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All People > Laura Gibbs > Laura Gibbs' Blog > 2017 > June

I was part of an unexpected flurry of conversations yesterday in various online spaces about LMSes, ownership, and institutions, and there was a theme that resonated throughout: doing what's best for my students without waiting on institutional solutions. Here's how that emerged in both conversational spaces; feel free to skip one or the other — I'm guessing some Canvas people are not going to be interested in the Domains convo and vice versa although, at least for me, both convos were really useful and illuminating. And if you're not a Canvas Community person (blog is open but comments are in Community), just ping me at Twitter @OnlineCrsLady. :-)


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1. CANVAS. Here at Canvas Community, I was doing my last CanvasLIVE of the year; the topic was Flickr, Pinterest, Diigo and Padlet in Canvas. (You can read about that here; I had so much fun with that one because I used a current summer project on stories from India to compare four different ways of bringing outside content into Canvas.) So, for reasons not clear to me, on the event page a Math professor with no interest n any of those tools decided to vent about how much he dislikes Canvas and how much he dislikes Canvas quizzes in particular. His comments really had nothing to do with the event at all, but we ended up having a long (LONG) conversation as you can see there, based on two very different points of view: the Math professor was outraged that Canvas did not work the way that he wanted, and he was going to make loud and angry complaints until he got what he wanted; my response was that I never expect the LMS to do what I want, and instead I just go find the tools I need. As we went back and forth and I learned about his situation, I realized that if I were him, I would set up ungraded quizzes in a Moodle installation at Reclaim where the students could take the quizzes just for the learning, not for the grade. Because #TTOG. :-)


As I tried to explain in that convo, I am an impatient person, which means I cannot wait for the LMS to catch up with me; I have to teach my students now, and teaching online means I do indeed require online tools and spaces. Over the years that I've taught online, I've found all kinds of great tools to use, and I'm thrilled that Canvas (unlike past LMSes at my school) plays nicely with those other tools. As a result, I find myself highly involved in the Canvas Community, even though I don't actually use any Canvas features in my courses. Instead, I am using Canvas as place to interact with other faculty, showing them these other tools, and how to integrate them with Canvas. So, the Canvas course spaces I am creating are not for my students (we have our blog network, so we don't need Canvas), but instead they are for other faculty. And since Canvas allows for totally open, CC-licensed courses, you can check them out with a single click; here they are: Story Lab, Twitter4Canvas, PAINTCanvas, Exploring Growth Mindset... and, my total favorite, Canvas Widget Warehouse (I love widgets!). I still think the whole LMS project is a bad idea, but I have been really impressed at the great people I've met at Canvas, and at Canvas Community in particular. Working on Canvas like this is also a way for me to try to share something of value with faculty on my campus, most of whom are going to be building their classes in the LMS. With the openness of Canvas (unlike D2L, which we had for the 10 years previous), there are all kinds of ways to work with real Internet content and real Internet spaces, bringing all that into Canvas. That's the gospel of Canvas as I've been preaching it... even though I'm not an LMS true believer.


So, that was the first conversation... and the other conversation was oddly parallel to this one, in which I find myself preaching the gospel of Domains, even though I'm not really a true believer in the own-your-domain part of it.


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2. DOMAINS. The Domains conversation (which ended up lasting all day at various online spaces; I won't even try to summarize all of it!) started at Christian Friedrich's blog: #DoOO is not an app and not a blog farm.


My heart really went out to Christian as I read the story of Domain of One's Own (not) happening at his school. But at the same time, I have to confess that I have a real ambivalence about Domains at my school; my students have been publishing their work online since 1999 using all kinds of tools over the years, and so the arrival of Domains was not a game-changer for me. I'd already found great solutions to share with my students, as I said in one of my comments at Christian's blog: "YES YES YES to carrying on with your own subversion in your own seminars. My students have been publishing their work online since 1999 when I first started teaching at my school. If I had waited for our DoOO project, that means I would have missed out on 15+ years and literally thousands of student websites and blogs in the meantime. I’m glad we have DoOO now… but I am even more glad that I did not have to wait for DoOO to promote student web publishing and to encourage students to take ownership of their educations/creations."


So, my Domains situation is kind of parallel to my Canvas situation: I'm really glad for the way that Domains gives me an opportunity to talk with faculty on my campus about student web publishing, because now with Domains and the institutional imprimatur it provides, there are some faculty members who might consider putting their work and their students' work onto the actual Internet, instead of locking it all up in the LMS. And that's my goal: use Canvas to be OPEN, use Domains to be OPEN. My goal is open... but my goal is not ownership; I'm not against ownership — I'm just ambivalent about it. For me, "domain of one's own" does not mean an online space that you own; it just means an online space where you work and share your work, which might or might not be a space that you own.


And as part of that sprawling Domains conversation yesterday, Maha Bali wrote up a really great post also: Subverting or Flipping #DoOO For an Egyptian Context. I love what Maha says about looking at this from the students' viewpoint, and also looking at this as a long-term project, where what matters most is not what happens in school, but what we are preparing students for in the future: "Many ppl who own a domain start out somewhere freely hosted like or a wiki. Eventually the person feels committed to that space and understands the value of owning their domain and they make the switch. Which is not a difficult thing. So now I am thinking that this is a natural progression and process, and #DoOO kinda skips it for students. Why don’t we give students an extra bit of agency in deciding to own a domain or not?"


That is exactly how it is working for me now with Domains on my campus. I love having my own Domain and I tell my students about that, why it is useful for me. And I am glad that Domains is a choice for them; a few of them are really eager and excited to have their own Domain because it's something they had already been thinking about. Which is great. It's their CHOICE. I set the technology up in my class all as choices, for which I just set some basic criteria: any blog platform they want to use is fine with me as long as it has separate RSS for posts and for comments; any website publishing platform is fine with me as long as it is ad-free; and if they want to use other kinds of tech, I have tons of recommendations for them to explore, and I also ask for their recommendations back to me, so that they are letting me know what tech they like which they think could be useful for the class in general.


Here is Maha again: "We have agency here. We make informed decisions to stay despite these issues. But we know them. Same can be said of staying on It’s not like a disaster not to own one’s domain. It’s something that makes sense at some stage of One’s digital existence, but not the FIRST step imho."


That's it exactly: agency is what I value most here... and for some people, that agency is going to lead them to ownership. For others (like me), agency is going to instead lead to exploration and trying lots of different tools and spaces just because, hey, I am curious. And I also really liked this great tweet from Autumm Caines about just what it is that we own in our education:


What you really OWN out of college is the learning


You can use that link to Autumm's tweet to see more of the fabulous Twitter convo that went on last night and some more this morning. Very inspiring stuff I think. And this all connects up with an important blog post from Mike Caulfield earlier this week: The Persistence Argument for Running Your Own Server Is Wrong. But this blog post is already too long, so I'll just say about that: what Mike said. :-)


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Anyway, I'm not sure if everybody will see how these two very different conversations totally resonated for me yesterday, but they really did! And it all ended up making me feel a little less weird about my ambi-valent situation, being a Canvas booster who doesn't really care about the LMS and being a Domains booster who doesn't really care about ownership. Instead, I just want great learning experiences to share with my students: learning that they can own, just as Autumm said.


And of course I have a cat for this post too; this one was inspired by a quote from a student blog:


Look at the big picture and remember your why.



Look at the big picture and remember your why.

My final CanvasLIVE of the summer will be this Thursday:

Beautiful Curation: Pinterest and Flickr in Canvas 

       Update: As promised below, here is a link to the slidedeck:

       CanvasLIVE: Flickr Pinterest Diigo Padlet – Teaching with Canvas 

You can see all the previous presentations here: Connected Learning with Cats: An Index


On Thursday I'll be talking about Flickr and Pinterest as promised in the title, and also Padlet and Diigo. My goal today is to finish the slidedeck (I'll update this post when that's ready), but for now I wanted to write a blog post too because I am really excited about how I am going to organize this quick demo: I'm taking the "same" content stream and showing how it works in Canvas with all four tools — Flickr, Pinterest, Padlet, and Diigo — so that people can see the different advantages of each tool.


This worked out perfectly as a plan because I have a steady stream of story stuff from my two summer projects on Aesop's fables (which has been going for 5 weeks) and on stories from India (that has been going for just 2 weeks). Since I have those content streams going right now, it's easy for me to share the content out through four different tools to compare them!


I already had a demo Canvas space set up here: ... I set up this Canvas course space earlier in the summer being sure I would find a good use for it. And now I have! That's a Diigo stream on the homepage (see Diigo as one of the tools below):


storylab homepage screenshot



And here are the four tools:


FLICKR. Flickr has some great integration features with Canvas already, and their new Album Slideshow feature is how you can embed entire albums in Canvas. Advantages:

  • Flickr Albums can be arranged by date, at random, or manually. As you add new content and/or rearrange content, the slideshow updates automatically.
  • Slideshow can be very compact (you can resize as needed), so that means you can even use it as a Canvas Discussion Board prompt.

Here's a Flickr Album Slideshow of my stories from India. I made this a nice big album; you can configure the size of the display as you prefer:


Flickr album screenshot


I also have that same album embedded in the sidebar of my Stories from India blog. Here it is much smaller as you can see:


blog screenshot



PINTEREST. Many of my students are already avid users of Pinterest, so I really enjoy introducing them to using Pinterest as a tool for school and image research. Advantages:

  • Pinterest is a tool that students are really excited to use and learn more about.
  • Pinterest has a great widget-building tool with lots of different options.

Here's a Pinterest Board of my stories from India:


pinterest in canvas screenshot


I also have that same Board embedded in the sidebar of my Stories from India blog.


pinterest in blog sidebar screenshot




DIIGO (RSS). Although Diigo is not really an image curation tool, you can upload thumbnail images, and then you also have all the powerful searching and tagging features of Diigo available to you. Advantages:

  • Diigo allows you to tag, search, and share massive quantities of stuff.
  • You can combine Diigo RSS feeds with other feeds to re-use content in lots of different ways.

In the screenshot above of the Story Lab Homepage, there's a Diigo stream of India and Aesop combined, and if you look in the sidebar, you can see I also have separate streams for Aesop and for India:


diigo feed in canvas screenshot



PADLET. Padlet is the PERFECT tool for collaborative curation because you can set up your Padlet so that students are contributing too!  Advantages:

  • You can easily invite others to contribute content to a Padlet, so students can add content right there in Canvas.
  • Padlet is incredibly easy to set up and use; you can be up and running in literally just a minute.

Here's a Padlet of my Stories from India:


padlet screenshot



Later today, I'll have a slidedeck with notes and lots more details, but I was so excited about this compare-the-tools approach that I wanted to write up a blog post about it now. I really believe in using lots of different tools because each tool has its own special strengths, and there's no reason why you cannot create content in one place and then reuse it in multiple ways for multiple purposes. Content reuse is a superpower... and using these tools, I can share all these stories and images in multiple ways, both inside Canvas, and outside too!

I've written before about content re-use and the way that content created with different tools can appear automatically in Canvas, and since I had a nice little content cascade today thanks to a great blog post, I thought I would explain my process here in case it might be useful in some way to others!


So, here's where it started: thanks to a friend at Google+, Aaron Davis, I read this great blog post: Daily Habits. As soon as I read the post, especially the curiosity part, I knew I wanted to use this for my classes. And if you have just a minute to spare, read Aaron's post; it really is great, and it starts out with this lovely graphic with a quote from a mutual friend, Kevin Hodgson:


By amplifying the work of others,

we amplify the thinking of ourselves

for when you choose what to focus on in the work of others,

you share a bit of yourself, too.


quote poster: amplifying


And this is what happened after I read Aaron's post... because I knew I wanted to amplify his ideas. :-)


1. Growth Mindset Cat. The first thing I did was to make a growth mindset cat with Cheezburger, which I then put into a blog post at my Growth Mindset blog: Curiosity breeds curiosity. This then showed up automatically in the New Cats area of my Canvas Growth Mindset course space (that page is generated automatically by Inoreader, which automatically updates with each new blog post).


new cats in Canvas


2. Diigo Cat. Then I added that cat to my Diigo Library of growth mindset cats. That takes just a single click. Here's that library: Growth Mindset Cats. (It's useful for different activities my students might be doing, esp. if they like using Diigo.) I don't actually have this particular Diigo feed set up as a Canvas page, but I could easily do so if/when needed. I also added Aaron's post directly into resources for my students to use, and this does appear via Diigo in my Canvas course: Diigo Library.


diigo library screenshot


3. Flickr Cat. I added the cat to my Flickr Library (that's also just a quick click), and then I randomized the Flickr Cat album, which shows up in various blog sidebars, plus in the Flickr page of my Growth Mindset course. Randomizing the album means different cats show up now than they did before! Randomizing the album every time I add a new picture is a great way to keep it fresh, resurfacing cats from the past. :-)


Flickr album screenshot


4. Pinterest Cat. With another quick click, I added the new cat to the Pinterest Cat album which also shows up automatically in the Growth Mindset course in Canvas. (My students are fans of Pinterest, much more so than Diigo or Flickr.)


pinterest in canvas screenshot


5. Twitter Cat. I shared the new cat and blog post at Twitter, and that was fun because Aaron Davis (whose blog started all this) also uses Twitter. And yep, you guessed it, this Twitter stream also shows up in the Canvas Growth Mindset course space: Twitter: Exploring Growth Mindset.


twitter screenshot


6. Google+ Cat. And I shared the cat in my Growth Mindset Cat collection at Google+, which is very fitting since Google+ is where I interact with Aaron. It's also the main place where I hang out online. I haven't done any experiments with getting Google+ to show up in Twitter, but since you can subscribe to Google+ using Inoreader, I am sure it could be done if/when that would be useful. :-)


google+ screenshot


7. Growth Mindset Challenge. I liked Aaron's post so much that I also made it a growth mindset challenge for my students; this just took a few minutes, and the Google Doc shows up automatically in Canvas too: Growth Mindset Challenges. (That works because I have a separate doc for each challenge plus a doc that contains the "newest challenge" which is the one that shows up in Canvas.)


challenge in canvas


Writing up the initial blog post took about 15 minutes or so, and then sharing in each of the other tools/spaces took a minute or two each. For me, that extra 10 or 15 minutes is worth it because each tools has its own special strengths (in terms of searching, linking, sharing, etc.), and each space has its own audience and goals. What I love about Canvas is how I can use the tools I prefer and the online spaces I prefer, with all of that automatically showing up in my Canvas course, keeping that all fresh and lively for anybody who wants to use that Canvas space as a resource.


And if you are CURIOUS about any of these tools or spaces, just let me know. I enjoy them all so much, and am glad to share any tips or brainstorm about possibilities, including Canvas synergies.




curiosity breeds curiosity


Finally, I also have to add a big THANKS here to Stefanie Sanders and the Canvas Community crew for figuring out the weird problem with log-ons earlier today. Everything seems back to normal here, yay! :-)

I've written several posts earlier about my Aesop project for the summer, (see list at bottom of post) including a post about the Canvas Widget with the random illustrations: New Canvas Widget: Aesop Illustrations . That widget now features over 1000 illustrations (I got a big boost from adding the Grandville illustrations to La Fontaine; there are over 200 of those), and I also have about 700 posts at the blog with the actual texts of the fables. So, that inspired me to make a new widget: very short Aesop's fables! I used my spreadsheet (this whole project is being run out of Google Sheets) to sort the fables, prose only, by length, and then I made a widget with the 100 shortest fables. That widget is available as a javascript, and also as a copy-and-paste Canvas iframe that anybody can use in any Canvas Page. Here is a screenshot of the Canvas widget as it appears in a page at my Widget Warehouse:


Aesop's fable widget screenshot


In the CanvasLIVE I did last week about content development, I was really glad to have the chance to talk about "content at scale," and building content projects that can scale up quickly and easily, which is certainly the case with my Aesop project. I really don't believe in big classes... but I believe in big content, libraries of wonderful stuff that students can explore on their own, asking their own questions and following their own interests. Randomizers like these are a fun way to surface the contents of that library... in this case, the contents of an Aesop Library to which I will be adding new books all summer long! And as I keep adding new fables, thanks to the magic of RSS, they are showing up automatically in this Canvas page: Aesop's Fables. (You can see there that I've been working most recently on Grandville's edition of La Fontaine and, if you scroll down, Bewick's beautiful 18th-century fable book.) Like randomization, RSS is another great way to bring fresh content to a Canvas Page because it shows the newest additions to a project; here's how that works:

Blog Labels + Inoreader + Redirect Tool = Canvas Magic! 


Aesop's Fables page screenshot



And here are my previous Aesop posts if you are curious:

Blog Labels: When you want students to explore... 

The Power of Tags and Labels for HYPER Content 

Aesop... and a Canvas-Creighton Connection! 

So, in my last post I mentioned how much I valued the way the Community is a place to learn, and also to share what we learn in our own work and through our social networks. So, today there's a hard-hitting new article by Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris making the rounds in my social network, and I think it's something important to share here, given the popularity of TurnItIn with many Canvas users: A Guide for Resisting EdTech: The Case Against TurnItIn, just now published in Hybrid Pedagogy. 


hybridped screenshot


Even if you are not a user of TurnItIn, you will find this to be a thought-provoking article, because Sean and Jesse outline an adaptation of the great Howard Rheingold's crap-detection approach to educational technology. TurnItIn pretends to be our "partner," and pretends to be helping students, but they are not our partners (we need to partner instead with each other, and with our students) and TurnItIn is policing students... while making a tidy profit student by student, word by word. Here's a quote from the article:

Turnitin supplants teaching. Whereas intellectual property is a multivalent issue in the academy (especially in a digital age when authorship and ownership are mutable and contested), Turnitin’s solution is writ in black and white. “Students uploading their work to Turnitin are turned from learners into potential plagiarizers,” Jesse writes in “Who Controls Your Dissertation?”, “and the teaching moment (about attribution, citation, and scholarly generosity) is given away to an algorithm.” To an issue of academic integrity that has been the project of teaching for decades, educational technology answers with efficiency. Plug it in. Add it up. Point a finger.

For exactly the reasons that Jesse and Sean outline in this article, I have never used TurnItIn, and I wrote up my own quick critique of TurnItIn's evil twin, WriteCheck, in this Google+ post several years ago: How TurnItIn's WriteCheck Rips Students Off.


I really hope people who use TurnItIn will take a few minutes to read Sean and Jesse's article and ponder its implications. They've included a letter for you to share to resist the use of TurnItIn at your school; I've made my case against TurnItIn many times, and will continue to keep doing so. You'll also find some useful links to explore there in the article as well.


Then, by way of a tonic, I can highly — HIGHLY — recommend two wonderful books that might help you rethink your assignments, and your writing assignments in particular, so that you won't need TurnItIn to control and police your students. Summer is a great time to regroup and rethink, and either/both of two books would be a way to get started (and they are both very affordable as ebooks, unlike some super-expensive pedagogy books). I'd be glad for an excuse to re-read either/both of those books again if anybody wants to do a "Summer Book Club" sharing our thoughts and ideas here. Let me know if you're interested in that. Has anybody done a Book Club here at the Community? It could be fun! :-)



Cheating Lessons by James LangThe Meaningful Writing Project by Michele Eodice, Anne Ellen Geller, and Neal Lerner
cheatling lessons book covermeaningful writing book cover
You can get a sense of what the book is like from this inspiring interview with James Lang in Inside Higher EdAuthor of new book on academic dishonesty discusses strategies for reducing cheating while improving student learning.I was honored to be a participant in this research project; Michele Eodice is the director of my school's Writing Center, and the University of Oklahoma was one of three schools whose graduating seniors were surveyed about their most meaningful college writing experiences.

After a fun back-and-forth with Bobby Pedersen in a message, I wanted to share some of that conversation here (thanks, Stefanie Sanders for the prompt to do that), and also refer people to Bobby's all-purpose conversation question here about getting started with Canvas in a primary school setting:

Canvas in Primary Schools 


I don't teach in primary school, but the questions Bobby had asked me about using an LMS in general and also about switching from one LMS to another prompted me to write up a blog post here about what it means to be an LMS minimalist, and how it happens that I use very few Canvas features but also find so much of value here in the Canvas Community! So, here goes:


How I use the LMS... or, rather, how I don't use the LMS. I've been teaching fully online since 2002, and from the very start my focus has been on open content (I never put any content in the LMS) and on student web publishing (my students have always published their work on the open Internet). Because the discussion board in Blackboard was so terrible back in 2002, I paid for an EZBoard account (that was back in the heyday of Ezboard; it was such a fun forum system for its time)... but as time went on, and students became more and more adventurous in their blogging, I dropped the discussion board entirely and let discussions emerge through the students' blog spaces. The only thing I have ever used the LMS for is a secure Gradebook, and I hack the quiz system to allow students to record their own grades. And that's it. I even do my LMS homepage as a blog that sits outside the LMS. You can find out more about my approach to grading here:

Student Gradebook Declarations 

And I've done a CanvasLIVE about my blog-as-homepage:
Blog-as-Homepage for CanvasLIVE


Yet, even as an LMS minimalist, I am a huge fan of Canvas and of the Canvas Community. Here are three reasons why:


1. Canvas is open. Unlike other LMSes (my school has used Blackboard, WebCT, D2L, and NextThought), Canvas really lives on the Internet. Unlike the so-called "walled garden" (much wall, little garden) of those closed LMSes, Canvas can give you a real website, open to the Internet. All pages in a Canvas course have real URLs of their own, and if you choose to make your classes open (I do: and, then anybody can link to your pages, and they can also be accessed by search engines, helping to build the educational value of the Internet for everyone. You can also create Canvas "courses" that are open resource sites, as I've done at my Canvas Widget Warehouse and also my Canvas Growth Mindset space. Open educational resources (OERs) are crucial for equity and access in education, and we can all be making our own OER contributions, large or small. I prefer to use other tools to build and share content on the web, but that's a purely personal choice. You can also use Canvas as a tool for creating and publishing real web content, both for your own students and for an Internet audience; that was not true of the LMSes that my school used in the past.


2. Canvas connects with outside content. In addition to making itself open to the Internet, Canvas also makes it easy for you to bring Internet content into your Canvas space. Now, admittedly, I don't do this myself; my students are working on the open Internet already, and all our work takes place outside of Canvas. But if, for whatever reasons, you need to bring outside web content inside Canvas, there are lots of ways to do that. You will find Canvas LTIs for many services, and you can also use the power of the Redirect Tool and/or iframe embedding to bring even more web content into your Canvas space. Over the past year as my school adopted Canvas, I have really enjoyed exploring these integration strategies, and then sharing them with other faculty. I put together an overview of my experiments here at a PAINTCanvas course that was part of the Canvas rollout at my school:

Laura PAINTs Canvas 




3. The Canvas Community is where we can all keep learning. Even as an LMS minimalist, I have learned so much from participating in conversations here at the Community. By definition, anybody who shows up here is someone who wants to learn about teaching and/or share what they have learned. And I love the fact that this is a community for both K-12 and higher ed, and and also that this is an increasingly international community; we can all benefit from that broad collaboration. I am not impressed by top-down education reform imposed by people and organizations (corporations, bureaucrats, special interest groups) who are not working with students every single day. The real reform, I believe, is going to come from students connecting with students and teachers connecting with teachers; it's all about connected learning, and that is exactly what I get to experience here at the Canvas Community.


So, a big thanks to Instructure and to the fantastic Community managers here. I learn something new every day here at the Community, and I really hope that next year I will see even more people from my school joining in the conversations here, learning and then sharing what we learn! :-)


And of course there's a cat for that:

Follow your natural curiosity and see what you learn. 


Follow your natural curiosity and see what you learn.

I originally published this in private Univ. of Oklahoma space before I realized how Jive Community public/private works; now I am republishing in my regular blog space to make it public.

~ ~ ~

Today was such a fun day: I got to spend it reading and responding to student blog posts, which means the new semester really has begun! In this post, I actually won't be saying much about Canvas because the LMS is, sad to say, a complete fail when it comes to letting people create their own spaces online. That's why I use a blog network instead, and I am going to spend this week explaining how the blog network works in my classes.

Today, I'll begin at the beginning: how the students get their blogs up and running, and how I then subscribe and follow their blog posts.

Student blogs. Most of the students in my classes have never blogged before. I really hope that in a few years I will see that start to change. I teach (mostly) graduating seniors, so that means they have taken 25 or more college courses so far and not have not learned to use a blog in any of those classes. Ouch. Luckily, blogging is super-easy, and here are the instructions I share with them to get them started: Creating a Blog and Writing Your First Post. (That's the second assignment in the week-long Orientation that occupies the first week of class.)

Platform-neutral. Building a blog network just means that all the students need to blog; they don't need to use the same blogging tool. Any tool will work provided that the blog has a full RSS feed for the posts and a separate feed for the comments, and it should also be ad-free. Blogger and WordPress are the obvious candidates, but if someone wanted to use another blog platform that met those requirements, that would be fine. In fact, that would be great! In terms of the technical support that I provide, it's based on Blogger, and that's because's ads make it a no-go for my class. Now with the OUCreate project, students can get WordPress blogs for free, so I am seeing more and more WordPress blogs in the class, which I really appreciate: it's a way for all the students in the class to see that there are a variety of blogging platform options, and just a matter of personal choice which one you might use. I've been using blogs in classes for over 10 years, having moved from Bloglines to Ning to Blogger and now to this system of student choice, but Blogger is still my go-to blogging platform, and I think it's the easiest one for students to start with who are new to blogging. I'll have more to say about that in a later post too!

Building the network with Inoreader. As the students create their blogs, they send me an email with the address. After that, they don't have to email me about their blog posts: I can subscribe to their blogs and see the posts pop up automatically. I use Inoreader as my blog reader, and it is AMAZING. It's like a combination of the old Google Reader and the old Yahoo Pipes plus all the filters and rules you might use in an email program. I'll have a lot more to say about that in future posts, but I'll just explain the basics here today.

Roster with addresses. I have a spreadsheet going already with the students' names, nicknames, majors, and email addresses as a result of the first assignment they do, which involves completing a simple Google Form. I add a column to the spreadsheet with those form results where I can paste in the blog address (it will be useful later on to have a complete list of all the blog addresses), and then I paste the address into the subscribe box in Inoreader. Students give their blogs all kinds of titles, but I rename the subscription in Inoreader to make it easier for me to keep track of, using a class code (MF or IE for Myth-Folklore or Indian Epics, the two classes I teach), and the student's preferred name along with last initial if needed to avoid ambiguity. I then put the renamed blog into two different folders (you can put a blog in multiple folders, no problem): one folder that is class-specific and one folder that is for both classes; I need those two different folders to manage the filters-and-rules that I will explain next time.

I then subscribe to the comments feed, renaming the subscription again in the same way, and putting it into a folder with all the comments (I don't need those separated by class, so there is just one folder with all the comment streams in it).

Watching the blogs. After I subscribe, Inoreader harvests all the blog posts, and it does so in almost-real-time, which means that I see the posts basically as soon as the students publish them. During the first few weeks of class, I actually do read all the posts, and I comment on a lot of them; I'll explain more about that later this week in a separate post (later in the semester, the blog network is really a space where the students interact, while I focus on giving feedback about their projects).

Here are just some of the views I use in Inoreader:

Incoming posts by class, title only (I can then click on the title to pop open the contents of the post that I want to view, much like opening an email):

Or full-view, where I can scroll through the full view of each post without having to pop them open — I see images, embedded video, etc. in this view. That's the view I most often use:

Student view. In addition to viewing the contents of an entire class folder, I can also choose to view a single feed in that folder, looking at the blog posts of just one student, as here:

I use the "star" to indicate the posts where I have left a comment, and I'll have more to say about that later also!

The real power of Inoreader comes from being able to view the blogs in specific assignment streams: all the Introduction posts, for example, as you can see here. I've been diligently commenting on the Intro posts, which is why they all have stars:

Inoreader assigns those tags to incoming posts automatically. I'll make the amazing Inoreader rules and filters the subject of tomorrow's post!

And now that I'm done with this post, I'll go back to reading student blogs. It's so much fun getting to know all these new students each semester and also reconnected with students whom I know from a previous class. It is indeed a Happy New Year!

The blog network: it's a space I will explore all semester long!

I need space to question and to explore.


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

I originally published this in private Univ. of Oklahoma space before I realized how Jive Community public/private works; now I am republishing in my regular blog space to make it public.

~ ~ ~

Okay, as promised: back to our regular programming. Yesterday I wrote about how I add the students' blogs one by one to Inoreader, which the blog reader I use to set up my student blog network each semester. In addition to subscribing to the students' blogs, I also have set up RULES inside Inoreader in order to  tag posts automatically as they come in from the students' blogs. If you use rules to manage your incoming email, this is very much the same approach. Here's an example of one of the rules I have in place:

As you can see, the rule-making system is highly configurable. Because I put the students' blogs into folders when I subscribe to them, I can then have the rule run whenever a new post appears in the folder, and it can be triggered by words in the body of the post and/or in the title which will cause Inoreader to automatically assign a tag to the new post. There are many other possible actions as well, although I mostly just assign tags.

In addition, I can add or remove tags manually, so if something goes wrong (like if a student doesn't use an expected title word for example), I can add the tag, remove it, etc. in the tag listing that appears at the bottom of each post.

So, as students create their "Favorite Place" posts (which is the first real blog post assignment), it gets automatically tagged by Inoreader. I can then see all those posts grouped together, along with the students' names and also the class they are in because of the way I name each blog when I subscribe:

As I explained yesterday, I then add a star as I leave comments on the posts (and I do a lot of commenting during the first couple weeks of class). So, based on what I see here, it looks like there are two "favorite places" posts that have come in which I have not commented on yet, so as soon as I finish this post, I will go comment on them.

And... there's more! In addition to being an RSS aggregator, Inoreader is also a syndication engine. That means I can re-publish this tag stream as a new RSS feed of its own. So, for example, I can create a page at my course wiki where students can easily take a look at the Favorite Places posts so far. This screenshot shows the magazine view, and I also have a link there to the full-post view.

And, not that I would actually want to do this myself, I could easily run that feed inside Canvas as a page inside a Canvas course too; you can see an example of an Inoreader RSS feed inside Canvas here.

So, in the instructions for the assignment, I encourage students to take a look at the posts that other students have already published. Especially for students who are a bit hesitant at first about blogging, being able to see other students' work is a big help, so I am very grateful to the students who get started early, giving me posts that I can share in the stream this way.

And it's automatic! As the "Favorite Place" posts keep coming in, that live feed will update post by post by post, showing the latest posts at the top... until all 90+ students have posted. It will be quite a nice collection of places by the time they are all done with that assignment next Tuesday (the first official day of classes).

As you can probably guess, I am really happy with how Inoreader helps me do a good job of watching my blog network so that I can engage with the students in a timely, useful way, and I also really like how it lets me share the content back with the class, assignment by assignment, so that all the students can be learning from each other too.

And now... I feel better. After feeling trapped in the LMS this morning (ugh), it feels much better to be pondering student blogs instead! :-)

Here's a growth mindset cat inspired by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.: "Every now and then a man's mind is stretched by a new idea or sensation, and never shrinks back to its former dimensions. After looking at the Alps, I felt that my mind had been stretched beyond the limits of its elasticity and fitted so loosely on my old ideas of space that I had to spread these to fit it."

After teaching online in a learning network, I could never go back to being stuck inside the LMS: give me the Alps, please, not the so-called walled garden. :-)

I originally published this in private Univ. of Oklahoma space before I realized how Jive Community public/private works; now I am republishing in my regular blog space to make it public.

~ ~ ~

I was going to post about Twitter4Canvas today, and I might still have time to do that, but I wanted to write up something today about Inoreader and how it helps me make sure everything is going as planned in my classes with the students commenting on each other's blogs, which they did this weekend.

Here's how it works: For each student's blog, I subscribe to their blog post feed AND to their blog comment feed (that is one of my requirements: they can use any blog platform they want so long as it is ad-free and has separate full feeds for posts and for comments). That means I end up with a folder in Inoreader that contains all the comment feeds, and I name each feed for each person whose blog the feed comes from, with a two letter prefix for the class.

Then, after the first round of comments (which is sometimes kind of chaotic because of add/drop), I can quickly click through the subscriptions in that folder to make sure everybody has at least two comments, and hopefully four. Some people might have even more than that if I have also left some comments (which I do when I have time). Here's a screenshot that shows how the interface looks. This student in Myth-Folklore (MF) has gotten five comments, so that's good! (I could read the comments too if I wanted, but I'm honestly just checking for numbers of comments today.)

So, it takes literally just a couple of minutes to click on through all the students (I have anywhere from 80 to 90 in any given semester, both classes combined), making sure that despite the chaos of add/drop, things look good.

I rely on the power of random for the blog comments, and as the semester goes along, students will sometimes have four comments each week, sometimes just two, and possibly none (it's rare, but it happens), and at the same time, they also understand why it's unpredictable. Some weeks they themselves might skip the blog commenting assignment, and so it's a kind of lesson in comment karma. Overall, the goal is for everyone to do the commenting assignment every week and for every person to get four comments... and on average, that is mostly how it works out, with a little fluctuation from week to week. When I set up the blog comment groups for Week 2 later this week, I'll write up a post here to explain exactly how that works; the power of random minimizes the time I spend in creating the groups, while maximizing the spread of comments throughout the class as a whole.

Meanwhile, though, I am really glad that Inoreader makes it easy for me to check on the comments during Week 1. It's important that everybody feel included in the class during the first week, and both giving and getting comments is part of how that works. And it worked pretty well this week I think!

How is this relevant to Canvas? It's relevant because there is nothing in Canvas that helps to check on levels of engagement in a class like this. Blogs, by having a person-based stream which in turn collects comments, lends itself to this type of inspection. Especially because I teach fully online classes, I need to be able to see that things are going well, checking on each and every student as the semester gets started, just to make sure! That's why I am glad I have Inoreader; it works for me. :-)

Connecting with others: it's important both for life and for learning.

Connect with others to reduce stress.

So, yesterday I wrote up three very practical posts about Diigo tags and blog labels plus RSS for those labels. Today I want to step back and share my overall approach to content development in general, based on using bookmarking and blogging tools. As I see it, the point is NOT to create content (i.e. write it from scratch yourself). Instead, the point is to CURATE the great content that is already out there, just waiting for you to discover, save, organize, annotate, and share. And that means you need a search engine like Google to discover that content, and then you need bookmarking tools (like Diigo) to save and organize, plus publishing tools (like blogs and wikis) to annotate and share. That, in short, is what I want to talk about at the CanvasLIVE this Thursday... with this blog as a place for preliminary thoughts and links. :-)

Building a Library of Free Online Books 


In Canvas, unfortunately, there are not any really good curation tools. You can put stuff in the Files area, but except for folders there are no other organizational tools. You can write stuff in the Pages area, but as I just said, the goal is really not so much to write content, but to annotate and share existing content.


Luckily, though, there are all kinds of ways to connect the content you create outside Canvas with your Canvas space so that your course design provides a context for that content. I've mentioned some of those Canvas integration strategies (embedding, widgets, feeds, etc.) in my CanvasLIVE presentations and my previous blog posts here, and what I want to do in this week's CanvasLIVE is to use one of my content projects, the Freebookapalooza, as an example of how you can manage a content project (small, jumbo, or in-between) with bookmarking and blogging tools, and then connect that content back to a Canvas course space.


So, step by step, here's what I did:


1. FIND A NEED. In July of last summer, I decided that I had to do something about the lists of links to online books that I had been accumulating for 10+ years for both my Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics courses. The lists of links were scattered here and there, and they were just links with the titles/authors of the books, nothing more. My students and I needed better. I also knew that Hathi Trust, in particular, was a great source of full-text books online that I had not explored, and summer would be the perfect time to do that. (If you have not checked out the millions of books at Hathi, go look: it's like Google Books, but with real librarians.) And if online books are not your thing, this same process could apply to any systematic search for resources to share with your students: videos, works of art, maps, Wikipedia articles, etc. etc.


2. Then, I started GATHERING BOOKS. I went through all my old links of lists and used Diigo to bookmark them with the label Add2Library. Those links came from lots of different sources: Sacred Texts, Gutenberg, Internet Archive, etc. etc. After I finished bookmarking all the links from my existing lists, I was ready to start making blog posts (see next step), but I also keep on gathering, searching by keywords, authors, etc. at Hathi Trust, since it was the source that had the best search tools.


3. While I kept on gathering, I was also ready to start ADDING BOOKS TO THE FREEBOOKAPALOOZA, which I set up as a blog: Freebookapalooza. I found the books to add using the Diigo Add2Library tag (see previous step). For the title of each post, I chose Author's Last Name. Short Title, as here: Dyer. The Folklore of Plants.


blog post screenshot


Then, in the body of the post, I had the full title and author's name, plus an image from the book (the cover, an illustration or, if those were not available, some pertinent image). I also included the table of contents (so students could really see what was in there, plus to increase the search power of the blog); sometimes I could copy-and-paste that, while other times I had to edit OCR (of variable quality), or type it myself. Then, I systematically searched my primary sources so that I could list the different copies available: Gutenberg, Internet Archive, Sacred Texts, Hathi, Google Books, Amazon (free Kindles only), and LibriVox. It was worth checking for multiple copies since different online presentations are useful for different purposes (some have better reading options, some have better searching options, some have better OCR, etc.). I used a Region label for each post, and labels for the available Sources. You can see the blog here: Freebookapalooza.
Here's an example of a source label: Gutenberg

And here's an example of a region label: Asia
And here's a search for elephant: Elephant (no, that's not every elephant because it is not a full-text search of the books themselves... but it is a great way to start looking for stories with elephants!)


4. As I worked, I also BOOKMARKED THE LIBRARY. Each time I added a post, I was able to delete the Diigo bookmark I started with, and then to bookmark my new blog post instead. That meant I built up a collection of Freebookapalooza bookmarks in Diigo so that, instead of pointing people to a hodge-podge of online book sources (what I had back in Step 1), I now pointed them to a systematic book presentation at my blog. I also used more labels at Diigo also, indicating the regions-within-regions. At the blog, I just labeled things as "Region: Asia" but at Diigo, where it's easier to use multiple labels and Boolean searching, I used more specific labels like Japan.


Diigo: Japan


5. I worked on this for about six weeks, and then it was time to wrap things up at the end of the summer, so I created some BLOG PAGES (as opposed to blog posts). I snagged the book titles from Diigo (Diigo has some great export options), and then created blog pages with an overview of the book collections region by region. Here's the Asia Page for example. In those pages, I also included links to the specific Diigo subregions (Japan, Korea, China, etc.). You can see those pages horizontally across the top of the blog header:


blog pages navigation



6. I also build a BLOG RANDOMIZER, which randomly displays blog posts from the whole Freebookapalooza or region by region. To do this I took advantage of the blog's mobile view in order to display just the post contents. You can see how that works here: Freebookapalooza Randomizer. 


Freebookapalooza Randomizer


7. Then, after seeing how well things went in Fall 2016 (students were really exploring the books!), I decided to build some CANVAS-FRIENDLY WIDGETS to help encourage even more exploring. You can see the results in my Widget Warehouse; there is a whole series of randomizing widgets which show books from the Library at random: Freebookapalooza Canvas Widgets. Each item in the widget has the image from the blog post, along with a link to the actual blog post. The main way I use these widgets is in the sidebar of the Freebookapalooza blog and in my other blog sidebars and pages, all to increase access (the power of random!) to the hundreds of books that await students in the Library. You can learn more about all that in this CanvasLIVE on Canvas-Friendly Javascripts.


widget screenshot


ABOUT HTTPS: In order to build those widgets that display in Canvas, I need to have HTTPS webspace to save all the images and the actual javascripts. Luckily, my school participates Reclaim Hosting's Domain of One's Own project; that is what gives me easy access to HTTPS webspace so that I can create content that displays inside Canvas if I want. And even if your school does not offer a DoOO project, you can get an individual account with Reclaim for just $30/year (or $50 if you need more storage). As website hosting goes, I cannot imagine anything better; I got a chance to meet all the members of the Reclaim crew in person at their Domains2017 conference just last week, and I was so impressed: they really understand what it means to provide web hosting to educators!


Reclaim Hosting



Some final thoughts... People talk about scale in education: well, this is a process that scales beautifully! If you want to collect just a couple dozen items, you can do that, or you can collect hundreds. It all depends on what you find and how much time you have; either way, the technology is not a limitation. Instead, the technology can and should be an inspiration! It is also the kind of task on which you could collaborate with your students, building your content together. I've never been able to get my students excited about Diigo (although I keep trying!), but they really like blogging, so we are all just blogging together, side by side.


And if you are inspired to do something with any of these technology tools and are looking for ideas or advice, just let me know. I'm glad to answer questions and help if I can. :-)

So here's one more blog post for today... as you can tell, I'm really trying to front-load things for Thursday in case dental adventures (wisdom teeth! eeek!) get in the way of my CanvasLIVE, which is scheduled as follows:

Building a Library of Free Online Books 

This way, even if I can't talk straight, there will be blog posts for people to explore!


Earlier today I wrote about Diigo tags and also about blog labels (both great ways to organize and share content!), and what I want to add is that you can get label-specific RSS feeds from a blog. It works a bit differently at each blogging platform, and what I'm going to illustrate here is how it works at Blogger; you can Google details about other blog platforms to see what their label-specific RSS feeds are like.


Why does this matter? Because when you have a label-specific feed, you can have that specific label show up in your Canvas course... automatically!


So, here's an example of how label-specific content can be useful: as I add new Fables to my Aesop's Books blog, one of the labels I use is Fable Library. This label shows ONLY posts with actual fables; there are other kinds of posts appearing at the blog (posts about books, posts with images but no fable text). But by using this label you can be sure you are going to see a fable illustration with an accompanying story. Here's what the URL for the label looks like: 


To get the RSS feed for that label, it works like this:

Just put in your subdomain (I'm aesopsbooks as you can see there in the URL), and then add your label at the end, using the same syntax as in the URL for the label link.


So, I can paste that label-specific RSS feed into Inoreader, my feed reader, and I'll see all the newest posts (that's the "magazine" view; Inoreader offers various different views, each useful for its own purposes). This is showing ONLY the posts of actual fables at the blog, not other kinds of posts:


Inoreader screenshot


So, that's already very cool... but what's even better is this: Inoreader can reformat the RSS as HTML that will look great in a Canvas Page. I've written up a separate blog post about how to get blog RSS feeds to appear in Canvas, and with this example, I'm showing you how you can get label-specific blog RSS feeds to appear in Canvas... plus I'm going to try a new Redirect Tool trick which makes it even easier than the iframe approach.


Here's how it works:


1. Subscribe in Inoreader. First, I subscribe to that feed in Inoreader, and I save the feed in a folder (I could put more feeds in that folder if I wanted, but for this example, it's the only feed in the folder).


2. Export from Inoreader. Then I click on the Folder Settings to send the contents of the folder out as an HTML clip that I can then use in Canvas. I can choose whether to get magazine view or full post view, the number of posts, and other specifics. In the end, it gives me a link (and all the parameters I've chosen appear in the URL for that link). 


configure html


3. HTTPS. Next, I change the http in that link to be https. That is essential for making the link work in Canvas: you need HTTPS for the Redirect Tool to work (and also for iframes). So, Inoreader gives me:


I change that to:


4. Canvas Redirect Tool. For the last step, I go to my Course Settings in Canvas, choose the Apps tab, and then I add the Redirect Tool. I paste in the https address, name my page "AESOP" and include it in the course navigation:


redirect tool configuration


And that's all it takes: you can see my LIVE Aesop page here, which will update automatically from here on out whenever I add new fable posts to the blog. And when students see an image and/or story blurb that interests them, they click on the title, and it takes them to that fable post at the blog, where they can then learn and explore (as I explain here).


I'll be posting more fables before Thursday for sure, so you'll be able to see it updating automatically from the fables that appear there currently (Monday evening).


Canvas Course link: AESOP 


Aesop page screenshot


So, no complicated iframing; the Redirect Tool is perfect for this purpose. Thanks to Keegan Long-Wheeler for reminding me last week about the awesome power that is the Redirect Tool.


As for the awesome power of blog labels, RSS, and Inoreader, I need no reminding. :-)


Update: Magic! Before going to bed tonight, I added some fables with illustrations by Arthur Rackham, and now those show up automatically inside the Canvas page. 


canvas screenshot


Yes, I cannot help myself... it's another update: Wednesday evening working on Conde's illustrated Aesop, and the lovely pictures are popping up automatically in Canvas just as they are supposed to. :-)


Conde's illustrated Aesop

And here's another post prepping for my CanvasLIVE later this week; here's the CanvasLIVE link:

Building a Library of Free Online Books 


What I want to focus on in this post is the power of labels (or tags or categories; different platforms use different terminology) as a way to organize content in a blog. Specifically, blog labels as a way to organize content in flexible, non-linear ways that allow the user to explore the content based on their choices and preferences.


This is in sharp contrast to the very linear, top-down format of content in the Canvas space where it's all about previous-next, and not really about user-driven browsing and exploration. For that, you don't need an LMS... you need the Internet. Admittedly, things can get kind of chaotic on the hyperlinked and totally non-linear Internet, but that's where labels and curation comes in: if you can select and organize materials in smart, flexible ways, you can help people make discoveries as they browse and explore, but without feeling lost and overwhelmed.


Let me just give a few examples from the blog project I am working on this summer: Aesop's Books. (The CanvasLIVE presentation is going to focus on a blog project from last summer, the Freebookapalooza.)


Aesop's Books


I've worked on many Latin language Aesop projects, but this is my first English language Aesop project, and my goal is to assemble public domain illustrated editions of Aesop, along with English versions of the fables, for people to read and explore online. I'm using labels so that people can explore the fables book by book OR by looking at multiple versions of the "same" fable. I want those navigation options to happen AUTOMATICALLY as I am adding new material to the blog. The labels are doing all the navigation work for me, which means I can focus 100% on adding content all summer long!


So, in order to allow people to explore the content in those two different ways — book by book OR fable by fable — each fable that I add to the blog has (at least) two different labels: a label specific to the book and a label specific to the fable.


For example, here is a version of the fable of the fox and the crow. It's from a really cool book published in 1857 that has beautiful art and also really creative, satirical retellings of the fables.


Bennett fox and crow


There is a label for the book which you can see below the fable: book: 1857 Bennett. And there is also a label for the fable, using the Perry Index number: index: Perry 124  (more about fable indexing here).


labels below post

You can click on those labels under the fable to browse, or you can use the Label widgets in the sidebar. Blogger has a really flexible Label widget system (easier to use than WordPress in fact, in part because it's simpler); you can put as many Label widgets as you want in the sidebar, and you can choose which labels appear in which widget, as well as showing (or not) the number of posts per label. When you click on a label link (and it's just a link, like any other link), the blog displays ALL the posts with that label. Instant content galleries!


So, for example, I have a navigation widget with the book labels:


book labels


Someone can click on the Bennett book label and then they will see all the posts related to that book. There is a table-of-contents post at the top (it's at the top because I jiggle the date to make it the "newest" post), and below that are all the posts from that book. Since the book is online, of course people can click on the links provided and read the book in an online format, like at the Internet Archive, but you can also get the full experience here at the blog. Fables are really great for this purpose since they are short and fit nicely in a blog post format.


You might notice how I am creating the labels in a very consistent way; the book labels start with "book:" so they are all grouped together, and then I am also prefacing each book with the year of publication like this:

book: 1857 Bennett is the label for Fables of Aesop and others, translated into human nature by Charles H. Bennett, published in 1857.


Using this system means in the widget the books appear in the order of publication. The label widget lists everything alphabetically, which is how I end up with books in order of year of publication... automatically! As I add a new book to the system, I just start using a new label and it appears in the label widget navigation box. I was going to do it alphabetically by author, but then I realized the year of publication would be so much more helpful as people choose which books to browse and look at, ranging from Renaissance incunabula to books published right at the limit of the public domain in the early 20th century.


I also have a navigation widget with fables that appear in five or more posts (which means they are the most interesting to compare). The fable about the fox and the crow appears in 7 versions already; it is one of the most popular Aesop's fables. Blogger makes it easy for me to select which labels go in which widget; that's how I selected the index labels where there are at least 5 versions of the fable.

select labels


Just like with the years of publication, I am using automatic alphabetizing to keep things organized here: instead of Perry 1, the first Perry number is Perry 001. Yeah, the zeroes look kind of dumb, but that's what keeps everything in nice numerical order, all automatically. For the Mille index, it starts at Mille 0001, with three leading zeroes, because the index itself goes over 1000.


So, that is how I am labeling the content in order to facilitate readers exploring based on their interests and preferences. Later on, I might add some additional labeling layers, going back through the fables and tagging them to go into some kind of "gallery" based on a theme (fables about cooperation!) or based on a specific animal (my favorite fables about cats!).


I can also publish other kinds of content at the blog; I did one essay already, and I'll probably add some more essays later on. The Essay label (currently on just one post) is kind of a promise to myself that I will be adding more essays later. I can also add the fable label to the Essay posts too, so that someone browsing fables about The Kite and his Mother will find this essay along with the fables.


essay label


So, as you can see, this is a totally different experience than creating content inside Canvas. It's highly flexible, and it is capable of expanding ad infinitum. I've done blogs that have thousands of posts, and as long as you are systematic about the labels, navigation is not a problem. It's also sustainable into the future, thanks to Blogger's standards-based XML export which would allow me to move this to a different platform if I ever wanted, for example, to take advantage of the wider range of features that WordPress would offer.


Whether to create content inside Canvas using Canvas tools or to create content outside using other tools depends on your goals: if you have a fixed body of content that you want all your students to read in a particular order so that you can then test them on that content, an LMS-based system is probably a good choice.


But my goals are very different: I want to get students excited about wide-ranging and long-lasting cultural traditions, helping them to find excellent materials to read and explore online based on their interests. Exactly what they read is up to them, and instead of quizzing them about what they read, I ask them to MAKE something with the materials that they find, telling their own Aesop's fables just as they can see people have been telling and re-telling Aesop's fables for hundreds of years — and they publish their own stories in their own blogs, so we are all blogging together.


And hey, if you want to add some Aesop to your classes, I've got a widget for you. Each image links to the book that it comes from... and there are hundreds of images already with hundreds more to come as the summer rolls happily along. :-)


Aesop Illustration Widget for Canvas


(more about my Canvas Widget Warehouse here from a previous CanvasLIVE)


Canvas Aesop widget

Diigo is a fantastic tool for bookmarking and annotating. You can use it in so many different ways! In this post, I'll explain my favorite things about Diigo, and also how it integrates into Canvas. I'm writing up these materials today because I will be talking about Diigo in my CanvasLIVE later this week:

Building a Library of Free Online Books 


So, here are some of my favorite things about Diigo and Diigo-in-Canvas:


1. Library view. Diigo is built for powerful personal use, and it is also built for sharing with others! When you are working at Diigo, you have a view of your bookmarks that lets you archive, access annotation tools, etc., but there is also a library view to share with others which is specifically designed for visitors. As a comparison, here are the personal and Library views of the exact same resources at Diigo. First, my personal view:


user view of Diigo

And now here is the Library view:


library view


See how the URL is a bit different? Your view is "user" while the Library view is "profile" — the rest is the same. Diigo defaults to that Library view for someone accessing either URL when they are not logged in (i.e. when they are not you), but it's also good to be aware of how you can access your own Library view to see what others see at your Diigo site. To access your own Library view in order to see what your visitors see, just choose "Public Library" from the dropdown in the upper right-hand corner.


choosing Library view



2. Tag combinations. As that previous example shows, tags are a feature of Diigo that let you combine and repurpose content in all kinds of ways. I can share with your all my #growthmindset resources,

or just the ones I have annotated,


or specifically the ones on the subtopic of feedback, as in the previous example.


I am sharing those URLs so you can see how it works: the Diigo query line shows clearly how the different tags are being added on. You can also use NOT for Boolean searching. You just type the tags in the box, or click on them from the item displays (notice that Diigo now uses a hashtag symbol; that was part of the Diigo redesign a year or so ago):


diigo tag search

Plus, other people can search your materials using the tags. So, teaching your students about tagging in general and your tagging practice in particular can increase their access to the resources you've bookmarked, while also expanding their digital literacy.



3. Images! At least for my students, text without images just does not get their attention the way that images do. So, especially when I will be sharing the Diigo resources with my students, I try to include at least one image; you can see the images displayed in the screenshots included above. It's easy to add the images! When you install the Diigo extension in your browser, that allows you to hover over any image in an item you have bookmarked and add that image to the bookmark record, or you can right-mouse click to add the image. You can even add multiple images to the same record if you want; I usually just add one image. See the little blue D in the lower right-hand corner? That's what you click to add the image to your Diigo bookmark record.


diigo add image



4. Diigo Linkrolls in Canvas. Diigo supports javascripts that let you automatically display the latest items that you have bookmarked. You just bookmark with Diigo as you are reading and researching online, and the results are automatically displayed for your students in Canvas. Just go to Diigo Linkrolls and configure your script.


javascript in Diigo


Then, in Canvas you have to upload that script as a simple text file into your Files area, and then use iframe to display that in a Page. I've explained in detail how to add Twitter javascripts to Canvas, and it works just the same here with Diigo.  So, here is the javascript uploaded as a Canvas File, and here it is displayed in a page: Canvas Diigo Linkroll.


Diigo linkroll in Canvas



5. DiigoRSS + Inoreader in Canvas. Personally, though, I far prefer using Inoreader to display Diigo items in Canvas. With Inoreader, you grab the Diigo RSS for the feed (any combination of tags has its own RSS feed!), and then display that feed — including the images — in a nicely customizable display. Here's what that same Growth Mindset - Feedback stream looks like in my Growth Mindset Canvas course: it looks so much nicer this way! These are literally the same bookmarks as in the previous screenshot, but with Inoreader-style display instead of a plain Diigo linkroll:



Diigo Inoreader


I've written up specific instructions on configuring Inoreader RSS for Canvas here: Using Inoreader to Bring Blog Posts inside Canvas. It works for any kind of RSS: blogs, Diigo, news sources — anything with an RSS feed.



~ ~ ~


So, that's just a little bit about my own favorite Diigo features. There is lots more you can do with Diigo, and if you have questions about any of the specific features I've mentioned here, just let me know! It was thanks to help from friends online that I finally got into the habit of using Diigo, and now I can't imagine doing without it... which means I am glad to return the favor by helping others learn about how they can use Diigo for their own purposes. :-)

I got home from BRILLIANT Domains2017 conference last night and have spent the day so far reading thru the #domains17 stream at Twitter (wow!) and enjoying the blog posts people have been writing. Lots of good stuff, like these great posts by Tim Klapdor and Amy Collier with their themes of belonging, just to take two examples. So, this is my #Domains17 post, and I'm not going to worry about the impossibility of getting it all... I'm just going to start with something, and then something else, and so on.


And what I want to start with is one of Tom Woodward's wonderful Domains17 art portraits; this is Suzanne Churchill and Kristen Eshleman. Isn't that a great picture? Tom asked people to choose a favorite artwork (we were staying in a combination hotel-museum in Oklahoma City, so there was art all around us for the whole conference!), and in his tweet about this particular portrait Tom made a connection to Doctor Dolittle's pushmi-pullyu which seemed to me such a nice metaphor for the dynamic tension and energy of us net-workers and domainers as we are being pushed by the brilliant energy of other people's enthusiasms (you push me!) and we are also pulling others along with our own enthusiasms (I pull you!). We are going in our own directions, pushing and pulling, and also connecting and balancing together.




And since I'm writing this post in my Canvas blog, I'll now focus on pushing and pulling and the LMS since the LMS was, of course, a theme... and a point of contention... at the conference. So, below you will find just a few of the LMS takeaways from the conference, and I will be sharing my own thoughts about all of this in more posts about Canvas and Domains in the coming weeks. In fact, as I wind up my current "summer of curation" CanvasLIVE events, I will then shift to a series on what it means to bridge Canvas and Reclaim Domains (I got so many good ideas for that from brainstorming with Michelle Meazell and the online course folks when I went down to Norman the day after the conference). Domains17 pushed me to learn more about what I can do with my domain, and I also want to be pulling you Canvas users into this exciting, open adventure: pushmi-pullyu! :-)


So, here are some LMS moments from the conference:


1. Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel's beautiful presentation offered many thoughtful challenges; this was at the top of my must-see list as soon as the conference itinerary came out. Check out the slides to see what I mean: If bell hooks Made an LMS: Grades, Radical Openness, and Domain of One's Own. I hope everyone will take a few minutes to explore; the slidedeck is at the bottom of Jesse's post. Here's just one slide among many that can start some real dialogue about what's really wrong with the LMS: top-down grading instead of side-by-side dialogue.


LMS versus dialogue


2. Because of the timing of the Virtually Connecting session with the OU crew, I did not get to attend Tim Klapdor's session, but he has shared the slides and a post, so here is more thought-provoking LMS stuff to explore: Beyond the LMS. The architecture of Canvas is going to let people on my campus explore and learn more about these possibilities than we ever could with D2L, so we can get ourselves ready to move beyond the LMS into new kinds of learning spaces. I'm pinging Jared Stein on this one; I'm sure he has seen Tim's stuff, but there might be some new twists and turns in this latest iteration. :-)


beyond the LMS


3. And while it was not about the LMS per se, the totally energizing and inspiring Running Errands for Ideas presentation by Jim Luke had one of the best LMS anecdotes and one of the best LMS slogans of the conference. The anecdote is this: Jim was running a pilot of Domains at Lansing Community College (and, as he pointed out, we should be seeing a lot more community colleges on the DoOO list); so, as the pilot was drawing to a close, he realized that one of the keys to getting the project renewed and extended was this amusing fact: the LMS support team at his school had done their documentation in a Domains-powered site. The LMS needed Domains! And as for the slogan, here it is, as Mo Pelzel tweeted it during the session: "You don't replace the LMS; you displace it, one chunk at a time." Keegan put this in his presentation too (see below).


mo pelzel tweet


4. Also not about the LMS per se but very relevant was Jonathan Poritz's presentation on security; check out the cryptology chapter in his online textbook: Yet Another Introductory Number Theory Textbook. Thanks to what I learned from Jonathan's talk, I am now getting closer to being able to actually understand/explain the crypto-magic of HTTPS and why it is so important. The scheduling was also perfect: Jonathon's presentation came before Keegan's presentation on Domains-in-Canvas, which means Jonathon provided us with much-needed HTTPS awareness, teaching us (mathematically!) about what is going on behind the scenes when a site is HTTPS-secure, so that Keegan could then show us how HTTPS and the Redirect tool are two powerful ways to opening Canvas up to our Domain spaces. If you have a Reclaim Domain, just toggle on that HTTPS option (whoo-hoo!), and your content is now good to go wherever you want to take it... including a Canvas context.


number theory book by poritz


5. Which brings us to Keegan Long-Wheeler's presentation: Domains inside the LMS? I love that he did it as a totally open Canvas course (we couldn't have done that with D2L, our previous LMS), featuring a whole long list of all kinds of Domains-driven web content integrated with Canvas. I was really happy that Keegan included some of my javascript Canvas stuff in there — and if you are curious about Javascripts and Canvas, here's a CanvasLIVE I did about that recently: Canvas-Friendly Javascripts (I use the aforementioned magic of HTTPS to share the widgets from my domain with any Canvas user). And definitely check out the link to the fantastic event Keegan organized at my school: PAINTCanvas. It's a lovely model for a professional development Canvas event!


keegan's canvas course homepage


6. Plus, as you can see from the homepage of Keegan's Domains-Canvas course, the workshop resulted in a nice little hacking event with Andy Rush as Andy explains here:


andy rush hacks canvas


7. Keegan's presentation was also when we got to hear from Jon Udell himself about his experience developing the integration with Canvas... the power of open! (And an aside: meeting Jon was one of my OMG-it's-really-you fan-girl moments from the conference, and he has a tantalizing idea for a new kind of writing/revision software that I learned about on an impromptu excursion to the Oklahoma City National Memorial... with many thanks to John Stewart and Keegan for taking us there.) I didn't get to go to Jon's actual presentation (I'll update this if/when he shares a link), but there's some great stuff right here at Canvas Community already like this Hypothesis partner page, plus this Hypothesis. webinar (follow links there for more).

Update: Thanks to William Croom's blog post (Small is Beautiful), I found a link to Jon's presentation notes and some ideas about exactly the kind of thing I want to work on with tool integration. So, go read Adam's post and follow the link to Jon's notes too. A quote:


after lunch on day 2 he sat down with myself and Keegan Long-Wheeler and had a story and question. He said he had just talked to Heather Castillo, a dance professor from CSU-Channel Islands. She had told him she wasn’t a “tech-y” but wanted to show him her site. And Jon was so impressed with how she had culled together multiple tools like VoiceThread, Padlet, Populr, and Google Docs to meet her pedagogical needs. He was so impressed that he recommended that she speak at a future conference (agreed!) and then asked an excellent question: How do we teach people to do that?

jon udell at domains17


So, to wrap things up (lucky number 7 seems a good place to end that list... for now), here's one of my favorite conference pics: it shows the wild and goofy goodness of Jim Groom (in signature hat) and the whole Reclaim Hosting crew plus co-conspirators as captured in a Domains17 moment:


reclaim selfie


And for those of you who don't know about Reclaim Hosting, check them out.


I repeat: CHECK THEM OUT. And I'll have lots more to say in future posts about the superpower possibilities that come from bringing Canvas and Domains into the same orbit. 


And as proof that I was there, you too can experience the power of Virtually Connecting via video: click and listen in. :-)


me, Cody, Keegan, and John

So, tomorrow is a big day for me: I'm going to the Domains17 conference in Oklahoma City, where I will get to meet in person a LOT of long-time online friends, as well as reconnecting with many people I have not seen in years. Naturally I gave myself a homework assignment to gear up for the event (an open-ended, un-graded homework assignment, ha ha). From the conference program I learned that Jonathon Poritz is attending (and presenting!), and I am pretty sure Jonathan Rees said he was going to be there also... so that was a perfect excuse to re-read their wonderful book:


The Book: Education Is Not an App: The future of university teaching in the Internet age (Economics in the Real World) by Jonathan A. Poritz and Jonathan Rees


education is not an app book cover


Reading the book this time around, I think I appreciated it even more because I knew right from the start that their emphasis is consistently on the positive actions we CAN take as faculty, even in the gloomy economic and political contexts in which we work (even more so now in Trump times). So, in brief, here are my thoughts; it's tl;dr I know, but honestly it was so hard to keep myself from transcribing even more thought-provoking quotes. Anyway, here goes...




The theme of the book is CONTROL: "who will ultimately control those technologies moving forward: faculty, administrators, or the companies that profit from the sale and use of those technologies." ... I would add students to that list also; one of my big goals as I teach my online classes is using tools side by side with the students and encouraging them to use tools that they choose, based on their own goals and priorities as users of technology, including technology that is part of their education. That is a theme the authors address later too. :-)


And I really like how the idea of control relates to the app-versus-program theme (as already in the title of the book) sets up a really important contrast: "the word app exists solely to draw the distinction between two kinds of software: plain old programs, which presumably try to turn the power of that universal Turing machine in your pocket or on your desk into a tool that you control, and apps, which exist in a controlled and monitored environment and should not be expected to be free to do your bidding. Apps are the serfs of the society of computer programs. [...] This is not what we do in higher education; seek constrained truth for the advantage of specific powers that be. It is not something we should allow edtech in service of higher education to do either." 


Wow. There is so much that resonates with me here (esp. as a teacher of WRITING), and it also gets at what I am so resistant to the mobile-first approach to ed tech insofar as mobile is very much the domain of the apps. Yes, it's a loose metaphor... but a very powerful one, and they are able to make good use of it throughout the book.


I am also relieved that this book, slim though it is, tries to weave the themes of the adjunctification and defunding of public higher education in with the theme of ed tech's emergence over the past 25 years; my academic career has coincided with that trifecta: I work as an adjunct at a public university (same university since 1999)... and I very much value the Internet and its possibilities as having given me the opportunity to do good work DESPITE the fiscal and political climate. So, yes, I love the Internet (the free, open Internet), and that has been my ed tech space of choice. Unfortunately, ed tech has often gone in the opposite direction of the Internet (and on that, see the great FLOSS chapter below).


So, in short, I agree totally with this expressed goal: "We believe that every student, in person or online, deserves a caring teacher committed to their personal achievement in higher education" ... and I also share the authors' dismay at faculty who have not taken it upon themselves to stay informed about ed tech issues and to speak out about them: "too many professors have responded to this kind of expensive technological utopianism by deferring to administrative initiatives no matter how unwise they happen to be." 


Sad to say, I've definitely seen that at my school. For example, in investigating our MOOC-for-pay venture with History Channel (my thoughts on that subject here), a reporter for Inside Higher Ed found it hard to get faculty to speak on the record about what was happening. Now, just a couple of years later, the History Channel venture seems to have disappeared from the scene entirely. We failed to have a real debate about it at the time, and by sweeping it under the rug afterwards, we are missing out once again by failing to explore what happened in order to learn from those mistakes in order to do better (one hopes) next time. We all need to keep on learning, and an open, honest, well-informed public discussion needs to be part of that learning process IMO.


2 Online Education


The economic context here is the university budget and the ways in which schools try to use online courses to reduce costs, and likewise big lecture courses; there are so many parallels between the impersonal format of big lecture courses and the impersonal format of online courses when conceived as a cost-cutting initiative. And the theme of faculty voice emerges clearly here too: "One of the many reasons why online education saves money for schools is that they can farm those classes out to poorly paid adjuncts who must remain voiceless to keep their jobs."


One of the themes that the authors missed in this chapter is the bizarre practice of charging ADDITIONAL fees for online courses, which anecdotally I've heard happens at many schools. At my school, the original online course fee (penalty) was $25/credit-hour in 2002, and now it is up to $40/credit-hour, a 60% increase that is nearly double the rate of inflation (38%) over that same time period. Where does the money go? I have no idea; it certainly does not go for the salaries of online instructors. My salary has gone up a grand total of 7% over that same time period, far less than inflation. But hey, at least I have a job, a full-time job with benefits, far better than the kinds of adjuncting that the authors document in this book and which has been abundantly documented even in the mainstream media over the past few years (at last).


My favorite part of this chapter was at the end, where the authors write about the huge opportunity costs as funding is poured into top-down ed tech initiatives instead of actual technology that faculty and students would choose to use if they had more control: "Think of the money that would be saved on expensive licensing contracts for learning management systems with non-essential features added to make them seem more attractive [...] which most faculty members don't even use. Think of the improvements i[...] if faculty members could focus on technologies that help them teach rather than those that can be used to track their every interaction with their students. Think of the exciting skills the students will learn." 


Exactly! I am very glad that, unlike other instructors, I have had the freedom to build my classes focused on the technologies I choose and that my students choose, rather than being confined to the LMS.




I almost skipped reading this chapter because it is an extremely depressing topic for me. My school is one of many that spent millions of dollars on a MOOC (mis)adventure. If you were fortunate enough to have slept through the whole rise, decline, and fall of the MOOC empire, you can use this chapter to see what you missed. My favorite quote from the chapter was this: "What professors should fear is not the MOOCs themselves, but the kind of university governance that makes this kind of abuse possible."


And again, it comes down to voice and the imperative need for those of us with expertise and experience to speak out: "That's why every professor, online or in-person, needs to make it abundantly clear to their employer, their students, and the general public what they bring to the table when they're doing their job. That list should include knowledge, experience, insight, and inspiration — among other traits. Faculty can win this debate as long as they explain how their industry can still use technology to benefit students without becoming automated."


And I have to say kudos to Jonathan Rees (one of the two Jonathan authors here) for the way he used his blog to speak out about MOOCs over the years; you can see his blog here: More or Less Bunk.


4 Free/Libre/Open-Source Ed Tech


This is my favorite chapter of the book. It is super-informative about copyright and openness, and it features a brilliant convergence between that kind of freedom and what we call academic freedom: "any piece of nonfree software used at a university is a failure of academic freedom simply waiting to happen, waiting for the first truly innovative teacher or researcher."


I'm not going to try to summarize all the topics covered here: just read it! I learned a lot I did not know before, and I also really appreciated the clarity of the presentation which helped me to see connections I had never thought about before either.


And this chapter also features one of my favorite Latin mottos: sapere aude, dare to know. For which there is a cat of course:



sapere aude


5 Unbundling


This chapter presents some big questions to which there are not easy answers, both in terms of course content and authorship/ownership, and also in terms of higher ed curriculum and degrees. For more about textbooks, see the later chapter on open access and Creative Commons licensing.


What is clear is that automation is not the answer, and, like the MOOC chapter, this chapter has some really good observations about the dangers of automated grading and the drift towards quantifiable learning where content knowledge trumps critical thinking and creativity: "By limiting the contact between students and their instructor, unbundled classes have to focus on how much content a student remembers rather than the kinds of skills that they develop. Anyone who really cares about teaching should consider that outcome shameful."


And, I love this counterpoint to the people who keep insisting that somehow the mind-numbing simplicity of an LMS is a virtue: "Real life is chaotic. The World Wide Web is chaotic. Innovative online instructors can teach practical web skills along with their original disciplines as long as they have enough control over the design of their classes."


Thank goodness that for all the years I have taught online I have had that freedom, and I have made good use of it semester after semester.


6 Electronic Taylorism


This one is right up there with the FLOSS chapter as being my favorite. I had heard of Taylorism before, but I learned a lot that is new here, and the shift from craft production to mass productive is a really helpful way to understand the deskilling of teachers AND the deskilling of students, turning potential craftsmen into cogs in a machine. As a teacher, I see myself as practicing a craft (the craft of teaching), and I also see myself teaching a craft: I teach writing, and my goal is for students to see themselves as writers, as word-crafters, becoming skilled and confident in their use of the written word.


This also the chapter in which the authors tackle the problem of the LMS (plus, even worse: automated homework systems), and of course I have to note here the irony of writing about this book at an online community sponsored by Canvas/Instructure. That deserves a blog post of its own but, suffice to say, my favorite thing about Canvas is actually this community and the way that Instructure devotes real resources to this community where we can all speak out and share our ideas; I just wish we had such an open and lively online forum about educational technology at my school! 


The authors rightly point out that automation does not work for "an industry where the autonomy and agency of the works is an essential ingredient of their labor" ... and, I would add, the same is true for students: in my classes, student autonomy and agency are key ingredients in the overall success of the class. I want academic freedom for myself, and I want it for my students too. The authors emphasize this key argument in their concluding chapter also (see below).


I would also endorse their modest proposal about academic IT support being part of the faculty; right now, few of the instructional designers at my school are teaching on a regular basis. I am sure we would all benefit if teaching were an essential part of their job, at least one actual class per year and, ideally, per semester.


And my favorite takeaway from this chapter is about best practices and how they are part of the Taylorism tradition. Now, when I next run into someone invoking "best practices," I will be able to launch into an informative rant about educational Taylorism: "These are covert attempts (perhaps entirely unconsciously) to deskill the faculty, to set up systems of education into which any warm body can be inserted in the role of professor, no matter how little knowledge, experience, or insight they have." Exactly because the pernicious implications of "best practices" are often beneath the surface, it's even more important for us to call them out!


7 Social Media


Given the emphasis that the authors put on faculty speaking out, they also need to attend to the protections faculty might expect and the risks that they face, and the focus of this chapter is on faculty use of social media; that's what this chapter is mostly about.


For me, the more important use of social media is as a way to connect my class to a larger context (esp. a global context), and also as a way to escape from the trap of disposable assignments by using blogs and creating their own websites. I definitely prefer that world of blogs and websites to the world of Twitter, although if I were not teaching writing, I might find myself gravitating towards Twitter and microblogging as opposed to the prodigious writing students currently do for my classes.


Anyway, this chapter resonated less for me since it did not address some of the main social media issue that I am always wrestling with, which is how to bring my classes out into the open Internet while also making sure that my students are going to have a high-quality learning experience in that open space. Long story short: YES, it is possible to make it work. :-)


8 The Zero-Marginal-Cost Education


This chapter returns to the economic themes of the open chapters, and it picks up on the theme of copyright/copyleft with a detailed discussion this time around of open access and Creative Commons licensing, along with open textbooks. And I eagerly await the day when this vision comes to pass: "All that is missing before open textbooks become the dominant, widespread standard — aside from changing the neoliberal mindset we mentioned above — is a public archive of open textbook chapters and sections under CC license, with a small amount of software to help put together these fragments into an official-looking book."


In the context of the LMS, I should note that Canvas (unlike D2L, which we used for 10 years at my school) allows you to create fully open courses, with Creative Commons licensing as set by the instructor. At least, that is how it is set up at my school. As I've learned from participating in the Canvas Community, there is a whole range of ways that institutions configure their Canvas systems, ranging from options that give lots of control to faculty (thankfully, that is the case at my school) to options in which faculty have much less control over their course design and content.


As the authors invoke at the end of this chapter: "Information wants to be free." I agree! And since my school is already charging my students a fee/penalty just for taking my courses online (see above), I feel even more obligated to make the course materials available to them for free — and that is the "free beer" sense of free. :-)


9 Conclusion


This chapter is so encouraging and inspiring that I really don't even know what quotes to pull, but since the authors chose to put this in bold italics, I will do so likewise: Every real student deserves individual attention from, and interaction with, a real teacher.


And while the earlier chapters focused largely on faculty and their working conditions, this chapter shows how that ultimately brings us back around to student learning, again with bold italics: Professors' working conditions are their students' learning conditions; professors without autonomy and agency cannot teach those characteristics.


That, to me, is the key: I need autonomy and agency so that my students can enjoy the same.


Juxtaposed to autonomy and agency is the pernicious business of marketing, which the authors also address as a technology issue in this chapter: "the Internet has become an avenue for administration, staff, and governing boards to seize greater control of every aspect of university life. Because of a culture which expects websites only to be concerned with marketing, universities think that they need to have 'consistent branding'". This is very much the case at my campus, and, to take just one example, our MOOC misadventure was primarily a marketing experiment, with responsibility for evaluating the success of our MOOCs being handed over to the web marketing group, not to academic faculty.


I think it is ultimately reassuring that these problems are not as new as we might think, and one of the most profound connections in the whole book I think is this one about Taylorism and academic freedom: "We have seen how the advancement of a Taylorist agenda and its necessary deskilling was such an existential threat to the creative and educational missions of higher education that the whole concept of academic freedom had to be invented as a defense."


Wow. I had never really stopped to ask myself about the historical circumstances that led to the formulation of the principle of academic freedom, and I am really struck by how completely relevant that context is to the dangers we face today.


So, there is lots to ponder here, and you can also take a look at Jonathans' Laws (yes, apostrophe is CORRECT: the Laws of the Two Jonathans) which provide a handy summary of all the foregoing:


(1) Every real student deserves individual attention from, and interaction with, a real teacher.

(2) Professors’ working conditions are their students’ learning conditions: professors without autonomy and agency cannot teach those characteristics.

(3) Your university is not broke: The root causes of IT decisions are ideological and political, not economic.

(4) Edtech wants to be free. FLOSS is the best way to build that freedom.

(5) It is the responsibility of the academic faculty to keep current on technological developments, no matter how far outside their comfort zone such learning may be.


And hey, I have a cat for learning about technology of course; it was inspired by Laura Ritchie's book, Fostering Self-Efficacy in Higher Education Students (2015). What Laura Ritchie says here about students works for faculty too: "By taking responsibility, having purpose, and believing in their actions, students ultimately will be in a position to shape the technologies they use, instead of allowing technology to shape them. Without this outlook, the empowerment of having information at students' fingertips is false, as they are not being empowered to creatively use their own agency."


I shape the technology; it does not shape me.


Okay: my bag is packed, my homework is done......... I am so ready to go to Domains17. 


Hopefully I will have some awesome stuff to blog about here as a result. :-)

My summer project for Aesop's fables (details here and here) is going great, and since I now have over 350 illustrations ready to go, I decided to make a Canvas-friendly widget that displays the images at random. I created the widget and put it in my Canvas Widget Warehouse here: 

Widget: Aesop Illustrations: Laura's Widget Warehouse 


Here's a screenshot:


widget screenshot


The way this works is that I've created an https version of the images, of the javascript AND of the iframe that you can use to include the image in any Canvas page or discussion board. The images are 400 pixels wide, so you need about 420 pixels for the widget to work. Each item in the widget links back to the book online where students can explore and learn more at the Aesop's Books blog.


For more about how all this works, see my CanvasLIVE presentation on randomizing javascripts:

Canvas-Friendly Javascripts – Teaching with Canvas