Laura Gibbs

Canvas, Domains, and Choices: LOTS of Choices

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Jun 30, 2017

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.