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

I'll be gone next week, so I've actually spent this last weekend of 2017 finishing up some materials for my Spring classes, and I wanted to write up one more blog post here to share something about the power of YouTube playlists (see previous post also: Video Libraries: YouTube, Embedding, RSS & Canvas).


The Playlists. I've reorganized and updated four playlists that I use for my classes: Growth Mindset, HEART, Writing, and Indian Music (those links go to the YouTube playlist display). Each of the Growth Mindset, HEART, and Writing videos has a blog post that goes with it because I use those as challenges for different kinds of class assignments, but the Indian Music videos are just a regular playlist for enjoyment. I embed each of those playlists in the class website that they go with (Mindset, HEART, Writing Lab, and Indian Reading). There are lots more videos I want to add, so if I have some spare time in the weeks to come, I'll be adding some new videos that I've got bookmarked.


Refreshing the Playlists. First thing each morning, I just pop a new video up to the top of each playlist (it takes less than a minute to do that for all four of them), so that means there is a new video on display each day in each of those class blogs. Same blog, same playlist... but a new video on display because the embedded playlist starts at the top of the list.


Class Announcements. But what about my Class Announcements blog? I don't want to put all four videos in the sidebar... that would take up too much space. But I do want to feature the videos in the sidebar somehow. So, I created a randomizer to do that! It's a simple randomizer: just an HTML table with four rows, and in the content column I put the same sidebar widget content at each of the four separate blogs. I use to turn my HTML table into a randomizing javascript, and I put that in the sidebar of the Class Announcements blog. Now, at random, students will see one of those four playlists displayed each time they visit the class announcements! Screenshot:


class announcements screenshot


I also created an iframe version that works in Canvas, not so much because anybody else would want to use it (especially with the Indian Music, the content is very specific to my classes), but more just as an example of how this can work in Canvas. You can see it in action at the Widget Warehouse: Combo Playlists. Here's a screenshot:


combo playlist widget screenshot


I used the 200-pixel version for the sidebar of my blogs (and the videos are indeed playable in that small version), but for the Canvas version, I created a 400-pixel-wide version (you could create an even wider version if you want, of course; the YouTube default is currently 560 pixels, and you can adjust that however you want). As you can see, the video is fully playable right there in Canvas, and I've also got a link to take students to the playlist itself (I prefer the old playlist display, where it's possible to put a note with each item):


Happy! Okay, I need to go pack for my trip so I am not going to get into any more nitty-gritty details of how this works, but if you have questions, let me know, and I'll be glad to write out something more like a step by step explanation. For now, I will just say that I am really happy for how this is working: you never know just when a student might connect with a given video and use it to learn something new, and I like using the power of playlists AND the power of random to try to increase the chances that this might happen for my students next semester!


The playlist I worked on the most today was the Writing Lab one so I will close with one of the creativity videos I included there, an RSA-Animate from Matthew Taylor: enjoy!


As we get near to January 1 (my favorite holiday; I love new beginnings!), I wanted to write another #ReflectBlog post here. I'll be traveling next week and in airports on Monday, so this weekend is going to have to provide my end/begin-the-new-year reflection time. For that new year reflection, I always like to invoke the Roman god Janus who gives his name to the month of the near year: January (see also Janus in Adam's first day of Canvasmas). Janus is the source of our English word "janitor" which, in Latin, meant a "doorkeeper," someone who guards the doorway, the "janua" ... and when you look at the god Janus you can see how that works: the doorway is a magical place that looks backwards and forwards, just like the god Janus does:


Janus on coin


(There's also a goddess of door-hinges, Cardea, but I don't want to get too weird here; the Romans were incredibly superstitious and they had an endless supply of gods and goddesses to make you stop and think about everything you thought, felt, or did. There was even a goddess called Tiredness: Fessonia.)


So... the word re-flection means looking-back (like return is turning back, repay is pay back, etc.). There's also a word in Latin for looking forward: pro-videntia, which contracts to form the word prudentia, a.k.a. English "prudence," a word that doesn't get the respect it deserves in my opinion! Reflection is looking back, and prudence is looking forward: put them together, and you have a powerful way to start any new project, which is from Latin pro-jectum, literally "throwing yourself forward" into something new.


Updating the project archive. And in the spirit of reflection, yesterday I did one of my favorite end-of-semester/start-of-semester activities: looking back on last semester in order to update the student Storybook archive. You can see the static list of links for my two classes here: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics. And, of course, I updated randomizers! You can see the randomizers here in the Canvas Widget Warehouse; I know those widgets are probably not something other people would actually use (the other widgets are very much meant for others to use!), but I put it there in the Warehouse really just to inspire other people to make their own archives of student work to share with future students.


canvas widget screenshot


And the randomizers can go anywhere: I feature the student projects from both classes in the daily Announcements (see the sidebar), and there are also student projects in the sidebar of my Writing Laboratory site too. There are probably other places where I have embedded the widgets that I don't even remember... and that's the great thing about widgets, of course. I don't have to remember where I embedded them; I just update the script and, presto, it updates everywhere automatically.


Value for me. For me, reviewing the past projects allows me to revisit last semester in a totally positive way: the students brainstormed topics, then picked which way they wanted to go (some do Storybooks, and some go for a Portfolio option instead), and then they created their websites, and then they worked on those websites, story by story, page by page, all semester long, and I was there for every part of the journey, cheering them along. The same magic will happen again next semester, starting on January 9 (which is why I was in a rush this past week to get my classes ready to go; I'll take my holiday trip next week and then as soon as I get back, it's Week 0 and the soft start of a new semester for any students who want to begin early).


Value for students. For the students, visiting the archive of projects is a key activity in Week 1 of the class: when they see the projects of past students, that is the first step in imagining what their own project could be. It's a Janus thing: looking back, looking forward. Here's how that assignment works and, yes, it features the randomizers as a fun way to explore the hundreds of projects in the archive: Browsing the Storybooks. I can put the two classes side by side there:


screenshot of random projects


The Big Picture. Of course, you can only see so far into the future (not very far really) and you can also only see so far into the past; especially on the Internet, nothing lasts forever. Every semester a few students take their projects offline, which I totally understand (life moves one!), and I am really grateful that the large majority of students do choose to leave their work online. Over the long run, though, all the projects do disappear, which is something I've been thinking about as Google transitions from the old Google Sites into the new Google Sites. Eventually (I think in 2019?) the old Google Sites are going to be taken offline, and when that happens, all the hundreds of Google Sites built by my students will disappear. On the one hand, that makes me sad, but I've been through this once before, and way worse: back in 2010, my school purged the student web server without warning in early August, and I lost hundreds of student projects overnight, right before the semester started; it was the single worst moment of my online teaching career. That's when I switched to recommending Google Sites to my students, and slowly but surely, the site archive grew, semester by semester, until there were, once again, hundreds of sites for the students to browse and explore.


Learning to let go. I learned a lot from that experience: by not hanging on too tightly to the past, I opened myself up to a bigger future, moving forward instead of staying put. The way my school handled the shutdown was a nightmare (Google, by comparison, is doing a better job: transition update), but now, seven years later, I can say that the change was ultimately a good thing because it made me redesign my class in some very good ways, and it also prepared me for future changes to come. I had a good run with my school's student web server for ten years, and then I had a good run with the classic Google Sites for about seven years, and now I've had a good first year with the new Google Sites, and I look forward to another five or six years with this system... and then who knows what will come next!


Looking ahead. There are already 60 Storybooks built with the new Google Sites in the archive, and I'll have time to ponder if I want to archive any of the old Google Sites before they disappear. I love having a big archive of student work but, to be honest, an archive of just those 60 new Google Sites would already be big enough for the students to use in getting started... and I'll have more sites to add at the end of this Spring semester too, and also next Fall before the old Google Sites disappear. So really, no worries: I have a lot of personal favorites among the old Google Sites, but I'll be ready to let them go when the time comes, remembering them fondly. 


Lessons learned. As on the Internet, of course, so too with life itself: new things come to you every day, and you are always letting go of things that vanish into the past. Embracing new things for me is easier than letting go of old things (hey, I'm trained as a classicist: I love the old things!)... but I know that this new year to come will be full of both, like every year: embracing and letting go, both in life and online.


Which brings me back to the god Janus, who teaches us to say both hello and goodbye, maybe even both at the same time. Here are some more depictions of Janus to ponder:


depictions of Janus, facing forward and backward


And since I teach a course in Indian Epics, I also have to give a shout-out to the creator god Brahma, with his faces facing in all directions (he used to have one looking up too, but that got chopped off; long story...) — here's Brahma on the left with his consort Saraswati (goddess of wisdom), along with the gods Vishnu and Shiva and their consorts, Lakshmi and Parvati (goddesses of prosperity and of power).


Indian gods and goddesses


And now........

Happy New Year, everybody, 

with best wishes for January

and all the months that come after!

I'll be traveling next week, so I've been scrambling to update my classes for Spring 2018, and so far, so good! I don't make a lot of changes to the classes over winter break, but I've been doing some updating, including the very fun task of updating some of my randomizing widgets with new graphics from blog posts added since I last updated the widgets a year ago.


So, yesterday I worked on the H.E.A.R.T. graphics (about health/happiness, empathy, attention, reading, and time — I have a separate set of graphics for writing). There is a blog that supports those graphics — H.E.A.R.T. — so that each graphic has a blog post of its own. Some of the posts have just basic information about the source/creator of the graphic, while other posts have more elaborate commentary.


By creating the randomizing widget, it means I can use these graphics throughout my class spaces: in the sidebars of blogs, on the weekly assignment pages at the wiki, and also in Canvas. I've made Canvas-friendly versions of the widgets for anyone to use:
H.E.A.R.T. (all 100+ graphics)
Reading (subset of appx. 40 graphics)
Time (subset of appx. 20 graphics)


screenshot of Time widget in Canvas


Those links take you to pages at the Canvas Widget Warehouse which has links to the iframe/javascript you can copy-and-paste into any Canvas course, plus links to the raw source tables I use to generate the widget so that you can browse and just snag individual graphics if you want; I choose graphics that I think will resonate with my students, but YMMV, in which case you can choose from my graphics, add your own, and create your own widgets. I use the fabulous free tool built by Randy Hoyt, one of my students of long ago:


I really appreciate what these randomizers do for my class content: this way, whenever students come to one of the class spaces, whatever it might be, the odds are that they will see something new; it's never just the "same old, same old." Plus, you never know when somebody will really connect with one of these graphics, either because of the words or the image or both. There's a link that goes with every graphic so, best of all, a student might even click and visit the blog and keep on learning more. I'm increasingly convinced that the most important experience I can offer my students has to do with their habits and beliefs, more than explicit content and skills, and these kinds of graphics are a way for me to tap into that level of self-awareness and, hopefully, their motivation to explore and grow.


This is also part of my own growth as a teacher, too, of course! I collected graphics for years, and then a few years ago I decided to create the H.E.A.R.T. blog to house them, and then I created some challenges to weave these materials into my classes. Then, just last December, I built the Canvas Widget Warehouse with the randomizers to share, and now, this year, I am happily in maintenance mode, just adding new materials that I've bookmarked at Diigo. There are always new things to add when I have time... and finding time is one of the themes of the blog, appropriately enough.


And now, on to today's task: working on the writing support materials for my classes, and updating the Writing randomizer. I'll be back with news about that tomorrow if all goes well. :-)


Meanwhile, I cannot include the dynamic javascript here in Jive, but I will include two of my favorite new graphics that manage to convey the message with images only, no words. These are by Caro Martini, and you can see more of her wonderful work at this Tumblr: My Whispered Colors.



I had an intriguing back-and-forth with someone at Google+ yesterday where I was complaining about how the LMSes (including Canvas) were not built with content management as a central feature; instead, content management features are secondary to enrollment management, which is why we have "new" courses every semester (because there are new students), as opposed to the idea of true course spaces that would persist from semester to semester, while students come and go. The result encourages content copying instead of real content management; every semester, instructors log on to their LMS, see their new, empty courses, and they dutifully copy content from a past iteration of the course. I won't get into the gorey details but, suffice to say, that is NOT a good way to management content.


Because the LMS is not a good place to develop content over the long run, I have never kept content in the LMS (not in WebCT, not in Blackboard, not in D2L, and not in Canvas... yes, I am an online teaching dinosaur who has survived one LMS after another). What makes Canvas different, though, is that Canvas is open and puts a premium on connecting with other tools, so I can use real tools to develop and maintain my content, and then use Canvas to deploy that content inside a Canvas course space. I don't upload content to Canvas... but I can display that content inside Canvas, while also being able to display it outside of Canvas and share it widely on the real Internet.


I have lots of different kinds of content that I create and manage, and as an example I thought I would write here about how I build and maintain YouTube video libraries. I just finished working on my Growth Mindset collection of videos (removing ones that didn't really seem to click with students, adding new ones that I hope they will like), and I am sure everybody can find some YouTube resources that are valuable to them. So, I am going to give an overview here of how I create and build YouTube video libraries, and how I display that in Canvas and elsewhere.


I'll start off with the options for displaying in Canvas! I've created a Growth Mindset Canvas course (open!),


screenshot of canvas course


and you'll see a YouTube playlist right there on the front page. It displays the current contents of the playlist, so as I add new videos and/or rearrange the videos, that new content will display there automatically in Canvas; I don't have to do anything. You can watch the video that comes first, or you can browse through the list right there in the embedded playlist, moving to the video you want to watch, etc. (And yes, that's a random cat below the playlist, so those are both pieces of dynamic content right there on the homepage... neither of which is "in" Canvas; the playlist is an example of embedding, and the random cats are a javascript.)


I also have a Diigo Library which shows the latest items I have collected to share with my students — videos, along with articles at other websites, plus infographics that I have transcribed at my own blog. Here's what it looks like in Canvas at the moment:


screenshot of Diigo Library


I say at the moment because this is a live stream; it changes automatically whenever I add something to the Diigo stream: a new article online, a new video, or a new infographic that I've transcribed.


The two technologies that make this possible are embedding (the YouTube playlist is embedded) and RSS (the content that comes from Diigo is a form of RSS, which is most commonly associated with blogs but which you can also find at other websites like Diigo and here at our own Jive Community platform).


And here's my workflow that lets me take advantage of both embedding and RSS:


1. Find videos. I bookmark videos all the time with Diigo. If there is any chance at all I think I might use a video, I bookmark it with the tag #dovideo. Then, later on when I have time (like now!), I go through the things I bookmarked to see what I really want to use.


2. Blog the best videos. When I find a good video I want to use, I create a blog post for it at my Growth Mindset blog and embed the video in the blog post. For my purposes, having the blog post is very useful: I can include a link to a transcript, along with additional information that will help my students put the video in context. Over time, I can go back and add more to the blog post, especially when I see what the students think of the video, what intrigues them most about it, etc.


3. Record in spreadsheet. I then put the blog post URL and title in a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is the key to being able to keep track of the resource and to re-use it in lots of different ways. I keep ALL my class videos in this spreadsheet. That allows me to use a video every day in the class announcements (in Canvas), using the spreadsheet to keep track of which videos I've used so far in the semester, etc.


4. Bookmark in Diigo. I then bookmark the blog post in Diigo. Diigo is kind of like my "catalog" of stuff, and the tags in Diigo allow me to sort and filter, displaying customized lists of resources to students without having to actually create the list: I just select the relevant tags that generate the list I want. I make sure to include a brief annotation, along with a thumbnail image; the images help students differentiate one item on the list from another. So, for example, one of the Growth Mindset Challenges is to choose a video and write about it, and the students browse the Video Library at Diigo to find the video they want to watch. Here is that video assignment; and here is the Diigo Video Library that students use to complete that assignment. 


5. Inoreader. Inoreader automatically harvests my new items from Diigo and displays them wherever I have put the Inoreader RSS-to-HTML feed, like in the Canvas course page:  Diigo Library. I don't have to do anything; it's automatic.


6. Playlist. I add the video to the YouTube playlist, along with a note that contains the link to the blog post. I wish YouTube Playlists had been support for annotations and links, but it works good enough for my purposes. A few times a week, I "jiggle" the playlist, moving the oldest video up to the top. That way, it refreshes the content wherever the playlist is embedded, like in the Canvas course, or in the sidebar of my blogs where I might have embedded the playlist. It takes just a second to pop a new video up to the top and, presto, that changes the playlist display everywhere it's embedded, like in the sidebar of my growth mindhset blog. Or wherever anyone has embedded it: there's nothing private about it. Feel free to snag the videos yourself and use them in your own playlists! I've written more about YouTube Playlists in Canvas here and in a CanvasLIVE:

Amplify YouTube with Playlists 


Although that looks complicated, it takes just a few minutes to add a new video to my collection: blog it, bookmark it, add it to the playlist. Less than 10 minutes, based on whether or not I re-watch the video as part of the process — I sang along to the Shakira video while I was blogging about it today for example. :-)


All the rest is digital magic provided by the tools I am using... and I am very glad that Canvas plays so nicely with those tools, allowing me to show content in Canvas if I want, while also allowing me to display that same content wherever I want out on the wide world of the Internet itself.


And notice: I embedded the video from my playlist here... so you have access to the whole playlist catalog there in the upper left-hand corner: go wild! Try everything! :-)


Time for another #ReflectBlog post, this time reflecting on the course evaluations that just arrived for the Fall 2017 courses. I think everybody knows how much I dislike number-based grading of students, so you can imagine how much I dislike the ridiculous numbers that result from our end-of-semester course evaluations. More numbers does not mean the numbers are useful in any way, shape, or form, except for invidious comparisons. I loathe them. The cult of numbers. Ugh.


screenshot of course eval stats

(this is just a snippet; the numbers go on
for column after column after column...)


But... there are also comments from students, and those are the most useful things of all! When I wrote up my "ungrading" essay for Starr Sackstein's column as EdWeek, Michelle Pacansky-Brock suggested to me that I collect student comments about grading from the course evaluations, which turned out to be such an awesome idea. Then, the next semester I decided it would be useful to collect the comments students make about the creative dimension of the classes, since to me they are linked: the whole reason I want to get rid of grading is in order to free up a creative spaces where my students are ready to take risks and experiment.


So, every semester it is now my pleasure to go through the comments looking for "grad-" and "creat-" to expand on the collection of student comments semester by semester. These are the real words of the real students (not the faux statistics), and it is what the students SAY that makes me feel confident about my teaching, while also inspiring me to find new ways to open up spaces for creativity and growth in my classes (more about my plans for next semester in a later post!).


You can read all the student comments here about grading and creativity going all the way back to 2010 when our evaluations went digital:


What students say about GRADING


What students say about CREATIVITY


Because of the generic cookie-cutter nature of the course evaluation questions, I don't get really specific feedback from the students about how to improve the classes, but I gather that feedback from students in other ways during the semester. At the end of the semester, though, it does feel good to see that my goals and the students' goals are very much in synch overall. Here are some of the comments from this semester's evaluations re: grading and re: creativity. I want to teach a class that is challenging, but in a creative way, without stress... so when I hear that message back from students, I am very happy!


  • I learned so much and never had to stress about my grade. I always knew where I stood in the course, the organization made me feel comfortable by the first week.
  • I just love everything about the format of this course — it really allowed me to use my own creative ideas, gather up points for my desired grade, and receive feedback from her and students in the class.
  • Choosing the grade I wanted and being able to map out what I wanted to do to get there on my own schedule was really useful and lowered my stress significantly in this course.
  • One of my favorite courses I have taken! It was so refreshing to be challenged in a more creative way.
  • I really appreciated the way our assignments were graded. This class focused so much more on growth than grades, and that made the class feel like a much more positive environment than others I've taken before. When I fell behind in this class, I knew I could catch back up, because the focus was so much more on growing in my writing.


Those are just a few, and for lots more thoughts from students, see the links above. I include all the references to grading and creativity in those lists, so you can see the varied reactions. This approach works well for students across a whole range of personal goals and preferences; they all enjoy the classes, but for their own, sometimes very different, reasons. And to get a sense of those personal differences, you need their actual words... not numbers.


I had so many high hopes for blogging over the break when I wrote my first ReflectBlog post last week, but an honest look at the calendar and pondering family obligations has made me realize that this holiday break is going to disappear with supernatural speed. I've got this week for some fun reflecting, but already on Tuesday next week, before Santa has even made it back to the North Pole, I have to get to work on next semester's stuff if I am going to be ready in time. Ouch.


Luckily, though, today's blog post is something I don't actually have to write: instead, I can just share the latest "Teach Better" podcast from Ed O'Neill and Doug McKee which has some audio-thoughts woven in from yours truly. Ed and I have been friends online for a long time, and it was so fun to be able to participate in one of these podcasts. As Ed noticed, between the three of us, we have a collective 30 years of online teaching. That's pretty amazing when you think about it, and the theme of the show is all about the challenges of teaching online, and how those challenges push you to improve and come up with new approaches from semester to semester and year to year.


There are some remarks about Canvas in there and other technology (a big shout-out for Zoom from Doug and Ed, and a big shout-out for blogging from Ed and me — plus a book shout-out for Sheena Iyengar, whose work I learned about thanks to the InstCon line-up this summer)... but it's really not so much about the tech as about the learning process: how students can use online spaces for learning, and how we can learn to do a better job of teaching online too.


And thanks to the power of Photoshop, Doug let me "be there" even though I've never met Ed or Doug in person ha ha. :-)


The full audio is embedded in the blog post, and Ed does a cool thing where he picks out highlights and includes the time marks for them. So, it's not a full transcript, but it's super-useful for navigating the audio because you can click and go straight to that spot in the audio if you don't have time for the whole thing. Digital power!


Podcast Episode 68: Teaching Online with Doug, Edward, and Laura Gibbs - Teach Better 


Teach Better podcast screenshot

Yesterday was the big day: I finished up the semester... and I can declare success for what is always my most important goal — all the students passed! As always there were a few students who struggled all semester, and it's not always easy to figure out how I can help help (since it is, after all, up to them in the end), so I am really happy for how everything turned out!


A semester of changes. This was also a semester where I made a lot of big changes to the class, and they all worked out really well! I'm always tinkering in little ways with the classes, but this year I faced a 20% increase in students (budget cuts at my school), which I found out about, luckily, way back in the spring. That meant I could spend the summer really thinking hard about the changes I could make to my class. If I were going to be making 20% less effort per student (which is one way to understand that enrollment bump), how could I redesign the class in ways to make sure that the students would still have a great experience, driving their own learning and just relying on me to set them in motion and then keep them moving all semester long?


So, in this blog post — which I am going to call #ReflectBlog as part of a new project here for Canvas that I will write about separately — I'll choose the three changes feel like real successes, and then in the spirit of true reflection, I will also explain a failure and what I learned from it too. But first, the successes that I am really happy with, one of which is not Canvas-related, but two of which are connected with Canvas, yay!


1. MORE REVISION. Revision has always been part of the process in my classes; you can see how that works in this overview page for the Semester Projects. The biggest change I made this semester was to expand on the number of weeks students spend revising and also on the number of Editing Challenges that I present to them. Students get detailed (VERY detailed) comments back from me on their writing, plus feedback from other students, but the most important thing (as I see it) is an editing challenge that they choose for themselves each time they work on a revision assignmen. You can see how the revision assignments work here, and here is the list of editing challenges.

This turned out so great! The students were so happy to have the chance to continue to improve their writing, and they were also more adventurous in the challenges that they chose since on the second week of revising, they usually had fewer technical and mechanical things to adjust and could be more exploratory in their revising. One of my favorite new challenges was about "reading with a friend" where they would share their writing with a friend and get feedback. That turned out to be so affirming! Sometimes it was a roommate right there, but one student even Skyped with her mom in order to share her work and brainstorm. I thought that was so cool! So, the students had a better learning experience, and it was at the same time how I managed my increased workload, since commenting on revision assignments that come in takes less than half the time than a first-round set of comments.


2. MORE STUDENT PRESENCE. I used the power of live content in my Canvas class spaces to create two new live pages in each of my classes: a page that showed the latest blog posts in real time, and a page that showed the latest webpage additions to the project websites. Not all the students used these pages, but a lot of them did, "jumping in the stream" as I called it, to find the students they wanted to connect with by leaving comments on their blogs and websites. I wrote about how I created these pages in previous blog posts here at the Community:
blogs, and I am so happy with the student-to-student presence that these two new class pages created, all automated, so literally no extra work for me of any kind. The blog RSS runs itself, and I just bookmarked new website pages as assignments came in which added them to the class project streams. Easy-peasy!

Fall 2017: Story of a Blog Network (2): live streams in Canvas 

Fall 2017: Story of a Blog Network (7): RSS Feeds for Projects 
plus a related post: 

Non-Disposable Assignments & Circulating Student-Created Content 


3. SELF-GRADING. I've always put the students in charge of their own grading, so that's nothing new this semester (and I've written extensively about that here:; I personally think letter grades are one of the most harmful aspects of our education system), and one thing I added to my strategy this semester was a form that students fill out at the end of the semester to let me know they are done with the class — only they know when they are done; I cannot tell just by looking at their points. That was a big plus for me practically speaking, since I cannot record my students' grades in Canvas automatically, and with even more students I was dreading the Canvas Gradebook even more than usual. So, instead of me fighting with the Canvas Gradebook, I just had the students tell me when they were done, and it worked great! All I had to do was create a Google Form and add that to Canvas. The data came right into a spreadsheet that helped me stay super-organized even though I had more students, which meant I could filter reminders and updates at the end of the semester to go only to the students who were still doing work for class (Canvas Gradebook is a nightmare in that way for me). It's a small change, but it had a big impact: the students felt empowered, and it was less work for me. I also wrote a blog post about this earlier here at the Community:
Google Forms in Canvas: Beautiful and Useful! 


There are lots of other changes I made this semester that worked really well, but now that I look at this list, it is not really hard to say that those were the three changes that I think were best for the students and best for me all at the same time.


And now... the failure. In October, I was invited to go to Creighton University to help with a course on Aesop's fables being taught by Father Greg Carlson, a long-time friend online whom I had never met in person; the Carlson Fable Collection features over 8000 books of Aesop's fables from around the world (details here). When Father Carlson contacted me about this, I was so excited, and spent the summer building a new English-language Aesop website that I hoped would be useful to his students. It was a great adventure, and I am really happy about that; it's a project I will continue to work on for years to come: Aesop's Books.

So, that's a success, but here's the failure: I was in Creighton for one meeting of the class, and I honestly had no idea what to do! The idea of crafting a learning experience that was based on people being in a barebones room (with awful seating, you know what many college classrooms are like) for 50 minutes... strangers to each other, with me having really no idea of what the students were interested in, what they knew, what they wanted to know... eegad, I was lost! So, I did an okay job I guess, but when I think of all the trouble and expense that Father Carlson went to in order to bring me there, I still wanted to do something really excellent. And it was not really excellent, based on the fact that only two students contacted me later on with questions and follow-up to help them with their class projects.

So, what is my lesson learned? If I am given an opportunity like this again in the future, I definitely need to be willing to be "weird" in the classroom the way that I am weird online (it was a mistake not just to catch the students by surprise and ask them to do totally weird things like I do when teaching online too; even if that failed, it would have been better to fail being weird than to fail trying to be normal) ... and I also need to have more empathy for people getting started teaching online who might feel as lost online as I did in that classroom, when all my usual supports and routines were gone. And the biggest support of all is the blogs, which leads to my last remark here:


ReflectBlog. I got this idea for #ReflectBlog after reading something by Stephen Simpson here last week.
Ideas for Engaging Users in the Canvas Community 

I really am a believer in blogging for self-reflection and for sharing with others (blogs by students AND blogs by faculty... blogs by everybody!), and so I have made it my Canvas Community goal for the coming year to be a blog booster! I think that is a good contribution that I can make here, and I will try to document and share some blogging tips in general, along with some Jive-specific tips (although I know we will be moving away from Jive at some point in the future). I'll use the #ReflectBlog tag for that, which I think means it will be possible to see those materials by searching the Community for that tag: #ReflectBlog. We'll find out if that works after I publish this post, and either later today or sometime this week, I will start writing some of those blog support materials. People can create their own blogs, or blog here at the Community where you can create blog posts in any group you belong to (and after you've done that for a while, you end up with a personal blog like the one I'm using here). It's all good... because all the blogs have RSS that can bring them together, and I'm already plotting a new RSS experiment to go along with this new project. (I LOVE RSS!)


Meanwhile, BEST WISHES to everybody who is facing their end-of-semester crunch... I hope you will also want to blog about successes, failures, and lessons learned when your semester comes to a close, and I hope it will be a happy ending! :-)


So my last post was the Thanksgiving Holiday Edition, and here's another holiday post: I've updated my Latin holiday song widget so that there is an iframe version ready-to-use in Canvas! You can get a random holiday song in Latin OR you can follow along with the calendar-based version, which has new songs for every day of December. Each item in the widget links to a post at my Gaudium Mundo blog which has the Latin lyrics and, whenever I can find one, a YouTube video to sing along with.


All the information you need is at my Canvas Widget Warehouse: Gaudium Mundo, and the javascripts and iframes are all available at the blog. You can use the javascripts ANYWHERE that javascripts are allowed (like in blog sidebars, wikis, etc.), and if javascripts are restricted, like in Canvas, just use the iframe version: it's sneaky, and it works! :-)


screenshot of Canvas holiday song widget


And if you think my interest in Latin holiday songs is a bit eccentric, I am not alone! Check out one of my all-time favorites: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as Gregorian chant. I don't think I can embed SoundCloud here, but just click to listen to Reno Erat Rudolphus:


screenshot of Reno Erat Rudolphus