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2017

I'm writing this after our second Summer Faculty Institute, which I described in Preparing Your Canvas: Starting a new LMS. All of the presenters (myself included) felt more confident and comfortable going through it again. In response to feedback we received from the first LMS (some of which you can check out in Preparing Your Canvas: In the Trenches), we tried to purposefully include more discussion of design.

 

I'm gratified by the interest and enthusiasm folks had toward the design discussions. During the concluding learner presentations one of the faculty said (and I will horribly misquote, bear with me):

 

"I used to think of this technology as just a repository. [The design topics] really created a breakthrough moment for me and opened up my thinking."

 

Ooh! That warms the cockles of my foolish heart. Hearing that faculty member's words gave me a lot of motivation. For designers of any kind, the craft can often feel neglected. Its a practice that ideally recipients never have to think about, so its only noticed when its missing or done poorly. We included an extra hour of demonstration about how to create graphics and implement them. We chose to do the image creation in Powerpoint as many faculty are already familiar with that software.

 

We also uncovered an assumption we made. We worked on the in-person component of the training (the SFI in particular) with the mindset that participants would go into Canvas 101 on their own either prior to the SFI or during the  3 days. The reality (as it often is) was different; participants can be hesitant to dive into Canvas 101 outside of when one of the instructors asks them to for an activity. Coincidentally, we also received feedback from this SFI asking for more examples of successful course design. In our next round of iterations we'll be looking for ways to murder two waterfowl with the same rock and discuss Canvas 101 itself as part of the SFI.

 

Finally, we are also budding off the image creation/user experience discussion into its own course for people to take. So we can add that to the set of plates we're trying to keep spinning. Fortunately, there's a lot of positivity going around. At the risk of jinxing us, I'll say things are going pretty smoothly so far.

This week I am at the Online Teaching Conference 2017 and have the challenge of being away from campus and therefore unable to provide training in person. This conference is a highlight of each summer and one I like to attend every year, as I get to connect with people I have been working with across the state. Even though I normally do not work over the summer and therefore this conference would not be time away from campus, I do think about the balance between the intense learning potential that I experience at conferences like OTC and the gentler but more-immediate effect that happens when I spend time focused on helping my peers learn.

 

This year's conference initially was scheduled to begin on Father's Day, and while that was quickly corrected it still serves as a good example of how tough it can be to schedule conferences. Later this summer my district is hosting a conference in conjunction with Instructure and the Online Education Initiative, and we have already heard from other colleges in our area that the date conflicts with their events. Of course I run into that as well as I cannot attend all the conferences thanks to my schedule (I'll miss Instcon 2017 this year ).

 

 

At this year's conference I am presenting, and one of my sessions is being webcast (OTC17: What We Have Learned about Canvas). Perhaps some of my colleagues will be present remotely as the Summer of Canvas rolls on! But then as I was writing this blog entry during breakfast, a co-worker tapped my shoulder and told me I shouldn't be working on campus-related stuff while at a conference. The flexibility offered by online teaching (and working) cuts both ways, I guess.

This week I begin a second week-long workshop series on how to use Canvas. Throughout all of my local training, I think about the role we play as part of the broader system of community colleges in California. All (or almost all) of the system’s colleges offer online classes. many for a couple of decades, and mostly on our own. Over the past few years the system office and state legislature have given distance education special attention through the Online Education Initiative (OEI).

 

I am a member of the OEI Advisory Committee, and so I have the privilege of working on this project and its noble goal: increase the number of transfer degrees awarded in a timely manner by offering well-designed and well-supported online classes to well-prepared students. The OEI chose Canvas as the common learning management system, and we created a mechanism called the OEI Exchange so students can easily take classes at colleges other than where they are matriculated. Though every California community college will eventually be able to offer classes as part of the Exchange, the services offered by the OEI can be used by any California community college under various terms. The statewide license for Canvas is covered by the OEI, so colleges like mine can start using it without committing to the full Exchange.

Each college’s curriculum committee approves courses for distance education delivery and local managers retain right of assignment, but courses that are to be offered as part of the Exchange must meet the standards of the OEI's Course Design Rubric. The colleges can take advantage of the training programs offered by the @ONE program, which is a statewide project providing free or low-cost online professional development to employees of the system. Extensive resources are available from @ONE to help faculty create courses that are ready for the Exchange, including instructional design help and courses that teach faculty how to be effective online educators.

 

Of course a successful Exchange requires the participation of departments besides professional development and instructional areas, so the commitment must be across the institution. Counseling, tutoring, IT, financial aid— each of us already know that  myriad of departments work to support students, and the OEI has encouraged the development of productive relationships between the same departments at different institutions across the state. As the OEI approaches the end of its Exchange pilot phase, all involved are thinking and talking about how to include additional colleges.

 

I work at a small college that has islands of commitment to distance education. As we transition to Canvas, my college and others may test how relevant our online classes can be that are not part of the Exchange. We do not yet have commitment at the necessary level to participate in the Exchange, and it may be sad for our students until we do. There will be missed opportunities for our students to achieve their goals in a timely manner through the Exchange, and our faculty and staff will not soon have the chance to strengthen the connections between our islands of commitment and the broader archipelago of online courses on offer in California's community colleges.

We just finished our first Summer Faculty Institute, which I described briefly in last week's Preparing Your Canvas: Starting a new LMS. I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what we learned from our maiden voyage and to play with  this still (for me, at least) unanswered question: how the heck do you build a Canvas orientation course?

 

Its not that explaining how to use Canvas is necessarily difficult; there are lots of great resources, either in the Canvas Instructor Guide or in the tutorial videos on Vimeo. The resources are good enough that they constitute part of the problem. Again and again I found myself thinking "Am I just repeating work here?  How can our explanations be better than what's already out there?" Well, here's what I personally arrived at:

  • We can provide an ideal order for learning how to use Canvas that the guides cannot.
  • We can tailor our language to be specific and unique to our users — NKU Faculty.
  • We can intertwine pedagogical/design concerns that would be beyond the scope of the guides to explore. (Examples: cognitive load, formative assessment, how to use Pages or Modules)

 

Here's the order of lessons we selected for our Summer Faculty Institute, separated by day:

 

A schedule of the Summer Faculty Institute, listing names of lessons by hour each day.

 

To make building the course manageable, we broke up the modules between the three designers. I was responsible for Modules 3 and 6. We also made the conscious decision to not restrict the order of our instructor-led training sessions by the module structure we used to organize building the content. We also tried to include multiple opportunities for participants to work on their own course; one of the conditions for joining the SFI was bringing a course to develop brand new in Canvas. The institute concluded with participants sharing their work with each other, discussing decisions that they made. We also collected feedback using a system I've borrowed from my last training job I was taught to call Plus/Delta. Basically, each participant is handed two pieces of paper. On one, they draw a + symbol and write something they liked about the experience. On the other they draw a delta (a triangle), and write something they would like to change about the experience. Submissions are anonymously collected. Below are some examples of the feedback we received:

 

  • Loved the in-depth interaction with the designers.
  • Wanted more "workshop" time to work on my own course.
  • Really liked seeing the work of other participants.
  • The room was really cold!
  • Learned a lot about how to make buttons!

 

Well... we can't fix the room temperature, but we did receive actionable feedback. As course designers, we knew we wanted to maintain the amount of instructor/participant interaction in the next iteration. We also wanted to trim down the presentation components of the course to provide more workshop time. What we weren't expecting was the enthusiastic response from participants about how to make buttons. Faculty were eager to build home pages for their course, and to use buttons to connect student users to their content. Part of that enthusiasm stems from the home page we ourselves built for Canvas 101. Check out part of it below:

 

six red boxes each with a number 1 through 6, representing 6 modules.

You can also see part of the banner we created for the course at the top of the article. So we taught them how to make images, but not necessarily how to best use the images. We are looking for ways to incorporate that discussion into our "Student UX" lesson. This coming week has no SFI, so its prep and more prep for us. Well, that and start the extended workshop series.

This past weekend I attended my wife's graduation ceremony for her second master's degree. That's why this week of my college's "Summer of Canvas" does not have a week-long workshop series this week and instead is filled with one-on-one appointments and drop-in training. I'm very proud, of course, but wouldn't otherwise mention it except that she earned her degree entirely online. A mother, spouse, and working professional, she yet managed to make the time to become a scholar again.

 

While at the ceremony I met a couple of her fellow graduates. Both live in New York and flew out to California just for the graduation. (Well, they made a vacation out of it just as we did. ) I asked them about their experiences, both with instruction and as students. What my wife's experienced taught me and their testimony validated is the benefit to students of a consistent structure across classes. They knew that each class had the same rhythm when it comes to reading, research, writing, and response; and that pattern held the same from week to week. Add a couple of summative assignments to each class, and students know exactly what to expect. Topics and instructors differ, but these online students benefited from the known structure of their educational commitment.

 

All this makes a lot of sense for graduate school, which was a focused academic environment long before the World Wide Web. What about the undergrads? I was fortunate to live on campus for most of my undergrad years and be heavily involved for all of them, so I did not have the all-distance education experience. One of the graduates received her B.S., and she had transferred from a community college. She did feel disconnected from campus life but did feel like part of a learning community (except for those classes where she was the only student!).

 

How does this connect to Canvas? I begin each Canvas training sequence by encouraging faculty to reevaluate and renew their decision to use a learning management system and to ask how will it make them better instructors and help their students succeed. I tell them, "Figure out how Canvas can do that, and after that worry about how to move stuff over from our soon-to-be-former system." I encourage them to pay more attention to course design at the same time, including a consistent structure, whether they are teaching web-enhanced or fully online classes. After meeting my wife's fellow celebrants, I come back to continue the "Summer of Canvas" with renewed confidence in making that recommendation and thereby give my coworkers less reason to miss my time away.

I'm Nick, a designer at Northern Kentucky University, and we just announced our official switch to Canvas! Now that its official, I wanted to start documenting our transition from Blackboard Learn. I'll be live-blogging our transformation into pand- sorry, our transition to a Canvas institution. I've only gotten active in the Canvas Community recently, so this post will have to do the legwork of recapping what's happened so far.

 

In the Beginning...

During our research phase, I learned that our situation isn't unique; according to Ovum, 30% of institutions would significantly alter or replace their platform for online learning by the end of 2016. On top of that, NKU has been looking to increase its online learning presence. Internally, we've had an ongoing dialogue about what has worked for us and what would continue to work for us in the future. Part of staying relevant and effective is having the will to examine where the path of a product is headed. Eventually, we were able to begin piloting LMS options to see what implementation could look like. Canvas presented us important questions we needed to address for ourselves:

 

  • SaaS: With Blackboard, we ran the LMS from our own servers. Downtime wasn't a major issue because we controlled and supported the whole system. How would we handle a transition to a SaaS-based LMS model?
  • Folders: Our faculty love using folders. Loooooooove them. This became a repeated sticking point. Canvas relies on a fundamentally different information architecture than Blackboard, and enforces a different navigation, too. How would faculty handle the paradigm shift?
  • Budget: 'nuff said. 

 

The Pilots take off!

We ran a number of pilot courses, with some professors testing multiple LMS's at the same time. Canvas came out as the overwhelming favorite amongst faculty. The only hiccup we experienced was when the internet effectively shut down because of Amazon. As Canvas relies on Amazon Web Services (AWS), Canvas was unusable for that period of time. Of course, the other LMS we were piloting also went down with AWS. And a number of learning technology tools not tied to either LMS. So that was fun.

 

Working with the pilots, I noticed two patterns: 1) Switching from "Blackboard thinking" to "Canvas thinking" could be an awkward, difficult process. 2) Actually learning how to use Canvas was incredibly intuitive once faculty were introduced to the software. Most of my time working with the pilots was spent making the conceptual shift necessary to think about how their course would be organized in Canvas versus Blackboard, not so much which buttons they needed to click.

 

Based on feedback from the pilots, and other factors, Canvas was selected! With the decision made, the instructional design time faced the task of preparing an entire institution to migrate to a new LMS.

 

The Art of War

Maybe that's melodramatic — colleges can make their own plans for the transition, and some even have their own instructional designer. Its not literally up to just our instructional design team to make it all happen. At the start, though, I was definitely caught up in just the sheer volume of what we were attempting to do. What would it take to shift from the pilot program and bring Canvas to scale? We will be able to stretch our transition out for an entire academic year, which helps immensely, but that's still ~1000 faculty and their associated courses. And this doesn't say anything about acclimating the students to Canvas.

 

It can be easy to say "Well, they're digital natives, they'll take to it like a duck to water!" But that's not the case for several reasons, some of which are beyond the scope of this blog. However, preparing faculty, and leaving the students for themselves just means faculty will be bogged down answering questions outside the scope of their subject expertise. Moving from students, our old LMS was utilized by staff for purposes completely removed from a classroom. How do we avoid disenfranchising the staff during the transition?

 

Currently, here's our game plan:

  • Summer Faculty Institutes (SFI: We are offering stipends to faculty who volunteer early to develop a course in Canvas. We are also using this as an opportunity to create embedded Canvas experts in every college, and as many departments as we can.
  • Extended Workshops: We are taking the content from the SFI's and delivering a lighter version of it as individual workshops. Faculty can attend the ones they wish, and skip others. We have them scheduled so they happen on different days of the week. That way, even the instructor who is never available Tuesdays can, in theory, attend every session.
  • Web Session: We are also conducting a WebEx-based version of the workshops for faculty who work remotely.
  • Public Course: The SFI, extended workshops, and web session are all pulling material from the same source, a course we built that we're calling Canvas 101 (we're still undecided if the name is too subtle ). This course is also being made public, that way faculty that just cannot attend anything can still get all of the information from us.
  • Student Course: One member of our group is also building a student-oriented course about successful online learning. At this point I'm not sure if that will be adopted by every college or not.

 

And... I think that's everything so far. Our first Summer Faculty Institute happens next week, so we'll be able to see how it plays out. We'll also dive into a big question that's been looming in mind: 

 

What does it mean to build a Canvas Orientation course?