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

So, we are now nearing the end of the second week at my school, and the 90 students who were just names on a roster list two weeks ago have all suddenly become real actual people, and we are all interacting and learning and sharing together through the blog network. For today's post, I wanted to write about getting to know the students through their blogs and how, at least for me, I am able to get to know them all so much better this way than I would have been able to do in a regular classroom. For background on how I set up the blog network and got it going, here are the earlier posts in this series:
Fall 2017: Story of a Blog Network (1): Running a Network with Inoreader 

Fall 2017: Story of a Blog Network (2): Live Streams in Canvas

Fall 2017: Story of a Blog Network (3) — A Blog of One's Own

Fall 2017: Story of a Blog Network (4) — Student Comments, Week 1 


Today I want to focus on how the blogs help me to get to know my students right from the start of the semester so that I can have their backgrounds and interests and goals in mind as I interact with them, especially in helping them as they get started with the class readings (so they can make good choices from the reading options) and also as they get started with their semester-long project (again, helping them find good options to consider during the first weeks of brainstorming before they make their project choice). It's about personalized learning, but not using some automated AI-robo-machine; I mean personalized in the form of real conversations, sharing and connecting online. It's not F2F, but P2P, person to person, one on one in a way that can't really happen in a classroom.


FAVORITE PLACE(S). So, for their first post, the students write about their favorite place(s). For the students, this is practice in working with images in blog posts (most of them are new to blogging), and for me, this is a really good way to start to get to know them. I comment on all of these posts to let everybody know their blog is working, and where there is any kind of connection I can make to the class (there often is!), then I start sharing ideas, online books, resources right there in my comment back to them. You can see those Favorite Places post in this stream. Every semester, it is so much fun to see what they do with this assignment!


screenshot of favorite places stream


INTRODUCTIONS. The students are then writing more posts during the week which I might or might not comment on (and that's part of the idea with the blogs: it is a learning journal for the student, while also being a space for connecting and sharing), but I do make sure to comment on all the Introduction posts. These are longer posts, and I usually write longer comments on them; I just finished that yesterday, Wednesday of the second week of class. You can see the Introduction stream here.


screenshot of introductions stream


These posts give me more opportunities to help the students find a connection with the class, and I also start to get a more and more vivid impression of them as people. Some of the Introductions are more long and detailed than others; some have lots of images and might even contain video; other students have already started working on designing their blog space in creative ways; other Introductions are more hesitant, and that's okay too: it's just the start after all, and all the Introductions are works in progress as students can and do tinker with them all semester long. There's an incentive to keep working on the Introductions because they are reading each other's Introductions throughout the semester; it's not just a first-week thing (see next item). And it is the evolution of the blog as an individual space for each student that makes this so completely different from a Discussion Board. The blog stream lets me look at the content of the students' posts in a way that is similar to scanning a Discussion Board, but when I click on the blog title to go write the actual comment, I enter into the blog world created by the student, and over the semester they will make those spaces more and more distinctively their own.


STUDENTS CONNECTING. Students wrote their Introductions back in Week 1, and then in Week 2 they start commenting on those Week 1 posts. You can see how that works here: I built a randomizer so that the comments would be spread out over everybody's posts!


screenshot of randomizer


This randomizer is something new. I used to create random blog groups each week which had a nice round-robin effect: you were getting comments from the same people who commented on your blog. That worked when I had around 40 students in each class; I didn't mind doing the groups each week. But now for bureaucratic reasons my school switched things around so now I have more students and the two classes are really different sizes: there are about 60 people in Myth-Folklore and just 30 people in Indian Epics (I'm kind of bummed about that to tell the truth since I preferred having the two classes be about equal in size, but whatever; that's not under my control). Doing groups for 60 is just too awkward both for the students and for me, so I switched to this all-random approach. So far, the students really seem to be liking that; it has a kind of "surprise" factor since you never know who you will get. This week they randomly connect with 4 Introductions... next week, they will randomly connect with just 2 people, reading the Introduction AND a story by that person. I'll write up a separate blog post about how all that is working since I am really happy about how it is letting me use the power of random in a new way to help the students connect with each other. Meanwhile, you can see the comment stream online too


And MORE CONNECTING. Some students are really into the social aspect of class, so there is an extra credit commenting assignment they can do. They might just keep on reading more Introductions, or they can plunge into the blog stream! That is a new option which I think is really going to be fun. That blog stream is in Canvas, and I am really happy about that as a new addition to the class; since the students are checking in at Canvas after every assignment to record their points, I like the idea that they might be tempted to glance at the blog stream. Just speaking for myself, I love seeing posts popping up all day! You can see the blog streams here for yourself; the idea is that the students just scroll through the latest posts anytime and leave comments on what grabs their attention:
Myth-Folklore Blog Stream
Indian Epics Blog Stream


screenshot of blog stream in Canvas


I've been doing "jump in the stream" myself where I will block out a chunk of time and go see the latest posts that show up and comment on them. Again, it's a very random thing... and very fun! I hope the students will have as much fun with that option as I do.


And I hope that with this post I have given you a glimpse into how a student blog network can be a place for CONNECTING online in a way that is just different from a classroom, and also very different from the usual "dropbox" approach to turning in assignments using an LMS. Every assignment in my class leaves a trace online, either in the blogs or (later) at the students' project websites. So, maybe the next time you read an article bemoaning how impersonal online classes are, you will take a minute to come visit the blog networks in my classes, any day any time, for a reminder that online learning can be totally about personal connections, which (in my opinion) is where the real learning happens.

We are at the end of the Orientation Week in my classes, and one of the final assignments is to comment on the class assignments and tools (Orientation Week link). Some students will still be writing up those blog posts tonight, but I wanted to collect some comments from their posts now since I will probably be too busy on Monday to do that. So, here are the three earlier posts about my student blog network, and below are some comments from the students about how it's going for them so far:

Fall 2017: Story of a Blog Network (1): running a network with Inoreader 

Fall 2017: Story of a Blog Network (2)

Fall 2017: Story of a Blog Network (3) — A Blog of One's Own 


I like asking students open-ended questions because you never know what they will say, and it is so helpful to me to get a glimpse into their thoughts, assumptions, hopes, worries, etc. One of the reasons I have used blogging all these years is that students really are curious about it, and many are positively excited. I don't think you would find that much excitement about using the Discussion Board... :-)


You can see the streams for those specific assignments here: Assignments - Tech Tools. Here are their comments specifically about blogging:


  • I've never had a class where we have to keep a blog, but I like it! It's fun to write about your opinion as you explore your own creativity.
  • When I first saw the word blog in the syllabus I was a little bit worried because writing is not one of my fortes. However after being in this class for one week I find it isn't as bad as I thought it would be. Since i'm not very good with technology blogging sounded like something I wouldn't be able to do, but the instructions for the assignments are very direct and clear.
  • The setup for this class is very self-paced and motivated. Even though this could be said for most online classes, what makes this course unique is that I do not feel so pressured with making sure what I write is correct according to what the professor wants. So far, I have been able to easily flow through the blog post because I feel like I am writing to more of an audience instead of one professor hoping to get a good grade.
  • After looking over the assignments, I think that all of them seem reasonable and will be interesting. Not only interesting to complete but to look at others blog posts and see what they think.
  • The grading style of this class is rather new to me. There is no such thing called wrong answer in this class. You don't get points taken off by providing wrong answers. You earn full credit by the efforts you put in to finish the works. I feel less constrained when writing blogs, because I know that my answers are not being judged.
  • Learning how to blog is also a cool thing! It might be useful in the future.
  • I think the idea of commenting in people's blogs will be nice, it'll create a unique little online community among our class that I don't think I personally have ever encountered before.
  • I like that we will be able to read others blog post in the class and be able to give our feedback to their writings. I am also excited that others will be able to comment on my own post so that I will be able to fix the problems and get better as a writer.
  • Since I took my English courses in high school, I have not had a writing class in a long time and I enjoy writing a lot. I tried to start up a blog, but I didn't have anything to hold myself accountable, so it didn't last long. I am hoping this class will get me back in the swing of things as this used to be one of my favorite hobbies.
  • A few things are new or uncommon to me in terms of ever doing them, let alone as assignments: blogging, commenting, reading Indian epics and stories, and writing stories that I have to let other people read and critique. For anyone who has read any of my previous posts, I'm sure my inexperience in blogging shows. So far the blogging has been a bit of a challenge for me, but with the practice I will be getting over the course of this semester, I am sure I will get better at it.
  • This is my first time blogging ever, and I have to admit that I am enjoying it more than I thought I would! So far, I really like that we are allowed to keep our posts abstract even though we are assigned a specific topic. I really look forward to completing future assignments and can only imagine how my blog will evolve by the end of the semester!
  • I am excited that all the material seems as it flows together so well. Each assignment is linked to another. I also enjoy that so much of our assignments revolve around this blog, as it gives us a consistent platform to always work with.
  • I already really like my blog even though I had my doubts about it, so I'm sure these will turn out great too! I also really enjoy reading comments from Dr. Gibbs, and I'm looking forward to reading other students' comments and commenting on their blogs.
  • I'm definitely interested in the Tech Tips. I could definitely use more of those, and I'd love to improve my blog!
  • I am not going to lie, when this class first started it all seemed to be a little overwhelming, as I am not computer savvy and have never used a blog before, but honestly after completing a few assignment and getting a feel for the class I feel better. I know I will have to put in work (as with all classes) but it does not seem to be that bad.
  • After going through the first few assignments I have really enjoyed how the majority of the class will be us interacting with blogs as well as other students. I really enjoy online classes, because even though you do not see each other face to face, but you are still able to learn from each other's perspectives by interacting with each other through blog comments.
  • So far, everything that I have started out confused about quickly began to make sense. Although it's extremely new to me, the blogging is already starting to grow on me. It's been really neat to look back on my posts (even though there are only a couple) and think that not only are they not totally embarrassing, but I'm actually kind of proud!
  • My favorite extra credit option is the famous last words. It really allows me to pause and think about my week. Also, it’s cool to have a “diary” of how the entire semester went in school and outside of school on a blog.
  • Thus far, this class feels more like a personal project that coursework. I feel like I've finally decided to start a blog, for my sake, and no one else's. I enjoy the prospect of being given readings that interest me, and having a space that I can call my own, where I get to express these ideas.
  • What better way to operate a class like this than through a blog? It is creative and perfect! I am very excited to write so many stories about the things I learn.
  • I actually didn't realize how much of this class would be technology based until now! I love that there are so many tools for us to use, and so many tools to help us build websites and more interesting blogs (for those of us who do not blog often, like me).
  • I am interested in learning how to create a website, make audio appear in a website, looking at the support sites, and exploring other tools to make my blog more interesting!
  • I have never been good with technology so making a blog was a foreign concept to me until now.
  • This is my first time blogging on a platform like this but I would like to say that I have gotten the hang out of it.
  • One thing I want to definitely get better at is my blogging skills since this is my very first time having one.
  • I would like to get better at blogging because I believe it is a useful thing to know how to do.
  • I am not very good at blogging but the more I do it the easier it becomes.
  • The blogging and commenting on other blogs is very similar to the discussion board posts used for online courses on D2L, but the blog posts are much more in-depth which gives us as students more opportunities to showcase our talents and learn from others.
  • There are only a few new things on the technology list that I have not used before. A blog being one of those new pieces of technology, so yay for a new blog!
  • Some skills I would like to improve upon in this class this semester would be obviously to increase my knowledge and skills in blogging and hopefully make an interesting blog.
  • I actually really want to start my own personal blog after or during this class. I quite enjoy the idea of putting my thoughts on subjects that matter to me down in this kind of format.
  • This is the first time I have created a blog so I am excited to use all the tools to see how it all comes together. I am not really familiar with the blog sites, but I am good at figuring out what tools to use or what how to edit. After all, I am a millennial.
  • As mentioned in one of my earlier posts, this is my first time blogging. This is a skill that I look forward to developing, not because it helps with my grammar skills, but due to the fact that I am beginning to immensely enjoy it. Even after this semester, I can definitely see myself blogging during my free time as a hobby.
  • I'm sure I have friends that can help me if I need it. I'm still new to blogging but it's been pretty easy so far!
  • I am excited to develop the skills to run a blog and create a website. I think these will be good skills to have in my back pocket moving forward!
  • I think audio would add a fun element to a blog post or website.
  • Before this class, my main methods of social media were Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Now, I know how to make and post on a blog. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be and it seems like it might be fun.
  • I have never started my own blog or done anything similar to it. I am actually excited about the opportunity to learn more about the technology side of this class. I have never been very big on technology so forcing my hand into using it will be good for my future. I want to continue to work on web design and making my blogs look good and appealing to the eye.
  • This class is really like none I have ever taken before because of the way each person has their own blog. I just want to continue to get comfortable with technology and have these different websites and blogs become easy to me.
  • As I previously stated in another post, I am very unfamiliar with creating websites and using technology like this, and I have even been too intimidated to use a blog because of my lack of creative abilities. I am excited to finally learn how to use some of these tools, and I will definitely use them for future classes (and I might even finally publish some of my writing for others to read).
  • This semester, I just want to become more confident in my creativity when it comes to blogging. I believe this is the perfect course for that!
  • Like I mentioned in a previous post, this class is very different from my usual business classes! Not only from a content stand point (mythology is a little different then my Auditing and Financial Reporting Class!) but also from a technology standpoint (Blogger is a little different from Excel!)
  • I definitely have never blogged or created a website! Already I am learning a lot just from these first few posts!
  • I've already learned one small technology skill in this class that I didn't have before, which is linking text to a web page. It's simple, but I had never done it before. I find it really useful and a nice way to give background information on anything I want to talk about on this blog, without going off on a tangent. It would also be useful for a regular blogger to link between her own posts or blogs.
  • After using blogger for a few different posts, I feel like I am finally getting the hang of it.
  • This semester my goal is to just learn more about the tools that are available and maybe even pick up blogging outside of this class.
  • One thing I am a little nervous about doing is how to create an aesthetically pleasing blog because blogging seems to be a little more confusing/more work than searching for memes or cropping pictures, but I'm sure with more practice it will become second nature. After a few blog posts already I feel like I'm getting the hang of it.
  • I believe this will be a really fun learning experience and could possibly turn into something I keep doing after this class has ended, because I have always thought starting a blog would be cool but it seemed really hard!
  • I am already upping my "tech-savviness" by becoming a blogger so I guess the rest of this semester I would just like to continue in growing that.
  • I am able to decorate my own blog and express my personalities within my writings (by breaking grammatical rules sometimes Everything is kept casual and fun! At first, I feel very intimidating posting my stories here, but everyone is really friendly and gives me good advises so I am actually excited to post my stories for everyone to read.
  • I see things online all the time that people have created, and I'm fascinated by it. I have no idea where to even start! I have enjoyed the introduction to blogging, and I think I'm getting the hang of the basics. I can't wait until until I've added a few more tools to my belt!
  • I have never had a class that published all of its assignments on a blog before. I think it will be fun, but it is way different from any other class I have taken.
  • I think that blogging is always a good tool to understand and use. In the future, everything is going to turn more and more to online (as if it hasn’t already, right?). The use of communication online will help not only education majors, but microbiology majors, and the majority of others.
  • I will need to learn how to be efficient and effective on my laptop. I had only ever used it for research, and essays. I'm not even on Reddit! So this blogging stuff is all very new to me.
  • Although I haven't really used them, I frequently have visited Tumblr and blogs for a large variety of subjects. They are really cool and I am getting the hang of blogging for this sort of project. It is almost like a digital diary that you use to express what you have learned, which is really cool! I can't wait to go back and look through everything that I have created over the semester!


And they shared some cute graphics too:


technology: just keep swimming


cat at computer: I am soooo blogging this


call tech support; my mouse is dead


wow, such technology much advance: dog meme


blogging = street cred

As I explained in another post, I am having a blast with my Aesop adventure at Creighton University, using their Canvas course space to connect with the students there: 

Bringing Social Media in Canvas to a Face-to-Face Class 


I did have one misadventure, though, and that was when I wanted to upload a fox image to use there in my Profile. I had already created a new dedicated Twitter account for the class:


AesopsBooks Twitter screenshot


To match up with that Twitter account, I decided that I would use that same fox image for the Aesop Canvas course. I always use some kind of fox image for my social media avatar, and I've done so since I first started networking online with Ning back in 2007. That's actually because of Aesop: I chose the fox as my avatar because the fox is the great trickster character of the fables. I'm using Dr. Sesus's Fox-in-Socks here at the Canvas Community, which is also the avatar I use for my OnlineMythIndia class Twitter account.


Some background...


Why don't I just use a headshot? I honestly never even considered using a headshot; right from the start it seemed to me that the Internet is a way you can build an identity in a digital way, different from the way you create an impression in real life. To me, headshots online were an attempt to imitate real life (kind of poorly, since the headshot is so static compared to what people's faces are really like), whereas choosing some other kind of photograph or cartoon or design could make an actual "statement" in a way that a headshot is not really a statement. I understand why some people might want to tie their online identity to their real life by using a headshot, but for me, I wanted something different: my online identity is something I construct, and part of the way I construct that is by making creative use of an image avatar.


Then, when I started teaching fully online, I wanted to extend that same freedom to my students: some of them choose to use headshots, but some of them prefer to make a statement, and some of them actually prefer NOT to use a headshot. For people who are shy or maybe concerned about their body image, online courses can provide a welcome freedom to leave body insecurities behind and choose something different.


So, I always made sure to use a non-headshot as my avatar in our course spaces so that students would understand that I certainly do not require headshots, although of course it is fine if they choose to use a headshot. Some do, some don't. It's the same with their names: they might use their official name of record, or a different name (a nickname, their middle name, or a pseudonym), or perhaps just their initials. It's all fine with me. One of the things I really like about Canvas compared to D2L is that students can choose their display name in Canvas, and I make sure to promote that feature.


And then here's what happened to my fox...


I created my profile and uploaded the same fox I was using at the Twitter account. I was really happy with how that looked since I also had the Twitter account running in the Canvas course. The professors had asked me to create the first discussion board prompt, so I did that, and the first thing I asked students to do before replying at the discussion board was to update their profile.


The next day, when I logged on to do some more work at the course site, I was surprised that I had a grey-head avatar again. I grabbed the fox photo from my Twitter profile and uploaded it again. I thought maybe I had just forgotten to save it properly (there are some pages at Canvas where the Save button is down at the bottom and I just forget to save). All looked good: there was my fox in the profile page, and also at the discussion board.


Students started posting replies at the discussion board, and when I got those notifications and clicked in to the board, I saw I was a gray head again.


That was starting to seem really odd, but whatever, I uploaded the fox image again.


It's official...


Then, the message arrived in my Canvas inbox:


canvas message screenshot


I'll admit that I found this completely outrageous, but I'm just a guest in the system. So, I wrote back to thank the administrator for having sent me the message (even though no communication was solicited), and I'm still not sure why they kept removing the image without sending me the message to start with. 


My thoughts...


So, if I were a faculty member at the school (which obviously I am not), I would complain vociferously about this restriction:


1. Authority. How did the Academic Technology Committee acquire the authority to censor online activity in a way that has no parallel with classroom activity? Is there a dress code that applies to students in classrooms? And do the dress code police visit every classroom, looking to see what people are wearing and hauling people out of the classroom if they are not wearing "appropriate" clothing? I think not. I searched the university's website for "dress code" and found various documents; apparently the School of Pharmacy and School of Dentistry have some dress codes because of public contact between pharmacy students and patients, which makes sense. There does not appear to be any campus-wide dress code that applies to all people at all times. How then did there come to be an image "code" that applies to all profile images?


2. Arbitrariness. Why would you arbitrarily restrict online identity to headshots only? There are, of course, arguments in favor of headshots: headshots are useful if, for example, your goal is to facilitate recognizing a student in class based on having seen their picture online. Headshots may also be appropriate if your goal is to create a pre-professional online presence, comparable to the way the Pharmacy students dress professionally to interact with patients. And that's fine. But just because there are good reasons to use a headshot does not mean it is the ONLY option. I did not upload a fox photo by accident or out of ignorance or because I am reckless. I had good reasons for my choice based on the class content and on the Twitter account I would be using for the class, etc.


3. Education, not policing. As I see it, the choice of image is about being thoughtful, choosing the image that suits your purpose(s). Instead of imposing an arbitrary standard on everyone, I think the goal of any educational institution should be just that, education. This type of policing is not educational: instead of summarily removing someone's chosen image, there needs to be a dialogue which results in learning. If a person went to the trouble of uploading an image to their profile, presumably they had some reason that prompted them to do so (as I did). Instead of arbitrarily removing their image, it is an opportunity for dialogue, so that you can learn why the person did what they did. What was the person's reason for uploading the image they chosen? In terms of student images, is there some potential problem that the student was not aware of? That is where the dialogue can happen.


An example. In all the years I have been teaching online, working with literally thousands of students in those 15+ years, I have only seen one student upload an image that caused me some concern; it was a personal image that looked like it was meant to be a sexual come-on, and when I asked the student about it, she told me it was the image she used on all the dating sites where she had profiles. I explained that she might want to choose a different profile image for class, and that it was a good idea to think about the purpose of different website profiles so that she could choose the right image for each kind of profile she might create. It was one of those teachable moments, and I was glad to have the opportunity to talk to her about this important aspect of life online. This was back in around 2008; I am guessing that students today are much more aware of this kind of thing. But if not, well, it's our job to help them be aware.


What's funny about the Creighton rules is that the image this student had uploaded was a headshot, so under their one-size-fits-all rules, they would not have been able to remove it. Hmmmm. Perhaps that is what the vague "subject to administrative removal" phrase is for. And just how risque would be too risque? How generic does generic have to be? Hmmmmm again.


In any case, I found the whole experience very disappointing. Instead of asking me whether I had uploaded the fox image by accident or on purpose (a legitimate question that would have allowed me to explain my purpose), the IT administrator removed it, and removed it again, and again, without even contacting me, and then when they did make contact, it was not to initiate a dialogue. Just the opposite; no reply of any kind was solicited.


A related topic: display names.


Then, out of curiosity, I went to see if we were allowed to choose our display names.




So, once again, despite the fact that there are many (MANY) legitimate reasons why students might want or even need to change their display name, that option is shut down. 


TRUST: I think it is essential.


As someone with a career in teaching along with a brief stint working for campus IT at my school, I've always preferred to trust people to do the right thing. This doesn't mean they will always do the right thing; even I am not that naive.

But I prefer to deal with problems when they arise. Not to assume the worst and lock things down based on the mere possibility that a problem might arise.


And even if something does not go as it should, I still want to assume that it was a mistake or a misunderstanding, something that we can clarify through dialogue. 


TRUST. It's an essential ingredient in teaching. And I also think it's a pretty useful ingredient in IT too.


I am very glad that at my school the approach has been to grant us freedoms by default: we choose our profile images, we choose our display names, we can even choose to create our own course spaces (which is how I have created my Widget Warehouse, Growth Mindset course, etc. etc.). Our IT staff trusts us to do these things, and of course if there is some kind of problem, they can contact us about it, and then proceed as needed.


~ ~ ~


Meanwhile, I did finally upload my headshot in the profile.


But I still wish it were a fox.

I'm trying out something new in the Announcements sidebar for my classes this semester; it's a little Progress Meter. Right now it is just a teeny bit of green (since we are just at the end of the first week of the semester):


announcements screenshot


The reason I added it was that I had originally put a nice "Howdy Week" graphic in the sidebar, and now that the first week of classes is over, I needed to take that Howdy Week graphic down, and I was thinking of what I could include in its place. I remembered that way back in the day I used to have a kind of "countdown" widget for the semester (back what there were Google Gadgets and iGoogle or whatever that Google homepage portal was called, years ago)... and then I remembered that I could make a Progress Meter with Randy Hoyt's, so that is what I did.


Because Randy's tool is pretty old (he built that back around 2003 I think?), it did not have an https option for the images (and I need all my images to be https), so I had to publish the images in my webspace (THANK YOU, RECLAIM HOSTING!), tweak it a little bit (making sure the reference was https, adjusting the width to be 200 pixels for the sidebar), and it worked out nicely. Here's the raw HTML table that generates the script: Progress Meter table. You can see there how it works! As the days go by, a new image displays. 


progress meter table screenshot


I think the students will get a kick out of it, especially towards the end of the semester. :-)

I wrote a post earlier in the summer about a new adventure this fall: I am helping to teach a course on Aesop's Fables at Creighton University, and because they also use Canvas there, I am able to take what I've learned this past year in order to really be useful to the students, even at a distance. The two Creighton professors who are co-teaching the class have done set up the syllabus and modules in Canvas, and that is probably all they would be using Canvas for since this is a small class (just 19 students) which meets in person, and which has a very hand-on project they are working on together: as a class, they will be curating an exhibit of Father Greg Carlson's ASTOUNDING collection of Aesop fable materials (he is one of the professors teaching the class); you can read more about that here: Carlson Fable Collection. While the students will be curating an exhibit at Creighton's Lied Gallery, there is also going to be an exhibit at the Jocelyn Museum in Omaha, and the students will be collaborating with the museum curators on that project also. It's a wonderful opportunity for the students to do work which will reach real audiences! Doesn't that sound fabulous? And it's very hands-on, very real: they will actually be working with the books and other objects in Father Greg's collection. 


I'll be going to visit the class in October (and meeting Father Greg for the first time, although we have known each other via email for many years), and as a way to participate in the class beforehand and make myself available to the students, I'm using the Pages area of their Canvas space plus the Discussion Board (that is something new for me). And it looks like my social-media approach to Canvas can be a really good supplement to the in-person class! Also, since images are a key feature of the course topic, I am really glad to be bringing images (LOTS of images) into the Canvas space which would otherwise be without images. The course is not public so I cannot link to the actual pages, but below are screenshots of the things I've added, using the same tools and strategies that I use in my own courses:


Random Fable. This is a widget available to anyone via my Canvas Widget Warehouse. I made sure to put a link from this page to the other pages too so that students could either keep looking at random fables OR explore another fable source here in the course.


random aesop's fable screenshot


Random Illustration. As with the random fable, this random illustration widget is also available to anyone who wants to use it via the Warehouse.


random fable illustration screenshot


Twitter: AesopsBooks. Yep, I created a new Twitter account — AesopsBooks — for this class on the off chance that it might come in handy. I'll make sure to tweet at least something every day, and that way it will be available if/when we want to do something Twitter-driven for the class. Also, if there is a Twitter hashtag for either of the museum exhibits (of course I hope there will be!), I can use this account to curate and retweet that hashtag.


twitter screenshot


Blog Stream. Currently this is a blog stream that shows the latest posts from my Aesop's Books blog. I worked on that blog intensively over the summer (over 2000 posts at last count), and this is a good incentive for me to post at least one new fable every day. I will also be able to use this as a space to write up essays and share resources with the students in response to the topics they bring up at the Discussion Board! Even better: I can easily add any student blogs to this stream (it's a folder in Inoreader; I just add new blogs to the folder and, presto, the posts show up in the stream). Now, I don't know if any students are going to take me up on that offer... but if they do, it will be easy to do, and the blog stream will be all the more fun as a result.


blog stream screenshot


Course Card Image. The professors had not uploaded a course card image for the class, so I did that, and I wrote up a note about the image I chose here on this page. Then, if I change the course card image later (for example, I was thinking it would be fun to feature favorite images mentioned by the students in their discussions), I can use this page to accumulate a record of the past course card images as we move from one to another. You know, kind of like having Google Doodles, but changing every week or so, not every day. Anyway, we'll see how that goes. I really like this one, so it's also fine by me if it just stays the same all semester. It's from the fable of the frogs who asked for a king (a fable very apt for our times I might add).


course card image page


Padlet: Class Fable Favorites. I created a Padlet where students can post their favorite fables as they do the reading for class. Again, I'm not sure how much use this tool will get, but I posted a favorite fable of mine there to get it started, and i'll urge students to use it as I interact with them at the Discussion Board. It would be so cool to have a "collection" like this which reflects the favorites of different students in the class. And Padlet is a very handy because it is so easy to include links and images. The difficulty of working with images at the Canvas Discussion Board really is a problem for this class in which images are so central to the learning.


padlet screenshot


So, that's what I've built, and now I'll just see what happens. For me, it's a motivation to blog and tweet every day, and I'm also excited to have the chance to share this social media dimension of Canvas with people on a different campus! Since I am an "instructor" for the course, I have been able to go in and add Pages, etc. without any problem. Although I did have a funny/awkward encounter with a system administrator about my (failed) attempt to use my usual fox avatar for my profile picture; I'll save that story for a separate post.


Meanwhile, if you are interested in any of these tools/strategies for your own classes, I've written up instructions and shared them here at my blog; let me know what you are interested in, and I can put the specific links here and/or write up additional info.


Happy New Semester, everybody!

In two earlier posts I ran through some of the nitty-gritty of setting up my blog networks (post 1 and post 2). In this post, I want to give some background and context for how/why I use blogging as the main activity in my classes.


Right now, I've got over 30 student blogs, and the semester hasn't even officially started yet (our first day is Monday). I am really happy with this new approach of putting a live blog stream in the Canvas class spaces so that students can see just what's going on in class at any given moment (even now before classes have even started). I also built a new extra credit blog comment assignment called "jump in the stream" where students can pick from the most stream of recent posts to find items they want to comment on. You can see the class streams too since my classes are open:
Myth-Folklore Blog Stream
Indian Epics Blog Stream


The first post that each student writes is a "favorite places" post which is a chance for them to learn about images in blog posts, and it's also a way for me to start to get know each student and their interests. You can see all the instructions for this first week assignments here: Orientation Week . For this first post some people write something really short with just one picture, while others write something really long with lots of pictures. It's good either way! The goal is exactly for them to realize that this is their own space, and that they have a lot of freedom to use that space for self-expression, sharing what they want.


Then, they look through the archive of past student projects and write a post about their favorite projects; this is their first introduction to the actual content of the class... and I think it is really important that the first content for the class that they see is created by other students.


Next comes the Introduction post. By the time they write this post, they should be feeling pretty confident about how to write a post. Again, some people write long and elaborate Introduction posts with lots of pictures; other people write something shorter. That's totally up to them! Since the Introduction post will get visitors all semester long, they might come back later and tinker with what they wrote to begin with. 


Then, there is a post about growth mindset. I really enjoy reading these posts, and it is yet another way for me to get to know the students and learn more about them.


At the end of the Orientation Week there are three organizational assignments, each of which results in a blog post: the students take a look at the kinds of regular weekly assignments they will be doing and share their thoughts about that, then a similar post about the kinds of technology tools they might want to use for this class, and finally a post about time management strategies so that students can think about what kind of schedule will be best for this class.


That is the first week and, as you can see, every assignment results in a blog post of some kind: maybe something short, maybe something long... but there is a post. In the Orientation Week, there are 7 posts; the idea is for everybody to have had lots of practice so that the blogging will feel just as natural and normal as using email or MSWord. When the regular class assignments start in Week 2, there will be 3 posts each week (or more), plus lots of commenting; there's no commenting yet in Week 1, although I try to leave comments on lots of posts, especially for these students who got started early.


The key thing is this: the entire class consists of blog posts, blog comments, and other forms of web publishing. It is all visible, all sharable, and the blog posts accumulate week by week: at the end of the semester the students can literally see what they have accomplished. Each student ends up with anywhere from 50 to 100 blog posts in their blog, and their blogs also receive abundant comments from the other students (after the first week, the students do basically all the blog commenting; I focus on the students' project websites). 


In other words: the blogging is not just something extra tacked on to the class; blogging IS the class.


I've been teaching with blogs this way for over 10 years. The students used to use Bloglines for blogging way way way back in the day; does anybody remember the Bloglines plumber? That was a weird but very fun blogging platform which was also an RSS reader. I still miss it all these years later!


Then, for about 5 years I used a Ning; I'm sure there are others here who remember Ning! It was great while it lasted.


Then, when Ning shifted its focus away from education a couple years ago, I let the students choose a blogging platform; I provide detailed support for (the platform I use myself), and since most students are new to blogging, that is the option that most of them choose — although I am always grateful for students using WordPress since it gives the other students a chance to experience a different platform. My only requirement is that the blog have separate feeds for posts and comments. (That means Tumblr is not a good option for a class blog, although it is a great option for the project website, so students who like Tumblr can use it for their project.)


For me, these blogs are a way for me to get to know the students as individuals right from the start of the semester. When I taught in the classroom, I was just baffled by the opening weeks of the semester: how was I supposed to get to know all these students sitting there starting at me...? My classroom mythology course normally had 40-50 students: it took me weeks to start to get to know who these people were, and some of the students I never really got to know well at all. Online, with the blogs, it is so different: the first week of posts really helps me to get to know each person pretty well. And, of course, they are also getting to know me through my class announcements blog and all the other stuff that I share online.


For the students, it is a chance to build an online presence in a thoughtful way, documenting what they learn and sharing what they learn with others. Because the blogs are open, the students often share them with their friends and their family; it's not something locked down inside the LMS. When they first create their blog, they send me the address in an email (after that, I can follow all their course work at the blog; they don't have to send more emails... thank goodness! I am not a fan of email), and at that time I ask them to tell me if they have blogged before, if they have questions, what their thoughts are about blogging, etc. So, to finish up this post, I'll just paste in some of the comments from the students so far this semester. I am really proud and glad to be the person who is introducing them to blogging; here are some of the things they told me:


I have never done any blogging before, but I am very excited!


So I have never before done any blogging for school or otherwise, and I am a bit nervous to start a blog. But I look forward to learning the art throughout this course!


I haven't ever had a blog before so this should be interesting!


This assignment was so fun! I have my own personal blog so I do have some experience, but I've never blogged for a class before.


I have never created or posted on a blog before, but I enjoy reading them (especially those involving food).


I am not the most tech-savvy and have not posted on a blog in the past.


I have never done any blogging before, but I am excited to start now! I do not have any questions about bogging yet, but I am sure I will as the weeks go on since I am so new to this.


I have never done any blogging before. I'm sure that I will have many questions for you soon, but I haven't quite figured them out yet.


Here is a link to my blog. I personalized it a bit, and plan on doing more later.


I have blogged before in high school for my AP spanish class but it's been quite a while since then so I'm a bit rusty.


Also I have not done any blogging before! But I loved my high school mythology class and I am really excited for this one!


I currently have a tumblr where I look at art from the video games I play and that's about it. This is my first time using blogger.


I have blogged before. I have a personal blog also using Blogger. I started it because I was disappointed by the lack of writing I was doing during the school year. Having a blog keeps me accountable and keeps me writing.


I have never had any experience with blogging. As of right now I do not have any questions for you.


So, as you can see: a few with experience, most without experience... but the eagerness is real, and it means the class gets off to an energetic start every semester.


I hope my documentation effort here might inspire some other people to try blogging for yourself... and then perhaps to try blogging together with your students. I cannot imagine teaching any other way. :-)


Descartes Cat says: I think, therefore I blog.


Descartes cat says I think therefore I blog

Here's an update on yesterday's post: it's now Day 2 of Week 0 (the week before classes officially start)... and there are already 15 blogs up and running. So, I set up the first iteration of the Blog Directory at my class wiki and then (drum roll!) I created live blog streams in Canvas!




Here is the first version of the Class Directory:


directory screenshot showing blog links

It's easy to update; I already have the URLs for the blogs in a spreadsheet, plus the students' names, so I just copy-and-paste those two columns into a text file, do a find-and-replace to fill in the HTML, and presto: I can paste the links into my Directory page. It takes just a minute, so I'll keep on updating each day until the blogs are all up and running, which should be on Wednesday of next week.




And here's something really cool: after writing the post yesterday, I got to thinking that it might actually be fun to have the live blog stream in Canvas even though I have not done that before. My guess is the students will get a boost from seeing the live stream, especially when they can look and see their own posts popping up. Since they log on to Canvas to record their grade after each post, that's a way for them to take a peek and see who else might be posting at the same time they are! I need to write up some kind of extra credit thing for them to explore the blog stream this way, leaving comments for people who happen to be posting around the same time they do!


It was very easy to set up the Blog Stream pages in Canvas. One way is super-easy; just use the Redirect Tool to point to my Inoreader stream. But I want to provide a little context for what they are seeing, so I opted for the easy way (as opposed to super-easy). This is what I did, step by step:


1. Inoreader stream. I already have my class folders set up in Inoreader for Myth-Folklore and for Indian Epics, and I already have the syndication option turned on. So I just grabbed the iframe code I need for each class from Inoreader. I actually don't mess with all those customizations; I just need the src code as you'll see in the next step. But the customization options are there:


Inoreader html clippings customization screen


2. Canvas iframe. I tweaked the options a little bit to get the iframe that I've decided works well for displaying magazine-style streams in Canvas. I also changed the Inoreader http to https. Here's the resulting iframe code:


<p><iframe style="float: left;" src="" width="100%" height="5200"></iframe></p>


3. Canvas Page. I created a new page in each course called Blog Stream, with a quick explanatory paragraph up top, a horizontal rule, and then the iframe below. It looks great!


screenshot of blog stream in Canvas


4. Redirect Tool for Canvas navigation. I used the Redirect Tool to add the new Blog Stream page to the navigation.


screenshot of Canvas navigation



So, now I have live blog feeds in all three of my Canvas course spaces. I am guessing the students will in fact get a kick out of that, especially when they see their own post popping up in the stream. As always, you can access my two different courses with a simple URL:


I'm really not sure what use the students might make of the live blog streams, but even if they just take it as a "sign of life" for the class, it was definitely worth 15 minutes of my time to set it up. :-)

Week Zero... and classes have begun! Even before I sent around the "it's ready" email this morning, several students had found the class open at Canvas and gotten started. One of the best things about online classes IMO is the flexible scheduling, and I am really glad when students start early, finish early, etc. so that they can have the time available for other classes which are more rigid in their time demands. Plus, just selfishly speaking, it really helps me to have some students testing out the instructions, links, etc. so that they can tell me what I need to fix before the semester really gets started next week!


Since I use a blog network for all the actual class activity (I just use Canvas for the Gradebook), I'm going to try to document how that works here at the start of the school year.


1. Each student creates a blog. There is a one-week Orientation for my classes; for the first assignment, they log on to Canvas to see how the self-grading works, and then for the second assignment, they set up their blog. Here are those instructions:

Online Course Wiki / Blogs

The instructions are super-detailed because most of the students have never created a blog before (don't even get me started on the whole digital native thing). The people who do have blogging experience can glance through the instructions (no harm done), while for people just getting started, the idea is to have a big feeling of success right from the start, and it works. Nobody ever has trouble getting a Blogger blog up and running. They then send me the blog address in the email; after that, they don't have to turn in assignments because I will see all their posts automatically by subscribing to their blog.


2. I put address in roster. When I get the email with the blog address, I recorded it in my class roster (a Google Sheet; the Notes field in the Canvas Gradebook is not up to the task of recording all the info I need for class). The spreadsheet automatically generates the URL I need to subscribe to the comments as well as to the posts by adding feeds/comments/default to the address (most of the students use Blogger; for WordPress, I just add comments/feed/). There are 8 blogs already! A week from now, there will be 90.


screenshot of spreadsheet


3. I subscribe in Inoreader. I copy those two URLs out of the spreadsheet, and I paste them into Inoreader, which is my blog aggregator. That's how I subscribe to both the blog and to the comments. I put the blog in two folders: a combined folder for both classes, and a class-specific folder — that's because some of the automatic Inoreader labeling rules apply to all posts, and some rules apply to posts from a specific class. Here are my folders; as you can see, I don't just use this for my classes; it is also my all-purpose RSS aggregator (and three cheers for the Canvas Status RSS update feed; that's what is in that Canvas folder).


inoreader folder screenshot


4. I rename the feeds in Inoreader. The students give their blogs all kinds of creative names, and many of them choose not to display their name in the blog or they might use just their initials. That's totally fine! To help me find a student's blog quickly, I rename my Inoreader subscriptions based on the class and first name (so, for example, MF Bridget for Bridget in Myth-Folklore; I only use first names, and first initial of last name if there are multiples). That naming convention lets me quickly find any students in either class:


both classes folder screenshot


5. I use Inoreader rules. I have a set of rules in Inoreader that automatically assigns labels to incoming posts based on content in the title. I ask the students to use keywords in their post titles, so Inoreader automatically assigns the labels. I can manually add/remove labels as needed. I sometimes add labels when I notice something I want to come back to (like a formatting problem). Here's what the rule is for assigning the label for the Favorite Places post, which is the first real blog post each student completes. If you use automatic filters and labels in your email, this is exactly the same thing! I am using the exact same rules from last semester; I didn't need to make any changes.


screenshot of inoreader rule page


6. I can view the blogs in Inoreader. I can now view the stream of incoming posts in Inoreader in multiple ways: I can see all the student posts, all the posts for one class, all the posts for a single student. I can see comments for a specific student or all the comments. I can also see the stream of posts for a specific assignment (label). There is index view, full-post view, and a magazine view; I use all those different views depending on what I am doing. Also like email, incoming posts are "unread" (unless I use a rule to mark them read); pretty much all the tricks you might use in managing incoming emails apply to incoming blog posts in Inoreader! Here is an example of browsing by labels (left column), with magazine view display; I'm looking at those favorite places posts:


Inoreader fav places screenshot




7. I can also view outside Inoreader. I can also configure those post streams to display outside Inoreader; I could have them appear in Canvas if i wanted to, although the way I most use them is at the class wiki where they provide examples for other students to see (another reason why I am grateful for students who get an early start). Here are those Favorite Places post in a page at my wiki, embedded with live updating; click and see for yourself: Favorite Places.


screenshot of Favorite Places wiki page



8. I use Inoreader to track my comments. Mostly it is the students commenting on each other's posts, but during the first couple of weeks I leave a lot of replies, both to make sure the blog set-up is working, and also to get to know the students. My replies also provide some good modeling for students to see before they start commenting on each other's blogs in Week 2. I read the posts in Inoreader because I can make the font big — I am so nearsighted! — but then I click and leave the comment at the actual student blog. Then, I "star" the Inoreader record, and that way I can easily see what posts I have replied to (or not), checking on that student by student, or by assignmen. For example, here's a student who already has done several posts, and the stars show me at a glance that I'm caught up replying to her (at least at the moment!).


starred posts screenshot


Final thoughts:


Today was easy, with just 8 blogs up and running... but things are going to be really hopping as more and more students get started. This is now my third year using Inoreader, and it makes me so confident about interacting with the student blog network, while also just keeping my eye on it as the students take over and it really becomes their space, with me just jumping in occasionally.


To me, this is what an LMS looks like: a blog aggregator. Of course, I would never expect Canvas to have features like this, and that's fine. Inoreader is my LMS! I actually really respect the fact that instead of creating a faux-blog tool inside Canvas, the folks at Instructure recognize that blogging is a serious business, and students need serious tools to get the job done... and I also need a serious aggregator to keep up with all that student blogging. 


So, if you are interested in blogging and blog networks and have questions of any kind, just let me know. Plus, I'm going to try to post some follow-up info and examples as the blog network ramps up. I never know just how many students will want to get started on the first day of Week Zero (today), and I am so grateful that there are always some who are ready to go go go. It was so much fun seeing those Inoreader folders come to life after a very quiet summer. :-)

It's official: I launched my courses just now, and on Monday I'll send a note around to all the students to let them know that they can start a week early if they want. It was fun being able to feature the Canvas course cards and how to remove the color overlay since logging on at Canvas is what the students will be doing as part of their first assignment. Last year we had both D2L and Canvas going; this year is our first all-Canvas year, so I told the students to spread the word to their other instructors about the Canvas course cards, something nice we could never do with D2L. 


I do my Online Course Announcements as a blog, and it's also the Canvas course homepage. And I'll report back here when the first student blogs are up and running! That might even be today; you never know with students — if they happen to be poking around in Canvas today, they will see that the course is open. :-)


screenshot of announcements

Laura Gibbs

Time and Time Management

Posted by Laura Gibbs Aug 12, 2017

I had shared some of my first week Orientation exercises in another post, and Kona Jones had mentioned she liked the Time one, so I thought I would share a little more information about that here. Time management is the single biggest success (and failure) factor in my classes, and I will admit that I really struggle with how to help students in managing their time. There are students juggling time commitments that I know I could not manage myself, and semester after semester, I keep trying to find resources that might help.


So, at the end of the first week Orientation, they have a Time Management assignment where they pick two articles with time tips to read and reflect on in their blog: Orientation Week — Organizing Your Time. There's a list of articles there for them to choose from right there on the page.


Then, each week there is an extra credit H.E.A.R.T. option students can do if they want (it's optional extra credit). HEART is my acronym shorthand for some elements that I hope the students will think about: H health/happiness, E empathy, A attention, R reading, and T time. One of those Time challenges is to read another article about time management and record their thoughts again in their blog.


I keep all the articles tagged in Diigo, and I also set up a live Diigo stream into this Canvas page to show how it's possible to use Diigo that way. What I like is that whenever I find an article from someone sharing it at G+ or Twitter or wherever, all I have to do is take it with Diigo and, presto, it becomes available to the students, either at Diigo, or in a Diigo stream (I've got a Diigo stream embedded in my blog too)... and here's the Canvas Time page: 


screenshot of Canvas time page




I've got a Time section at my HEART blog too. That's where I keep graphics and videos, and I've got a Canvas-friendly randomizer of the Time graphics too. :-)


time randomizer screenshot



You can never tell just which article will click with which student, but I'm always trying to add to the collection so that hopefully people can learn something useful to help them in that endless time management quest!

So, it was a long week, made longer by a bad eye infection that has slowed me down (argh! I am not good at slowing down!)... but everything has fallen into place nicely and now, as of Friday afternoon, I will be ready to open up my classes this Monday for the "soft start" (Week 0, early bird week, etc.) before the official start of the semester on August 21. I am so excited about the changes I've made to the classes and eager to see which of the new experiments will succeed — okay, yeah, I know that not all of them will succeed, and that's part of the fun of it, getting to see which ones are the winners! I'll have more to say about that in the weeks to come.


This post, though, is more admin nitty-gritty; I thought I would list a few of the Canvas tricks I used to get the Canvas part of my classes up and running. I don't really use Canvas as a learning space for my students, but it's an important jumping-off point and also an administrative tool, and here are some of the reasons why I am happy with the Canvas course spaces I got set up this week:


1. Assignments dates and names. First and foremost, I am SO GRATEFUL to James Jones and his amazing API/Google-sheet for adjusting not just quiz dates (which saves me literally hours of time) but also for adjusting quiz names. Little things like what assignments and quizzes are named really do make a difference in priming student expectations, and I made some changes across the course with some of the names, along with one big change in the scheduling, in addition to all the work of switching from spring to fall. James's amazing spreadsheet makes changing all those dates and names so easy to do! Also, since I only do this once a semester, I am really glad that James took the time to write out super-detailed instructions. I honestly didn't remember any of the steps, but I just consulted his instructions and it worked perfectly. It really does feel like magic!


spreadsheet screenshot


2. No more color overlay! My course cards look BEAUTIFUL now that there is no color overlay; it was fun picking new images for this semester. I will make sure to add a tip page for my students about removing the color overlay, using the colors in the calendar, etc. etc. I'm also trying to see if the genius programmer who is helping do the new version of our SIS can snag the course cards from the Canvas dashboard to use in our SIS dashboard which right now just has grey boxes for the courses. I'll report back if that works out.


My Canvas Dashboard:


dashboard screenshot


Wouldn't our SIS Dashboard look good with those course cards? There's a ton of Canvas integration running in our SIS now, so maybe they could make that work! Right now, we cannot do anything with those grey boxes; I think it would be so cool if the same images showed up from Canvas Dashboard in here.


SIS dashboard screenshot


3. Domain URLs. I am so glad for my use of Domain URLs for my courses: and (just two URLs because I have two courses, and one course has two identical sections). And they are totally open, published, online; anybody can click and look. Each semester, I just change the htaccess redirect for those subdomains to point to the new semester Canvas URLs. Then, I can go back to the old instance of the class and put in the domain URL, which will be good indefinitely into the future (i.e. I am not just linking to the Fall 2017 version of the class, but in perpetuity to wherever those URLs point semester after semester). I wish the LMS would respect our courses as having continuity so that instead of new courses every semester that we copy, there would be a new roster instead (course persists, students change). But I know that's not going to happen, so I will just keep on using my domain URL trick to get around it. Plus, the short URL is fast to type for my own use as needed. Here's what the old Spring semester course homepage looks like now, with a link to


old Spring course with redirect text


4. Show/hide right menu. I use a Canvas Page for my homepage, which means that when it is being displayed as the homepage it displays that right-hand menu, but when it is being displayed as a Page-page, there is no right-hand menu. So, I just put in the two different URLs there so that students can choose which view they want to look at. If they really want to read the class announcements there in the Homepage, it's easier to do that if they suppress the right-hand menu. Either way, it's up to them. One thing I have to remember is to change these URLs after I copy my course over, since I have to manually switch them to the new course instance address:




homepage screenshot



5. Random images on the syllabus page. I've got random images and all kinds of shifting content on the Homepage (because it's the announcements blog), and now I've got an image randomizer on the Syllabus page too. Students don't consult the Syllabus page often in my classes, but every time they do, there will be a cool new course image there. The randomizer is one of the many I've shared in my Canvas Widget Warehouse. You can see how it works: just click on the Syllabus page link here and behold: a random image! The one in the screenshot show Rama and his brother Lakshmana fighting the monster Kabandha; each image has a link so students can click and learn more if they are curious:


course syllabus page with random India image



6. Notes for enrollment. One thing I miss about D2L is that there was a page showing "recent adds and drops" which helped me keep track of students adding the class during add/drop week. Canvas doesn't seem to have that (at least, I have not found it yet...?), but what I do is activate the notes field in the Gradebook and type "enrolled" there for students who are on the SIS roster. I did that on Wednesday, which means I can now check every day, and if a student shows up in Canvas with a blank "notes" field, I will know that student is new. I don't have an easy way to check for drops but that doesn't really matter; I don't need to know if a student has dropped... but I do need to know if there is a new student who will need help getting caught up on work they might have missed.


>gradebook screenshot



So, I don't really use Canvas for "learning management" (I prefer other tools), but I am very happy at how quick and easy it was to set up my new semester courses and get them configured so quickly and easily. And now... I am waiting for some student blogs to come to life on Monday, as there are always a few students glad to get started. I'll report back on how that goes! :-)

There was a fantastic discussion about scaffolding that took place at Twitter last week; I was out of town when it happened, but I was reminded by the thoughts people shared there about the HUGE importance of how you get a class up and running, helping students to see the big picture so that they can feel confident and ready to go right from the start. Here are some links for picking up pieces of this emergent Twitter convo via Jesse Stommel, John Stewart, Jason Hogan, Jess Reingold, Amy Collier and lots more!

Here's a key part of the convo for me:


screenshot of Twitter convo (link in post)


This semester, I am making some big changes to my Orientation Week because I will have appx. 20% more students than before, and that means people will be getting a little less personal attention from me; my school can ask me to take on more students, and I will... but I am very strict about my time; I put in my 40 hours religiously every week, but not more than that. In addition, I no longer have the ability to close my enrollment during Week 1 (which is kind of a relief; instead of me deciding who gets in, it's all automated now — managing all that person by person myself actually took a lot of emotional energy if not much actual time), so that means I could potentially see students adding the class as late as Friday of the Orientation Week. As a result, I really have two Orientation weeks now; I've made some big changes in Week 2 with some more Orientation-like activities there so that I'll be able to help someone get caught up easily who does add the class late.


Anyway, I'm working on the Orientation Week this weekend so that I can get my classes set up in Canvas next week and be ready to go on August 14 for students who want an early start. For this blog post, I wanted to share a link to the Orientation Week page with a quick overview of the activities and what I'm working on:

Orientation Week link


Here are some observations:


In-Page Navigation. I'm using some named anchors in the page plus some other formatting to make it easy for students to jump to specific days as they go through the week, plus there's a nice PDF version for easy printing (that's a feature of PBWorks, the wiki software I am using here).


Dumbledore. I still get an enormous boost in both of my classes from the students' experience of Harry Potter as a mythical storytelling event in their lifetimes, so I rely on Dumbledore to help set the mood. I've been using this graphic for a couple years now, though, so I might change it... but I'm using it for at least one more semester (words are magic).


Dumbledore: "Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic — capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it."


Time. Probably the single biggest challenge students have in my online classes is being able to budget and manage their time. I am very careful to have 5-6 hours of work per week every week, starting from this first week. That shouldn't come as a shock to any college student IMO, but for some it really is a surprise; if you are used to just showing up for class and taking exams, then you expect just 3 hours per week (with occasional exam-cramming), not 6 hours every week. Online can also set up some wrong expectations: some students (esp. those who have never done online) may assume an online class requires little work from week to week. In addition to a full week's time load starting in Week 1 (so they can gauge if this will work for them or not), I also try to provide "guesstimates" of the time for each assignment. Many of the assignments involve new kinds of open-ended tasks and activities that are unfamiliar (esp. for the non-humanities majors, which means most of the students), so it can be hard for them to guesstimate on their own.


Syllabus-not-Syllabus. This week's activities serve the same function as a syllabus, but the activities list does not look like a syllabus, and that's because I really want students to set aside their expectations when they start this class. I don't want things to look the same as in their other classes because this class really IS different than their other classes. If they do want a traditional syllabus, I have one available they can look at, but they certainly don't need to look at it. Doing these first week assignments "is" the syllabus. I've heard students refer to the first week now as "Syllabus Week" ... and that works for my class too, but I don't just mean passing eyeballs over impersonal pieces of paper; for me, the syllabus means doing the things that will launch you into a semester of learning with confidence and enthusiasm.


Email. Students do not turn in their work by email, but I really want them to email with any questions they have. That means when I get an email from a student, I know it is something important that I should attend to quickly, and since I am at my desk pretty much all day every day M-F, I can respond quickly. From past course evaluations, I know students really appreciate that I am available to answer their questions without delay, and I am very grateful when they write to ask me something because that is a clue to me that I need to improve the instructions, provide more/better info, etc. (That's also my selfish reason for having a soft start one week early: the eager students who start early help me find all the things I need to fix/improve before the semester really starts.)


THE BLOG. On the first day of class, I want students to feel like they are making creative choices, working on open-ended assignments. So, after quickly making sure they understand the essential features of the class (i.e. getting them to not stress about the grading), they start their blog, and every other assignment this week will result in a blog post (practice!). Very few of the students have ever blogged before and, without exception, they are happy and surprised that it is not hard at all. New, but not hard, which means a big success on Day One.


Favorite Places. For their first blog post, they write about a favorite place, which is a wonderful way to bring images into the post, and I really enjoy reading about their favorite places. In some ways, that is a more fun blog post for me than the usual Introduction (which comes later in the week). This favorite places post is a nice, low-stakes way to blog, and I check each post carefully when I comment to see if people are having trouble with any of the technical nitty-gritty (image citation, link text, labels, etc.). In some ways I feel like I learn more about students from this favorite place post than from the actual Intro, which often comes out kind of formulaic, no matter how hard I try to encourage them to go wild with the Intro. But that's okay; people can tinker with their Introduction posts all semester long (because the students socialize through those Introductions all semester; it's not just a one-week thing).


Student Work Front and Center. The class projects are the most important content in the class, and it is really exciting to have the students start exploring the archive of past projects. It's a way for them to get inspired about their own project, and also a way for me to convey to them how important their work is: future students will be learning from them, just as they are learning from past students now.


Growth Mindset. Making growth mindset an explicit part of the class is something I started doing just a couple of years ago, and I am so glad I did. Especially as people get started with the class, growth mindset is such a fantastic way to get them to think about how this class can be different from their other classes (growth, not grades), and also how they want to prepare themselves mentally for the semester to come in all their classes.


Overviews. Then, at the end of the week, there are three overview tasks where I zoom in on the kinds of work the students will be doing starting in the next week, the tools they will be using, plus time management. This is something new I'm able to do now that I've moved the first Storytelling assignment off to Week 2. That's the biggest change I'm making: it used to be there was a Storytelling assignment here in Week 1, but now that will be Week 2 instead. Since students are still exploring the story projects from past semesters in Week 1, they are getting a taste of the storytelling activities to come, and I am thinking that having the first story post SEPARATE from the other Orientation work will allow me to give the Storytelling the special attention it deserves at the beginning of Week 2. I also think these overview assignments, while a bit tedious, will be reassuring to students who are uncomfortable with how different this class is, especially if they were expecting a video-lecture/take-the-quiz type of online class. And if all the weirdness of earlier in the week wore them out, these are an easy, no-stress way to finish up. Then, they can move right on to Week 2: and let the storytelling begin!


I've still got lots more work to do: revising the past assignments, writing up the two new ones... but I thought a lot about the changes over the past week (I was at my dad's, with time to think but not time to be on the computer much), and I am really happy about this, even though changes always make me a little nervous. I've got some returning students who did one of my classes last semester who are back for the other class this Fall, so I will get some good feedback from them based on what they remember of Orientation last time and this time. Fingers crossed!