courses selected for the initial roll out of Blueprint were:

 

  • 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).
  • WH 101 -- a new core course in the undergraduate curriculum, which had been piloted in spring 2017 (with about 30 students) and was rolled out in the fall to almost 700 undergrads. This course is team-taught by three core faculty members, with the help of about 36 TAs. The challenge for this course was to provide the teaching team with an easy way to manage and update four Canvas sites and to maintain consistency across those sites. There were a number of challenges posed by the complexity of the course organization, scheduling, and frequent updates and changes as the semester progressed. The teaching team also wanted the flexibility to be able to post announcements across all sections/Canvas sites at the same time. This Blueprint has four associated Canvas courses, each with three sections.
  • WH 201 -- a new core course in the undergrad curriculum being piloted in Fall 2017 in preparation for a larger roll out in spring 2018. This communications course was collaboratively developed by several faculty members, and it required content consistency across all sections. Further, course coordinators in this program wanted to prevent teaching team members from being able to make changes within a Canvas site. One of the challenges for this course was dealing with rapidly evolving content that needed to remain in sync, as the course continued to undergo development after the semester started. This Blueprint has six associated courses.
  • 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!

 

In future posts, I'll discuss the specific challenges presented in each of these use cases and how they were addressed by our Canvas admins and/or by the teaching teams. Our Blueprint pilot was a resounding success by just about every measure. And I gave an overview of what we did in the Fall Community Showcase (2017-11-1). One of the teaching teams has decided not to continue using Blueprint (and I'll discuss this decision in a future post), but their path forward would not have occurred without first trying Blueprint. (I'm preserving some mystery here, can't you tell?)

 

If you are thinking about using Blueprint, I urge you to read Ken Black's encyclopedic post Tips for Designing and Maintaining Blueprint Courses. And then read it again. And maybe a third time. Ken provides outstanding advice for planning and getting started.

 

And if there are topics from our experience that you'd like to hear about, please let me know!

Rob Gibson

Fly Instructure

Posted by Rob Gibson Oct 29, 2017

Things are going SO well in SLC, that they now have their own airline. =)

Does a student need to enable particular sharing settings to allow the instructor to view the Google Docs in a group collaboration?

When the instructor goes to groups < selects the group < selects view group home page< collaboration < the blue colored text of the title of the google doc <now we hit a roadblock.

The Instructor is prompted to request access to view the document.

At what point in the student creation process does the student enable some kind of setting so that the instructor does not have to request access. Requesting access could be cumbersome and in some cases take a while for the student to approve access. We need instant access to the collaboration doc that the students set up in their groups area.

 

Any information would be helpful.

This past week this article, Standardization in Online Education, came by my social media feed. It was particularly interesting to me because we are knee deep in discussing the very issues that are discussed in this article. I have very mixed feelings about standardization of online education. I want course sites to adhere to accessibility and usability standards because this makes the design of the course site more inclusive to all students. However, on the other hand I don't want instructors shoehorned into teaching with a course site that is totally locked down by a Blueprint master course. Some of the best teaching and learning often happens outside of the Canvas using other software that wasn't specifically designed for teaching and learning. We are also discussing how to use more open educational resources in place of textbooks and it seems to me that these two subjects are intertwined in our discussions. Not long after reading the previous article this blog post, This is not the online learning you (or we) are looking for by Alan Levine showed up in my social media feed. Wow what a juxtaposition from the first article! This brings up many questions in my mind. I feel like these are tough questions to answer for my self and my institution so I'm curious to see what other people think about this issue.

  • How do we "standardize" online learning while providing flexibility needed for teaching and learning? 
  • What professional development really works and has successful outcomes? 
  • How do we build a culture of open pedagogy using open educational resources? 

 

Blueprint Courses were introduced with the June 24, 2017 release and are one of the coolest features introduced by Canvas, in this writer's humble opinion.  As an administrator, I thought it was a no-brainer to turn it on immediately on our campus. (It must be enabled by your Canvas administrator first.) When I enthusiastically outlined the features and functionality shortly afterwards to our entire faculty via email, the response can pretty much be summarized by this sound. Of course, it was in the middle of summer. So I must begin with this....

 

Full disclosure: Everything below has been checked while I tested out blueprint courses on our production server, but not (yet) by users during an academic term.

 

November 2017 update.  Community member Linda J. Lee is currently writing blog posts with some outstanding "real world" experience in launching Blueprint Courses, which mine below--writing when it was just getting up and running--lacks.  Anyone wishing to use Blueprint Courses and to gain some expertise in their use would do well to read Linda's posts.  Here is what has been done so far:

Also, be sure to check out her contribution on this topic in the Fall Community Showcase 2017 .  And finally, now that InstructureCon 2017 videos have been posted, check out Matt Goodwin's Magical Blueprint Courses- Matt Goodwin .

 

I'm rather anal about testing out new releases that I think will benefit my institution, as most Canvas administrators likely are, so I tested and re-tested things every way I could, courtesy of my ability (as an administrator) to create a few sample course sites and play around with varying faculty logins. Even if my own faculty may not yet be taking advantage of blueprint courses, I figured I could at least share some of what I discovered with the Community. I share the concern expressed here by Susan Hicks (UCF-CDL) regarding a good way to sell this feature to faculty, especially when compared to Canvas Commons. But the ability to "push out" material to an assortment of classes is awesome, especially to help those people who are not good about importing Commons material on their own.  

 

Virtually everything I mention below IS dutifully noted somewhere in the documentation, so the best place to start is with links to the official Canvas documentation guides.

 

For instructors of blueprint courses (the templates, as it were, not the associated courses), these pages from the guides are exclusively on blueprint courses, though blueprint courses come up in other places, as well:

 

For instructors of the courses associated with blueprint courses (the "destination" courses) your primary point of reference is How do I manage a course associated with a blueprint course as an instructor?

 

And finally, administrators can benefit from all of the above plus these:

 

Plan, plan, plan

Blueprint courses are well-named, because--like a house or anything designed with a blueprint--planning is critical, as is communication. Blueprint course instructors/designers wield a bit of extra power in their ability to "push" things out to other course sites, and virtually unannounced. Any issues that arise could likely have been nipped in the bud immediately with proper planning or communication. Therefore, everyone involved in the process should be sure to update their notification settings to ensure they are receiving timely updates, given that the Blueprint Sync notification setting became a newly-listed arrival on the notification screen.

 

While a few of the scenarios outlined below may cause one to shy away from blueprint courses altogether--don't!  This is truly an amazing addition to Canvas. It will be good, for example, for ensuring any sub-account outcomes get embedded in courses so that the individual faculty do not have to add them in on their own. (Yes, I tested this.) While it's true embedded rubrics cannot be locked, as several pointed out early on when this feature was released, just being able to get them out to instructors is a plus. 

 

But like a real architect you hire to design something, you will want to make sure you have the right person as the instructor of a blueprint course. As they say, "with great power comes great responsibility."1 And that power, as it were, comes in the hands of the architect...the blueprint course instructor/designer. This blog entry is designed primarily for them, but really for anyone ready to take full advantage of this great feature.

 

Timing is everything

This is noted in the documentation as the very first item on this page. Any blueprint course that already has content in it when associated courses are added will be synced immediately. So if you have a department that already has a super-great existing course that they want to use as a blueprint, that's fine. The course can be imported into a newly-created blueprint course shell just like any other course import. But for heaven's sake, have the instructor of that blueprint course check things over before your administrator adds in any associated courses, otherwise those associated courses will receive that material immediately…..existing warts and all.  

 

If your administrator is associating courses that already have had material added to them, the content will get added in like any other course import. Therefore, an associated course could conceivably have two assignments named the same thing if the associated course-building has already been started by a few well-intentioned faculty who like to get a head start on things. As an example, here is a course that had an assignment already created, but before associated courses were added in to the blueprint course. End result once the association was made? Two near-duplicate items:

[Coming up with assignments names has never been my strong point.] So both administrator and blueprint course designer alike should first make sure the associated courses have not been worked on too much. To be fair, Canvas does warn about this when the first associated course sites get added by the administrator:

Instructors of associated courses can recognize any new items courtesy of the new blueprint icon that appears next to an item that has been added, as pointed to in the arrow above. So again....planning and communication. You probably do not want to be the one telling a colleague: "That stuff you just added your own? Oh, you can remove them all now."

 

Don't publish. (Or you might perish.)

If the term has already begun, I cannot think of too many things that would make the instructor of a blueprint course less popular among colleagues than publishing an item before syncing it, since (as the documentation points out) the publishing state remains intact. Be aware that it can be unpublished by an associated course instructor, but by then students may have seen it . . . or been notified of its existence, depending on their own notification settings. Every institution will be different, of course, but I imagine most in the higher education field (where I'm from) would prefer to be able to choose the time to publish an item on their own after receiving it.

 

"I should lock this item. Well, maybe not. But maybe I should. Then again...."

This is critical, folks, and again gets back to the general blueprint mantra: planning and communication. (Neither of which is always in great supply in higher education...or elsewhere.) First, let's make clear that the new Blueprint button seen in a blueprint course site can just easily be labelled Lock me! and is dependent upon the site/sub-account administrator's setting of what items will be "eligible" for locking, as covered here.

 

An "unlocked" item that is synced can be edited by the instructor of an associated course like any other item.  This is pointed our early on in both the blueprint instructor's documentation page as well as the associated course instructor's page:

Objects that are unlocked can be managed by a course instructor in the associated course like any other Canvas object. If the blueprint course is synced and the instructor has modified unlocked content in the associated course, unlocked content is not overwritten with the synced changes.

But is it truly "like any other Canvas object"? Not quite. As an example, below is an assignment that was created in a blueprint course and synced to an associated course. In this case, the instructor in the associated course made a slight title change, adding in -Biography and and even adding in her own file attachment in the description:

Unlocked assignment in an associated course

But in this case, let's say the blueprint course instructor realized that perhaps that assignment should have been locked, and locks it after the original sync and then syncs it again. The result is locking it in the associated courses and overwriting any editing done by instructors on their own:

Same assignment then locked

So, the addition the instructor made to the title in the first example, as well as her instructions get overwritten. It is important to realize that although an unlocked assigned can be modified, if that same assignment later becomes locked the modifications are overwritten. (The file the associated course instructor attached remains in the associated course's Files area, though. The issue is the instructor can no longer edit the description, since the content is now locked.)

 

What the heck is an "exception"?

Before you think locking items in a blueprint course is just a bad idea altogether, here is another side to the editing coin. A screen capture on this page (under the "View Sync History" heading) displays an item in the sync history that shows "1 exception." Just what the heck triggers an exception? Let's say an assignment was pushed out from a blueprint course without any instructions/description and only the title.  (NOT locked--simply synced with no clicking of the Blueprint button.) The instructor decides to add in her own description in the rich content editor, which is shown below:

Assignment with some added instructions

But after that assignment was sent out (synced), the blueprint course instructor realizes that an attachment was not included. Horrors! So the blueprint instructor modifies the assignment and adds in an attachment, as seen below:

Same assignment but with changed instructions and a file attachment added

Again...it is still NOT locked, only synced. This is what triggers an exception, as seen below:

Example of sync history with an exception

The file goes through, but not the assignment. Why? Because the instructor of the associated course has already edited it.  Once an assignment pushed out to associated courses is edited by the instructor of that associated course, Canvas will treat that assignment as the instructor's creation and will not touch it, so long as it was not locked on the blueprint course site when synced. Had the original assignment been locked in the blueprint course in the first place, this would not have caused the same issue.

 

Oh, and speaking of file attachments. . . .

 

Create a locked assignment with a file attached in a blueprint course? Don't forget to lock the file, too!

This is easy to overlook, though it is noted in the documentation. Files are locked separately. Using the above example, let's say our hapless blueprint course instructor now decides to lock the above assignment via the Blueprint button. (Which, as we have already seen, will overwrite the instructor's previously-edited version).

Locked assignment with file attachment

Again, this is now LOCKED in the associated course. The equally hapless instructor of the associated course goes to the Files area and decides to—you guessed it—delete the file from the Files area, perhaps not realizing that the now-locked Assignment Six has an attachment that relies on it:

 

Deleting a file in an associated course

Note on the screen capture above that while the file is clearly identified with the new blueprint icon, it is NOT locked, because the blueprint course instructor never locked it. Just the assignment was locked. If this file gets deleted, you can guess what will happen: student goes to the assignment, clicks on the file to download or preview it and…nothing's there. And all because the instructor deleted a file attached to an otherwise-locked assignment. The moral of this story is to lock the files, too, if you're locking the assignment. 

 

Actually, the moral to all of the above scenarios is this:  inform all associated course instructors to be extremely cautious of anything with a blueprint icon, locked or not. Better yet, the instructor of any blueprint course should be aware that it is not a good idea to change one's mind about the locked/unlocked state of an item after it is synced the first time.

 

Options not locked: Discussions and Quizzes

Let's say a discussion is created and is set to be graded with points in a blueprint course.  Even if points is an otherwise locked item, as the screen capture below shows, Discussion options can be changed—which means the instructor of an associated course can unclick that Graded checkbox, as seen below:

Locked content on a discussion topic

Basically, the above discussion will no longer be graded, even though, in theory, content and points should be locked. Quiz options can be added to this mix, as well, for a quiz that is otherwise locked. (This is probably just as well, given the many ways faculty may choose to administer a quiz.)  But here's a different quiz exception . . . 

 

Points get locked on quizzes if content is locked

Let's look at the opposite issue, where points are not locked in the blueprint course settings but wind up being locked, anyway. Here's the view from an associated course for a quiz that was synced from the blueprint course:

Locked content on quiz

Note the only thing locked is content...not content and points, as some earlier examples have shown. In the case of quizzes, however, the points will NOT be editable by the instructor in the associated course. As the screen capture below shows, there is no pencil icon in the question to edit the points:

Example of quiz question now allowing points to be edited

November 2018 Update:  Thanks to a question in the Community from Nancy LaChance, it was revealed that if there is no pencil icon in circumstances when content is locked, this also means that instructors cannot see the correct answers on a quiz if it is over 25 questions!  (See the discussion here:  Blueprint Dilemma .)  I overlooked this rather obvious fact when this was originally written. The reason for this is that on the legacy version of quizzes, when a quiz is over 25 questions long this disables the usual Show Question Details checkbox that instructors can check that will ordinarily show all questions and their answers.  With the editing pencil disabled, this effectively means they cannot see any answers at all. Fortunately, Nancy informed the Community that Instructure indicated this is resolved for any institution using Quizzes.Next.  

 

Deleting items from a blueprint course

Locked items will get removed from the associated courses if it is deleted from the blueprint course (followed by a sync, of course).  NON-blueprinted, a.k.a. unlocked items will also be removed, but not if it was edited in any way by the instructor of an associated course site. This is in keeping with the idea that once an instructor edits a non-locked item, it is essentially treated as their own in the course and the sync operation will not touch it, even if it has that a blueprint icon next to it.  (That's another thing that will register as an "exception" in sync history, by the way.)

 

Course settings

Course settings will never be locked, though they can be included as part of the syncing process, as the documentation on syncing a course shows. This is one way that courses can all share a specific grading scheme if the sub-account does not otherwise have its own.

 

Final random thought on how to remember what can be locked

What items can be locked? They are listed on the settings page, and are: Assignments, Discussions, Pages, Files, and Quizzes. I remember them this way:  PDQ-AF. Syncing is pretty darn quick (PDQ), and A-F is our usual letter grade scale. (If you're a hard grader, then it may be PDQ-FA!)

 

I hope some of this is useful to the Community as we all embark on this exciting new feature. I'd love to hear about any other interesting tidbits you discover as our academic terms begin in the northern hemisphere!

How would you describe your current adjunct faculty culture?  Is it disjointed, disconnected, disenfranchised, or stagnant?  Would you like your culture to be one of connection, development, community, and support?  If so, you’ve come to the right place.

We had the privilege of presenting at InstructureCon 2017, “Building Culture: Adjunct Faculty Success and Connection.”  Thanks to all those who attended!  We’re excited that many of you have reached out wanting more details about what we presented.  To that end, below are links to our presentation and all the documents we referenced that we’re using to build this positive culture among the adjunct faculty at Olivet Nazarene University. 

Feel free to use them, adapt them to your own needs, and even shoot us a message if you’d like to connect and discuss these in greater detail. 

 

Thanks!

Jeremy Van Kley & Stacey Moore

 

instcon 2017

instcon2017

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Building Culture: Adjunct Faculty Success and Connection Presentation

Online Faculty Expectations

Mentor Observation Form

Mentor Timeline & Expectations

I have to admit - I am a bit of an Apple junkie/fanboy. In a past life, I was lead on mobile initiatives for a private university of 9,000 students, so I had test devices where I would install beta builds as they became available after Apple's annual Developer's Conference. My current role doesn't have me focusing on mobile quite as heavy, but it still drives me - so I installed a public release of iOS 11 beta. (Go to Apple's Beta Program to sign up for their iOS, MacOS, and tvOS publicly available beta programs.)

 

After installing iOS 11 on my personal device, I started tinkering with the new features, trying to break things and hoping to get myself into some trouble. Instead - I found an icon in the newly revamped Control Center.

 

After clicking on it, it asked if I wanted to start recording my screen, and I have to admit I was a bit giddy. Although there are some solutions out there that enable you to record your iOS device on your computer, I have never truly been satisfied with some of the outcomes (please, if I'm missing something out there, tell me!). 

 

At first, my hope was that this was going to enhance mobile training and tutorials. However, after my first video, I can tell you that it will most likely create more work for you after the recording. 

 

I haven't tested this with audio, so I can't verify how well it records your voice, but according to 9to5Mac.com, you can use your microphone, but not the audio from the application. But I can say it does not record where you are tapping in any sort of manner - so you will need to be mindful of that and slow down your steps while recording, and then add some sort of visual cue in an editing software. Also, it records from the very beginning to the very end. What I mean by that is you get from the Control Center being open - to the "Stop Recording" window still showing. In my opinion these should be removed for a more professional look. Oh, and don't get me started with that blue bar at the top of the screen letting you know you are recording! It's pretty hideous. Just take a look at a very simple sample video I made where I take a picture I edited in VSCO, then I show you the difference between the original and the edits in Photos, then I upload to Instagram. 

 

So, what do you think? Is this a viable option for training or tutorials in a pinch? Or is it better suited for remote support of our users? Take a look at the 9to5Mac article I linked above that talks about this feature. It not only talks about this update, but also how to enable this feature and possible uses.

 

(And Android users - is this something you already have and Apple is playing catch up? Or is this something completely new? OR...is there already an app for that on both platforms that I'm not aware of?!?)

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