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

I was going to write up this post about my randomizer today anyway... but what a perfect follow-up to Lisa M Lane 's post on controlled-curated-chaotic online courses.

Three Kinds of Online Classes

My classes are really a mix of curated and chaotic where I hope that students who want/need a sense of expert curation from me "the professor" (even though I am just an adjunct lecturer...) can have that experience, while the students who want to go wild can have the freedom to create in the midst of chaos.


And I would put RANDOM on the side of chaotic, in the best sense of chaos. I curate heaps of content... but how can you surface massive amounts of content, never knowing just which piece of content will click with which student...? That's a problem we all face, and for me, randomizers are the best solution.


I've got a "Canvas Warehouse" of randomizing javascripts here: Laura's Widget Warehouse. And for my summer folklore project, I just made a new randomizer yesterday. You can see it in the sidebar of my blog, and I added it to the StoryLab Canvas site also:

Random Stories: StoryLab 

There are almost 200 stories now, which makes for some real randomness. Click and see what story you find! It's the magic power of random! :-)


random story screenshot

This is just a quick post about a distinction between using the Redirect Tool for including an external resource (a website, a Google Form, etc.) in Canvas versus using the embedding tool. I had to make that choice when adding something to my InstructureCon resource course today, and I thought it provided a really nice example of choosing between the two options.


REDIRECT. When you use the Redirect Tool, it is really fast and easy to include a Google Form in Canvas; you can see how that looks here: Twitter List Sign-Up.
The Google Form simply fills up the whole "content" space there. It's a simple process:
Settings - Apps - search for Redirect Tool - add Redirect Tool
Then fill in the dialogue box: choose a name (if you want it to appear in the navigation; I usually do), paste in the https address of the Google Form, then choose options -- I usually do NOT force open in a new tab (so I uncheck that option), and I do put in course navigation. Presto! That's all you have to do.


screenshot of redirect google form



EMBEDDING. When you choose to embed something in a Page, you get to provide the CONTEXT, explaining to your visitors just why you have embedded the content there, where it comes from, what to do with it, etc. I realized that when I was going to include Adam Williams' Google Form for remote participants at my site, I would need to provide some context, so I embedded the form instead of using the redirect tool. Here's how it looks: Email List for Updates.
This process takes a few minutes longer:
1. Create a Page.
2. Type whatever you want at the top of the page using the Rich Content Editor.
3. Then embed the content using an iframe using the HTML Editor. You can adjust height and width as needed; here's what I used:
<iframe src="URL" width="800" height="1900">
4. Publish the Page.
Then, if you want to include that Page in your navigation, you use the same Redirect Tool approach described above, with the Page URL being the address you paste into the dialogue box.


screenshot of google form embedded with iframe

I am a long-time reader of Lisa M Lane's (Online) Teaching and History Blog, and I can definitely share the frustration she expresses in this latest post: The ed tech dream is dead.


My take on Canvas is different from Lisa's, but I do feel the gloom re: other software products that I see sucking down so much money, time, and attention (especially automated writing assessment, plagiarism policeware, etc.). At the same time, I haven't given up on the open web and web-based apps (not yet anyway). I build my classes as student blog networks, where Canvas just plays a supporting role, giving my students a Gradebook where they can record their work (I don't grade; here's how/why) and Canvas is also convenient for embedding my class announcements as the homepage. Plus, I'm a huge fan of the Canvas Community; I blog here now because it means my blog posts reach an educator audience that they might not reach otherwise.


it's true that I've never found any of the traditional LMS tools to be useful for my own teaching goals. I've been teaching fully online for 15 years, so, like Lisa, I've experimented with a ton of different tools over the years. I still miss good old Delicious (yes, Diigo is cool... but Delicious was way more social; I loved it), and I also miss Ning. I used Ning as a group blogging platform for years; it was when Ning gave up on education (understandably; they couldn't compete with the LMS behemoths) that I decided to switch from a group blog platform to each student having their own blogs, connected in a network using RSS.


And... switching to open blogs was the best thing that ever happened to my classes! I let the students choose the platform they want to use; as long as it was RSS feeds for posts and for comments, that's good with me. Students interested in the indie web have DoOO/WordPress for free at my school; some use that option, some don't -- it's their choice. I then use the amazing Inoreader to pull all those blog feeds (I have 90 students total each semester) into an ad hoc network each semester.


The Canvas part: because Canvas is so embedding-friendly, I can embed the stream of my students' blog posts right there in Canvas, and I invented a "hop-in-the-stream" commenting assignment for students who just want to hop in, see the latest blog posts from their classmates, and leave comments. Since I teach fully online classes, I really like the way that students can see the class in action at any time of the day or night, with the latest blog posts popping up in the stream in almost-real-time (there's just a few seconds of lag time before the posts appear in Canvas). Because Canvas lets us make our class spaces totally open and linkable, you can see my Canvas classes here... including the embedded student blog streams:
(I use those URLs so that I can have a stable URL that points to my current class; the LMS does its usual bass-ackwards approach of starting each semester from scratch, even though I really do teach the same classes every single semester. So, I redirect the URL each semester to go to the latest LMS incarnation -- right now, the links point to the spring semester classes).


Because I am a true believer in the power of student blogging and in blog networks, I've documented that whole process here in a series of posts that you can access with this link: student blog networks in Canvas.


A lot of what gets discussed here at the Community is admittedly alien to the way I teach. All the top-down tools to control students, the plagiarism software, quizzes, grading schemes, none of that is my style. But here's the thing: Canvas has room for all kinds of styles, including student-content-driven blog-based classes. When we were using D2L, there was literally nothing I could do: the fact that the D2L space was totally closed with no real URLs meant that I was stuck. It was not the Internet as I know it. With Canvas, I can create courses and content pages with real URLs, fully linkable, indexable by search engines... part of the real Internet. I have no interest in "learning management" in the LMS sense of that term, but I do care very much about building content online, and Canvas helps me organize and share my own content and my students' work in an open space. I know Lisa came from Moodle, which is a very different experience; I probably would also be very frustrated having gone from Moodle to Canvas. But Moodle was never on the table for consideration at my school; going from totally-closed D2L to open Canvas has been a huge plus for me.


And I can happily advocate for student blogging in the Canvas context. In that spirit, I'm always glad to brainstorm and share ideas with anybody who's interested in this eccentric way of using Canvas. Bring on the summer brainstorms! You can find me here, or at Twitter @OnlineCrsLady. If you are frustrated with the traditional LMS tools, there really is a whole world of tools out there, and when it comes to blogging tools, I am a fan. :-)



A mind stretched by new experiences
can never go back to its old dimensions.

... in other words: there's no way I'm going back to just limiting myself to LMS tools. :-)


leaping cat


(more growth mindset cats)

I just got back from another trip to Texas (of the past six months, I've spent three months in Texas taking care of my dad...), and it was so cool to see that even though I was not doing any Canvas work over the past week, the dynamic content in my InstructureCon Canvas space -- -- was going on growing! Here's what I mean:


click for... TWITTER. New Twitter in both the #InstCon hashtag streams AND the list of InstCon attendees (both virtual and remote) -- do you use Twitter? Let me know (either in a comment here or by using this Google Form) so I can add you to that list!


screenshot of Twitter in Canvas


click for... GUESTBOOK. The Padlet has new "signatures" on it as people add their comments to the Guestbook! Thanks to Adam Williams for thinking of that guestbook idea. I really like it! Just like at a friendly bed-and-breakfast. I am really glad that Padlet allows totally open Padlets like this; just click on the pink circle to join in.


padlet screenshot


click for... COMMUNITY CONTENT. I'm using RSS to pull in InstructureCon-content from the Community here, and the great Community team has been hard at work; their new posts are popping up automatically on the Community page:


community content rss screenshot


click for... DRONE PAD. I got my first request for being eyes-and-ears on a session, and it is actually one I was very interested in myself to start with, so that's perfect! And @geonz included his Twitter handle, so I'll be able to ping him during the sesion. Yay! I just left a comment back there confirming that I am glad to do that session, and I crossed out my availability for that session time... but there are still other slots on Wed. and Thurs. I am glad to be eyes-and-ears for: let me know!


dronepad screenshot



So, now that I'm back home for the next couple of weeks, I will have some more content of my own to add to the site... but it sure was nice to see that the content was "growing itself" while I was gone. :-)


And I made a meme with my Ready-to-Go Panda Meme-Maker:


While pandas sleep... dynamic content STAYS AWAKE... :-)


screenshot of sleeping panda