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

Since tomorrow is, gasp, October 1, I clearly need to start getting ready for the big Can*Innovate event coming up on October 26. I am so excited to have a chance to participate!

Can•Innovate '18 Showcase Speaker: Laura Gibbs 


Since my focus is on creativity and creative student work, I'm going to be using my StoryLab Canvas space to support my presentation, and I'll be accumulating resources there over the next few weeks. And of course I made a URL:


To start building up those materials, I did something really fun: I paged through all my blog posts here at the Community over the past two years, and I used Diigo to bookmark the posts that are relevant for Can*Innovate. Here's a screenshot; I will be able to add annotations and additional tags later on to organize the materials after I add in more stuff from course materials, links to other  resources, books, etc. etc. etc. :-)


screenshot of diigo links


It was definitely a trip down memory lane paging through all of those old blog posts (almost 200 of them now). Some of my old posts are outdated, but by and large they are still useful, and I found quite a few that are connected to themes I want to focus on for Can*Innovate.


Anyway, I am so glad to be blogging here; it's been a fantastic experience, and I hope that Can*Innovate will inspire even more people to use the Community and document their own teaching/learning adventures here. 

I'm always pretty aware of how fast the semester goes by, being doing this #TotalCoLearner thing as a student in my own class I am MUCH more are of that: it's intense! I actually didn't get any work done during the regular week because I was so busy with my job (just like many of my students who work, some of them full-time!), so I scrambled yesterday to do some reading, write my story, and complete some other assignments to finish up Week 6. Gasp! I should probably do some Week 7 work too, but luckily next week is one of my easiest weeks of the semester in terms of teaching (almost all the project assignments that come in, both Storybooks and Portfolios, are revisions)... anyway, I'm just glad I managed to keep up for Week 6. Things were looking pretty grim on Friday (I had zero points for the week!), but it ended up okay after all. Here's Week 6 at my blog; I had to declare the story for Week 7 because I missed the deadline.

For my post looking back on the experiment this week, I want to use this article from Jennifer Gonzalez that I saw making the rounds at Twitter yesterday: Dogfooding: How Often Do You Do Your Own Assignments?


dogfooding article screenshot


I am seriously not inspired to use this "dogfooding" term from the world of computer programming (it even has an article at Wikipedia: Eating your own dog food), but the ideas in the article definitely resonate with my #TotalCoLearner experiment, so I'm using the sections of Jennifer's article to prompt my reflections today, and I highly recommend reading her article first; there's a lot she covers that I have not touched on here.


1. Set Realistic Expectations. Because I've been teaching my classes for such a long time, I'm pretty clear about the expectations for my assignments, so I'm probably not going to see any revelations there. But the classes are now the result of 15+ years of continuous experimentation where student workload has been one of my foremost considerations. I do ask a lot of my students, and I'm pretty confident that I am not asking too much. The biggest change I made in that regard was inventing the Portfolio project option several years ago (an alternative to the Storybook project option)... and sure enough, I am doing the Portfolio option myself as my project!


2. Write Better Instructions. Absolutely! I'm always trying to improve my instructions, with that double challenge of making them more clear AND making them shorter. Doing the class assignments has prompted me to read back through the instructions and edit them, more so than usual this semester. Doing that in the context of actually completing the assignments has been super-helpful!


3. Troubleshoot Complex Activities. Again, I've done a lot of this already... but one thing that has emerged from me doing the class this semester is that, because I chose to use Twine software for storytelling, I was able to write up some Tech Tips to help students get started with that admittedly complex tool. I am really happy about that; it's something I've been meaning to do for two years... and I probably would not have gotten around to it this year either if I were not taking the class and writing my own stuff in Twine!

4. Get Your Timing Right. This goes up there with expectations and workload. I've been hyperaware of the time factor since I started teaching  because this is a huge challenge for any fully  class: you don't get that automatic 150 minutes of classroom time that is guaranteed. I really need to my students to spend 5-6 hours of time total per week, and it is not easy to get them to block out that time in their schedule the way they do block out time for classroom classes. So, I haven't really gained any insight into the time my assignments take, but I sure am grateful for all the flexibility I provide about deadlines. I would not be able to participate in the class without that flexibility, and the same is true for many of my students.


5. Create Models. I really don't want the students to obsess about my work as a prototype, but I am glad that my blog, stories, and project are part of the big mix of blogs, stories, and projects for this semester! I really like the way that my stuff just goes into the mix and it's pretty clear that as some students start commenting on my stories, they don't figure out it is me until after they have already made their comment. Which is perfect: that's exactly the idea between #TotalCoLearner. And having my blog not so much as a model but as a place to experiment is really cool; I have made some good improvements to the Blogger Tech Tips by documenting the experiments I have tried at my own blog, some of which were directly inspired by experiments I saw at other students' blogs (one guy had a favicon for example; I had never thought of doing that, and now I love my little fox favicon... plus a couple of other students have now added favicons to their blogs too!).


fox favicon


6. Revising the Mind of Beginner. I cannot exactly simulate that in my work for the class because my situation as a reader and as a writer is very different from most of my students (except for the professional writing majors, who are often better writers than I am). By using Twine, though, I was able to get at that beginner's mind, and it's been great! Before I had just played with Twine to see how it worked; I had not used it for actual story writing, and I also had not experimented with embedding a Twine file in blog posts; it works so well! For next semester, I am going to enroll in the India class, and I am going to build my whole project in Twine, creating a kind of Twine option that people can choose right from the start of the class if they want. Probably only a few students are going to want a technology experience like that, but I am really glad to be able to offer it to them, and that never would have happened if I had not enrolled myself in Myth-Folklore this semester. Whoo-hoo! Here's a student's Twine game-story embedded in my course announcements embedded in Canvas: how cool is that?


twine in blog in canvas


7. Tweak Your Design. I'm always tweaking my design, but this experiment has given me new/different opportunities to think about how to do that. I also had fun designing my spreadsheet for tracking my progress and I'm pondering some radical possibilities about making something like that available to my students as an alternative to the Canvas Gradebook. I probably won't go that route... but honestly, if I find myself facing the New Gradebook with my students' assignments marked as missing/late like they were during that awful few weeks last year, then I will definitely have to find an alternative, and my experience building my own Google Sheet Gradebook has given me a ton of ideas for how much more useful that would be compared to the Canvas Gradebook.


screenshot of progress-tracking spreadsheet

Sharing this semester with my students by "being" a student in the class has been such a great experiment so far: yay for the #TotalCoLearner hashtag! It is now the end of Week 5, and to my own surprise, I've ended up with over 200 points so far... because I'm doing work for this class just for fun. On the one hand, that should not be surprising since, doh, I am the one who designed the class with the goal of making it fun. But it's good to know that it really IS fun, at least for a geek/nerd like me. For my colearning post today, I want to write something about doing tech stuff together with my students.


I was prompted to pick this theme today because of a post that one of my students just shared: 

Growth Mindset: The Path to Genius

I don't think that kind of embedding is allowed here, but it's cute even as a screenshot (see bottom of post). If you click on the circles at the "live" version, you see a message pop up for each one. Erin's post has more details.


So, how cool is that??? It's an extra-credit growth mindset thing, but instead of just making a meme, Erin has used Genially to create an interactive infographic! I had never heard of Genially before meeting Erin but in her project planning assignment last week, she had mentioned that she was looking at this tool or maybe Prezi for creating some interactive feature in her project. I know Prezi, but not Genially... now, though, I have seen Genially in action.


Even better, I noticed that it had that share icon down at the bottom... and there is even an iframe embed share option. Just copy and paste! So I just had to try to see if I could embed this great thing inside a blog post in my blog for class... and it worked: Tech Tip: Testing Genially.


This would also work in Canvas too (at least it should), since this is a typical iframe type of embedding. For more about iframes and Canvas, see Sean Nufer's work, like his presentation from IsntCon about all-things-embedded:

Embedding Content in Canvas, or: How I Learned to Stop Being Bland and Make My Content Amazing 


This is the kind of back-and-forth with my students today is something I have benefited so much from as a teacher using  tools outside the LMS. I'm a more advanced blogger than most of my students, but every semester there are also students who are way ahead of me with technology and get me to up my game. The work I did with Twine this semester is the result of Twine experiments by students in the class last year for example (see my latest: Twine in Canvas!).


So, I've always been doing colearning and connected learning in my classes. What's different about this colearning experiment where I am a student in the class is the range of new kinds of connections I can make with the students because I am spending my time different this semester. Admittedly, I am not doing as much content creation as I normally do... but I've created so much content for my classes that, honestly, I'm not really in need of new content right now. Creating my own class blog side by side, week by week, with the students is turning out to be a really good way to use my time instead. I am excited for what the next 10 weeks will bring! :-)


(for the interactive version, go to Erin's blog or my blog)


Path to Genius graphic

This morning I wrote up a bunch of Tech Tips for my students about using Twine to create interactive, non-linear stories that they could publish in their blog posts or webpages... and then of course I got curious about whether it would work in Canvas. And glory hallelujah, Twine works PERFECTLY in Canvas. So, I thought I would write up a quick step-by-step guide. To get a sense of the result, here's a story I wrote earlier this semester: The Mouse-Bride (for notes about that story, see where I included it in my class project here: Chain Tales Portfolio).


THE MOUSE-BRIDE: Choose-Your-Own-Adventure in Canvas


screenshot of twine game in canvas


Here's a step by step of how to get started with Twine and then publish your Twine file in Canvas:


1. Create a simple story. I've got a step by step guide here for my students. You can find lots more information about creating Twine stories at the site.


2. Download the HTML file. In the lower right-hand corner of the Twine editing screen, there is an up-arrow that pops open a menu. Choose "Publish to File".


3. Upload HTML to Files in Canvas. Now just upload the file to the Files are in Canvas. Honestly, that's all you have to do! Your Twine game is right there, ready to play!


4. Embed the File. If you want to give the game some context, though, you should take one more step and embed the File in a Canvas Page. To do that, you just need this iframe snippet:


<iframe src="https://___/courses/___/files/___/download" width="100%" height="600"></iframe>


Fill in the blanks with your Canvas domain, course number, and file number, and adjust the width and height if you want. Create your Page, and then just type TWINE where you want to embed the file; switch to the HTML editor, and replace where you typed the word TWINE with the iframe snippet. You're done!


So........... go wild, people! You could have your students build their own stories, or you could do that collaboratively, working with post-it notes on the wall, and then transferring that to a Twine file.


I had so much fun building my Mouse-Bride story. Here's a screenshot of my Twine editing board; this is the most complex story I have ever done. :-)


twine storytelling board


Happy storytelling........!!!

Last year I tried a showcase experiment for my students' projects using Photosnack slideshows, and that worked pretty well... but then Photosnack shut down, and I had to come up with something new. As often with tech-evolution, I've ended up with something even better as a result: I'm using Google Slides, and it's working great!


I'm guessing this way of using Slides could be useful to anyone who wants to showcase their students' work in a Canvas page.


You can see how that works in my two classes: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics.


screenshot of student projects in canvas





1. Create Google Slideshow. I created a slideshow with Google Slides, and then I created a slide for each student with a screenshot of their website, plus a link to the website below the slide and a link to their blog (that line of text and links is just copied-and-pasted from the class wiki page that lists all the projects alphabetically for each class).


2. Embed Show in Canvas. I created a Page in my Canvas space, and then I embedded the Google Slideshow there, with a custom width of 600 pixels (see screenshot above).


google slides embedding options


I then used the Redirect app to make the Page part of my class navigation: the student blogs and projects are the most important content in my classes. I also embedded the slideshow in my Announcements blog (it works even at just 200 pixels wide) and in our class wiki pages. Here's how it looks embedded in the blog (which is, yes, embedded in Canvas too: Daily News):


show in blog in Canvas


3. Randomize! I found a great Slides Add-On to randomize the slideshow, so once each day, I randomize the slideshow. That way, there is new student work featured at the top of the show each day at random. No favorites; everybody is in the show, and the top of the show is just random.


Google Slides randomizer





1. Easy to create. It took me maybe two hours to get all this set up for the student projects up and running so far. Some students are running a little behind with their projects, and that's not a problem; I can just add in their slides next week when they get their websites (there will be appx. 90 projects total). The whole process was much quicker than with Photosnack because of the ultra-efficient editing interface in Google Slides. (I use Google tools for all my other content development; I find all the Google tools very congenial.)


2. Easy to update. Students do change their website coverpage design periodically during the semester, and sometimes they change their project title. All I have to do is take a screenshot and replace the image in the slide or change the text on the slide as needed.


3. Easy to combine. When I do updates, I then have to regenerate the combined slideshow which has slides from both classes. It takes literally 30 seconds: just copy-and-paste the slides from Myth and from India into the combined slideshow for both classes. I am really happy about that; Photosnack did not have a copy-and-paste option like that, so last year I did not even have a combined slideshow for both classes. Now I do! And I really need a combined show; that's the one I am displaying in the class announcements blog sidebar, since the announcements are for both classes.


4. Easy to access. I've got a folder of bookmarks in my browser bookmarks bar which gives me access to the editing view and the display view of the three different slideshows (Myth, India, both classes combined). I also have a link to each student's slide in the spreadsheet I use to track all of the work related to managing their projects. So, everything is literally just a click away: slideshow edit, slideshow view, individual slides.


5. Easy to embed. I can update a slideshow in one place, it updates everywhere automatically. EMBEDDING IS ESSENTIAL. Using an embedded slideshow I can have the same slideshow for both sections of my Myth class this semester, and also use the content in multiple contexts: Canvas, blog, wiki. The embedding process in Google Slides is super easy, and I like the customization features for size, speed, and autoplay.


6. Easy to refresh. I was so glad I found that randomizer add-on! I really want the slideshow to be "fresh" and not just the same every time students come to it, especially the version that appears in the Announcements blog. I have daily announcements, and I can also refresh the slideshow with the randomizer at the same time that I do the new announcements.


7. Good model for students. I've already written up an extra credit Google Slides Tech Tip for students who want to experiment with embedding Google Slides in their own blog just like I have done at the class announcements. I really hope someone will give that a try!

Laura Gibbs

#TotalCoLearner: Week 4

Posted by Laura Gibbs Sep 15, 2018

Just as I suspected: this #TotalCoLearner is going to be a great exercise in HOW FAST THE SEMESTER GOES. I mean, seriously, how is it even possible that it is the end of Week 4? But it is. My students are probably facing midterms in a lot of their classes next week; I am so glad that I am not facing the same pressures that they are. In fact, just the opposite: I am really getting into my groove telling stories for class, and I am really upset with myself for the same reason: just think what an amazing pile of stories I would have if I had done this for the past umpteen years? But still: better late than never!


My story this week turned out really great; I struggled so much with the details of the opening paragraphs (but it was a good struggle; so different from struggling with abstract language: I had to really BE in Psyche's place to figure out how she carried that box)... and then when I got to the actual chain tale part of the story, it just clicked. I had never heard of these chain-of-mourner stories before this summer: and now I have written one of my own! Here it is: Psyche Lives! I am still liking the way the "featured post" widget allows that story item to appear on every page of my blog; here you can see it in the sidebar on the page with my latest tech tip posts:


screenshot of blog for cl


I gave my students the option of NOT doing a story this week and doing a learn-about-storytelling activity instead, and that was really fascinating (something I had never done before in this specific way) -- some of the students wanted to do a story anyway, and that was the same for me also; I didn't even hesitate to write a story! But for the students who chose the other option, it was so cool: they all chose such different items from the list of options. Some watched videos, some browsed websites -- and they chose different videos and different websites as they did that. So, I felt really affirmed by the variety of options that they chose, and the next real feedback will come from seeing what students do in Week 6 when that option comes around again. Here's how that works: Story Lab.


For more about how all this is going, you can check out my Famous Last Words this week; writing those Famous Last Words is something a lot of students choose to do as extra credit, and I really see the value in it too. 


I'm also enjoying the process of being a student in our Michael Bonner Book Club, but I will confess that I am feeling the same frustration with the discussion board that I always do: I see posts from people, but they are just a name on a post there. Unlike responding to a student at their blog, I find it really hard to get a sense of personal connection in a discussion board. There were two other people so far who had left posts at the discussion board, but if I click on their name, all I see is this (it's just a coincidence that neither of them has updated their Profile):


screenshot blank profile


I completely understand why people don't update their profile (profile fatigue! it gets exhausting)... but at the same time, I really want Canvas to act more like a social network where all the content people are creating and contributing shows up as a stream that you could access by clicking on their name, the way that the blogs in my classes (and Ning, back in the days when I used Ning) automatically generate people-centered streams of dynamic content. In my class blog network, I really enjoy connecting with my students and seeing all their work in context, and being able to also show all my work in the context of my blog. It's hard to get that same feeling in Canvas. Doing the book club using Canvas tools like the discussion board makes me glad for the blog networks in my classes. Yes, setting up a blog network is more work, but I can definitely say that, at least for me, that extra work is worth it. You can see the blog network hopping in my classes, especially on Sunday (although I was not the only person doing work for class today, Saturday).

Blog Stream: Myth-Folklore section 995 - Fall 2018 

Blog Stream: Indian Epics - Fall 2018 


Happy Weekend, everybody!

Laura Gibbs

#TotalCoLearner: Week 3

Posted by Laura Gibbs Sep 8, 2018

So here's the latest on my #TotalColearner experience: Week 3 is over now, and it worked out great. Just like many of my students I suspect, I took advantage of the Labor Day holiday to get ahead, and I did my reading and storytelling assignments on Monday. I seriously love the story I created, which is a chain tale riff on the Garden of Eden, combining the Biblical account with a Jewish legend (also found in the Muslim world) about Adam and Eve and Samael.
Who's to Blame in the Garden of Eden?


It was really helpful for me to write this story; before, my impulse would be to do the bibliographical/scholarly work: find Ginzberg's sources, bringing in the Islamic evidence that I know from a book by James Kugel, etc. etc. -- all that stuff which I am very good at and which is also useful... but which is not the same as storytelling, for which there are no rules and you really have to approach everything with a sense of THE NEW. Anyway, I really like how it turned out, and I am going to end up with such a cool Portfolio of stories this semester, yay! The two stories I wrote already are good enough to go into a Portfolio, so I might try something even weirder for this coming week, knowing the experiment might fail, but since I have two good stories already, I might as well indulge some strange storytelling impulse this week just to see what happens (I'm thinking of sending Psyche on a chain-of-requests instead of the usual task list she has in Apuleius).


I also got my first comments from students at my blog, and it's working out great I think; one of them said something funny about me participating in the class that made me laugh:


Hi again Laura, I don't think its weird you are participating in the class - I think its great! It reminds me of how PE teachers or coaches never participated in the activities they made us do in middle school, and I was always so annoyed because it seemed they forgot how hard the work is sometimes.

That is exactly why I am hoping to make myself more aware of by participating in the class like a student.

I also really enjoyed using the randomizer just like the students do to leave comments on people's blogs this week. The blog comments are short and fun, different from the detailed feedback that I is my standard way of interacting with students, so I think it is going to be not just fun but also potentially useful to be interacting with them at their blogs this way, as a student, in addition to my teacherly interactions with them.


Having my blog for the class is also super-useful. I geeked out with Blogger tips this weekend because I was tooling up my blog and thought the students might like some of the things I was doing. Being more motivated to find time to create new Tech Tips was one of my goals for this being-a-student project, and it's definitely working out that way too.

Basically I'm kicking myself for not having done this all along: it is not that much time (for my students, the class is 5-6 hours per week, but the assignments are quicker for me since I already have most of the skills that the assignments are teaching), and it just feels so good to be doing this. I am really glad that I picked the bigger class (the one with appx. 60 students) so that my presence is not going to be domineering in any way, and then in Spring, when I have the big Indian Epics class, I can "enroll" in that class.


So far so good!!!


I also have to add that it is really cool to be a student in Kristin Lundstrum's reading group / class for Michael Bonner's book and seeing how she runs the Canvas space. I am going to learn so much from that experience too!


So, here are my three takeaways for this week:

1. Blog comment limitations. Interacting at the blogs is fun, but the lack of real conversational back-and-forth at a blog is a problem, and I'm feeling that same problem as the students do too I think. So, having this experience myself as part of the class will maybe help me think of some good solutions we could try next semester.

2. I seriously love writing stories. I know I said that last time after writing my first story, and the second story this week gave me the same feeling. And I just have not been good at finding the time to do that; now I will be finding time for that every week, and with that practice I will also be getting better at it.

3. Better late than never! I am really regretting not having done this all along; I lost out on a lot of learning opportunities by not having done this consistently all along. I was wrong that I didn't have time for it (it's really not that much time), and I was wrong that the students might find it too weird; so far, they don't find it weird at all. And I am having so much fun!


A screenshot of my class blog with my new widgets and such:

blog screenshot

My Feature Request got put in Cold Storage, but I had published this blog post with the idea, and am reviving the blog post now since a similar idea has come up.

Sort Gradebook by Notes Section 



I had a mini-crisis in Canvas this week (not being able to enter letter grades for my students: Part 1), which led to researching the many features requests at Canvas about this problem (which I collected in Part 2), and then I just had to vent about numeric grades (for which I made a meme: Part 3). I'll finish up the series today with my thoughts about a feature request I want to propose at Canvas, and I would greatly appreciate feedback and suggestions, especially from anyone who has successfully proposed a feature request.


I'll need to do some more research first; as an LMS minimalist, I never thought I would be making a feature request... but I want to try. Based on all the failed requests I found, I'm guessing that I will not succeed either, but at least it will be a chance to connect with others exploring better ways to grade, and I will benefit from that personally, regardless of what happens in Canvas. :-)


Feature Request: Text Fields in the Canvas Gradebook


It would be very useful if instructors could create text fields in the Canvas Gradebook.


Text fields v. current "Notes" field. Right now, there is a Notes field, but its usefulness is limited because there is no toggle to make it visible to students. There is also only one Notes field, when what we really need is to create multiple text fields, defining a specific purpose for each one, and making each one visible to students or not based on that purpose. Finally, the Notes field is not part of the CSV import/export of the Gradebook, which greatly limits its usefulness.



1. Multiple Fields. Instructors should be able to create multiple text fields, based on their specific needs. The fields can be short in length; the Notes field is available for longer entries.

2. Visibility. We should be able to make each Gradebook text field visible to students or not.

3. Export/Import. The Gradebook text fields should be part of the CSV import/export of the Gradebook as other columns are.

4. Sortability. The Gradebook text fields should be sortable in the Gradebook as the other columns are.

5. Messaging. The Gradebook text fields should be available for use in messaging students as other columns are. A simple "not empty" criterion would work, equivalent to the "haven't submitted" option for assignment columns.

6. Searching/Filtering. If/when the Gradebook finally becomes more fully searchable and filterable on multiple columns (as I hope it will), the Gradebook text fields should be integrated with those advanced searching and filtering options.




1. Letters without numbers. Instructors could use a text field to record a letter grade or other text-based mark manually in the Gradebook without any number-based scheme. (That is what I expected to be able to do, based on my previous practice in D2L; I cannot use a Canvas grading scheme because my course is based on choices, not zeroes, and students always have a score of 100%.)


2. Complex grading/analytics. Instructors could use a text field to support a complex assessment system in an external spreadsheet, importing the resulting text-based mark from the spreadsheet back into the Canvas Gradebook. This would work for final grade calculation, and also for other kinds of highly customized data analysis. For example, you could set up a formula in an external spreadsheet to alert students to having missed "more than x" number of assignments in "the past x weeks," and display a resulting text message to the student in the Gradebook via a custom text field for that purpose.


3. Student alerts. Instructors could use a text field to manually enter important information with students. For example, in D2L I used a text-based field to alert students what stage their project had reached so that they would know what they had due in any given week (my students' project assignments vary based on their individual project schedule).


4. Fields-as-flags. Instructors could use a text field for flagging purposes. D2L offered a single on-off flag toggle that I used for different purposes at different times during the semester; a simple text field can serve the same function as a flag toggle, so the text field option would give us the equivalent of flagging.


~ ~ ~


Okay... that is my first attempt at drafting the request. I'll do some more research and keep thinking on this, and then learn just how one goes about reviving an old feature request (I am obviously not the first person to have made this request), and also strategize about the timing. My guess is that this would make a good winter break project!


Feedback and suggestions very welcome! I would like to do a good job with this; it's not a challenge I expected to tackle (being an LMS minimalist), but I am excited to give it a try. My only experience is with D2L, and the D2L text fields are what gave me this idea. I would be very curious to hear from Blackboard and Moodle users what text field options are available in those Gradebooks, and I will also research that  to see what I can learn.


And to close, here is a growth mindset cat for inspiration:


Obstacles teach you to leap higher.