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All People > Laura Gibbs > Laura Gibbs' Blog > 2018 > May

Yesterday and today I worked on something really fun: I created an open Canvas course space to use for InstructureCon 2018! You can see what I have so far here:
(that URL goes straight to the course homepage -- all open, linkable, clickable, no log-in required)


My goal is to use this Canvas course space to help organize my InstCon experience (before, during, after), to share what I learn with others, and ... most important of all! ... to experiment with ways to connect onsite and remote participants. I'll have more to say about my own goals in a later post, but for now, here are FIVE REASONS WHY I think everybody can benefit by building an InstCon Canvas course space of their own to share with others:


1) It's fun! Unlike creating a real course with modules and quizzes and grades, creating an open Canvas course space is easy and fun: you get to tinker and experiment, try out new tools, and learn new things. No stress; you can just relax and explore and enjoy the learning experience.


2) Share your InstCon experience with others. That might mean sharing with people here at the Community, or sharing with people at your home institution, or sharing with family and friends. Or all of the above!


3) Practice your Canvas skills. I've created about a half-dozen open resource courses over the past two years, and every time I create a new resource course, I learn new things, getting better at it every time. The new thing I am most excited about this time is having created a Padlet with links to Cheezburger pictures to promote meme-making. GO PANDAS!


4) Teach people about Open Canvas. The ability to create and share open courses in Canvas is one of my favorite Canvas features (it was not even possible in D2L which we had at my school before Canvas). If you have not experimented with open Canvas before, this is a a great way to get started, and also to spread the news about OPEN at your school.


5) Make the conference last. InstCon is going to be an amazing few days, and I excited about all I can get done during that time. At the same time, I also want it to be a lasting experience. With an open course space, I can reflect on the conference afterwards, and come back to the digital space in the future to keep on learning from InstCon2018.


I'm really glad that at my school (University of Oklahoma), we can create courses like this on-the-fly. Other schools do this differently, and you may need to ask an admin's help in creating a course space: don't be shy to ask! Especially if the goal is to share your InstCon experience with other people at your school, I am guessing your admin will be glad to help you do that!


And maybe other InstCon attendees from my school (I'm looking at you Michelle Meazell and John Boekenoogen) will think about using the wonderful freedom we have at OU to create our own courses like this. I know I am going to have fun with mine.


LET ME KNOW if you create a course. I've got a Padlet page in my course to collect links to other courses if you want to share there:

Share Your InstCon Canvas Course


And remember: you can be a REMOTE participant in InstructureCon. That's the whole point in fact! Last summer, I had so much fun following along (especially thanks to Linda J. Lee, the Queen of #InstCon Twitter)... and now looking back, I sure wish I had built a Canvas space to capture all that I learned from last year's experience.


This year, I am ready to capture and save and share.


And now.........


THE CHALLENGE. Create an open InstCon Canvas course space of your own, share the link here in the comments... and when you do, 500 POINTS WILL BE AWARDED from me to you. In fact, I would love to give away all my points to people creating InstCon Canvas sites to share! I've got a heap of points I can give away, so please use them all up, people! I would very happy indeed to convert all my points into open InstCon Canvas courses. 


Have fun, everybody! I have had a ton of fun with this so far. And many thanks to Adam Williams and the other members of the Canvas Community team who helped me with the brainstorming. A lot of these ideas came from those discussions, and I'm looking forward to more. :-)


canvas panda is inspired to create an open course

(make your own memes with these pandas)

I'm creating this blog post as a kind of notepad / placeholder for sharing ideas about "remote control" participation at InstructureCon and how to build connections between people participating remotely and people who are on-site. Last year at InstructureCon2017, Linda J. Lee made me feel very much included, pinging me about sessions she was attending that she knew would interest me, taking pictures of slides, tweeting ideas and quotes from sessions. It was great! And since I will be on-site this summer, I want to try to help build those kinds of connections again.


I've created a Canvas course space (of course) -- -- and I'll be developing that in June and July to get ready for the big event. If you have suggestions or ideas, let me know here in the comments! :-)

Dynamic content: not static, changing, fresh... grab your student's attention instead of the same-old same-old which makes their eyes glaze over and their brains turn off.


Distributed content: update in one place, new content appears everywhere (in multiple Canvas courses, at your website and inside Canvas, etc.)


As examples of dynamic and distributed content in Canvas, here's a quick update on my StoryLab content space with its automated content feeds... I am really happy with how this is going and, yes, Adam Williams, now that I've got this humming along smoothly, I can stop being bad and spend some time this weekend getting the InstCon-Remote space up and running in a Canvas course too. Using some of these same dynamic/distributed tricks!


On the StoryLab homepage, automatic display of new blog post as part of week's worth of stories... the same blog posts that appear at the Chain Tales blog.


screenshot of StoryLab homepage



On the Padlet page, new stories whenever I update the Padlet... plus eventually maybe others will be adding their stories (or their students' stories) there too.


screenshot of StoryLab Padlet


On the YouTube page, I'm making sure to pop a new video to the top of the playlist every day, either by finding a new video or moving one from the bottom up. And today's video, in honor of InstCon 2017, is JEWEL singing "Green Grass Grew All Around" (a traditional chain tale / cumulative folksong).


screenshot of StoryLab YouTube playlist


Same playlist updates appear at the blog in the sidebar of course, because I've embedded the YouTube there also.


On the SoundCloud page, the playlist works like the video playlist, although I don't have as many items. But by the time I get to 10 or so stories that I have recorded, I'll be able to rearrange the playlist on the days when I don't actually add a new recording. Although, honestly, it is so fast and easy to record on my phone now that I hope to be able to add new stories pretty often; it only takes about 10 minutes from start to finish, or even less for the super-short items. Today's story was on the long side (it's a hazard with cumulative tales that build and build and build).


screenshot of StoryLab SoundCloud playlist


And so the same SoundCloud playlist updates appear at the blog in the sidebar.


The Twitter page takes care of itself since the people/organizations on the list are active Twitter users. Very dynamic!


screenshot of StoryLab Twitter list


And this is all easy to do! Just check out the How-To Pages for details about all these dynamic/distributed content options, and if you have any questions, let me know!


And now that I've got my folklore project humming along, it's time to get excited about InstCon!

I was in a multimedia mood today, so in addition to adding a YouTube Playlist to my Canvas StoryLab, I decided to add SoundCloud too! I recorded audio (just using my phone, nothing special) for three stories, uploaded the audio to SoundCloud, and created a playlist at SoundCloud.


Then I embedded that in a Page in my Canvas StoryLab:


screenshot of Soundcloud in Canvas


Plus in my Chain Tales blog sidebar too:


screenshot of Soundcloud in blog


Plus I went through and added embeds of the single files to the specific story posts, like for The Cat and the Mouse:


soundcloud in blog post screenshot


And yes, as promised, there is a how-to page in the Canvas space also. In the how-to page, I show BOTH styles of playlist embedding. Which one will work best depends on how you are using the playlist and what you want for your students to see as they listen:


how to add soundcloud to canvas screenshot


And like all kinds of distributed content, SoundCloud makes it easy to update everywhere: when you add a new track to the playlist, that new track will be available anywhere/everywhere that you have embedded your Playlist!

Okay, here's the latest at StoryLab: I created a YouTube playlist, embedded it in my StoryLab, and -- as promised -- I wrote up a step-by-step on how to create a YouTube playlist and embed it in Canvas.


And, of course, I embedded the same playlist in my blog sidebar. One playlist: embed everywhere you want! Update once; it updates everywhere. Automatically.


screenshot of playlist in blog


This is going to be so great for my project, especially for songs where the lyrics are copyrighted (so I cannot just post them at my blog), but where there are indeed YouTube videos I can include in the playlist.


Does everybody know the amazing enumerated chain-tale "Children, Go Where I Send Thee"...? The most famous Christmas chain tale is Twelve Days of Christmas, but I like this one so much better. And I found this great version with Home Free and Kenny Rogers. Wow! I put it at the top of the playlist for today. Listen in my Canvas StoryLab YouTube Page... or at YouTube (where you can find lots more Home Free videos).


Notice that the YouTube link is to the video IN the playlist. Playlists are GREAT. Why link to a video when you can instead link to a video in a playlist...? GO PLAYLISTS! :-)


screenshot of YouTube Playlist in Canvas

Okay, I've been bad...
Very bad.
This new summer folklore project has had me completely enraptured, and I've been neglecting other things (forgive me, Adam Williams!). I'm reading through mountains of folktale and nursery rhyme books looking for chain tales, and the first thing I want to do every morning when I sit down at the computer is blog the new stories I have found.

But here's what I did today to redeem myself in Canvas-land: I repurposed my old StoryLab space to accommodate this new project AND I decided I would try to document everything I am doing in this Canvas space with a "how-to page" right there in the site to explain what I am doing if you want to do anything similar in your own Canvas space.
Here's the result:

(I had created that URL last summer without really knowing what to do with it... NOW I know!)


Right now, I have about a dozen pages at the site:


Homepage, which contains a live feed of the "story of the day" for the past week at my blog.


screenshot of homepage



About StoryLab, which explains my two goals of sharing chain tale stories and helping people to create chain tale stories of their own.


StoryLab Padlet, which is a space to share stories. I'm sharing stories there from my blog already. Plus there's a Padlet Playground if you want to just see how Padlet works.


padlet screenshot


StoryLab Twitter List, which is a Twitter list embedded in Canvas that has motivational and practical content for aspiring storytellers. Let me know if you have suggestions for more Twitterati to include in the list!


twitter list screenshot


How-To Pages: This is the best part! I am trying to be very diligent about creating a Page to explain every Canvas strategy I am using. So far that means:

How-To: Add a Blog Feed to Canvas

How-To: Add Items to the Canvas Navigation

How-To: Add a Padlet to Canvas 

How-To: Add a Suggestion Box to Canvas

How-To: Add a Twitter Widget to Canvas 


StoryLab Suggestions is a suggestion box form there in Canvas. You can let me know about any suggestions, questions, requests, ideas you have as this project moves forward! I really hope to make this useful to others, but I need people's help to do that. I'm now in Week 3 of this project, with June and July ahead of me, and I am excited about what I can accomplish in that time!


So, that was my good-Canvas-deed for the day. Now I am going to go read stories... I just found a fantastic Russian website with all the fairy tales of Afanasjev in the original Russian, digitized and copy-and-pastable. Yay!



Wise words from the great writer Neil Gaiman: 

I want people to imagine. I think that your imagination is the most important tool that you posses. 

(more info)

Being able to create OPEN course sites is one of my favorite things about Canvas. Your students and their work stay private, but you can adjust the settings in a Canvas course to make your Pages and other course files public, and I wish more people would do that. Just think of the wealth of educational material that we could share with the world that way! Canvas even makes it easy to put a copyright or open CC license on your site. I keep all my course sites open; it's easy to do that in your Settings. Here's a screenshot of my course: open to the public.


screenshot of settings


As an example of wonderful things that can happen when you GO OPEN, I wanted to share what happened to me this week: I am so excited! As I wrote in an earlier post, through sharing my Aesop materials online, I had the pleasure of meeting Suniti Namjoshi and getting to read a hot-off-the-press copy of her book, Aesop the Fox. After getting acquainted thanks to Aesop, I decided to share with her the project I am working on this summer about chain-tales; I wrote about that here: My Fun Summer Project. I'm creating that project in the open; the whole purpose of that project is to share and share widely.


Well, not only was Suniti Namjoshi interested in the project, she wrote a chain-tale to contribute! How cool is that???! And she understands exactly the appeal of chain-tales as an improvisational experiment, so she included an invitation right there inside her own story for others to contribute. You can read the story here. It even stars... a cat! You can access the story with this link:




screenshot of blog post


So, thanks to this unexpected event, my project has suddenly advanced months ahead of schedule: I was going to work all summer on harvesting public domain texts to build up the site before inviting others to contribute... but Suniti Namjoshi intuited the whole idea without me even saying anything, and she then stepped up with this story. I am still amazed and honored to have one of her stories be part of the project.


And you can probably guess just why I am so excited about chain-tales as a genre: chain-tales are about the way that everything and everybody really is connected, with one event leading to another and to another and to another. Those might be happy events, or they might be unhappy events; there are stories about trading up or trading down, stories about giving thanks and stories about placing blame. All kinds of stories.


It's up to us to create the stories we want to read.


And then, on the Internet, we can share them.


In the OPEN.


Meanwhile, I have written to the painter J. Sharkey Thomas who created the image I included in the post for this story. If I were rich, I would so buy that painting: it is gorgeous! If the artist says she would rather not have that included here, I will replace it with a public domain image of the Indian goddess Shashthi and her cat. But I hope the artist will say yes (she is seriously into cats-as-art!)... and who knows; maybe somebody who does have money to spend on art will see the image there and buy this gorgeous painting featuring her cat Ludvig.


Carpet Cat by J. Sharkey Thomas

Today we received the results of our end-of-semester evaluations. Asking students for hurried feedback in a stressful/busy end-of-semester week seems to me about the worst possible way to get feedback about a class, so I make sure to build in other kinds of ways to get feedback from my students during the semester (like this feedback-about-feedback effort, and also a mid-semester evaluation). That being said, I always read the comments from the students on the institutional evaluations to see what I can learn (I hate the numbers, but I really value the comments), and I also collect comments across classes/semesters about grading and about creativity, adding each new set of comments to the existing collection (and a shout-out to Michelle Pacansky-Brock who suggested this whole idea of collecting comments).


So, that's what I did this morning: I got access to the evaluations, read the comments from all three classes, and then collected the comments about grad- (grading, grades, etc.) and creat- (creativity, created, etc.). For those of you who get student comments back in digital form, where it's easy to harvest the comments, I strongly recommend having an ongoing collection of comments based on keywords you want to track. Having a focus like this helps me see the comments in a new way, and having the task of harvesting-and-copying the comments is also a good way to get me to really appreciate what each semester's evaluation is contributing to the overall development of my courses.


Here are the results:


link to collection: What students say about GRADING


There were only a few comments about grading, but not many, and that's actually great: I really want the students to not even be thinking about the grade, and instead just to be focusing on the learning process itself. For more about my approach to grading, see (I don't grade). And I have to add #TTOG, the hashtag at Twitter for "Teachers Throwing Out Grades" (I am not the only one!).


It was so nice to have certainty about what my grade would be. This course was ideal in that you get out of it what you put into it. If you work hard and put the effort in, you'll get the grade you want.


I loved everything about this course; the online assignments, the completion grades, the ability to write blogs on our own and actually get better at writing, everything!


Grades were entirely based on completion, so long as you put in the work you didn't have to stress about grades.


There was an emphasis on learning the course material rather than worrying about grades.


link to collection: What students say about CREATIVITY


Putting an emphasis on creativity goes hand in hand with getting rid of grades. I really want the students to get in touch with their own creative powers and see what they are capable of! And I am very pleased that students had more to say about creating than grading in the comments I snagged this semester:


I feel like the course helped me improve my creative writing, and it was cool to come out of it with a shiny portfolio website displaying my work.


Strong points: ability to be creative and express yourself through stories.


This is my favorite course! I really like working on my creative writing and love that I could do it on my own schedule.


It allowed students to be creative and also learn about writing.


The specific strong points of this course was how Laura encouraged everyone to have fun with the subjects and be creative.


This course was incredible! I had so much fun being creative and writing in this course.


It was a very good class that exposes the student to numerous Indian epics and characters. It also incourages creativity and exploration which are gernerally discouraged in other classes.


The core curriculum gave a great foundation, but the real learning happened in the process of creative writing (researching people, places, and stories encountered). There was encouragement and highly effective feedback on the development of my project, and I had more fun in this class than I have in years at school.


There are SO MANY WAYS you can bring creativity and open-ended assignments into any course. And if you can do that while removing grades, your students will not be trying to guess "what you want" but instead discovering what they themselves are capable of. That's been my experience anyway, and I have no doubts that by helping my students (re)discover their own creativity, I am offering them something of value for their future, whatever their career path might be.


Creativity... it's a process! From

This applies to creativity in our approach to teaching too! :-)


creative process: from failure to I'm brilliant

I've been flying a lot back-and-forth between Austin and my home in North Carolina (taking care of my dad), and one advantage of all that travel time is that I get to read a LOT. My summer folklore project took shape from a book I read on my way to Austin last time, and I also read two other books while in airports/airplanes that I thought would be of interest to fellow Canvassers.


59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman.

Yes, the title sounds hokey, but this book was highly recommended to me by a friend, and it is really good! Richard Wiseman is a psychology professor in England (see Wikipedia), and in this book he provides a rapid-fire, highly focused summary of all kinds of psychology research into topics of huge interest to educators: happiness, persuasion, motivation, creativity, attraction, relationships, stress, and decision-making. parenting, and personality. He provides lots of simple exercises (including a lot of writing-based exercises, perfect for my writing-focused courses!) that take less than a minute but which are proven to work (i.e. supported by psychological research). I really enjoyed this book and plan to read more by this author.





How To Talk So Kids Can Learn by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
I found out about this book from Jennifer Gonzalez and her fabulous blog, Cult of Pedagogy. Specifically, I read her book review, which starts with this powerful opening sentence: "If I could only choose one book to put into the hands of teachers, it would be How to Talk So Kids Can Learn."


how to talk so kids can learn


So, based on that alone, I knew I had to read this book. And it is FABULOUS. I didn't exactly learn anything new, but I felt so affirmed because this book lays out clearly the kinds of strategies I developed over the past 20 years, making many mistakes along the way. So, you can skip years of mistakes and just read this book ha ha. I sure wish I had read this book all those years ago. It's excellent, and I sure hope the people working on the "Nudge" project have read this book and taken its lessons to heart, because there is nothing robotic about this. Instead, the basic theme of the book is that you have to start by accepting your students' emotions and crafting your words in full acknowledgment of those emotions. Acknowledging emotions is not something that college instructors talk about much. So, even though this book was written with K-12 teachers in mind, I actually think it could be of most value to people in higher ed for whom this might be entirely new territory, pedagogically speaking.


The use of cartoons to reinforce the strategies is a fun part of the book too. These are screenshots from my Kindle for the section of the book on "reasons and explanations" versus "fantasy" -- I use this fantasy strategy all the time with my students, but I never knew what to call it. Now I do! :-)


Instead of Reasons and Explanations

reasons and explanations

Give in Fantasy What You Can't Give in Reality



So, those are two good books I used to get my summer started. What are you reading.......?

Hi everybody! School is now out for the summer for me... which means it is time for my summer project: a collection of "chain tales" (think "House that Jack Built" or "The Lady who Swallowed a Fly") from countries all over the world. As always with a project, I develop the content as a blog first (this one will probably turn into a book eventually)... and what I wanted to write about in this post is how great it is to use a blog for content development. Here is the blog so far: I made a lot of progress in just one week! :-)


A Collection of Chain Tales 


screenshot of chain tales blog


And, as I said in the title, I did not hesitate in choosing a blog to do this project because it would never work in Canvas Pages. The Pages content area in Canvas is a feature that needs serious improvement, and by listing some of the features I value most about blogs-for-content, I am also listing features that I hope Instructure will consider if/when they finally get around to doing something about the very neglected Pages area. For long discussions about Pages and their problems, see these Feature Requests:




update-links-automatically-after-editing-page-name (likewise here)


I had hoped for a big improvement to Pages management with the coming of global search as expected from Project Khaki, but I am sad to say that there will be no search; I made some long comments re: lack of search and other content gaps here: there will be no global search.


Personally, I find using blogs for content development to be an ideal solution, but I know most instructors would probably prefer to do their content development inside Canvas. For all kinds of reasons, though, using a blog is a great content development option. If you are thinking about doing a summer project, maybe you will think about trying out a blog. I use Google's Blogger because it is super-fast and easy to use. Because it has fewer features than WordPress, that means you have fewer decisions to make, and you can just go-go-go.


I finished up with school a week ago, and here's the project as I've developed it so far:


1. I created a free blog at using my Google account. Just go to to get started; you will be up and running in literally just a few minutes. Here are the instructions I give to my students (they all have blogs too).


2. I chose a basic template and layout with a sidebar on the left. I really like blog sidebars!. In the mobile view, the sidebar is automatically suppressed; just add ?m=1 to see Blogger's mobile view of your blog:


3. I put an "About This Blog" note at the top of the sidebar with a couple of important links. That way people who end up on a specific story page for whatever reason will understand what the blog is doing overall.


about this blog screenshot


4. I added a "follow by email" option so people can be notified of new content if they want; I do this same thing with my class announcements blog so students can subscribe by email if they want. As the blog owner, you can set lots of different email options too at the Feedburner site (when you create an email subscription option for blog, you then manage that at Feedburner where you can see your subscribers, etc. etc.).


Feedburner screenshot


5. I added a "recent posts" widget to the sidebar. This is useful while I am adding lots of new content to the site; I will remove this widget when the project is done and I am no longer adding new content. 


recent posts screenshot


6. With labels on the posts, I am able to provide the option to browse by regions, along with an automatic count of the number of stories from each region so far.


screenshot of regions/sources


7. I also have a sources widget which will allow people to browse the stories based on the books they came from. Each story has a region label and a source label, so these two widgets are just two different ways of organizing the same content. I might come up with some other ways to browse the content based on my own classification system; for example, I might single out poetry versus prose, etc. It's easy to add another labeling system later on if/when I decide to do that.


8. There is a search box for the blog. See my note above about the sad lack of search for Canvas Pages, for which there is no solution even under consideration at this time. I still cannot believe Instructure asks people to develop content which is not searchable; searching is of huge value both to the content developer and also to any people who are using the content: searchability is probably the single most valuable feature of digital content!


search screenshot


9. The "about me" widget is one that I always include in my blogs; that lets people know on any page of the blog that I am the blog author. It also contains a link to the homepage where people can then navigate to all my online content: And it is fun having my fox avatar show up here since the fox will be making many appearances in these folktales, like in the story of the day... with a very evil fox ha ha: The Sky is Falling.


about me screenshot


10. The "RSS" widget at the bottom gives people quick access to the RSS feeds for both posts and for comments. I am a huge fan of RSS, and I have written about my use of Inoreader and RSS extensively here in my Canvas blog; it's how I run my student blog network. Inoreader is the magic that lets you display any RSS feed inside a Canvas Page.


RSS screenshot


11. I have configured the blog to display just one post on the home page, and I am manually adjusting the date/time stamp so that the current "Story of the Day" is always on the home page. I am using labels for the Story of the Day post so that people can click a link in that post for "previous Stories of the Day" that displays those previous stories all together for reading.

homepage with today's story

previous stories-of-the-day (which is a label display play)

I am using this "Story of the Day" approach so that there is something new at the blog homepage every day, and also as a way to manage my editorial process. As I add new story posts, I just focus on doing the bibliography and folklore classification along with the text; I don't worry so much about commentary or adding a picture. But every day I pick one story that I previously posted to add some commentary along with an illustration, and that then becomes the story of the day. This is a system I've used for other projects, and it really helps me to both stay fresh and also work at a slower or faster pace depending on my available time.


The use of labels and date/time-based display options means that I never have to configure any navigation manually at the site: it is all taken care of automatically, while letting users view the content in all kinds of ways: the Stories of the Day, all the stories, the stories by region (e.g. India), the stories by source (e.g. Jacobs's English Fairy Tales), and by search results (e.g. tiger).


This is also a beautifully scalable system: it works great when you have just a few posts, and it also works for literally thousands of posts, as at my UnTextbook or the Freebookapalooza (and that collection of free books online is a fantastic resource for this project of course). Canvas Pages, by contrast, are not scalable at all: after you get to more than just a few dozen pages, the system is largely unmanageable.


Because these blog design features are automatic, I can focus all my energy on writing the actual content, with basically zero time spent on maintaining the site: I don't have to change the contents of those navigation widgets or the label-based navigation; it all updates automatically as I add new content. Of course, if I decide I want a different template or layout, that's easy to do... but for now, my focus is all on content! I've got over 200 stories already that I know I want to include, which means a story of the day every day all summer long. It's going to be fun, and I will end up with a fantastic resource for my students to explore next year; I chose this topic because it is very useful both for my Folklore class AND for my India class, since India is one of the places where these chain tales are the most popular.


I can also add an entirely new type of content to the blog later on, and I plan to do that: my goal is to create "how-to" pages that teachers can use in helping their students to write their own chain tales. These types of chain-tale stories are still going strong with young readers, and the formulaic nature of the stories means that it is possible to be incredibly creative (you decide who all the characters will be and what they will say and do) while also giving you support in the actual writing. But before I start creating those DIY models for people to use, I want to learn as much as I can about how storytellers around the world have used these types of formulas.


And now...... back to the stories! Just for fun, here is one of the most famous chain tales as sung by Burl Ives: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.