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!
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:
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.
3. Domain URLs. I am so glad for my use of Domain URLs for my courses: Myth.MythFolklore.net and India.MythFolklore.net (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 Myth.MythFolklore.net.
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:
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:
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.
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! :-)