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

I just found out that the external keynotes for InstructureCon are not going to be streamed (and yeah, I can see that; when people are on the keynote circuit, they can't really let free videos out into the wild)... but luckily, I can snag all three of these books for a grand total of $35, and I've loaded them on to my Kindle for my trip to see my dad next week (he's about to turn 90, and still going strong... he might be interested the Iyengar book in fact).


So: Glory be to books! Let there be learning! Traveling to conferences costs a small fortune (I just did the math, and I cannot even kid myself that I might go to InstructureCon next year... OUCH, no way for that to happen on my salary), but hey, there is plenty to learn from books too. Thank goodness!


Is anybody interested in a post-InstCon Book Club? That might be fun here to do at the Community. Maybe we could even have a Book Club Group...??? I'll go propose that now. That could be really cool: we could do like a "book of the month" or something, based on books from InstCon, people's suggestions, etc. etc.

Update: BOOK CLUB GROUP request is up; vote if you are interested. It's in the "meta" section here at the Community so you may have to "join" the meta space to vote.


Anyway, here are links to the three books I am grabbing thanks to InstCon, all conveniently available as Kindles:



The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

the art of choosing book cover



Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire

wired to create book cover



Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story by Jewel

never broken book cover

I wasn't even at InstructureCon, but I am feeling such a burst of energy and ideas from all the things I learned last week, and I am really looking forward to the videos for the Sheena Iyengar and Scott Barry Kaufman keynotes to come online (I would LOVE the Jewel interview too, but I'm guessing that runs afoul of her publicity arrangements and such). Thanks to the tweeters (especially Linda J. Lee!) who covered both of those keynotes in so much detail with both words and pix, I was able to follow both of those talks in a lot of detail, and they both resonated so much for me. I made a Storify with my tweets and re-tweets during both keynotes:

Iyengar and Kaufman at InstructureCon 2017 (with images, tweets) · OnlineCrsLady · Storify 


Update: Argh, I am so bummed out to find out that neither of these keynotes will be available as video. So now I am even MORE grateful to the tweeters!


Below is a tweet that for me captures a big tension in the range of topics at InstructureCon: on the one hand, there were some beautiful self-actualization talks like those by Iyengar and Kaufman (and also in Jewel's interview with Josh Coates), and on the other hand there was a lot of news about Gradebook, Quizzes, and other Canvas features that are about learning standardization and teacher control, very much the opposite of the open-ended human potential approach; these two items were side by side in the #InstCon stream, so I took a screenshot:


contrast between gradebook and it's okay to fail tweets in stream


If we look at the Community, there's the same kind of range here also, with people sharing ideas about teaching and learning in very open-ended and experimental ways, with other people here to get answers to questions about very traditional school practices, with technology enabling the same kinds of quizzes and grading that we had in school when we were kids.


Just speaking for myself, I have no interest in quizzes or grades, but I have every interest in the ways that digital technology and online spaces create new opportunities for us to explore our creative potential, powers of genius that we never even knew we had before, both as teachers and as learners.


So, as soon as those Iyengar and Kaufman keynotes go up, I will share them here and hopefully that can provoke some good discussion, both for those who were at InstructureCon and those of us who were just getting a boost from the grooviness at a distance!


And with that good thought for the future, here is one of Kaufman's slides, with thanks to Michael Shunneson Michael Shunneson  (I'm not sure which account he uses here!) for the photo tweet, which Google tells me is a quote from E. Paul Torrance that is featured in Kaufman's book, Wired to Create (I've had that book on my to-read list and now I know that I really MUST read it!).


Torrance quote in the post


"Life's most energizing and exciting moments occur in those split seconds when our struggling and searching are suddenly transformed into the dazzling aura of the profoundly new, an image of the future... One of the most powerful wellsprings of creative energy, outstanding accomplishment, and self-fulfillment seems to be falling in love with something — your dream, your image of the future."


And in the spirit of the #KeepOnLearning Canvas panda:


Keep on learning one step at a time

Thanks to the fabulous people tweeting for #InstCon (some of whom I know from the Community; I'm looking at you Linda J. Lee), I am really enjoying the event... but also sad to be missing out on so much great stuff: between Jewel last night and Sheena Iyengar this morning, I have to say WOW: what a beautiful line-up, and the conference is just barely getting started!


As it happens, the task I was working on this morning resonated perfectly with Iyengar's talk about choice and growth (there was no live stream, but lots of tweets; I hope the video will go up later), so I thought I would explain some of my strategies for the tricky job of introducing students to new things while at the same time making the options feel fun instead of overwhelming. As someone who teaches Humanities Gen. Ed. courses to students who are mostly not Humanities majors, I really want to introduce them to the wealth of stories and artwork that is available to them online (just a click away), but I also want to make sure they feel comfortable and confident as they navigate that space.


So, for example, their class project: on the one hand, I think it's great if students want to choose something familiar and deepen their knowledge about it (lots of students arrive to my Myth class with an interest in Greek mythology), but I also think it is great if they are willing to take a leap of faith and choose a class project on a topic that is totally new to them. That is asking a lot of the students, of course... and a majority of students are going to go with something that is at least somewhat familiar, which is okay — but I still want to make sure I have tried to suggest to them a lot of different, unusual topics they could choose, and to present those choices in a way that is encouraging.


You can see some of the strategies at work in a new set of blog posts I have created for students this semester in the Myth class: Project Ideas. What I've done here in the past few days is to consolidate what were several different lists (lists of topics, lists of past student projects, lists of online books, lists of other online resources), so that the relevant materials for each project are idea are now in one single blog post. I stopped when I had around 100 posts because I need to go do the same thing for my India class, but hopefully I will have time to add some more to this list before the students start exploring here next month. One thing I really like about this approach is that it is easy to add a new item to the list, prompted either by a past student project or by a really good online resource that I want to highlight.


Here's a typical post: Weather Gods. Screenshot:


weather gods screenshot


I'm trying to keep these posts short; they are meant to be a jumping off point for future research. The idea is that in Week 1 students browse a gallery of past projects just to get a general idea of what it means to do a project; then in Week 2, they will use the gallery plus this Project Ideas list to identify four or five topics of potential interest, sharing with me the reason(s) why they picked each one so I can write them back with some specific suggestions about online resources, and then in Week 3 they zoom in on one particular topic of greatest interest and spend an hour or so doing real research on that topic, using the information in the relevant blog post along with the feedback I sent them in the previous week. Then they make the biggest choice of all: do they want to do a Storybook project based on a topic of their choosing, or do they want to do a Portfolio instead. That choice is about 50-50... although I am hoping that with this new, integrated approach to brainstorming Storybook topics, I will get more people choosing the Storybooks. I guess that will be one of my metrics for success in this new semester. I am curious to see what happens!


And obvious the trick is just how to surface the different possibilities since a list of 100+ topics is very tedious to read through. To overcome the list tedium here and elsewhere (my classes involve choice in every assignment), I use RANDOMIZERS. So for this Project Ideas Index, I created a link randomizer so that there is a random idea that pops up at the top of the Index every time. That takes literally just a few minutes to do; creating randomizers with images is more time-consuming, but creating text randomizers is super-easy (I use the free tool at for all my randomizers... it's a tool built by a genius former student over 10 years ago, and it's still going strong.) Here's a screenshot of how that looks; you can click and see what comes up at random for you:


idea randomizer screenshot


The idea is to have those ideas pop up random so that before a student even starts browsing the list, they are presented with something unexpected, and perhaps some of interest that they will want to include in their explorations.


Then, down at the bottom of the page, I have another randomizer, one that pulls a free online book from our online book library, Freebookapalooza; here's how that looks... and there are more randomizers in the blog sidebar. This blog is actually the "textbook" for the Myth class, so students spend a lot of time here, which means I get a lot of opportunities to present them with intriguing books and stories at random.


random free book screenshot


Creating the randomizers with the images takes more time, and over this past winter break I made a LOT of those; you can find them all at my Widget Warehouse, and I've configured them to work in Canvas too. :-)

Laura's Widget Warehouse: Homepage


So, I am really pleased with how this consolidation effort has gone for the Myth projects list, and in the next few days I will be doing the same for the projects in the Indian Epics class. In that class, the scaffolding and exploration is even more challenging since most students arrive in that class with zero starting knowledge in the Indian Epics, and even zero interest; they are often just in the class because it is the only upper-division Non-Western Humanities General Education course that fits their schedule. But hey, that's okay: it is actually my great honor to be able to introduce them to a whole world of stories from India that they did not know about before.


Alright, back to work: but I will report back on how this new approach to project browsing-and-choosing goes this semester, and if anybody wants to brainstorm ideas for the challenge of exposing students to new things without overwhelming them with choice, please chime in here! 


And THANK YOU again to all the tweeters from #InstCon. It was really cool how the project I was working on this morning resonated so nicely with the keynote on choice and growth that got the day started in Keystone!

Just to show people how easy it is to set up a live Twitter feed for a Canvas page (a real feed with media; not the text-only Twitter LTI), here's how I set up a Twitter Page in Canvas for #InstCon.


Starting at 3:15 PM.

. . . All done (including the typing of these instructions) at 3:19 PM. Less than 5 minutes! :-)


1. Go to Twitter.
2. Go to your settings.
3. Click Widgets.
4. Create New: Search
5. Put in #instcon (or whatever search you want)
6. Set height; I put 1000.
7. Opt out of safe search and tailoring.
8. Click Create Widget.
9. Copy and paste HTML code into plain text file.
10. Save plain text file with HTML suffix (I called mine InstCon.html). Make sure it is really a plain text file; use if you do not have a true plain text editor on your computer.
11. Upload plain text file to Files area of Canvas.
12. Get file address: 


13. Paste file information into iframe snippet:

<iframe style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="" width="500" height="1200"></iframe>


14. Create new Page.
15. Paste iframe snippet into Page.
16. Publish Page.

It's #InstCon at Twitter: Twitter4Canvas 


And now... it's live!!!


#InstCon widget screenshot

Laura Gibbs

Padlet Integration News

Posted by Laura Gibbs Jul 23, 2017

I wanted to share a Twitter convo here that started with an announcement about Padlet's Canvas integration; you can read more about that here:

A better way to add Padlet to your LMS

And I have to say kudos to Padlet for using their own product to make this announcement; that page looks like it is the Padlet-as-blog, right? Very nice!


Meanwhile, at the Twitter convo, Lisa Lane and I were talking about integration and grading, and the Padlet people chimed in to say that integrated grading features were coming... PLUS, they are looking for feedback! So, share your comments here if you want, or you can ping the Padlet people at Twitter.


twitter screenshot


And for Flipgrid users, ping Shao Zhang at Twitter; or here at Canvas: Shaomeng Zhang ... he is going to be working on the Flipgrid-Canvas integration.


Since I don't do grading (#TTOG I say), the grading-integration features are not important to me, but I am excited to try out this new way of integrating Padlet and Canvas, which works out perfectly since I was hoping to make Padlet my first CanvasLIVE for the new school year.


Twitter is not the best place for sustained discussions, but it sure is a great way to get in touch with people and find out what's going on. :-)

Okay, yes, it's still July, but I did the math: school is starting up VERY soon for me, so I am now in "let's get ready!" mode. Last week I wrote up a timeline to help me stay on track, and last week's big focus was building a Learning by H.E.A.R.T. space in Canvas that works like the Exploring Growth Mindset Canvas space I built. I am really happy with how it turned out: I have the five dynamic pages now with live Diigo/RSS feeds for Health/Happiness, Empathy, Attention, Reading, and Time, and I now have the Challenges page in place too! That's what I want to write about in this blog post, because I am really happy with a simple Google Drive trick I am using to highlight new content in that space. Here's how it works:


1. Google Drive public folder. I create a public folder in Google Drive which is where I keep the Challenges. You can see that folder for Growth Mindset where I have a LOT of Challenges now: Growth Mindset Challenges folder. In the HEART folder, I only have a few challenges so far (I am in the process right now of migrating the Challenges from my old blog-based approach).


2. New Challenge file. One file in the folder is named *** See the NEWEST CHALLENGE here. The asterisks are important: that means when the files are sorted alphabetically, it always shows up at the top.


3. Create a new Challenge. Each individual Challenge also has a file in the folder. When I create a new challenge, I create a new file document, write up the Challenge, and then put it in the folder, where it shares the same public permissions as the file overall. (Or sometimes I just copy a file already in the folder if I am modeling one challenges on an existing challenge, which does happen pretty often.)


4. Update New Challenge file. When I have finished creating the new challenge, I then do highlight-all and then copy, and then I paste that into the New Challenge file. It takes literally just a second to do that. Same file; new content.


5. Display New Challenge file in Canvas. Then, in the Canvas Challenges page, I have a LINK to the folder with all the challenges, and I also EMBED that New Challenge file. That means when I create a new challenge and update that file, it AUTOMATICALLY displays the new Challenge in Canvas. Students can click the link and go to the folder to browse all the challenges, or they can zoom in on the newest challenge which they see displayed right there. Once this Page is set up, I don't have to do anything: the New Challenge shows up automatically. As soon as I copy-and-paste into that document, presto, the new content is there in Canvas... and I don't even have to log on to Canvas to do that. It's automatic.


Why is this important? I like to be able to create new content on the fly (I see some cool article or infographic and I write a Challenge about it), and I also like for students to know which content is new; that can be really helpful for students who do this assignment every week and are curious if there is new content. This  procedure automatically highlights the newest challenge for them, at practically zero cost of time for me! It's just a natural part of my workflow now.


Here's how that looks in the Learn by Heart Challenges page today, after I just added a new Challenge. Depending on when you read this post and click that link, you may see something different on the page. I need to add 3 or 4 challenge pages each day to have this ready to go when school starts in less than a month, and that Canvas Page will be updating every time I add a new one. :-)


happiness jar screenshot


Of course, you could also use this method to highlight a "Featured Challenge of the Week" or any kind of featured content you want to surface week by week or day by day. My design philosophy is to keep presenting students with something new whenever they arrive at the course site: either something new by random (see my randomizing widget warehouse), or something new based on a daily/weekly feature approach. Lots and lots and lots of content for them to browse and explore and choose from, but with strategies to also continually surface and resurface that content in dynamic, unpredictable ways.


There's nothing like a static list of links to put students to sleep... instead, you can use automation to help surface your content new (or like new!) every time the students come to your online space. :-)

Katrina Schwartz is one of my favorite writers at Mind/Shift, so I was really excited when I saw her latest article today:

Are Grades Diverting Focus From Real Learning?


Katrina's article is in turn a summary of this article in The Atlantic: Why Grades Are Not Paramount to Achievement
The intrinsic love of learning supplants the drive for high marks in the long run by Ashley Lamb-Sinclair.


I hope people will take the time to read one or the other; here's a quote you will find in Katrina's quick article at Mind/Shift:

Educators Ashley Lamb-Sinclair experimented with not giving grades for the first six weeks of the school year at the high-achieving high school where she works. She was amazed at the intrinsic motivation students had to persist on a task until they improved when the pressure of a grade wasn’t present. She writes that she had incredible communications with parents about their children’s learning during those six weeks and that the gradeless period went smoothly. That is, until she had to start grading again. As soon as a 100-point scale was present parents and students forgot all the value they had seen in the learning process and focused only on points.

I personally think this is one of the most important discussions we can be having about schooling today. If there is going to be a movement to get away from the harm done by traditional grading, that movement has to come from the bottom up, from students and teachers themselves. Grades are very convenient for administrators... but are grades really helping students in their learning and growth? For learning and growth, you need feedback, but grades are one of the worst forms of feedback I can imagine. One of my biggest frustrations with the Canvas Gradebook is that it is completely numbers-based; there is no way to escape from the tyranny of the percentage there.


My solution: I use a points-based system where the students record their completed work via "declaration" quizzes, and they watch their total points accumulate. It is all about work completed, which means every student always has 100% in the Gradebook. Some students have more points than others, but that's because each student is choosing just which assignments they want to complete, and ultimately what grade they want to get (since I do still have to report a final grade at the end of the semester for each student). With this system, I don't do any grading; I just give the students narrative feedback. Lots of feedback. I've written about my all-feedback-no-grades approach here:, and you can always find new ideas and inspiration at the #TTOG stream at Twitter; that's Teachers Throwing Out Grades.


Yes, we un-graders are a small minority... but we are a vocal minority, and you can get so many great ideas from seeing how these teachers are finding their own ways to escape the trap of grading, one classroom at a time. Want to learn more? Try reading the short article at Mind/Shift or the more detailed article at The Atlantic and see what you think!



screenshot of Mindshift article

Atlantic screenshot

I made HUGE progress yesterday and today on one of the things I needed to do before classes start: my H.E.A.R.T. blog was a mess... but now it is all cleaned up, and it is reflected beautifully (and automatically!) in a new Canvas space I created: 

(it's 100% open, so just click and go)


heart homepage screenshot


Here's a quick overview of what this is all about:


After I created my Growth Mindset blog and related materials (Canvas space here: Exploring Growth Mindset), I realized there were all kinds of other social/emotional/cognitive topics I wanted to discuss with my students, but I was going to start to dilute the specific topic of growth mindset if I tried to fit everything under that umbrella. So, I arbitrarily created an acronym: H.E.A.R.T. which has done a good job of letting me include the materials I want — H is for health/happiness (I doubled up there), E is for empathy, A is for attention, R is for reading, and T is for time management. Reading may seem like the odd item out there, but reading is a huge part of my classes and I really want to ignite my students' love of reading in conjunction with empathy, creativity, imagination, etc. That goes also for writing (my classes are reading-writing intensive), but I already have a separate blog for writing (Writing Laboratory; it needs work too...), so I didn't need to find a way to fit in here.


So, I made the HEART blog a year ago (or two years ago? I don't remember...), and just started adding stuff. And bookmarking articles at Diigo. And creating Challenges like the Growth Mindset Challenges.


And... it got messy. And I knew exactly what I needed to do for the clean-up: having the Canvas Growth Mindset space has really forced me to be systematic and logical about how I build and maintain that space with dynamic feeds from my blog and from Diigo, so I decided to try the same approach for the HEART materials.


And... the Canvas-driven approach worked! I used the power blog label RSS and Diigo RSS to create feeds for the six areas (so I've got 6 specific blog feeds and 6 specific Diigo feeds), then I used Inoreader to combine the blog and Diigo RSS feeds into a single feed for each area (5 of those total: HEART), and then I embedded that feed in Canvas Pages... and in pages at my blog too! Now I have BOTH blog content AND Diigo content combined at the blog. That makes browsing materials more efficient for my students, and it's a trick I would never have learned if I had not been playing with RSS and Canvas all summer. If you poke around in my Canvas blog here, you'll see detailed notes about how to do these things (and I'm glad to answer any and all questions of course!).


So, if you look at the blog, it looks like a regular blog: there are posts, and there's fun stuff in the sidebar.

Then, there are also pages across the top, and those pages contain an embedded RSS feed which brings in BOTH new content from the blog AND new articles from Diigo!


Blog Page for Empathy:


Empathy page screenshot


Over in Canvas: the same! I update in one place (I post at the blog or I bookmark at Diigo), and PRESTO: it's magic! New content in my blog pages and new content in my Canvas Pages.


Canvas Page for Empathy:


canvas empathy page screenshot



I also did an omnifeed for all the five areas combined on the homepage of the Canvas courseI don't really need this at the blog since that is what the homepage of the blog basically does already (without the Diigo posts, but I put a Diigo RSS feed in the sidebar of the blog to compensate for that).


canvas homepage screenshot

So, this went GREAT. Now I need to add in the Challenges (I am going to use the GoogleDoc Folder system like I did for the Growth Mindset Challenges in Canvas), then I need to create a few widget pages in the Canvas space since I have some good widgets in the Widget Warehouse on the H.E.A.R.T. topics.


Plus, I am thinking I will make some unique Twitter hashtag in order to get some Twitter going on too. If I have time.


So, that's on the agenda for tomorrow and Thursday. Whoo-hoo! And what's great is that now the space is ready for all the new content I've bookmarked over the summer to add: I was hesitant to add new content when I knew everything was a mess, but now that I have everything organized, I am good to go, and I have a bigger motivation, too, because now I know that when I post at the blog or bookmark at Diigo, that is going to update my blog and Canvas pages automatically.


So, to quote a Twitter hashtag: #RSSForever. I seriously love RSS and Inoreader. :-)

I know a lot of people are doing their InstructureCon countdown now... as for me, I realized that this morning, Monday, July 17, is when I need to start my semester countdown because CLASSES START on Monday, August 14.


One month from now.


How did that happen???


I basically had way too much fun this summer with projects that I would gladly work on for many more months, especially my Aesop's Books project, where I've ended up with over 1700 illustrated English fables published as of today. I'll be using this for my classes too, and I've got way more than enough to work with also... so I have to force myself to stop spending several hours each day having fun with Aesop. But it was VERY fun for the past six weeks! I'll still try to post a few new fables every day... but now I need to focus on things to do for my classes.


And I have a lot to do! 


More students, new project workflow. Because of budget cuts at my school, I have a 20% increase in the number of students. For a writing-intensive class, that means I need to rethink the overall project workflow so that I can provide good feedback to the students about their projects in the time available. More students/projects, same amount of time = I need a different project workflow. I'll have more to say about that in future posts; I've been pondering some solutions. This is pretty huge, and I need to start working on it now; I want to have this in place by the end of the day on Monday, August 7. I need to spend some time every day working on this big project since I'm still not really sure how it is going to work. I've got THREE WEEKS here, which is a lot of time, and I just need to make sure I work on this every day. 


Two-Week Orientation. Another big change is that I no longer have control over my waiting lists (that's a change related to the new class sizes), and that means I could potentially get new students enrolling on Friday of Week 1. The only way I can see to cope with that is to have a two-week Orientation (which means during second week of Orientation, late arrivals can catch up). The more I think about this, the better it seems; I probably should have made this decision on my own long ago instead of being prodded by the waiting list problem. So I am going to give up my Week 15 Review Week (which was not very useful), and redo that as a second week of Orientation, so the first week of Orientation will be about class procedures and tools, and then the second week of Orientation will be about the reading and writing activities. I'm really happy about that, but it's a huge change, so that is also something I need to work on every day so that I will have the Orientation Weeks (plural!) ready to go by the end of the day on Monday, August 7. Like the new project workflow, this is a big change, and it is also a great opportunity. I know I can get it done if I spend an hour or so on this every day for the next three weeks.


Re-organize H.E.A.R.T. materials. I've done a good job of reorganizing my Growth Mindset materials because of the CanvasLIVE presentations, so I've got a good Growth Mindset Canvas space, and I've really cleaned up my Diigo resources and also my Growth Mindset blog. Now I need to do the same for my Learning by H.E.A.R.T. materials (especially the Challenges) which are very similar to the growth mindset stuff (H.E.A.R.T. stands for Health/Happiness, Empathy, Attention, Reading, and Time... all areas of focus for my classes). The Diigo resources are a total mess right now, for example. Much clean-up required. This will probably take a solid week, so I will start today and try to finish it up by Monday, July 24. I will start today!


Re-organize Writing Support materials. I need some re-organizing here, but it's not as big of a mess as the H.E.A.R.T. stuff, especially since it is not really about Diigo, just about the Writing Lab blog. I've got some fun stuff to add! This is not going to be difficult, so I think I can work on this the week before I leave to go see my dad for a few days, using July 25-29 for this project. As I work on this, it will also be a big help in redesigning the writing project workflow, and also thinking about what I want to do with the writing part of the Orientation.


Re-focus Daily Announcements on extra credit. Extra credit serves a lot of purposes in my classes (making up missed work, exploring new kinds of learning, finishing the class early), and one of the biggest regrets students express at the end of the semester is that they did not take advantage of extra credit earlier on. I think that is because students are used to extra credit being a desperation thing at the end of the semester (and it can work like that), and not used to the idea of "banking for the future" and also just exploring and going beyond the minimum. So, I want to re-do my Daily Announcements so that, ideally, most of the material in the "extra" part of the Announcements will point students to extra credit assignments they can do right at that moment if they are intrigued by the item in the Announcements. I'll say more about how I want that to work in a future post; I've never written a post here at my Canvas blog about the way I see extra credit work, so that will be a good post to write. This is not actually work I have to do now (I write the announcements day by day), just planning; after I get back from seeing my Dad, I will work on this on Friday, August 4 to make sure it is in place before the big get-ready week of August 7-11.




Better structure for the reading and extra reading assignments. Some students are doing just great with taking notes on their reading; other students really struggle with that. So, I want to revise the reading notes instructions in terms of specific strategies students can choose and use. I had left that very free-form to see what would happen, and it's clear that because students are really accustomed to reading-for-a-quiz, they have a hard time with reading-as-a-writer, which is what they need to do in my classes. Same also with the extra reading: I left that very free-form, but again, that doesn't work for a lot of students who expect more direction. So, I'm going to do separate pages with more specific suggestions for extra reading week by week (while also leaving open the free-form option for students who are ready to make their own choices). I will work on this on Monday-Tuesday, August 7-8 (on Monday I will do Myth-Folklore, and on Tuesday I will do Indian Epics). Hopefully, the extra week of Orientation will also help with this!


Google Sites / Other Tech Tips. I experimented earlier in the summer with building some Google Sites of my own using the new design system, and I decided that I really do like it. it's not a tool that really works for my own projects (it's just not very scalable for massive content; I need a blog for that), but for my students, it is a great option because it looks good and does not require any HTML (in fact, it won't let you mess with the HTML, which is another drawback for me). So, I need to write up more Tech Tips so that they can take advantage of all that Google Sites offers. I also need to review the existing Tech Tips and add some new ones; I can do this on Wednesday, August 9. I can also use that day to update my Student Project Archives with last semester's projects; last semester was the first time people were using the new Google Sites. 


Canvas / Assignments. Then, on Thursday, August 10, I will set up the Canvas space (THANK YOU to James Jones and his amazing date-changer; otherwise, that would take me not one day but two), and then rework the weekly assignment pages plus the assignment instructions. I will use Friday, August 11 to finish creating the new assignment instruction pages that I need (I know I need week by week extra credit reading instructions, and the new project workflow will require new pages also).


Okay... I feel better now! The thing about working on my classes is that there is always an infinite amount of stuff I would LIKE to do... but a limited amount of time. I think these are good priorities, and it is not too much to try to get done in a month (although it's really more like three weeks than four since I am going to see my dad). When I was pondering the need to really get back to work this morning, I saw this lovely graphic by Debbie Ohi at Twitter, so I am going to use that to inspire me, blasting off into the wild blue yonder of a new semester, riding a blast of creativity. :-)


girl riding a pencil into the sky




In a previous post I had mentioned how my CanvasLIVE stuff helped me feel ready to do some more video-type webinars, and this week I am doing something on growth mindset with Brad Esau for his Taming the Polar Bears project. I prepared the slideshow this morning, and I was really excited that I had a Canvas Growth Mindset space to share it in! Screenshot and link:

Polar Bears Presentation (July 2017): Exploring Growth Mindset 

Since the slideshow is right there in the Canvas Growth Mindset space, people can click and explore all they want. If you want to see the show, just use that link (since we can't embed here in Jive, alas).


Canvas growth mindset slideshow screenshot


I had created that Canvas Growth Mindset space hoping that the resources which accumulate there would be useful to others, and now I have a chance to share that with a totally new audience. With D2L, I could never build public resources like that, but with Canvas now I can!


In my CanvasLIVE version of this slideshow I had talked about course design and Canvas integration; for this presentation, I swapped those sections out with new sections on Mindset Mantras and on More Resources, and I removed the little CanvasLIVE heart (except on the slide that is about Canvas!), although I kept the cool blue graphic decoration — especially for growth mindset, it makes me think of a brain with neurons growing. 


One of the mantras is about the power of yet, and I included a YouTube video in the slide. It was easy! And now people can sing along with Janelle Monae and the Muppets. I didn't realize how totally easy it is to add a video to a slide. So, that is for my "learn something new every day" file for today. :-)



Janelle Monae video screenshot

I did my last CanvasLIVE of the year last week, and I made a come-one-come-all badge challenge based on those presentations; check it out if you have time for exploration and making new things this summer:

Connected-Learning-with-Cats Maker Challenge 


What I wanted to write about today was how CanvasLIVE was a real challenge for me, and how grateful I am to Stefanie Sanders for giving me the encouragement I needed to get started. I can still remember my reaction reading a message she sent me back in February suggesting that I do a CanvasLIVE based on one of my blog posts... NO, that's not me. NO, I don't do live presentations. NO, I don't do slideshows. And the tiny voice that's always saying... NOOOOOO, that's new and scary.


And so I was really ready to answer "no" — and that would be so much simpler, right? Saying "yes" would lead to all kinds of complications, and take time, and require making decisions and extra work and on and on. I'm rather proud of my ability to say "no" to things and manage my time well. But being honest with myself, the reason I wanted to say "no" was because something like CanvasLIVE was scary and new, not because of the time it would take.


But then, thank goodness, I thought about all the messages, direct and indirect, I am communicating to my students all the time about growth mindset. How on earth could I turn something down like this that would give me such a good chance to grow and try something new and connect with other learners and share what I learned...?


So I said YES. And looking back on it I am totally absolutely glad that I did. Doing the CanvasLIVE presentations this spring and summer was FUN. I learned SO MUCH. It helped me get REALLY ORGANIZED.


And... it helped me get ready for NEW OPPORTUNITIES! A few weeks ago an online friend, Brad Esau, who writes the fabulous Taming the Polar Bears blog (tagline: Working to change our understanding of mental health disorders and the approach to treating them. Working to reduce stigma and promote acceptance. Teaching positive ways to a better life and mind, to a better mind and life.) asked me to do a webinar with him about growth mindset, since a lot of the growth mindset concepts are very relevant to the topics he researches and writes on for the blog, and he has built up an audience of readers and also an audience of people who like video content too. Because of CanvasLIVE, I did not even hesitate this time: I said yes yes yes, of course! So, we did a couple of practice sessions, and this Wednesday we are going to record our first webinar, and then if there is interest among Brad's readers/viewers, we'll do some more in the future. 


Which is all by way of saying THANKS to the Canvas Community for the opportunity to participate in CanvasLIVE, and I would encourage anybody/everybody who has some ideas and experiences to share to give it a try. Stefanie makes it really fun and easy, and you never know where it might lead! :-)


I made a new growth mindset cat today that actually fits this post pretty well, so I'll include it here:


How do I do it?
I can do it.
I will do it!


how do I do it? I can do it. I will do it! cat reaches for coleslaw


That cat was inspired by a growth mindset graphic you have probably seen before; it's one that I like a lot: THE STEPS. So... even if you've never done a live video demo before, take a step out of your comfort zone and give it a try! :-)


the steps: growth mindset graphic

At Google+ this morning (yes, Google+ DOES still exist), a friend asked what about what online publications people pay for / are willing to pay for, and what we would subscribe to if money were no object. For me, the "if money were no object" answer would be Harvard Business Review. Thank goodness they allow 8 free articles every month, and I use up my quota every month, and many of my students do also; I'm always recommending articles I find there about personal and professional growth, time management, goal-setting, giving and receiving feedback, etc. etc. I see HBR as being about human potential in the broadest possible sense, and I get more out of their articles than I do from articles in education journals where the focus is on (yawn) improving student test scores or (yawn again) raising student grades. I want to help my students develop success skills that will help them in school, in work, and in life. Way beyond their GPA. That's what I find at HBR.


And I also see a lot of articles there with powerful implications for educators, like this article which appeared yesterday: Want Your Employees to Trust You? Show You Trust Them by Holly Henderson Brower, Scott Wayne Lester, and M. Audrey Korsgaard. Just substitute teacher for manager, and students for employees, and I think you'll see the relevance right away. Here are the headings and subheadings; read the article for details about each:


How Managers/Teachers Chip Away at Trust


  • Lack of self-awareness.
  • Risk-averse by design.
  • “Bottom line” mentality.


What Managers/Teachers Can Do to Signal Trust


  • Taking stock.
  • (Carefully) giving up control.
  • Sharing information.
  • Pushing for needed change.
  • Investing in employee development.


For me, as a teacher, giving up control has been the biggest challenge, but also the most rewarding. Here is a quote from the article about that:

Ceding control also requires a certain tolerance for mistakes. Rather than taking harsh corrective action, treat employee mistakes as opportunities to facilitate learning.


See how growth mindset shows up there? Of course it does. Some of the best articles I've read about growth mindset come from Harvard Business Review.


So, as you ponder your course design this summer, think about whether you are designing-with-trust... or mistrust. As the article points out, "It’s up to managers [= teachers] to signal trust in their employees  [= students] in consistent and thoughtful ways."


I would especially urge everybody to think about trust (or lack thereof) if you decide to implement anti-plagiarism software like TurnItIn. Or ... if you might choose instead to invest your time, effort, and resources in other ways. More about that:

A Guide for Resisting EdTech: The Case Against TurnItIn 


And of course I have a cat for building mutual trust. :-)


We're building mutual trust (German Shepherd and kitten)

Inspired by Gregory Beyrer's post about equity and his "Summer of Canvas" plus it being the Fourth of July holiday, I am re-posting below an blog post from another blog: 10 Ways to Give Your Students the Gift of Slack. I've changed the title (a lot of people thought I meant Slack-the-app), and I've updated it with some links to Canvas Community spaces in which some of these same ideas have come up. I hope this is something that will promote more discussion and more blog posts; it's my opinion that designing-for-equity is both a pedagogical and a civic duty, and it is not just about technology or about online courses: it is about the future of public education in this country.


Also, as I said in my comment on Gregory's post, I would highly — HIGHLY! — recommend watching the recording of this session from OTC 17 organized and moderated by Michelle Pacansky-Brock
OTC 17: Humanizing Online Learning for Social Justice and Equity


And now, here's my old blog post re-posted:


~ ~ ~


cartoon about equity versus grit

I'm guessing there are a lot of people who can connect with this genius cartoon I saw and shared at G+ this morning via Paul Thomas. I wish I could just give my needy students heaps of cash... but I'm a member of the precariate myself, not a professor. Luckily, though, I have a lot of freedom in my teaching, so what I can do is give my students the gift of SLACK. On the importance of slack, see Paul Thomas - The Poverty Trap: Slack, Not Grit, Creates Achievement.

Some of the options below are very specific to the types of classes I teach (and teaching online creates a great space for slack, thank goodness), but hopefully there are some ideas here that can be useful to all kinds of teachers of all kinds of classes.

1. Eliminate punitive grading. This, in my opinion, is the best way to help reduce students' fear of making mistakes and increase their sense of freedom and confidence to experiment with their own learning. I do no grading of any kind; instead, the students do their own grading, and it is not punitive grading — it's just full credit for work completed. Details about grading here.

Update: I've also written about grading here at the Community: 

Student Gradebook Declarations 

2. Celebrate mistakes. Instead of penalizing mistakes, build on them as opportunities for learning. Making "growth mindset" an explicit part of my classes is one of the best decisions I ever made. As a teacher, I never saw mistakes as a failure... but I realized that my students might not share that perspective. By making growth mindset an explicit part of the class, I can help students see mistakes as the road that leads to learning, rather than something to be ashamed of. More about growth mindset here.

Update: I've done a CanvasLIVE about growth mindset:

5 Ways to Weave Growth Mindset into Your Courses 

3. Build revision into the writing. Instead of just asking students to turn in a paper at the end of the semester (leaving no room for error), I use a writing process that has lots of slack built in. Every piece of writing for the class project gets revised at least once, maybe twice, maybe even three times: it's all good! There are no negative consequences or penalties for the students who, for whatever reason, are doing a lot of revisions to their writing. More about writing projects here.

4. Eliminate quizzes and tests. Quizzes and tests are, by their nature, pretty unforgiving. Plus, they're usually not a lot of fun and not very creative. So, I've gotten rid of quizzes and tests. If you feel like you do want/need quizzes and tests, let students retake quizzes and tests after they have gotten feedback from you and had the opportunity to practice whatever they are being tested on.

5. Let students plan their own schedule. My students' lives are extremely complicated, so I make sure they can plan my class 100% around their schedule. I do ask for 6 hours per week of their time total, but if that happens to be from 1AM-4AM two nights a week, that's fine (and some students do work a schedule like that, especially if they are working an evening shift at their job). This time flexibility is one of the best aspects of teaching online, in my opinion: you can let the asynchronous model be a source of slack for your students. More about self-scheduling here.

Update: I really like the hard/soft deadlines in Canvas; more about that here:

Use the Canvas “Grace Period” 

6. Offer lots of make-up. I offer extra credit both in order to allow students to pursue their own interests, but also so that it is easy to make up any work that they miss in a given week. The extra credit is all relevant to the class and represents good learning; basically, the extra credit is a kind of "shadow class" that I would love to be teaching if the students and I had all the time in the world. Since time is limited, there is an abundance of activities classified as extra credit each week. That way, if students ever miss deadlines (as they often do), it's easy to make up the work later at their convenience. They can also use the extra credit to work ahead and finish early, which is great: that gives them some slack as they face final exams in their other classes.

7. Let students choose their reading. Each week, students choose what they are going to read, based on their own personal preferences with regard to the topic, the type of reading, the delivery format, etc. Hopefully they will make a good choice, but if they discover they don't like the reading they chose, then they should be able to do a better job the next week of choosing what to read. In addition, they can do all the reading for free online; they don't need to buy any books. Since my school already charges a $120 online course fee (penalty), I feel it is my obligation to make sure that there are no books to buy.

Update: I did a CanvasLIVE about how I built my online course library of free books:

Building a Library of Free Online Books 

8. Allow for "half" reading. In my classes, I've been able to divide the reading up into two parts each week. Sure, I'd like for students to read both parts, but it's okay if they only read one part: they will be able to carry on so long as they've done half of the reading, and I definitely prefer for them to really read just half rather than to bluff their way through the whole thing or skim without taking anything away from the experience. I'm able to offer the half-reading option because of the types of content that I teach and the highly modular nature of my course design; you can see what I mean by content divided into two halves if you look at a typical two-part unit in the MythFolklore UnTextbook.

9. Let students choose their own grade. Admittedly, most of my students want to get an A, and that's fine — but they don't "need" an A in order to learn something, and they don't "need" an A in order to make progress towards their degree. I teach Gen. Ed., and all they need to do is pass the class to get credit that counts towards graduation. So I emphasize that whether they want an A or B or C is up to them; my only goal is that they should pass the class while learning something of value to them. The A-B-C grade is just a result of the number of weeks they actively participate in the class. If for whatever reason they decide to participate less and take a grade other than A, that is fine, no questions asked... and it's really not a big deal. Plus, they can check on their progress at any given moment to know exactly where they stand.

10. Practice empathy. As someone who loves to read and write, I have to remind myself that this is not true for all my students. I also know that while I enjoy a lot of slack in my life, they might have no slack at all (some of my students work full-time, are raising young children, are managing serious medical conditions, etc.). By practicing empathy, I can try to learn about what my students need and respond to those needs if I can — but most of all I need to take the time to listen without judging, and then to help if I can. I've also made empathy part of the class; you can see how that works here: Empathy Challenges.

And on that subject, here's a lovely video to watch: Brené Brown on Empathy. I don't think I can embed the video here in Jive like I did in the blog, but this is a screenshot, and this link will take you to the YouTube page:


empathy versus sympathy: they are not the same

I took a few days off this weekend (yay for summer!), and when I came back I saw that Biray Seitz had made a Connected Learning with Cats playlist/challenge, so I made a list below also of the links of all the slidedecks and notes that go with the different presentations. To tell the truth, the slidedecks (with all the links to click!) plus my notes (more links!) are probably more useful than the stand-alone videos:

  1. Twitter4Canvas Slidedeck-Notes
  2. Blog-as-Homepage Slidedeck-Notes
  3. Growth Mindset Slidedeck-Notes
  4. Javascripts in Canvas Slidedeck-Notes
  5. YouTube Playlists Slidedeck-Notes
  6. Using Free Online Books Slidedeck-Notes
  7. Pinterest-Flickr-Diigo-Padlet Slidedeck-Notes


Biray's challenge is to watch the videos, and here is my personal challenge to anybody using the videos: if you MAKE something that is inspired by one of the presentations, then leave a link here, or upload the image, or upload the screenshot if you make something in a Canvas Page, and I will gladly award you another 50-points Badge for Connected-Learning-with-Cats Maker Challenge.


Nothing would make me happier than to give away all my Community points for the making of things... and hey, it's summer, people! Long summer days with — glory hallelujah! — some free time at last. Learn something! And, best of all: make something new!


No need to watch all the videos for this challenge. In fact, no need to even watch any videos since you can use all the slidedecks and notes by themselves too... just take a look at the one where the topic and/or tool is of greatest interest to you, see what inspires you, and then decide what you want to make. If you run into a snag or have questions or need more step by step instructions, just leave me a question here. That will really help me out, in fact, because I'm never sure just which things are going to be obvious and which things need more detailed explanation.


ANYTHING you want to make sounds good to me: make a Twitter list, make a blog, create a meme, add a javascript to a Canvas course, create a YouTube playlist, set up a Diigo account, put a Padlet in Canvas... on and on and on. The possibilities are literally infinite. It's all about what you want to learn.


Memes so far from KonaSky, and Nancy.

What else will people dream up...? 


Growth mindset cat says:

Drive your own learning... and do things you have never done before.


do things you have never done before