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2017

I spent last weekend engaged in a mighty tussle with Canvas Support, trying to find a solution I could implement for the incorrect "missing" labels appearing in the student view of the Gradebook for my classes. There was no solution that we could find (details here), but then on Monday I was glad to learn that the red Gradebook labels are being rolled back to Beta for now; details here.

 

I also learned a lot from the whole discussion, especially as other people shared their own, different frustrations with the imposition of the labels (details here). I hope that will be a foundation for good discussions to come about Whose Gradebook is it anyway? ... and I wanted to record some thoughts here now. Instead of a giant monster post, I'll start with just one observation and follow up in later posts; today I'll say something about the Swiss Army Gradebook.

 

Like the proverbial Swiss Army knife, the LMS Gradebook is trying to do very different things, and those different features/functions are not easy to reconcile:

 

 

clunky swiss army knife

 

Here are three main Gradebook functions I see, and they are very different from each other:

 

* Gather grades for administrative reporting purposes. The Gradebook does this best of all (no surprise: administrative purposes override all other purposes in LMS software, including Canvas), but even in this regard, there are some problems: different schools have different administrative systems, including different grading systems. Since I'm not an administrator, I cannot comment on that, except to say that even for purely institutional reporting purposes, designing a good Gradebook is not easy.

 

* Record data for course-level assessment purposes. In addition to final grade reporting, the Gradebook records formative and summative assessment data, but because of the wide variety of formative and summative assessments that teachers can (and should!) use, the quest for a one-size-fits-all Gradebook design is doomed. I use a choice-driven progress-based assessment system, and my Canvas Gradebook is a nightmare (over 200 columns). Moreover, the data that is in the Gradebook is largely useless to me; I have to keep my real course data in a separate spreadsheet (a real spreadsheet where I can create ad hoc columns, use conditional formatting, create formulas, etc.).

 

* Communicate feedback to students. This is the greatest challenge, and it is one where real harm can be done, as in the red label business. I would urge Canvas to adopt a Hippocratic "first, do no harm" approach. If Canvas is going to introduce Gradebook features for communicating with students, they need to make sure instructors have the ability to configure those communications and opt out if necessary. The red Missing and Late labels contradicted the other messages students got from me; this was a very serious problem. So, I repeat: PRIMUM NON NOCERE — first, do no harm. It's one thing for the LMS to fail to have the features I want; I'm used to that. But this was far worse: the LMS was actively undermining my efforts to communicate with students about their course progress.

 

Keep calm and, first, do no harm.

 

So, those are some Gradebook thoughts for today. I'll be back with more... and for now I have to add: #TTOG (because there's always something new at the Teachers Throwing Out Grades stream at Twitter).


Unable to find a solution to the label bug, I propose the following:

Roll Missing label in Gradebook back to Beta 


 

So, the extra credit assignments for Week 5, which were due yesterday (Sunday) are no longer available now on Monday afternoon (the grace period lasts until noon on Monday)... and that means the latest set of incorrect and unwanted MISSING MISSING MISSING MISSING MISSING MISSING MISSING MISSING labels are now making my students feel like they failed to do something. The Canvas-Mind has no idea which assignments in my class are optional and which are not, so it is stupidly marking all the optional assignments as missing.

 

screenshot of missing labels

 

As I have explained elsewhere (here and here), these assignments are NOT missing. My students simply CHOSE not to do them.

 

But the Canvas-Mind, sadly, has no idea that there exists such a thing as student choice.

 

Slartibartfast: It is sometimes difficult to follow your mode of speech. I know little of this "student choice" of which you speak.

Slartibartfast: It is sometimes difficult to follow your mode of speech. I know little of this "student choice" of which you speak.

 

I'll have to write a blog post about that later this week: I think it's wonderful that Instructure brought the awesome Sheena Iyengar to speak at InstructureCon (I read her book and loved it), but it would be even better if Instructure listened to what she said and respected student choice as an important element of course design.

 

You can see my highlights from the book here at my Diigo page; one of my favorite parts of the book was Iyengar's early study about the role of choice in motivating students (Mrs. Smith is the teacher, who turned out to be the least motivating of the three experimental conditions: self-choice, teacher-choice, mother-choice):

 

the children who were allowed to choose their own anagrams and markers solved four times as many anagrams as when Ms. Smith made their choices for them, and two and a half times more than when their mothers supposedly chose for them.

 

Anyway, I have work to do, but I will return to this topic later. I'm determined to get some useful reflections out of this absurd Missing label mess, and reflecting back on student choice and Iyengar's wonderful book will be a good way to do that.

 

More later.

 

 

cover of Sheena Iyengar's Art of Choosing


Unable to find a solution, I propose the following:

Roll Missing label in Gradebook back to Beta 


On Monday afternoon, the new wave of red ink will come washing over my Gradebook, and my students will see another set of completely incorrect Missing labels for the extra credit assignments that they chose not to do. When I found out about this problem, I explained in the announcements and apologized, and I'll need to do another apology in Monday's announcements as the problem is ongoing, and looks worse and worse as more and more of the incorrect labels accumulate.

 

So far, there has been no (useful) response from Instructure here at the Community. I wrote a long blog post about this two weeks ago, and there are at least five different feature requests about this problem. Maybe there are more; these are the ones I've seen:

Allow "Missing" label to be enabled/disabled 

Missing Label Placed Incorrectly/Submission on paper and online option 

No MISSING label for zero-point assignments  

Instructor override of missing submission badge 

Manually graded or "EX" assignments still show as missing 

 

When it comes to missing labels on assignments that are NOT missing, I would consider this a bug, and one that urgently needs fixing; it is not a feature request. I personally don't want any of these red labels, I don't consider grace period assignments late, and I think "missing" is an ambiguous and unhelpful designator. Those are just my personal opinions, but the bug is a bug; it's not a matter of opinion: an assignment that is optional is NOT missing, assignments that are turned in manually and graded are NOT missing, etc.


Since I have not received any useful response from anyone at Instructure here at the Community (there was good discussion and comments... but I need to know when the bug will be fixed), I submitted a Help ticket through the Canvas platform. Maybe I will at least be able to find out if the new Gradebook will give me back control so that I can stop the display of incorrect labels. It is really upsetting to have Canvas interfering this way in my communications with students, and I am very disappointed that there is (apparently) nothing I can do about it right now.

 

Here is the message of the ticket I submitted:

Missing labels in Gradebook are INCORRECT
My students are upset that extra credit assignments are labeled "MISSING" in the Gradebook. I am also upset. Please tell me what I can do about this now. If there is nothing I can do (which I suspect is the case), then please tell me if the new Gradebook will fix this problem, allowing me to TURN OFF the missing labels.
Screenshot: https://imgur.com/a/NxaUD
Extra credit assignments are NOT missing. My students should not have the Gradebook shouting at them like this that they have missing assignments that ARE NOT MISSING.
Thank you for your help.

 

screenshot of missing labels

 


I hope I will get some useful information this way. I will update this post if/when I get a response.

 

I'm willing to do a lot of work to make the Canvas space useful for my students (and it takes a LOT of work)... but there is no solution I can find for this problem, and it is a very serious problem. Anything having to do with grades and grading is a very serious problem.

 

This is an ugly bug.

 

ugly bug banner

 

(ASU Dr. Biology)

 

=============

 

Update 1. I already got a response from Canvas support. It is not very supportive. Empathy much? I'm not sure it is even worth bothering to explain to "Bill" why this response is not adequate. I guess I will write back with this question:
PLEASE ANSWER MY QUESTION: Will the new Gradebook fix this problem, allowing me to TURN OFF the missing labels?

 

screenshot of Canvas response

 

=============

 

Update 2. Well, this is VERY disappointing. The new Gradebook will be just as bad as the old one when it comes to interfering with how instructors choose to communicate with students about their course progress. Pinging Beth Mccoy: heads up that the new Gradebook will not solve this problem after all.

For what it's worth, the feature request that Bill is sending me to is this one:

Allow "Missing" label to be enabled/disabled 

There are others (see above). But my point here is this:

REPORTING A BUG is not the same as requesting a feature.

 

canvas support screenshot

 

=============

 

Update 3. Bill continues to insist that this is a feature, not a bug. I continue to disagree.

 

screenshot of support response

 

My response:

An assignment that is NOT required CANNOT be "missing" — look it up in the dictionary; something is missing when it is expected or supposed to be present:
https://imgur.com/a/tum3f

My students are NOT expected or supposed to do the extra credit assignments; ergo, those assignments are NOT missing.

Even worse: the same label is being used correctly in the Gradebook (the required assignments that the students do not do are indeed "missing") while it is also being used incorrectly (the optional assignments are not missing). So, not only are you labeling assignments incorrectly, you are rendering the correct label useless because of the confusion between correct and incorrect use.

Those extra credit assignments DO have due dates, and I currently use the due date and available until date exactly as they are supposed to be used: the due date lets the students know when they should have completed the assignment (IF they are going to do it: their choice), and it also gives them a 12-hour grace period if they happen to miss that date for any reason. That is my approach to all assignments in the class, both the regular assignments and the extra credit options. That is the point of having the two dates: due date and available-until date. I am using the two dates properly, and I am very glad to have that option.

If you tell me that to fix your problem I must change my due dates, that is not acceptable. You need to fix your problem; my due dates are NOT the problem.

 

screenshot of dictionary definition of missing

 

=============

 

Update 4. Bill gave up and I got a much more empathetic response from Scott; it's clear this is not a priority for a fix by Canvas (i.e. it's a feature, not a bug), so I give up. I will manually change my dates. But apparently that does not work either, so I am awaiting further instructions.

 

canvas support screenshot

 

Thank you, Scott, for a reply that acknowledges there is a problem here. The canned replies from Bill that I received earlier did not really acknowledge the extremely frustrating situation.

If "Canvas cannot determine whether that assignment/quiz is optional or not" (as you rightly admit), then Canvas should NOT be slapping labels on things where you DO NOT KNOW whether the assignment is missing or not. That is why I say this is a bug: you are putting missing labels where they do not belong and, yes, there is no easy solution to that problem in the absence of more information, which is why this feature needs to be rolled back to beta until you figure out what to do. I am not the only person at the Community who has proposed that it be rolled back to beta.

I know how feature requests work, and I know how long it takes them to be implemented; my class lasts one semester; every week that you fail to provide a fix for this problem is a week that my students are being poorly served by this software. I personally would prefer not to have a red missing label anywhere in my Gradebook, but if you are going to put it there, then put it where the assignment really IS missing. Not on extra credit assignments.

So, let's say I implement your solution-not-a-solution which is to remove my due dates, because that is apparently the only solution I control.

When I tried it, though, it did not work. I opened a Week 3 extra credit assignment, and I made the due date box blank. I assume you can see the logs, so I will not document this with screenshots. here is the item:
https://canvas.ou.edu/courses/74381/quizzes/69741?module_item_id=1123551
I click Edit. The current due date is:
Sep 10 at 11:59pm
I blank that out so the current due date is BLANK.
I hit Save.
And all that does is change the due date to:
Sep 11 at 11:59am
Which is the available until date!
And that is no help at all; the item still shows up as Missing in the Student View of the Gradebook, but now the (new) due date that is there is the available until date. I sure as heck did not put that new due date there; Canvas did.

So you tell me: I'll sacrifice my time to go in and manually change the due dates every week after the week is over (8 assignments times 3 classes per week: 15 minutes of my life I will not get back, times 15 weeks; 4 hours down the drain), but apparently that does not even work.

So, I need you to tell me how exactly to remove the due date in order to remove the Missing label for past quizzes, because that's what I will do. I am awaiting instructions.

 

 

=============

 

Update 5. So, it turns out that what I was told at first is not correct: I cannot just manually remove the due date to remove the Missing label. At least, that seems to be the story now; at this point, I am not confident in anything that I am being told. I was prepared to suck it up and remove the due dates manually, week by week, but here's the email that tells me I have to remove BOTH the due date AND the available until date in order to remove the Missing label:

 

screenshot of support reply

 

Screenshot links provided in the email: 

2017-09-24_0939 

2017-09-24_0939 

 

And here's my response:

 

screenshot of my reply

 

=============

 

Update 6. I give up. I knew I was going to have to apologize to my students (again) on Monday, but I was hoping I could have some kind of weird fix OR a promise that it would get better with the new Gradebook. But it looks like there is no fix, and it will just be something broken that stays broken indefinitely. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Canvas has zero conception of STUDENT CHOICE and that they don't really care about my students' experience here... but I had hoped the Canvas difference would be apparent here.

It's not. Getting bad news quickly from Support does not meant the news is not bad.

 

From my fourth person in this Support conversation, James:

 

response to Canvas Support

 

My response:

 

response to Canvas Support

For me, this was like a dream come true: import my Kindle highlights into Diigo...!!! I saw this in the Diigo blog back in August but I did not have time to try it until today. I was sort of worried about how it would work because I have made highlights on so many books in my Kindle, and I didn't want them all. But Diigo's import system is great: you do it book by book, and Diigo saves all the highlights not as separate bookmarks (I was worried about that too), but just as annotations under a bookmark that it creates for the book you selected.

 

So, today I started reading Usha Narayana's brand-new book of Hindu legends about love, Prem Purana, and it worked perfectly. (And the book, by the way, is fantastic: Usha Narayanan is a wonderful writer!)

 

Here's the Diigo blog post with instructions:

a new way to retain knowledge from Kindle books

 

This is what my Kindle book page looks like for her book; I've only read the first two chapters; see the little Diigo button? You just press the button and, presto, the annotations go into Diigo. As you read more, it adds the new annotations (I tested that by reading Chapter 1, importing, and then I read Chapter 2 and imported; it worked!).

 

screenshot of Kindle highlights page for Usha Narayanan's book

 

So Diigo creates this nice bookmark with annotations. You can add your own "sticky notes" and you can also change the color coding on the annotations, so I changed the chapter headings that I had highlighted (to keep the annotations organized) to a different color. You can also move all of this into an outliner for lots more features, but I'm happy just with the annotations in the bookmark view (Diigo has a ton of features that I actually don't use, outliners being one of them).

Diigo link: kindle : Prem Purana: Mythological Love Stories (Usha Narayanan and Puja Singhal) 

 

 

You can then get a link to a full-page view of that bookmark, which is what I used to make it appear in Canvas via the Redirect Tool. The course and page are public, so click and see for yourself:

Kindle: Prem 

 

As I've explained in previous posts for #network2017 , I use the RSS from my students' blogs to run a class network which can be displayed, for example, in Canvas as a live blog stream (Myth - India). In addition to their blogs, the students also publish separate websites with the ir class projects. They choose the platform; here are the web publishing options that I recommend. Some of those options have RSS, but others do not.

 

So, this creates a dilemma: I want the projects to feel like they are part of the class "network," but without RSS I cannot make that work in quite the same way as the blogs. Based on what I've learned about Diigo this summer, though, I realized that I could use Diigo RSS for this task. This weekend is when the students are setting up their websites, and sure enough: the Diigo solution works! I now have a "Project Stream" in Canvas, just like with the "Blog Stream" — here are the links: Myth-Folklore Projects and Indian Epics Projects.

 

The way that it works is that as the students turn in their websites, I bookmark the websites in Diigo, and I will also bookmark new stories as they add them. That's what shows up in the stream: the Diigo bookmarks, with the images that I add to the Diigo entries. I also have index pages at the class wiki, and I embedded the Diigo RSS stream there too: Myth-Folklore Project Index and Indian Epics Project Index.

 

This is actually going to be really nice for me because not only does it create the class project stream, it also gives me Diigo bookmarks that I can work with in other ways. I've already got some ideas for how to take advantage of that!

 

But for now, I just wanted to announce the arrival of project streams for my classes. That will be fun news to share with the students in tomorrow's announcements! I wonder how many students will notice the new menu item on their own... :-)

 

project stream screenshot

So, here is the Week 3 installation in Story of a Blog Network for Fall 2017, and i made a tag so that you can easily access the prior posts in this series: network2017 (not sure if that will work). Here's the URL just in case:

https://community.canvaslms.com/people/laurakgibbs/blog/tags#/?tags=network2017

 

Today I want to write about what is the most difficult aspect of the blog network for me, which is using it as a space not just for students to publish their work online but also as a space where students can connect and share ideas by commenting on each other's blogs. Blogs are not an ideal conversation space; in fact, they leave a lot to be desired that way... but discussion boards are pretty terrible too, so I'm willing to live with the fact that back-and-forth at a blog is not all that it could be. The main problem that occupies my attention is, instead, distribution of comments. I really want there to be a dense class-wide network, but that is not always easy to achieve. I have come to rely on RANDOMNESS as the best way to achieve that density, and it works pretty well. Over time, the power of randomness means that the comments are well distributed throughout the class, and it also means that students get to meet lots of other students. Doing the commenting at random is not perfect, and in a later post I'll talk about some of the problems with this system, how it evolved, etc. But for today, I will just describe how the blog commenting works in my classes.

 

So, here's how it goes:

 

Each week, students are posting in their blogs (reading notes, a story, other assignments), and there is also a blog commenting assignment. Here's how a week looks overall: Week 3 assignmentsFor the blog commenting assignment, which they can do any time during the week, they go to a page which has a randomizer; each time the page loads, they see a link to the Introduction post and that week's story by a student in their class; here it is for Week 3: Blog Comments.

screenshot of blog comments assignment

 

The idea is that each student comments on two students' blogs each week: one comment on the story post, and one comment on the introduction post, for two people which makes a total of four comments. Commenting on the introduction is really important; that's how they get to know each other as people. Over time, people will have commented on more and more introduction posts by people in their class (especially in my smaller class, Indian Epics, which just has 30 students, opposed to 60 students in Myth-Folklore); when they've met the person they are randomly assigned to already and have commented on their introduction, they can just choose some other post at the person's blog to comment on. And that's fun: there are always lots of cool posts to comment.

 

So, as you can see, with each person commenting on two other people at random, my hope is that everybody will get at least ONE set of comments. Randomization is powerful that way! Most people get two sets of comments, and almost almost everybody gets at least one set of comments. The odds of someone getting no comments are quite low. But it can and does happen, especially because not everybody does the comment assignment, and I make sure to let the students know to just be patient because the blog commenting will even itself out over time. It actually helps that not everybody does the story assignment in a given week, while that person might do comments (in fact, they really need to since they are already missing points from having skipped the story assignment). That works in my favor, and so does the extra credit blog commenting option (some students really enjoy the social aspect of class, so they can do an extra set of comments every week if they want). 

 

In a post next week, I'll explain in more detail the advantages and disadvantages of this approach. It has evolved over time, and I'm still not 100% happy with it, but I would definitely rate it as good enough. Students really do enjoy the unpredictability of the randomizer: whose name will magically appear? No one knows until, presto, you see the name on the screen and click!

 

How I make the randomizer. I use RotateContent.com to create the randomizer, as I do all my random content. I do not know what I would do without this tool which a genius student built for me over 10 years ago (his name is Randy, and he built a randomizer: clearly, cosmic forces were at work there!). For the blog comments, I create a new javascript for each class each week, but that goes very quickly, because I use a spreadsheet to do that.

 

spreadsheet screenshot

 

As you can see, the spreadsheet has html columns plus variable data columns; each week, the only new data that I add is a link to the current story in the person's blog (or I leave that blank if they do not have a story); all the content of all the other columns stays the same. The process of pasting in those story URLs is manual, and it takes me about 20=30 minutes; I click on the story label link that I have already for each blog, and then grab the URL of the current week's story to paste into the spreadsheet. That is actually time well spent, though, because it means I quickly visit each blog to see the latest story and just generally keep an eye on things. I read the blog stream in Inoreader usually, which means I don't see the actual blogs, so it's fun to see what people are also doing with blog design! This also gives me a record of which students are missing the story assignment from week to week, along with other data tracking I can do here. I built the spreadsheet to support the randomizer, but it's turned out to be useful in those other ways too.

 

So, after I've got the story URLs in their column, I can then copy-and-paste all the columns that constitute the table into an HTML file (HTML doesn't mind all the stupid tabs that come along with copying-and-pasting from a spreadsheet), and then RotateContent.com converts the file to a javascript which I upload to my webspace and embed in the assignment instructions. That all sounds way worse than it is; this part of the process takes less than 5 minutes.

 

The results. If you are curious you can see the actual comment stream. Blogs like Blogger and WordPress offer separate streams for the blog comments, so I am able to subscribe with Inoreader and see all the comments go by in nearly-real-time, and it's fun to take a look just to see how it's all going. During this part of the semester, students are commenting on blog posts in a mostly social way; in a few weeks, the project websites will be going up, and in addition to these social comments, there will be another commenting activity, more in-depth, for commenting on projects. I'll write up a blog post about that when it gets started — and, yes, that assignment also will have a randomizer.

 

So, for me the power of random works pretty well, but not perfectly (more about those problems in a later post). I'm curious how other people manage this. For me, one of the very frustrating things about LMS discussion boards is that they don't usually have a randomizer OR a "see threads with no replies" option, something to help make sure that comments are well distributed. What kinds of options are there in Canvas to make sure student comments and connections are spread throughout a class to create a solid network...? This is an aspect of my class that I'm always working on, but I'm happy with this current solution because it requires less than an hour of my time each week, and it creates a good commenting experience for all the students, especially as they connect and reconnect from week to week.

 

Just call me... Doctor Random!

cartoon shows Doctor Random is in or out

(Cartoon by Sumanta Baruah)

People who know me here already know that I am a huge fan of Twitter for class content (images! video! so much goodness), so I am very happy that Twitter works really nicely in Canvas. You can embed Twitter widgets in Canvas quickly and easily (here's an example: An #InstCon Twitter Widget in Under 5 Minutes ), and the way my Twitter content shows up in Twitter is because I have Twitter in the sidebar of my Announcements blog, and I use that blog as the homepage in both my classes. They're open, so you can click and see: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics. (I use the same Announcements blog for both classes because, in a sense, it is all just one big class; the only difference is what the students are reading in each class.) In the screenshot below, the Twitter stream is there to the right, with a fabulous music video from Karsh Kale at the top of the Twitter stream. What I want to write about in this post is a fun new thing I am doing with the Announcements: I've added a feature called "From yesterday's Twitter" and I use that as a chance for me to scroll through the previous day's items at the class Twitter account, choosing one to feature in the Announcements. In this screenshot from today's announcements, that item is Madeline L'Engle:

 

Canvas course screenshot

 

I cannot believe I did not think of doing this sooner! Here are some of the reasons I am very happy about this new feature:

 

1. It is fun for me! Yes, I am selfish enough to put that reason first. I really enjoy looking back over the past day's Twitter activity to see which item I most want to share again via the announcements.

 

2. It highlights excellent content. I like to think that all the content I share with the students via the Twitter account is useful in some way, but it's also good to find the really exceptional content to feature. Like in that screenshot: that graphic about Madeline L'Engle and the way she had to persist as a writer is perfect for my class in so many ways. Right now my students notice the Twitter feed in a very random way, and they might not notice it at all (and that's okay; it's totally "extra" in terms of the class content), but this gives them a second chance at some good Twitter stuff. Plus, I can link to the specific tweet so that students who want to explore can also get some ideas about good people to follow at Twitter; this item comes from Debbie Ridpath Ohi, one of my favorite artists at Twitter.

 

3. It reinforces the idea of Twitter as a valuable content source. I don't really use Twitter for conversations and socializing as much as other teachers do (I'm too verbose, as you can see from this blog, ha ha; I mostly socialize online at Google+ where verbosity is not a problem), but I find so much excellent content at Twitter, both for my classes (some of the Indian authors we read are at Twitter!), and also for my professional development as a teacher. I really want my students to know that Twitter can be used in this way, for educational and professional purposes. When students do share their Twitter accounts with me, my impression is that they mostly use it for socializing, although every once in a while I will see students using Twitter for educational / professional purposes, which make me happy: digital literacy for real!

 

4. It takes no time. It takes me maybe a few minutes to add this content to my Announcements. Almost all the fun/exploration content in the Announcements blog is recycled in this way. Before, though, I recycled content for the Announcements from my own blogs; some of that content also comes from Twitter of course, but with a time delay since I don't have as much time to blog during the school year. I don't know why I didn't realize how easy it would also be to recycle directly from Twitter! For more about recycled blogs in my Announcements, see this CanvasLIVE: Blog-as-Homepage CanvasLIVE Slides

 

I made other kinds of experimental adjustments to the Announcements for the new semester, some of which are working pretty well, others I am lukewarm about... but adding "yesterday's Twitter" is something that I really like, and I can already tell I will be doing this every semester!


Unable to find a solution, I propose the following:

Roll Missing label in Gradebook back to Beta 


Last week I received inexplicable (at first) emails from students worrying about how the class was going. For example: "Am I supposed to be doing all the assignments? I thought you told me I could choose." The student felt betrayed, and I could not even figure out why they thought anything was wrong. It is now the third week of school, and I work really hard during the first couple of weeks helping students get used to a class in which they choose which assignments they want to do, choose their grade, record their work: they are in charge of all that; I am just here to provide feedback along the way (here's how it works).

 

I was baffled: why on earth would they think they are supposed to do all the assignments when I had explained very carefully how the choice system works? I rarely hear questions from students that I've never heard before (I've been teaching these online classes since 2002). So, when I got the first email, I couldn't figure it out. No student had ever thought they were supposed to do all the assignments. When I got the second email, I knew something had to be wrong: "Canvas is telling me that I'm missing a lot of assignments..." the student wrote.

 

How could Canvas be "telling" the students something about their class progress that was different from what I had told them?

 

Well, I checked the student view and then I saw what they meant. Canvas is telling them they have assignments missing that are NOT missing. And it is doing so in red ink, the scourge of grading everywhere; because they had optional assignments starting in Week 2, it was during Week 3 that they saw the bloodbath in the Gradebook. Of course they worried; wouldn't you worry if you saw this all of a sudden after the teacher had told you to relax and not worry about your grade?

 

screenshot of missing extra credit assignments

 

This is NOT acceptable, and I am not the only one who thinks so. You can read the messages from other instructors who are dismayed for their own reasons here:

 

Update: I keep adding new requests related to this problem as I find them, and this accumulation is a case in point where the feature request system is not working as it should; instead of one feature request after another after another, we need Instructure to get out in front of this proactively.


Allow "Missing" label to be enabled/disabled 
and here:

Missing Label Placed Incorrectly/Submission on paper and online option 

and another:

No MISSING label for zero-point assignments  

and another:

Instructor override of missing submission badge 

Oh look: another one!

Manually graded or "EX" assignments still show as missing 

 

Based on what I see there, I would call this a major screw-up even for people who use traditional grading. My approach to grading is non-traditional, and it's a major screw-up for me too. In this blog post, I am going to give my top 5 reasons for being deeply dismayed by this new Canvas feature, and be sure to check out those other discussions for additional problems and complaints from other teachers based on their own reasons.

 

Here are my reasons:

 

1. Red ink is not acceptable. Let me be clear: red ink is completely absolutely totally NOT acceptable. How does that make you feel? Terrible, right? The use of red in this way reinforces the worst possible traditions of grading. An innovative start-up calls itself NoRedInk (noredink.com) because they recognize that the red ink message is a negative one. Here's an NPR report: "the people with red pens assigned lower grades than the people with blue pens." Canvas should know better. Students need positive reinforcement, and there is nothing positive about big, ugly red ink messages.

My whole grading system is based on the philosophy of forward progress, keep on swimming, learn from mistakes, grow and improve. Students bring plenty of negative baggage to my classes already (I teach writing); I do not need Canvas to be adding to that negative baggage. I work very hard in my course materials to communicate supportive, affirming messages to my students everywhere and at all times. Canvas is ruining my efforts, as those emails last week from the students show: that red ink in the Gradebook is enough to make them doubt everything I have said to them so far in the course. They have been taught that the Gradebook is the most important thing, and the red ink is what matters most. So when they saw the first "missing" messages (which popped up after Week 2 closed on Monday at noon), they worried. Understandably.

And here's what's worse: now that I know there is a problem, there is nothing I can do about it, except to apologize. And I don't mind apologizing to students for my own mistakes (because I can honestly promise to do better), but I really do not like having to apologize to my students for Canvas's mistakes, especially since I have no idea if Canvas will fix this mistake or not. 


2. The "Missing" label is WRONG; as the instructor I need to be able to fix this mistake. These assignments are NOT missing; the Canvas label is just plain wrong. For my classes, the assignments that are blank are blank FOR A REASON: my students can CHOOSE not to do the assignment. The assignment is NOT missing; the label is a mistake. Since I know this to be the case, I need to be able to fix the mistake and turn off that label. I have written previously (blanks-not-zeroes) about how much I appreciate the fact that in the Gradebook spreadsheet view, blanks really are just that: blanks. Not zeros, not a problem, nothing at all: they are just blanks. That is also what I need in this Student Grade view: BLANKS, not a red-ink label that tells my students something is wrong.


3. The "Missing" label is not actionable for students. Grades are usually very poor feedback because they are not actionable; they do not really give students specific help about what to do next and/or what to do differently. So, in addition to being flat-out wrong, this "missing" label is also not actionable: what exactly is a student supposed to do if an assignment is "missing"? If you want to send people a message, make it clear. This is not a clear message, which is why I got frantic emails from my students about it. Was something missing? How can they fix it? What are they supposed to do? I have to tell them that there is nothing they can do... except to ignore the label. Which, being splashed on the screen in red ink, is pretty hard to ignore.

 

4. The "Late" label is also punitive; as such, it should be up to the teacher to display it or not. I am a big fan of the soft/hard deadline option in Canvas, which I call the "grace period" (details). I consider it a no-questions-asked extension that the students can use as needed. THEIR WORK IS NOT LATE. If they turn it in during the grace period, that means everything worked out, and we should all be happy about that. If a student is using the grace period all the time, I might choose to write them about it to see what's going on, or I might not. There's nothing mechanical about it; every situation is different, and I ponder that in the context of the student's work in general. After all, I tell them the grace period is there for them to use when they need it; it's their choice, not mine (get it? choice? see that theme recurring here? my students are adults; they deserve to be able to make as many choices as possible about their learning). Canvas is not helping me with that message by slapping an ugly "late" label on work that is not late; it was turned in during what I call the grace period. Which is fine. I'm glad that the student was able to get the work turned in; I am not red-ink angry about it, and Canvas is sending them a wrong message. So, again, I will have to just ask them to please try to ignore the Late label. Everything is okay. Really. It's okay. DESPITE what the Gradebook says. 

 

late label screenshot

 

5. This new "feature" constrains and stifles creative instructional design. We face real problems in teaching and learning that require new approaches: motivation, inclusion, equity... to name just a few. This one-size-fits-none tradition-bound approach (RED INK for crying out loud) is a real setback for those of us who are trying to find better solutions (see #TTOG for lots of ideas). It was already very frustrating to watch Instructure pour most of its time, energy and other precious resources into the Gradebook and Quizzes rather building more flexible, innovative learning environments. I was thinking that perhaps the arrival of the much-trumpeted new Gradebook might be something to look forward to, but now I suspect things may get worse, not better, for those of us who are trying very hard to find new/better ways to communicate with our students about their learning.

 

So, I'm pinging Jared Stein because if this is supposed to be helpful data analytics, I have to say: for me it is not helpful at all. The other analytics I can just ignore (I've written before how irrelevant grade-based analytics are for me: More Visible Learning, NOT More Visible Grades)... but this is something I cannot ignore. Because my students cannot ignore it.

 

I am sooooooo not happy. Everything was going really well at the start of this new school year. Until now.

 

Because now I have to figure out just what to say to my students when I apologize in the class announcements and ask them to please ignore these incorrect labels all over their Gradebook...

I discovered Padlet last spring semester too late to make it a part of my classes, although I experimented with some different ways I could use it. This year I was able to start off with Padlet right at the beginning, and I am using it to collect thoughts from my students' growth mindset blog posts. So, I created the Padlet, and I'm using Inoreader to keep track of which growth mindset blog posts I have read / not read (Inoreader automatically assigns a "needquote" tag to the posts as they come in; when I grab a quote from a post, I remove that tag). Slowly but surely, as I have time from day to day, I will add items to the Padlet from the blog posts, and I can make that Padlet part of my Canvas classes. Padlet and Canvas play very nicely together!

 

Here's the Padlet: Growth Mindset, and here you can see it inside a Canvas course (the course is open so you can click and look). It's not connected via any links to the actual blog posts (you can see that blog stream here if you are curious); instead, the Padlet is more like an anthology of quotes that I am hoping will have a general appeal, and it'sl also something I can save from semester to semester. (I started doing something like this last spring near the end of the semester, but without the pictures; it's better with pictures!)

 

canvas padlet screenshot

 

I just used the Redirect Tool to display the Padlet in all three of my Canvas courses — you can use iframe or the integration, but the Redirect Tool is the quickest and easiest way for my purposes here. One thing I really like is that this is a Padlet with quotes from students across my three courses because it is the same assignment. In a lot of ways, my classes really are all the same, just with different reading options based on whether it is a section of Myth-Folklore or a section of Indian Epics. Growth mindset applies equally to all!

 

For an example of iframe, you can see the same Padlet in my Growth Mindset Canvas course. There I wanted to explain where the quotes are coming from, and the iframe let me put that information above the Padlet display. If you want to give the Padlet some context, iframe is definitely the way to go!

 

iframe padlet screenshot

 

 

So, now I've got a place where I can collect items from my students' blog posts throughout the semester, and that in turn can be a topic for students to post about because one of the growth mindset blog challenges is to browse the Padlet and look for thought-provoking quotes.

 

I always enjoy reading the students' growth mindset posts and now, by being able to share quotes from those posts in a new way, I can help make those posts valuable to other students. So, that is motivating for me, and I hope that will also motivate more students to share their own thoughts as they complete growth mindset challenge blog posts.

 

I'll report back later in the semester about how this experiment is going. This was a fun way to end the week, and I hope everybody has a great weekend ahead! :-)