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2 Posts authored by: Dr Rimmer

In a previous blog post I expressed how surprised I was that the students in my classes had not embraced Canvas in the way that I had imagined: Students who say, "just tell me what to memorise," and how to serve them


Yesterday, having spent another day enjoying the rich and varied discourse and resources in the Canvas Community, something novel occurred to me. These students may only have time and space to learn superficially.


The K-12 school where I work and use my Free-For-Teachers account is intensely timetabled. Students have obligations from 8am until 5:15pm Monday-Friday and 9:15am-4pm Saturday. These obligations include lessons and private study periods, but also chapel, sports, and service activities. Those that live on campus have 5:15-7pm as dinner/free time, then 7-9pm is when homework must be completed, before their final free hour before bed. The free time is when students fetch essentials from local shops, call their (often international) parents, catch up with friends, shower, go to the gym, etc. Maybe there isn't really time for 'reading around the subject' as we teachers so often insist is essential, unless we want them to forgo health, mental, as well as physical.


So, when I introduce Canvas and its wonderful elements (wonderments?!), but they don't seem enthused - maybe they are thinking, 'and how much more time is this going to take when you already set us the mandatory 1.5 hours of homework per week per subject...?'


I really like the idea of using Pinterest as highlighted here: How I integrated a pinterest board in my class . In fact, I had been looking for a collaboration space when I posed this question: Whiteboard collaboration space like a group blog.


However, if I don't make it mandatory/graded, they won't go the extra mile. Maybe it is because of a lack of genuine passion for my subject. As I noted here:

...students have very rarely taken the subject before, but opt for it because it will lead to good job prospects. There is often little idea of what Economics is about and little interest other than, eventually, it will help them get a good career where they earn a lot of money.


So, how can I get them to really engage? I think the answer might be badges. Having done INSET training on gamification just after I discovered Canvas, I was immediately interested, but part of me was reticent - 'these children should learn for the sake of learning, not to earn points and level up!'


Now, having seen students take back marked work, ignore the comments and just look for a grade, I wonder if their busy lives mean that they don't feel that they have the (emotional) time/space to give more than the bare minimum. Maybe I do need to trick them into learning...and being able to appreciate that "not everything worth doing is graded." (Jared Ward, InstCon2015)


So, badges. I am going to spend a day trying to figure out if I can make badges that encourage engagement with the subject and Canvas, such as First Person to Start a Discussion, Completed First Quiz, Set-up Profile, Submitted Assignment at least 24hrs before Deadline...


I will be using the information below, lifted directly from Jared Ward's presentation from InstCon2015 which you can watch here: How to Succeed with Badges Without Really Trying



Canvas User Engagement

I love learning, *really* love learning: if I could avoid my classes and sneak into the back of colleagues' rooms to listen to lessons on classical civilisation, Russian grammar, and theoretical physics all day long, that would be heaven.


As it is, I am a teacher, but I don't want to be a teacher - never have. Plus I don't like people (children or adults - I'm an equal opportunity misanthrope) - staff room break times can be a bit awkward...


But, it turns out that I just know what I like. Remember Sally ordering her pie with ice cream on the side but strawberry instead of vanilla if they had it, if not then no ice cream just whipped cream but only if it's real; if it's out of the can then nothing...?


I'm just the same, only not with pie (cooked fruit in pastry?!), but pedagogy and people - I know what I like and what I don't like: I don't like didactic methods and those who shy away from intellectual challenge.


If you want your learning to be a journey in which you really engage with the material, develop skill sets, and go outside your cognitive comfort zone, then you're my cup of tea.


And therein lies my recent problem.


Having discovered Canvas at Christmas, I excitedly made loads of content, showcased it to my students...and they were distinctly underwhelmed. Their chief complaints (and yes, they complained and made a protest survey declaring online learning 'inefficient') were that...


8079757631_cbb509a44b_b.jpg1. They preferred me to stand at the front of the class to deliver content which they would then write down - chalk and talk - I said I wasn't prepared to teach like that and that I would be doing them a disservice if they left with a certificate in my subject (Economics) but without the skills that would allow them to succeed in higher education and an increasingly competitive, globalised labour market, i.e. digital/IT skills.


2. They found the platform confusing - it transpires that they didn't bother to scroll to look for the blue 'submit assignment' button, so some decided to complete the work online then simply print it off and hand it in (defeating my 'save the trees' stance), and that some had *very* poor IT skills, e.g. didn't know how to refresh a webpage or search for specific phrases using quotation marks.


So, my attempt to blend learning and flip my classroom this year did not go well. I rushed it, students didn't understand why it was happening, there was no buy-in, and it wasted time - I had to reteach all the content.


Lessons me!


1. Do not assume that 21st century students with thumbs attached to smart phones are actually tech-savvy: I teach Yr10 (first year of GCSE, 14-15yrs old) and Yr12 (first year of A Level or BTEC or IB, 16-17yrs old) in a UK independent school (fee-paying, not run by the gov't) so there isn't poverty of access or opportunity, but there are no IT lessons anywhere in the curriculum after age 12, which is a problem to be tackled sometime never... My students are also 'disadvantaged' as they are very conformist - they expect chalk-and-talk simplicity and not being challenged with new ways of learning/thinking - they just want to memorise what they need to pass the exam...


2. If you're the only teacher using the platform they are much less invested in learning how to use the technology, and really engage with it, as they are not going to need it in nine months' time. But I worry that they are right - spending time learning a digital skill-set they won't need in the examination, in their other classes, and, maybe, not even their HE or career paths isn't efficient - with a ridiculously short academic year (Paying a shed load of cash for your education? Then we'll give you fewer days in the classroom - you're welcome!) I should just be shovelling the information into their brains and getting them ready to regurgitate it onto an examination script... but I *really* don't want to teach like that...


3. Explain the benefits of Canvas from the start and from their perspective: course materials, assignments, calendar, etc. are available anywhere with internet - no need to lug books home in the holidays, etc. They will need these skills in HE - and I have explained that ad nauseum - but the reply is depressingly repetitive - "I don't want to think about university now or the skills I need, I just want to learn the content that will get me the A* grade in the final examination." I honestly think these students may be some of the least intellectually adventurous people I've ever met!



4. Be clear on expectations of engagement - their grades will depend on this. I shouldn't have been cowed by the populist protest - I know they will benefit in the long run by using Canvas and I should have stuck to my convictions. Instead I gave up and switched back to standing at the front, showing them a PowerPoint, and telling them what to write down from it.


5. Patiently showcase Canvas and make room for the students who are reluctant - find a way to support and encourage. I had assumed that this new way of learning would be embraced quickly. If I had been given this opportunity, I would have grabbed it with both hands - 'the future is now!' sci-fi dreamscape of Inspector Gadget's Penny and her computer-book...but they just don't seem keen. I'm not good at empathising with those who do not have the same love affair with technology as I do: I just expect everyone to be as deliriously excited as I am about all the buttons and the possibilities and the everything!

Next steps


I am part of a team helping guide staff in the transition to being a BYOD school whilst we implement our 'digital strategy'. Staff don't understand why we're changing - it seems to be about photocopying less and, thus, saving money. Students don't understand why we're doing this either. Staff are reluctant to change teaching habits and my enthusiastic proselytising isn't helping. I guess the pressure on exam results to boost our position in the rankings and, thereby, get more customers squashes any desire to try something 'risky'.


I need to find a way to really sell it to them.


So, here I am trying to make sure that my new classes in September have a better experience. Does anyone have advice on what I should do differently this time, or other recommendations for improving student motivation?


Canvas User Engagement



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