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All People > Laura Gibbs > Laura Gibbs' Blog > 2019 > January

Today's post is related specifically to events on my campus, but I hope it can have a general message for other educators here at the Community. And while I start off talking about curriculum issues in general, I share some specific Canvas strategies at the end too!


So, given the tumultuous news cycle lately, you might not have followed all the goings-on at the University of Oklahoma. The most comprehensive overview is at the Chronicle of Higher Ed, and it's currently featured story at the site's front page: Hired to Fix Finances, Oklahoma’s New President Now Faces a More Delicate Task (paywalled, but OU people can access the Chronicle via OU Libraries). There's also good coverage the OU Daily, our student newspaper. The Daily printed the demands presented by the Black Student Association, and President Gallogly's response, but Gallogly's response does not make any reference to the specific demand about the curriculum: an enhanced curriculum dedicated to the education of social and cultural competency for all students.


I hope very much that this demand will get the attention it deserves, and that my school will engage in a wide-ranging discussion of how the curriculum is part of the problem we have with racism on our campus right now, and how a different curriculum could also be part of the solution. This is obviously a huge topic, so I am just going to touch on a few points here, based on my 20 years of teaching at OU, and specifically my role in teaching for our General Education program.


The General Education program we have now is the same one we had when I arrived at OU in 1999; I believe it was set up sometime in the 1980s, but I'm not sure about that. Here's an overview, and here is the Humanities requirement in particular:


screenshot of Humanities requirement 


I teach a course that is "Western Civilization and Culture" and a course that is "Non-Western Culture." Language matters, so let's look at that more carefully:


We need PLURALS. The idea that there is a single/singular "Western Civilization and Culture" is a foolish and dangerous idea. It should not be enshrined like this in our curriculum.


We don't need OTHERING language. The very term "non-Western" divides the world up into an "us" and a "them" who are "not-us." And what happened to "civilization" here? Seriously, this is very weird: the Gen. Ed. requirements posit a Western Civilization, but no Civilization beyond the West? The mind boggles: "Western Civilization and Culture" versus "Non-Western Culture." 


We need more than TOKENIZATION. The idea that taking one "Non-Western Culture" course constitutes a "general" education is absurd and insulting. The homepage for the General Education program is full of self-congratulatory language about breadth and depth, but that is not what we see in these requirements.


There is no way that a serious education in the world today is going to happen with a one-course-here one-course-there approach. Instead, we need for ALL courses at the university to be informed by the world around us and the ways that the world is changing. That means cultural change, political change, climate change, all the changes. Historically, universities have been culturally conservative places with many institutional practices in place that make change difficult and slow it down, and that is especially true of the curriculum.


So, here are just three ideas I have for what we could do at the institutional level to help bring about changes to the curriculum, along with three things I do in my classes to make sure they keep changing (and that's where I will talk about Canvas, I promise!).


INSTITUTIONAL LEVEL. These are the top things I would like to see, from my perspective as an instructor.


1. OPEN SYLLABUSES. Students need to be able to see syllabuses for classes in advance, way in advance, of enrollment. The new Bookstore system makes it easier to see what course materials are being used, but students should also be able to see syllabuses too. Instead of choosing courses just based on titles and often outdated course descriptions (plus Rate-My-Professors), students should be able to get detailed information about the content and course design of the classes they are considering. Also, for me as an instructor, being able to learn more about our curriculum in this way would be extremely helpful.


2. COURSE DEVELOPMENT. There should be rolling course review and course consultation to assist faculty in improving their courses, both content and course design. Every course can be improved and should be improved; we should all be working on that, and we should be able to get help and work together with others. In particular, faculty need to be challenged to think about social and cultural competence per the BSA statement above, and students should be part of that course review process. If we can make this a community effort, we will all be able to learn more about how to do a better job with our courses.


3. GENERAL EDUCATION REVISION. It is surely time to re-think the General Education program from the ground up with a community-driven and participatory process. Such a process would take several years (the Penn State process is a good example), which is all the more reason to start now. I really do not want to spend the rest of my career teaching a course labeled "Non-Western," and the more new, alternative ideas we can get on the table at the start of the process, the better!


MY COURSES. Finally, I'm going to share here some strategies I've used in revising my courses in order to make them a better social and cultural learning experience.


1. STUDENT SPACES. I build my courses as student blog networks, where the students design their own spaces and interact with each other in those individual spaces. One of the programs at OU that I am most excited about is the OUCreate project, which offers all students, faculty, and staff at OU an opportunity to create their own web presence and share what is important to them with the OU community by using the Internet in their own ways.


2. DIVERSE CONTENT. I challenge myself to keep finding ways to bring more diverse content into my classes. For example, I received a grant from the excellent OER initiative through the OU Libraries to bring more work by Indian writers into my Indian Epics class. When I first started teaching the Indian Epics class in 2004, I featured texts by an American author and an Indian author; yes, I had "balance," which was okay, but not great. Now I have a huge range of content in the class, with the students able to choose from an array of different authors and formats. The diverse content has made the course so much better!


3. VAST CONTENT. Probably the biggest challenge is how to bring a wide range of content into a class while still respecting students' time. For example, I ask my students for 6 hours per week of their time for all the reading, writing, and other work in my classes. So, how can I help them explore a vast range of reading material and artwork and work by their fellow students within that time frame? My solution is a technological one: randomizers! And Canvas lets me deploy those randomizers in the Canvas space, as well as in all my blogs and websites. To see how that works, here is my Canvas Widget Warehouse, where I share all my randomizers with anyone who might find them useful. (And OUCreate is what makes this possible, allowing me to host image assets in an https space!)


So, if I have over a thousand books in the free online book library for my Myth-Folklore class — and I do: Freebookapalooza —I use randomizers to continually surface those materials: every time students come to my Canvas homepage for that class at (click: it's open to all!), they see a random free online book, along with a random student project from the vast archive of student projects, plus random videos to watch from the vastness of YouTube, and so on; there's something different every time the page loads. That's the breadth. And depth: well, that's up to the students. But if they see a book or a project that catches their attention, deeper learning is just a click away.


screenshot of homepage


So, those are some ideas I can share that have worked for me, and I've also shared here my hopes for curriculum change as part of all the many changes we need to see at my school. Will there be a larger conversation about all of this? I sure hope so. Twitter is one place where that is happening, and you can find me there: @OnlineCrsLady.


And thanks as always to my friends here at the Community who helped me figure out how I can use the magic of

iframe to share all my widgets with any Canvas user anywhere!

cat and computer:

With effort, I can develop new skills.


Last week was the "Orientation Week" in my classes, and one of the assignments the students complete at the end of the week is a blog post with their thoughts about the kinds of technology tools they will be using in my classes (everybody blogs, everybody builds a website, and there are lots of other tools that students can choose to learn about and use if they want), along with information about the web spaces where they will find the class content (none of the content is in Canvas). Overwhelmingly, the students are in favor of having a technology adventure! Out of 90 students, there was 1 student who would prefer instead to have everything in Canvas, 1 student who is reserving judgment until she learns more, and 88 students who are already on board and ready to experiment. You can see all their tech-tools blog posts displayed here, and I've pulled some highlight quotes below.


This assignment is really helpful to me in all kinds of ways. I don't comment on the posts, but I do read through them. That lets me know which student(s) might need some extra encouragement and reassurance about the technology in the class (like the one student who is reluctant about going outside Canvas), and it also lets me know what kinds of additional tools people are most interested in so that I can develop good support materials (for example, I've been developing support materials for Twine because of student interest). My all-purpose course design mantra is ASK THE STUDENTS, and then I really do listen to what they say.


So, yes, I am a devoted blogger myself (as you can see from my Canvas Community blog, ha ha), but if my students actually were not into blogging, I would find some other way to build our class network. As it turns out, though, they are intrigued about blogging, and even in 2019, it's still something new and exciting for them. I dream of a day when students will show up for class and their first question will be: "How do you want us to configure our blogs for this class?" But that day is probably a long ways off, and in part because of the assumption — this mistaken assumption — that students just want to use the LMS as their only online learning tool.


Sure, if you ask them in the abstract a question like "Do you want to use Canvas only or lots of tools for your online course?" many students, maybe even most students, will choose the known for the unknown, they will play it safe, they will go with their strength.


But if instead you can show them what other tools are out there, how those tools are useful, and give them the support they need in using those tools, that changes everything. As you can see from their comments below, they want to learn tools that will be of use in their professional lives (Canvas is not that tool). At the same time, they want to make sure that they will get the support they need in learning something new, and after the first week in my classes, they know I will give them that support. I also really appreciate the way that they see how the use of these technology tools connects up with the creative spirit I want to foster in my classes! Canvas is not something that is really about creativity, but I've chosen the tools for my classes so that the students can create all kinds of content and then share what they create.


So, if teachers don't have the time or experience or motivation to work with students on learning about tools beyond Canvas, by all means, just use Canvas. It works. But at the same time, when there are teachers like me who are really enthusiastic about teaching students how to use more/different tools, don't tell me that students only want to use Canvas. It's not true. Ask the students; they will tell you.


(And that mantra applies to everything about a course, not just technology tools...)


And as promised above, here are some highlights from those blog posts:


Technology tools will probably be the most difficult part of this course for me. But, I think it's great that we will have the opportunity to learn technology tools through this course. I also love the fact that we won't be using Canvas as much, it makes sense to start learning new tech tools and websites outside of Canvas. In reality, Canvas is such a small part of our college experience. There are so many new online resources that I can take from this course into the real world. I am unfamiliar with majority of these tools, but looking forward to learning how to use them. This website environment is a lot different than all my other classes I have ever taken. However, just because something is different, doesn't mean it's a bad thing!


Most of the tech tools mentioned weren't new to me, but the "Twine" one was! How cool is it to have open-ended, interactive stories?! It kinda reminds me of RPG games. I will definitely have to learn how to utilize that nifty little thing this semester. This online class and environment differs in that it allows for awesome, intuitive tools these these to be used. I cannot remember the most recent time that a traditional course had us explore and expand the boundaries of our technical knowledge.


Technology is definitely not my forte. For example, I struggled getting started on Blogger the first week of class. What I love about it though is how easy it makes my life once I get the hang of it!


I would say that the two tools that have peaked my interest and would like to further explore would be image editing and graphics creation. Since those two skills are completely out of my comfort zone, I think that it would be a great accomplishment and web skill to obtain by the end of the semester.


I think there are a lot of resources and I am excited to learn about how to create my own graphics, blog more, as well as creating my own website. I've heard of the program Canva before, but could never figure out how to use it on my phone, so hopefully I can learn how to use it on my laptop. So overall, I am not very familiar with the technology tools, but I am definitely looking to work on making graphics and working on becoming more creative this semester. I'm looking forward to learning new skills that I can use in the future.


I am really looking forward to learning how to use and create more complex and fun blogs, as I am really enjoying the course blog so far! I took this course for my love of mythology, but I think I will take away a better grasp of technology, a new learning style, and a new perspective on grading in general, as I've never taken a course set up in a manner such as this.


I'm excited to be working with the resources covered in the technology assignment. Not only have I never had a class utilize technology in the way this course has so far, but I've also always been curious as to how other ran blogs or created websites like Wix (I've seen ads but never looked into them). So, I'm definitely looking forward to learning how to use these resources.


One thing I appreciate from the technology aspect of this class is the use of different platforms for our blogs. I think it allows students to use whatever website is easier for them and suits their style more. Google Blogger thus far has been awesome, and really friendly to someone, like me, who has never blogged before.


Prior to this course, I barely had any technological experience. I have always desired to begin a blog, but never had the push to create one. This class gave me the push I needed and an opportunity to be creative and motivated. As we dive deeper into this class, I further expand my love for blogging and having this as a creative outlet. I am extremely eager to work through the ins and outs of establishing a website, editing images, and creating graphics. I always see people make super funky and cool graphics. I know I will be able to put all the skills I acquire from the technology tools to use outside of this course. I am very enthusiastic to add things to my blog that represent me as a person.


Ever since I could remember, I have been relatively tech savvy. I started playing games like Reader Rabbit on our family's personal computer when I was 2 or 3 years old. I remember watching and learning from my cousin, to whom I am quite close, as he built and programmed websites in the early 2000's using html. However, I have never blogged or published my own website. I look forward to developing those skills because I believe they will be rather useful as I progress into my own professional career.


I really appreciate our instructor's consideration for skills we will need in the future. In many of my classes, I have learned things I will either never need in the future or have already forgotten because they did not seem important enough to me at the time. With the skills we are learning in this course, I know I will use them at some point in my professional career as technology is infused in almost everything we do.


I'm slowly becoming familiar with blogging, but do not have extensive experience with picture editing and website design. These are things I would never research on my own, but I'm excited to do it now that I have a reason to lol. I think these are cool skills that could definitely be applicable to a wide variety of careers. I've actually been wanting to make a slideshow on our tv at the gym I work at with nutrition tips and recipes for our members. Hopefully this will help with that.


Having this class on a separate site from the traditional OU Canvas website is nice because it puts my technology skills to the test in a non-threatening way–especially knowing that help is only a call and an email away. Another neat thing about the technology use in this course is the freedom we have to choose websites and applications based on our individual preference. The way in which this course was designed is very user-friendly, and that helps make the experience of the class feel more personal and fun.


As a young adult, I am supposed to know my way around a computer. However, I have always felt like I don't know enough. I am familiar with the most popular social media sites, I am good at finding things on Google or Youtube, and I know how to navigate my iPhone. Despite knowing these basic skills, I still feel like I am supposed to know more about computer technology and tools. Thus, I am excited to learn more about these things throughout this semester.


I found this lesson very helpful. I am excited to start using these different tools and sites. I've obviously heard of some of the sites before, like Google Docs, but the tools are unfamiliar to me. This semester I'd like to brush up on my technology skills in general, but there is not one particular tool I want to use. I think this class will be a great place for me to practice!


One appeal I have noticed in learning about these tools is from an angle of self-marketing. As a musician, social media is an essential part of getting your name out into the world. There are also some platforms useful for keeping video records of performances, which is useful for grad-school auditions and for personal storage (things are often lost when kept on a smart phone). Additionally, I know of many performers that have their own websites to inform potential employers. I really enjoy that this course allows people to explore their preferences and choose what appeals to them best, both for the course and for continued academic/professional use.


I have never blogged before, so this process has taken some getting used too. I am glad Blogger is user friendly, helps me out a lot. I think I am going to be a pro Blogger in a few weeks.


Technology is a scary thing for me. I am not tech savvy at all, but I am excited to gain new technology tools as I continue this course. I know at some point in life I will probably need some, if not all, of these new skills, so I am ready to embrace this journey. This is my first class to not be solely dependant on Canvas. I am nervous about all this new technology, however, I am delighted to be learning new skills that will only help me in the future.


The modules of this first week has made me more comfortable with using Blogger and customizing my blog theme. It is refreshing how most of this online class takes place outside of Canvas; it makes it feel less like schoolwork and more like a hobby. Also, never having to physically meet anyone in this class also helps me feel more freedom to be honest about my thoughts and post geeky memes (and hopefully entertain other people too!).


This class is definitely unlike any other online course I have taken, but I am looking forward to challenging myself as a student. At the moment, I am really enjoying the blogging and am considering starting a personal blog.


One tool that really interested me, as a reader anyway, was the twine. I read and interacted with the Flood Myths: Utnapishtim, and absolutely LOVED it. I am not sure how they did it, surely they followed some preplanned steps. Hopefully it will not be as difficult as it looks. Well, everything looks a little difficult. But had someone asked me to create a Blog before this class, I would have felt the same way, but look at me now! I have a Blog. So, there ya go, I am learning technology already.


Technology progresses at such a rate that the likelihood that acquired technical knowledge will be obsolete before it can be fully utilized. As such, I don't have any technological skills that I want to develop. However, acclimating to new technologies can be considered a skill in and of itself; if there is any web skill I want to build, it would be that one.


I'm interested to use the website publishing and graphics creation. The use of the internet and using it outside the bounds of regular class work is awesome and nothing like any of my other traditional class set ups.


My first impressions on the assignment about technology is that it seems a little complicated. It seems like there is a lot to look into and learn. I think that once I get into working on it, it will become easy. Just like how I thought that blogging was going to be very difficult, but it really isn't.


This online environment is surprisingly a lot easier than my other classes. It shows organization, new things to increase our knowledge on how we use technology, and plenty of fun! Unlike my other classes who tend to just use canvas for everything, using more websites and creating more activities has helped me be more engaged in the class. Not only that, but the wanting to be engaged as well. Some of the web skills that I am really wanting to work on is mastering all of the new sites and tools so I do not have to go back and look at the instructions. I want to be able to completely do it on my own. Not just with the regular basic tools but with more in depth tools as well.


I have been using computers since my parents let me when I was six. They have been a part of almost of my whole life. This is unlike any other class I have been in-- blended, online, or in person. At first I could not find anything, but I learned quickly. I'm excited because I will never use canvas or connect ever again so the reasoning is understandable. I don't know what I will use. The internet changes so quickly, I don't even know if it has been created yet.


This course is set up in a way quite unlike my other classes. I usually do not like when professors deviate from using Canvas, but this course is effectively organized and laid out in a way that is easy enough to navigate. By making the switch over fairly easy, I do not mind the change from the standard setup for a course. The more I dive into this class's contents, the more I discover new and interesting tools that I have noticed before but never spent the time to learn how to use.


I can already tell that a majority of the links in the assignment posts are useful and full of intriguing information about topics that make me think. I have thought about making a website or blog before, but now I will have the steps to actually implement and create my own. This is exciting for me because I do not normally have extra time to dedicate towards learning fun skills like these.


I’ve definitely used most of these technology tools before, but rarely in a class context — most of my classes have been limited to basic word processing or lower-level scientific computing environments. It should be fun to apply my experience with these tools to something completely different, and in a more creative way, and I’m sure along the way I’ll learn and figure out all kinds of things about them I never knew before.


Technology and I have always had an interesting relationship. While I really enjoy using tools on the internet to explore and create, I sometimes struggle to keep my online presence organized. The fact that all the details of this class are so clearly laid out on different websites is very helpful, because I always know where to find assignments and course information.


While I've read some blogs created by friends off and on through college, this is my first time to ever publish one myself, or really share my thoughts with an audience of any sort, other than a few in class presentations I've given in other courses. I'm thankful that Blogger has been pretty simple to use, and I'm getting more and more comfortable with every post.


As far as the course environments goes, this isn't my first online class. I've taken three online classes prior to this one while I've been at OU, and I am in 4 total online classes this semester. However, this is by far the most complex of all the online courses I've taken. I'm looking forward to getting more and more comfortable with the setup and design of this class, and becoming more technologically literate in general.


When I first found out that this class would require me to get and write a blog I was kind of unsure about this. I had never gotten a blog, written a post, or really read people's blog posts. However, after using it this first week I realized it is not that bad and that I can do this! On top of this I never knew I would be creating a website with my stories on it either. It is all so new to me.


This class is definitely going to increase my ability to use different technology tools. For someone who is 20 years old, I am really behind the curve in my knowledge of technology. I do not know how to create a website, but I will by the end of the semester. This will be an great skill that I can use later on in my life. One day I plan to be a dentist. A dentist needs a well organized website that patients can visit to find information about the practice.


The variety of different websites and tools we will be using this semester make this course different from other courses. I usually don't use many other sites for a class beyond Canvas, even for other online courses. I am excited to be learning more about new sites and tools this semester that I can use in the future as well.


First, blogger is an amazing tool that I am learning to love to use. At first I was scared it was going to be a little difficult to get used to, but now blogging on blogger is not bad at all. However, I am the type of person who struggles with technology. It takes me a little longer to understand how to use technology, but eventually I learn how to use various programs. I have never created a website before, so I think it will be a fun experience using Google sites or Tumblr. 


This is the first, and probably will be the only, class where the majority of the assignments are through blogging. I greatly prefer this over turning in papers. It is a little more informal and a lot more interactive than traditional papers, and I think it fits the style of an online class much better.


I will be learning a lot this semester and I am excited! This will be a great learning opportunity that I know I will be able to use in the future. I hope to be able to become well-versed in creating these websites so I can use them in the future as needed for the health field.


The online environment is, so far, very relaxed and comfortable for me in comparison with the other classes I have taken on campus. I like that I can edit my blog and have the freedom to craft posts the way I want to while still having clear guidelines on what needs to be included for the assignment to be complete. I am enjoying the creativity that we are allowed to have on our blogs and am looking forward to starting the readings and storytelling!


I am excited to learn how to make a website, while exploring all the different options. I am glad we are using our skills towards technology we can use in our everyday lives.


Of course, anything unfamiliar sounds scary, but that's where the learning can happen. I do think this class will be the most involved with multiple sites and programs than any of the other classes I've taken. I'm just keeping the idea in the back of my mind that every time I stepped out of my comfort zone I only learned some more.


There are some tech mentioned that I know, some that I have heard of, some I had not heard of, and some I am stocked to try in this semester. I think today in the modern age, technology is a huge and essential part of our world. It is a good and useful tool. I think learning to use these tools will be a great way learn and will be useful as I progress in a highly technological world.

Well, the first week of classes is over: it was hectic-busy like always, but a happy success. If you want to see what my students are up to, you can check out the blog stream in my classes:
Myth.MythFolklore.Net: Myth-Folklore
India.MythFolklore.Net: Indian Epics


screenshot of Indian Epics blog stream in Canvas


And now I'm ready for another post in this Let's Talk about Grading series! As I said in an earlier post (Visible Learning / Invisible Grading), all the work the students are doing leaves a digital trail there in our blog network, and in a few weeks there will also be websites where they are publishing more polished work for a bigger audience (in particular, for future students in these classes). The point of the work IS the work itself, not the grade.


In this post I want to write about something similar: by taking myself out of the grading loop, I am able to be a true COLEARNER together with my students. If you are the one who is giving grades in the class, it's hard to then put yourself side by side with the students as a colearner. It's also hard to be a true colearner if you are in a physical classroom, up there at the front of that classroom. The traditional classroom puts you in a different physical position than the students, and traditional grading puts you in a different power position with the students. I feel very lucky that by teaching online and by not doing any grading, I am able to join in my classes as a full student in every way, while also carrying on my role as a teacher/coach.


Last semester I was a student in my Myth-Folklore class, and I wrote about that here at my blog with the hashtag #TotalCoLearner, which is also the hashtag I use at Twitter. This semester, I am a student in the Indian Epics class, and I am even more excited about this learning adventure because I have some important reading I want/need to do, and being a student in the class means that I will get that reading done! Just like my students, I really appreciate the class structure as a way to make sure I organize my schedule to make sure I find time every week for the reading. Like me, they are also choosing what they want to read; for the first part of the semester, I'm reading the Thai version of the Indian epic Ramayana, and later I'll also be reading Chitra Divakaruni's new novel based on the Ramayana, Forest of Enchantments (it just came out this month!). I started planning my semester project (just like the students do), and I also wrote my first story of the semester: King Trumpet and the End of the World. I needed to finish Week 2 over this past weekend because I don't have time for schoolwork during the week, and that's true of many of my students who work full-time; they also work ahead and do most of their schoolwork on the weekends. My blog posts show up in the blog stream along with everybody else's (that's my Ramakien post in the screenshot above), and students have already started commenting on my Introduction post, just as they comment on the blog posts of other students. It's a little weird, but it's cool: the colearning experiment is a total pleasure for me, and it's also something fun/useful for students in the class. Everybody wins.


It might be possible to be a colearner in a class with grades; I don't know, though, because I've never had to do it that way (I have not put grades on student work since my first semester of college teaching). For me, a big part of the #TotalCoLearner experience is that it really is total: the work I am doing for class is, assignment by assignment, the same as what the students are doing, and we don't need to be graded for the learning to happen. Instead, we need feedback, and I'll be getting feedback on my stories and on my semester project from the other students, which is really exciting. One of the reasons I don't do a lot of creative writing outside of school is that I don't really have an audience for it. Now, just like my students, I'm not writing for a grade; I'm writing for an audience.


Are you doing some colearning together with your students? If so, share it with the #TotalCoLearner hashtag here and/or at Twitter!


We do things better ... together.


two cats playing with toilet paper

So, I was thinking that this summer my life was going to be so chaotic that I wouldn't be able to do anything of my own... but lo and behold, the Domains 2019 Conference is happening down the street from me! Literally! (Well, an hour down State Highway 501, in downtown Durham NC.) I've even submitted a proposal that I hope will be accepted; see below. I knew right away what I would submit because the main way I use my Reclaim Hosting / Domain of One's Own webspace is to host all my javascript and javascript resources for the widgets in my Canvas Widget Warehouse. So, I'm going for sure, whether or not I'm presenting, and of course I'll share the presentation materials here. :-)


I went to the first Domains conference when it was held in Oklahoma back in 2017, and that was actually the first time I had been back to Oklahoma in ten years. So, that was a great experience: I got to meet long-time online friends whom I had not met in person before (Jim Groom, Jesse Stommel, and many more), and I also got to reconnect with old friends in Oklahoma. I cannot say enough good things about Reclaim Hosting and the whole Domains crew, which now extends over many different college and university campuses. IMO there is no other ed-tech group with more VISIONARY POWER than these people, and I am really excited that I will get to reconnect with them in my own backyard. It's sure easier to pay your own way to a conference when the conference fee is totally affordable ($199) and no transportation is involved. Whoo-hoo!


Also just IMO, I think every school that has Canvas should consider Reclaim Hosting for their faculty and students: that way you have real tools for content development and sharing, which really is a serious weak point in Canvas, while also making it possible for faculty to (re)claim their digital identity.


Pinging Scott Dennis and Jared Stein to suggest that Instructure might send somebody to eavesdrop on this event! There was some Canvas love going on at Domains 2017 because Keegan Long-Wheeler did a super presentation there about Domains+Canvas: Domains Inside the LMS? Bring Your Course Website/Blog Into a Canvas Course to Engage Students. His presentation is still available as an open Canvas course space here: Domains17 ... I met Keegan in person for the first time there! Jon Udell was also in attendance (oh my gosh: total fan-girl moment meeting him in person!), and he had good things to say about how different it was developing an LTI for Canvas compared to his experiences with other LMSes.


Reclaim Hosting: I AM A FAN.


Reclaim Hosting graphic




Here's the proposal I sent in: fingers crossed!


presentation proposal abstract

I need to do some follow-up on the language of feedback after my previous post (Visible Learning / Invisible Grading), but some conversations here at the Community and also at Twitter have inspired me to take a short detour for today's post in order to write about TRUST.


As I see it, trust is an essential element of any teaching-learning environment: the students need to be able to trust me, I need to be able to trust them, and we all need to trust in ourselves also. That's a lot of trust, and building/maintaining that trust can be a challenge.

  • Sometimes students approach a class with mistrust because they've been treated unfairly (or think they've been treated unfairly) in the past.
  • Likewise, teachers can fall into the same trap, unwilling to trust the students of today because of something some other student did in some other class in the past.


Speaking for myself, I really hope that students will be able to trust me without judging me based on mishaps in the past with other teachers who let them down. Likewise, I need to do the same: I need to trust my students, and not (pre)judge them based on mistakes made by other students in other classes in the past. Plus, here's what's great about teaching in a relationship of mutual trust: EVERYTHING becomes so much easier. Trust leads to more trust: the more I trust the students, the more they trust me.


And, unfortunately, the inverse is also true: the more a teacher mistrusts their students, the more the students mistrust the teacher.


So, how does you communicate trust (or mistrust) to your students through your course design...? And, in particular, through your grading practices?


COMMUNICATING TRUST. In my classes, I really like how my un-grading approach allows me to communicate my trust in the students from the very start of class with the very first assignment: students read about how the course works, fill out a Google Form to let me know what kind of weekly schedule they prefer, and then they do a Gradebook "Declaration" in Canvas where they say "true" to a quick checklist covering the assignment and -- presto! -- they have points in their Gradebook. You can see how that works here: Designing the Course: It's Your Choice


That's how all the grading works in the class; they complete the work, they do the Declaration, and in the end they have the grade they earned by all their accumulated work over the course of the semester. I wrote about these Gradebook Declarations in an earlier post where I emphasized the practical adventages of this approach (details here), but what I wanted to emphasize here is that this process of students running the Gradebook for themselves is that it communicates to them that I trust them to do that responsibly.


And you know what? IT WORKS. Sure, sometimes a student might do an assignment hastily so that it's not really finished; they're in a hurry, they don't check the items on the checklist carefully, it happens. (I've left the house with my shirt on inside-out; things happen when you are in a hurry.) But that's easy to fix; I contact the student to let them know they actually need to finish the assignment... and because it was just an honest mistake, they are glad for the chance to fix their mistake and complete the work. It's not a big deal.


Some Background. I've been using these Declarations for about 15 years now. In my first year of teaching online, I recorded all the work in the Gradebook myself (we had Blackboard then), and it was so tedious and time-consuming. The students had to send me email, then I had to go through the email and record the points, and sometimes I would make mistakes (we all make mistakes!), plus the students had to wait for the points to show up. It was not a good system.


Then, one day when I was driving to campus, I was almost in a car accident; a car swerved in front of me, and I had to slam on the brakes, and in that sudden total rush of adrenaline, I got the idea: I could have the students record their own work in the Gradebook! So when I got to campus, I immediately found one of my students and asked him what he thought: would it work? Of course it will work, he said. And I've been using Declarations ever since: in Blackboard, in D2L, and now in Canvas.


After I had been using the Declaration system for about a year, I made a presentation about it to some faculty on my campus who were interested in teaching online. And I will never forget the looks on their faces when I described my use of Declarations. They were appalled. "But won't your students all just cheat?" "You mean you really don't check their work?" Etc. Etc. Etc. It was a huge gap in perspective based on two very different starting assumptions: trusting your students versus not trusting them.


And the assumption of trust, or mistrust, has very big consequences that ripple throughout any course.


A CARING ALLIANCE. I mentioned Alfie Kohn's book Punished by Rewards in an earlier post, and theis theme of trust is one that he explores there; here's a quote that really resonates with me:

There is a significant difference between developing a caring alliance of openness and trust with children and offering rewards to elicit certain behaviors.


Speaking for myself, I far prefer to focus my efforts on "developing a caring alliance of openness and trust" and designing courses to promote that goal. At best, grades divert our energy and attention from that effort; at worst, grades undermine that effort by communicating mistrust with our students. So, in all these years, I have never gone wrong trusting my students, which is why I do not hesitate to offer that advice to others: trust your students.


And just to show that it's not just me, I'll close with these two articles that I found in the Twitter stream last semester; maybe they will resonate with you also:

Do You Trust Your Students? by Amy Hasinoff (at Hybrid Pedagogy)

Turn Your Classroom Irritation Into Compassion by James M. Lang (at Chronicle of Higher Ed)


James Lang's piece is not exactly about trust, but the compassion he describes is, in a sense, the answer to everything... as he says at the end of the article: "The answer is compassion. Now what’s your question?" And on that note, here's something to ponder from Molly Hahn at Buddha DoodlesAs you start to walk on the way, the way appears.


Now... you just need to bravely take that step. Trust your students. And trust yourself. You can do this! :-)


graphic of Rumi quote

At the end of my last post on grading, Microassignments and Completion-Based Grading, I shared some thoughts from a student in real-time; just as I was writing my blog post here, she happened to be writing a blog for class with her thoughts about grading, so I snagged a screenshot of her blog post to include in my post. I've been teaching this way, with a student blog network, for about 15 years, since back in the days of Bloglines (remember the Bloglines plumber?), and it's probably safe to say that my approach to grading and my approach to course design are interdependent:


VISIBLE LEARNING: I teach online, so all the class activity happens through the students' blogs and websites where we can all share and connect


INVISIBLE GRADING: I do not put grades on anything ever, and the students take their letter grade only at the end of the semester (see previous posts for details)


One of the most inspiring writers on the subject of visible learning is Silvia Tolisano (she blogs at, so I'll start off here with a great graphic of hers: Blogging for Learning.


blogging for learning graphic



In a traditional classroom, the grade is usually the visible things that students see (and even obsess about), while the learning itself is invisible. After work has been graded, it ends up in the garbage can, analog or digital as the case may be. At the end of the course, all that is left is the grade on the transcript; the LMS course is inaccessible, and all traces of student work have disappeared.


So, here's a suggestion: even if you are not ready to go gradeless, you could start by finding ways to make the work your students do more visible. Then, if/when you decide to go gradeless, you will already have "visible learning" practices in place that will support your un-grading experiment!


For me, the visible learning happens through the student blogs and websites:


Blogs. After logging in at Canvas to see how that works, the first assignment my students complete is setting up their blog, and every assignment during the Orientation week results in a new blog post. For most students, blogging is new, but by the end of the week, they are feeling confident about that. The posts show up automatically in the class blog stream in Canvas (for example: Myth-Folklore class), and I also feature items from the blogs each day in the class announcements. I use Inoreader to manage my blog network; details here. By starting off the Orientation week with a series of gradually more complex posts, the students get used to the process easily, and then students who are interested in learning more about blogging can explore those options if they want, using the class tech tips. Some students like to learn to do more with their blogs, other students take a basic approach to blogging; it's all good.


Websites. As students start setting up their class projects in Week 4 of the semester (here's that timeline), they create a website for that project. I provide detailed how-tos for Google Sites, but students can opt for other web publishing platforms if they want (students who have prior experience with WordPress, Wix, Tumblr, etc. often go that route). One of the first Orientation week assignments is to look at the websites of students from previous semesters; that way students have a sense of what's ahead, and they use those past websites as resources while they are brainstorming and planning their own projects. Almost all the students leave the projects online after the end of the semester (that's their choice of course), and I keep a link repository here: eStorybook Central. I feature a past student project each day in the daily announcements,  and past projects appear at random in the blog sidebar. Students are very aware that as they write, they are writing for their fellow classmates, but also for their future classmates, so to speak.


The point of all the blogs and websites is not just to "use technology" — instead, the point is to make the work visible for sharing and feedback.


Feedback. Starting in Week 2, students are commenting on each other's blogs every week, and when the projects are up and running, they leave detailed feedback about the projects too. Overall, their work in the class is roughly divided between an equal amount of reading, writing, and feedback, approximately 2 hours of each activity every week. During the weeks while students are setting up their projects (Weeks 2-5), instead of giving feedback to others, they are learning about both how to give and receive feedback via a series of "Feedback Bootcamp" assignments. Students have years and years of experience being graded, but they often do not have a lot of experience with giving and receiving feedback. What I have found, though, is that they are eager to learn more about feedback. They realize that, unlike grades, feedback can be really useful: it can help them improve their writing, and they can also help others in that same process. It appeals to their social sense of altruism in a way that grading does not.


Feedback moves us forward! That cycle of reading-writing-feedback and then more reading, more writing, and more feedback, is the engine that drives my classes forward. Students are not chasing a good-grade carrot or fleeing a bad-grade stick; instead, they are involved in a workflow based on creating and sharing so that everyone in the class (including me!) can grow as writers. All writers, even professional writers, need to keep on growing. Some students start off the class with huge gaps in their writing skills, while other students start off as sophisticated, confident writers. That's great! The point is that we all need to keep on growing and improving as writers, and we also need to learn how to give feedback to others to help them as they move forward.


In fact, for many students, the feedback lessons they learn in class are even more valuable than the writing lessons. In their future careers, they might not be doing a lot of writing, but they will probably be working with others and maybe supervising others, and they need to learn how to give productive feedback in the workplace. After all, in the workplace, it's not multiple-choice exams and ABCDF grades: it's all about feedback and workflow, and many of my best feedback resources come from publications like Harvard Business Review online. In my next post, I'll get more into the vocabulary of feedback and how that contrasts with the Tarzanesque ABCDF vocabulary of grading.


Meanwhile, my classes start officially on Monday (this past week was "Week Zero" for students who wanted to get a head start)... and if your classes also are starting on Monday, I wish you a happy new semester!

Instead of my Let's Talk about Grading post for today, I have to write something about Canvas Community in general, and James Jones in particular....... because really: what James has done is so amazing!


One week ago I was about as frustrated as I have ever been with technology. I never give up and I always find a good solution for my students, but this time I was really stumped: I could not figure out any kind of viable solution for the labels being displayed in the new Gradebook.



That was January 3.


And here we are on January 10... one week later, and thanks to James, I have a solution. Details here:
Removing Missing and Late Labels


It's a great solution, in fact, because it is allowing me to do a really cool experiment in my class that I never planned on (I'm going to have the students vote on whether to keep the "late" labels or not), while also allowing me to proactively get rid of all the "missing" labels so that students will never see a single one (the missing labels are just wrong; they serve no purpose at all except to confuse the students).


Now I am so curious to find out what the students will say about the "late" labels; I'll take a vote, and the majority will rule: keep them, or erase them? James's script gives us the option to go either way! Based on the sense I get from people's blog posts, I might run that vote early in the semester, or I might wait and make it part of the midsemester review when students are reflecting on their progress in the class, time management, etc. And of course I will share the students' comments and results of the vote here!


Anyway, if you were not happy with the labels in the new Gradebook and want an automated solution, check out James's script! You can run it for missing labels and/or late labels, and you can do that on the level of a single assignment, or you can do that for all the assignments in your class. I'm pinging Kimberly Smith for one, because I know she will be glad to see this!


One important caveat: this is adjusting the Gradebook item by item, student by student. So, if your class is like mine, with students still adding during the first week of classes, you'll need to make sure to run the script one final time after all the students are enrolled and no new students are being added.


I also have to add that it is SO COOL to watch this script run in your browser. James's instructions explain exactly how to open the developer console and run the script, and then you can watch it ping ping ping the API. I've never run a script like that from the console, so I found the whole thing mesmerizing. Here's a screenshot of the view I looked at while it ran:


screenshot of script run


How cool is that? Instead of me having to click thousands and thousands of times, the computer is clicking for me. Which is how it should be! Yay!


So, THANK YOU,  James Jones!!! I was already completely dependent on your adjust-all-dates magic at the start of each semester... and until Canvas gives us a more flexible Gradebook, I am now completely dependent on the new remove-all-labels script too. You are a true magician!!!



In my first posts in this series I gave an overview of my rejection of punitive "bad" grades and also my rejection of so-called "good" grades. In this post, I will provide an overview of my solution to these problems, where I give my students feedback about their work, but they do the grading.


I sometimes call this approach "all-feedback-no-grading" because, from my perspective, that is how it works: I give lots of feedback, but I never put a grade on anything. Students decide what grade they will get, not assignment by assignment but through their overall work in the class.


Again, this is just an overview, and I'll get more specific in later posts. Meanwhile, please feel free to ask questions, and that will help me know what to address in those future posts! I've been using this system for so long now (over 15 years) that it is totally familiar to me, and it's sometimes hard to gauge just what is self-explanatory and what actually needs explaining.




I use microassignments in my classes. I made up the term microassignment to convey the idea that there are no big, high-stakes assignments of any kind. Some of these little assignments take just 10 or 15 minutes to complete; others might take as much as an hour, but not more than an hour — unless, of course, the student gets excited and wants to spend more time; sometimes they do, especially when they are working on their class project.


I advise students to budget a total of 5-6 hours to spend on my class each week; how they schedule that time is totally up to them. Because the assignments are small, students can work on them in short snatches of time, or they can sit down and complete several assignments in a longer study session; it's all up to them. I love teaching online for just that reason: I am glad to take advantage of any time the students can find for this class.



success poster

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.



Gradebook Declarations


As students complete each microassignment, they record the completed assignment in the Gradebook using a "Gradebook Declaration," which is actually just a true-false quiz. The quiz contains a checklist of all the requirements for the assignment to be complete, which is more or less detailed depending on how complex the assignment is. 

I include the checklist text in the assignment instructions, as you can see here: Week 1: Storybook Favorites


The Declaration checklists are also a good reminder to them about exactly what they need to have done for the assignment to be complete. Students answer "true" to indicate the assignment is complete and, presto, the points go into the Gradebook. 


There is no partial credit; students get credit for completed assignments only. If they start an assignment, but do not have time to finish it, they can finish it the next week; everything rolls forward that way, so no work is lost.


The students do all this grade-work themselves. As they complete each and every assignment, they do a Gradebook Declaration. They find it a little strange at first, but they quickly get used to it. Admittedly, getting the students to slow down and read the Declaration sometimes takes a little work on my part at first; a few students start out treating the checklists as a kind of terms-of-service which they agree to without reading, but when I follow up with them about that, there are no further problems. Because every assignment leaves a digital trail at their blog or at their website, there is clear accountability. They know that; I know that. During the Orientation week, I watch all the blog posts carefully to make sure students understand how the system works.


Student Choice


There are many assignments students can choose to complete each week. Take a look here for a typical week:
Week 3: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics.

(I have the same assignments in both classes; it's just the content that is different.)


As you can see there, each week has six "core" assignments which provide a week-long workflow: two reading assignments, a storytelling assignment based on the reading, blog commenting on other students' stories, a semester-long project, plus feedback on other students' projects. Most students complete most of the core assignments. Those assignments add up to a total of 30 points each week.


In addition there are eight "extra" assignments, and those add up to 20 points each week. Students can use those to make up any of the core assignments they missed. They can do extra assignments if they want to do more of something (more reading, more commenting, more technology, etc.). Students can also use the extra assignments as a way to accumulate points if they want/need to finish the class early. It's all good.


So, there are 50 possible points each week, but there is no expectation that students would do all that work. The idea is that they CHOOSE what assignments to do. They can focus on the core assignments and only on the core if they want, or they can mix in extra assignments. They can also work ahead if they want. It's all up to them.


Class Progress


As the points accumulate week by week, students can see if they are on target to reach their desired grade. Some of my students want/need to get an A. Some of them just need to pass the class with a C to graduate. Some of them can even take a D and have the class count for graduation; I always tell them to check with their advisor about that, though, because Ds do not always work for Gen. Ed. credit or for financial aid. Here's the chart they can use to track their progress: Progress Chart


My own goal is just that every student should pass the class. As far as I am concerned, this is a P/NP class. Whether a student wants to get an A or B or C makes literally no difference to me, and I do not know until I check the Gradebook at the end of the semester who is getting what grade; I only monitor the Gradebook for students who are in danger of not passing the class. More about my DIY data analytics here:

Microassignments and Data Analytics 


Yes, It Works!


Yes, this is all kind of weird... but the students really like it. Here is every comment students have made about grading in my end-of-semester evaluations since we went digital back in 2010: Grading: What Students Say


I've been using this system, largely unchanged, since I started teaching online in 2002. The reason I haven't changed it much is exactly because of that student feedback: it works. Students like it. Students REALLY like it. And they like it for the reasons that are important to me: they feel in control of their grade, they are not stressed, it encourages them to be creative and learn a lot.


When I introduce this admittedly strange grading system to the students in their very first assignment for the semester, I include a link to those student comments. I can go on (and on and on) about the advantages of this system, but the most powerful words come from the students themselves! Here's how I introduce all this on the first day of class:

Designing Your Course


Thoughts from a Brand-New Student...


And since some of my students have started already for Spring 2019 (flexible schedule also means starting early if they want), I will share this screenshot of a blog post that popped up literally just a few minutes ago. I think this says it all; one of the Orientation Week assignments is for the students to let me know if this all makes sense and what they think. Here's what one of the students is thinking right now, at this moment. And it sounds good to me! This student understands not just how the course works but why it is set up this way, and I am excited to see what she will do with the reading and writing as she moves on to Week 2, and I'll see how that goes right there in her blog.


screenshot of student blog post



And maybe that should be the subject for my next post: how blogging and other visible student work is an important part of the shift from grading to feedback! More on that tomorrow. :-)

In my first post for this series, I talked about the problem with punitive grading, and I'll have lots more to say about that as this series takes shape. But first, I also want to point out that there are also serious dangers on the flipside: "good" grades and other coercive rewards are a big problem too! Don't take my word for it: instead, go get Alfie Kohn's book and read it NOW. It's available as a Kindle from Amazon for $10, and you can get a used copy for $6... there is no better investment you can make in your teaching than to buy a copy of this book and read it:
Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes


Kohn's Punished by Rewards book cover


I think most of us understand the dangers of punitive grading, since we've probably all experienced that negative side of grading at some point in our lives, some moment when we got a bad grade and felt discouraged about it, or maybe we got a bad grade and felt angry because it was unfair.


The downside of "good" grades is less obvious, though... which makes it even more dangerous! You've probably all seen those clickbait headlines about kids being addicted to their phones, right? Well, if we are going to use the word addiction in that very loose way, then kids are even more addicted to good grades than they are to their phones. Here's a quote from Alfie Kohn about the addictive quality of grades and the very negative consequences of that addiction:

When we are repeatedly offered extrinsic motivators, we come to find the task or behavior for which we are rewarded less appealing in itself than we did before (or than other people do). Thereafter, our intrinsic motivation having shrunk, we are less likely to engage in the activity unless offered an inducement for doing so. After a while, we appear to be responsive to—indeed, to require—rewards. But it is the prior use of rewards that made us that way!


It's a downward spiral of decreasing intrinsic motivation which results in students doing work just for the grade and only for the grade, not for the learning. This is obvious to the students themselves, and they will tell you about it if you ask them: they know that school is first and foremost about grades, not learning for its own sake.


And here's the good news: just as students are aware that school is all about grades, they are really glad for something different, when a class focuses on learning, not on the grades. Here are some comments I've received in end-of-semester evaluations (see also this complete archive of student end-of-semester evaluation comments on grading):

This grading system encourages students to write for the sake of writing and not for the sake of a grade.


It was very fun and I learned a lot! I really liked that I had the freedom to write just to write rather than for a grade.


This is the first time I have ever taken a course and was not stressed about grades so I purely learned the material. It was amazing and I think I learned more in this course than I have in any other in a long time.


I felt that I learned much more this way because the emphasis was on learning and creativity rather than a test.


I really liked this class. It was fun and was all about learning not just a grade.


Admittedly, most students also want to get an A in the class, and there's nothing I can do about that; their addiction to good grades is very real, and my school requires me to turn in a grade for each student at the end of the semester. I'm a cog in the grading/grinding machine, just like every other teacher.


Luckily, though, my school does not have the absurd plus/minus grading (as if anybody really knows what the difference is between an A- and a B+...), so all I have to come up with is a single letter grade: A B C D or F. Sad to say, that single letter is literally the only thing my school wants to know about each student's achievements: I could talk about each student's project, I could describe in detail their progress over the course of the semester, I could show how their contributions were useful to other students in the class and also how I will be using content created by the student in future classes.


But none of that matters. The work itself does not matter, not really. The only thing that matters is the ABCDF. We make that very clear to the students because the ABCDF is the only thing the school records; the grade is the only thing that shows up on their transcript. 


So, what do we do, as teachers, when we are required to give grades at the end of the semester? What can we do help our students as learners and also minimize the harm done by grading, despite the requirement that we turn in grades for our students?


My solution is simple: I take myself out of the grading process.


I repeat: I take myself OUT of the grading process.


My only role is to set the totally arbitrary definition of what an A is, and B and C and D and F (and letter grades are always arbitrary). Then, after I set those arbitrary definitions, I'm done. Everything else is up to the students. I focus all my efforts — ALL MY EFFORTS — on the learning, not the grading. And that means: I create exciting, challenging assignments; I give consistent, honest feedback; and I build a culture of sharing so that everyone in the class knows that their work matters to others, both current students and future students too.


In my next post, I'll get into the specifics of how I take myself out of the grading process and turn that over to the students. There are lots of ways to do that, of course; my approach may or may not work in your context. But that's why everybody should read Alfie Kohn's book; he looks at a huge range of contexts and practices, along with possible solutions.


You can also explore his website; he has mountains of material online you can read too:


screenshot of Alfie Kohn's website


And for more posts, check out ttog here at the Community and also at Twitter: Teachers Throwing Out Grades.


Meanwhile, I'll be back here tomorrow with practical advice for how to Just. Stop. Grading. :-)

This is the first in a series of posts about grading, specifically the problem of punitive grading and what we can do about it. Fortunately, there is more and more discussion, both in K-12 and in higher ed, about the negative effects of grading, especially of punitive grading, and slowly but surely I think we are going to see people finding new solutions — at the individual assignment level or course level, and also at the institutional level. Just last week, I was invited to submit a chapter for a book about un-grading in higher ed. There are some really good books about un-grading in K-12 (like Starr Sackstein's Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School), and I am excited about writing something for an un-grading book directed towards a higher ed audience.


So, I had already planned to do a blog post series this semester about grading, and the unexpectedly bad business of red-ink labels in the new Gradebook has given me a greater sense of urgency about that. This new Gradebook actually has more punitive features than the old Gradebook did: OUCH. I'm both depressed and angry about that as you can see in this blog post: GET THE RED INK OUT OF MY GRADEBOOK. The Sequel.


Nobody from Instructure has commented there (yet?), but I sure hope they are following the discussion. I am very grateful that our Community API-miracleworker, James Jones, is exploring the possibility of a solution that will help to remove the red-ink labels with some Google Sheet scripts (much like his amazing adjust-all-due-dates sheet), but we also need an official fix to this problem so that we can simply disable those red labels if we want. There ARE alternatives to punitive grading, and the LMS needs to be able to support those alternatives just as it supports traditional punitive grading.


Shame and punishment. So, let's talk about punitive grading, which is grading that PUNISHES students for making mistakes. That punishment can take the form of a lower grade, or it could take the form of extra work... or it might appear as red ink, like in the new Canvas Gradebook where students are told that their work is MISSING (red ink!) or LATE (red ink!). The only labels that show up in the Gradebook are these negative labels (late! missing!). They could have included positive labels — work turned in, work turned in on time, work turned in early — either in addition to the negative labels, or instead of the negative labels. But there are no positive labels; there are negative labels only. And they could have used a color other than red for the negative labels, but they did not; those labels are red because red is the color of punishment. It's that American classic: The Scarlet Letter.


Scarlet Letter poster


But wait, there's more! The new Gradebook gives instructors to choose our own status colors in the Gradebook spreadsheet view, like this:


screenshot of status label colors


As you can see, I tried changing my "late" and "missing" status settings to white to see if that would white out the red labels in the Gradebook view, but that hack did not work (alas). Even instructors cannot change the red color of the labels, and the students cannot choose the colors they prefer. That would be another good solution to this problem, of course, and to all kinds of other problems too: let the students choose! (I'll have more to say about student choice in grading later.)


But right now, nothing we can do or they can do will make that red-ink label go away, unless you go in and manually remove the labels from the Gradebook, label by label, student by student, assignment by assignment. Click. Click. Click.


Punishment and motivation. Some people think that grades and punishment are how you motivate students, but I disagree. In my experience, both as a student and as a teacher, shaming and punishment have the opposite effect, discouraging students and demotivating them. As an example, look at this screenshot from the new Gradebook, showing what one of my students would see each time he opened the Gradebook view (this is an actual screenshot from a Fall course record, where my school has retroactively applied the new Gradebook). Every time this student opens the Grade view, he sees this wall of shame, one red label after another. If I had to look at something like that every time I had logged on to Canvas, I would get so depressed!


Gradebook screenshot


Even worse: the default is sorted by Due Date, old dates first, which means the student must scroll down through all the old labels to reach the current assignments. No matter how much he improves, he must look at that wall of past failures again and again and again.


Do you think that is motivating? I don't. 


So, for the grading in my classes, I take a different approach:


First, I emphasize COMPLETION: students turn the work in when it is complete. That means every "grade" for every assignment is 100%. And there are no zeroes; if a student chooses not to do an assignment, it's just a blank, a road not taken, not a problem at all. So, each assignment grade is 100% and each student's total course percentage is also 100%. All the time. That does not mean the work they are doing is perfect (ugh! perfectionism: one of the worst aspects of traditional grading! more about that later...). Instead, the 100% just means that each assignment is complete and ready for feedback from me and from the other students — and there will be feedback. There will be lots of feedback. Sometimes I refer to my grading system as all-feedback-no-grades, and I'll have lots more to say about feedback in future posts. There are lots of ways that feedback can provide students with real motivation, much more so than the Tarzanesque vocabulary of ABCDF and the shame of red ink.


Second, I emphasize LOOKING FORWARD, not backward. The goal is always to complete a piece of work. It doesn't matter what you did, or did not do, last week; what matters is what you are going to do this week and next week and the week after that. You always have a grade of 100% in the Gradebook, so that's all good, nothing to worry about. Just devote all your effort to the NEXT thing you are going to do, using what you've learned so far in order to complete the next assignment. My husband is a pilot, and he has this great saying: "You can't use the runway behind you." That's the philosophy I use in my class too: don't look back; just figure out how you are going to use the runway in front of you to take off and soar! So yeah, I like the little rocket icon in Canvas for assignments that are not yet completed; the rocket label totally works for me. Let's GO!


cat rocket gif


Since this is just the first in what will be a whole series of blog posts, I'll stop here for now, with a promise of more to come. There are some other principles I want to discuss (student choice, open-ended assignments, etc.), along with lots of nitty-gritty I want to share (hacking the Gradebook, proactive communication, etc.). Meanwhile, I hope people will chime in here with their own thoughts about grades and grading. A really good discussion erupted at my Gradebook post last week, and we need all the discussion we can get about grading: it's an aspect of the education system desperately in need of reform, and the voices of both teachers and students need to be part of that conversation.


For a hashtag, I'll be using TTOG here (Teachers-Throwing-Out-Grades), and you can always find new things to read about grading and grading reform by looking at #TTOG on Twitter too.


So, that's all for now; I'm going to go outside now and enjoy a beautifully sunny Sunday........ but I'll be back next week with more. Lots more. :-)

So, my semester was off to a kind of scary start this week when I could not turn off the red labels in the new Gradebook (why on earth my school made that switch to the new Gradebook mid-year is a mystery to me! it was opt-in during the Fall, so of course I had opted out then, and I sure wish I could opt out now) — but after an amazing discussion with people here at the Community, I'm confident that I can find a solution, either a manual solution I implement week by week OR an automated solution with James Jones's API magic... and then, maybe (I HOPE!!!) Canvas will get me a real solution before next Fall.


What I had planned to do this semester here at my Canvas blog was write a series of posts explaining exactly how I use Canvas, since everybody uses the LMS in their own ways based on their own course design, and I was thinking it would be really helpful if people could see how my teaching philosophy, course design, and LMS technology intersect. For every teacher, that intersection is going to look different, and if I can explain how that works for me, it will be easier for people to put my Community comments in context (like my comments about the Gradebook status labels).


So........... since I just got my classes set up and running for Spring, I will start with the most important thing about how I use Canvas: I make all my classes open! Feel free to click and visit; it's all open and available now:


Indian Epics, section 1:

Indian Epics, section 2:


I also design a custom URL in my own webspace for each of my two different classes: and Each semester I update that URL pointer so that it goes to the current semester; that means links I have left elsewhere on the Internet will automatically go to the current version of the classes.


I customize the left-hand menu to reflect what my students need — and yes, I am a foe of the design approach that says navigation menus should be identical for all classes. I am really glad I can customize the menu for my classes. Here is what the menu looks like this semester:


Home: I create a Page with the class announcements blog embedded, and then I designate that Page as the course homepage. I use the same announcements blog across all three classes this way.


Daily News: This is the announcements blog displayed using the Redirect Tool. That eliminates the clunky right-hand menu.


screenshot of announcements page


Blogs: This is the student blog stream, embedded in a Page. So far, there is just one blog... but soon, there will be 30 blogs for Myth and 60 blogs for India, with each new post showing up automatically here: Myth Blogs and Indian Blogs (combined stream for both sections of that class).


screenshot of blog stream

Modules: I take a week by week approach; I'll have more to say about my "microassignments" (6 core and 8 optional assignments per week) in future posts.


Grades: Students do all the grading by means of Gradebook Declarations (quizzes); the Gradebook is for them to use, not me. I'll have lots more to say about this approach in future posts.

Advice: This is a Padlet (via the Redirect Tool) with advice from last semester's students. I'll leave this one up for a few weeks... then, at the end of the semester, I'll put up a new blank Padlet to collect advice from this semester's students for next semester, and so on.


screenshot of padlet with student advice


Syllabus: I don't think students actually use this link, but if they do, there's a syllabus plus a random course image too (new image each time page reloads).


screenshot of syllabus page


Suggestions: This is a Google Form so that students can give me anonymous feedback at any time.


screenshot of suggestion box


So, that's it. Looking for course content? You won't find it in Canvas; I do all my content outside Canvas, relying on the LMS simply as a jumping off place where students can come and find links to what they need AND as a place for consolidation, bringing together student work via the blog feeds right from the start and later being a place to showcase their projects (I'll add Projects to the navigation menu in Week 4 when the projects are up and running).


Meanwhile, I'll have more to say about other Canvas features like quizzes, gradebook, etc. in future posts here. This is just the start of my blog series for Spring 2019! 


And now............ how do you use Canvas? You can write up a blog post here at the Community in either the Higher Ed Community space or the K-12 Community space (or in your own Community blog if you have one here) to share your custom Canvas creation. Everybody does things differently, and I am sure we can learn things from each other by sharing. That's the power of networked learning! About which I have a lot to say in future posts. 


I'll be using this hashtag: mycustomcanvas


James-the-API-Miracleworker has done it: he wrote a script to REMOVE missing and/or late labels. You can find all the details here, including very clear instructions for how to run the script:


I had never run a script from my browser developer console before, but it was so easy! I ran the script once for late labels, and once for missing labels. And IT WORKED. No more red labels. You can see the proof here: a screenshot of the same student record as in my original blog post... now with no labels.

This is absolutely amazing, James Jones!!!!! I will send a note to the Support desk to make sure they know about this for anyone else who writes in with the same problem I reported.

And again, THOUSANDS OF THANKS to James for removing the thousands of red labels from the Gradebook!!!!!

Canvas Community: it is the absolute best thing about Canvas!!!!!

I've really been struggling with how to write this blog post. My emotions are running pretty high. Canvas has screwed up my Gradebook, again, and this time there is no way to fix it.


When Canvas put those red MISSING and LATE labels in the old Gradebook, there was a campaign here at the Community to get rid of them. And that campaign worked. I felt good about that.


But apparently nobody at Instructure learned anything from that campaign. How can it be that we demonstrated the dangers of those labels in the old Gradebook, only to have them come around again in the new Gradebook? My school switched to the new Gradebook this semester, and there are the red labels, again, and I CANNOT GET RID OF THEM.

How bad is it? Here's what one of my students from last semester would see now that the new Gradebook is being applied. This is an actual screenshot from how last Fall's Gradebook looks in the new Gradebook system:


Gradebook screenshot

How would you feel if that is what you saw every time you looked at the Gradebook? You would feel totally discouraged, right? My entire grading system is about ENCOURAGING students, especially students who are struggling. And now Canvas has ruined it. My entire system for communicating with students about their grades is destroyed.


Of course, I can get rid of the labels... student by student, assignment by assignment. So, that's 3 classes times 210 microassignments per class times 30 students per class. That's 18,900 items I would have to manually adjust to disable the labels so that my students will not see them. Obviously, I cannot make 18,900 manual adjustments to the Gradebook. And, based on the way the course is designed, of those 18,900 items, approximately 11,000 of those items will have INCORRECT "missing" labels by the end of the semester, and approximately 6,000 of those items will have INCORRECT "late" labels.


That means I will owe my students approximately 17,000 APOLOGIES by the end of the semester.


Saturday disaster. Foolishly, I had assumed that we would be able to disable the status labels assignment by assignment, and I had blocked out all of last Saturday to do that: at 210 assignments in one course that I could then clone to my other courses, and 1-2 minutes per assignment to manually adjust it, I figured it would take 4-8 hours to do the adjustments. I had even picked out a good audiobook to listen to for 8 hours to relieve the tedium. But when I got to the Gradebook, I saw that we cannot disable labels for an assignment. I wrote to Support, and they confirmed it: every assignment will have missing and late status labels, no matter how completely inappropriate that might be.


In other words: Canvas makes it impossible to create a system where students choose what assignments to complete and what assignments not to complete. When they choose not to complete an assignment, they are going to see an ugly red-ink "MISSING" label in the Gradebook. Canvas also insists on punishing students who, for whatever reason, turn in an assignment during the grace period between the due-date and available-until-date, adding a "LATE" label that is totally inappropriate. The whole point of offering students the freedom to turn something in after the due date is now ruined by a punitive red-ink label telling them they did something wrong... when, in fact, they did something RIGHT: they turned in the assignment! They should be praised, not punished.


Stop punishing my students, Canvas! I cannot believe my students are going to have to look at a Gradebook full of labels telling them they are doing something wrong when they are DOING NOTHING WRONG. It's one thing when the LMS is full of features that I don't care about one way or the other. But now Canvas is harming my students and undermining my work as a teacher.


I had a new blog series planned for the new semester, and I don't know if I will post it here or not. I may go back to blogging somewhere else; every time I think about Canvas right now I just get angry because my students are going to be hurting, really hurting, every time they open the Gradebook and see those messages about their supposedly poor performance, when they are actually DOING FINE. They are NOT doing anything wrong when they choose not to do an assignment or when they use the grace period. That is what they are SUPPOSED to do, and Canvas is going to punish them for it every time.


Take a look at this screenshot again and think about how you would feel if this greeted you every time you used Canvas:


Gradebook screenshot


And this student is a great guy, someone who did wonderful work for the class... he just struggled with getting things turned in on time. And hey, everybody struggles with time management.

Do you think that this student doesn't know he struggles with time?

Do you think he needs to be shamed some more?

Do you think shame is a good motivator?







Total disaster.

I give up.