The end of the school year is in sight, we can almost see it, just beyond that final assessment period! Amidst the current context of COVID-19, where we are utilising online tools to enable teaching and learning more than ever, we may need to take a different route to get there to the one we had planned.
Many teachers have now moved to teaching entirely online with the current COVID-19 situation. We've already discussed the idea of "Maintaining a Connection of the Classroom". What about our teachers who are on a rapid learning curve in the use of technology for distance learning. This article aims to cover ideas on maintaining and promoting a collaborative connection between teachers when working remotely.
So the classroom is a space where students can interact socially in a comfortable and predictable way. Situations such as with the Covid-19 virus arise and our learning platforms go some way to enable us to maintain teaching and learning outside of the traditional brick buildings we are used to. The aim of this blog is to cover some key questions that appear when a situation has arisen that requires students to interact in the platform in ways they may be unaccustomed to. Although this blog has been brought about by the current issues, the topics ring true to everyday teaching aiming to connect the learning within the classroom to that outside.
How do I maintain the social connectedness of the classroom and maintain visible teacher presence?
How do I ensure students understanding of learning tasks given?
How do I assess and clarify the understanding of students in terms of knowledge?
We'll cover this by looking at some of the tools available to us and consider simple methods of using them. I'm hoping to cover the questions raised above from a high level.
The obvious way to maintain visibility and engage with the class is to host your scheduled class in a conference. Various web conferencing tools can integrate with Canvas through LTI. As standard, you can use Big Blue Button to create a conference within your course. Consider that the conferences include the following tools to promote engagement in the virtual classroom.
Webcams to give the personal touch.
Chat allowing you to field questions at the whole group or for an individual student. It could also be used as a Q+A whilst students are working on other Canvas activities.
Break Out Rooms can be used for smaller group activities and discussions.
Polls can be created on the fly to assess understanding of particular concepts or you can use them for students to respond to questions you have embedded in your uploaded presentation.
Multi-User White Board includes annotation tools for illustrating ideas and explaining processes.
Simple navigation to the online classroom is also important. Make sure the 'Conferences' link is visible in your course navigation. You can also create calendar events for your sessions. Naming your conference is important and it is a good idea to add the date and time into the title if running as a one-off lesson.
It's also good to note that conferences will open up in a new tab allowing your students to complete other activities in your Canvas course whilst taking part in your virtual classroom.
A fantastic way to get students working with each other and sharing ideas but they can be used for more than simply asking for an opinion. Discussions can be used for group work solving real-world or multi-stage problems. They can be used for students to present videos of themselves and receive feedback.
If you're using this asynchronously consider the clarity of your instructions and expectations. Additional clarification of the task can be given by recording audio or video instructions through the rich content editor. This feature can also be used by students to verbally participate in the discussion.
You can also use standard text to reinforce participation across all your course discussions.
"Once you've crafted and posted your response, read the responses of your classmates. For at least two other posts, give constructive feedback and ask relevant questions."
It's worth putting the resources into the discussion using the Rich Content Editor so the students can review them whilst formulating and crafting their responses. As a teacher also consider your engagement in these discussions. What clarifying questions can you ask? Which other posts can you guide students to?
You've probably used Canvas already for the submission of written tasks. When we're lacking the opportunity to sit down with the student and talk we can use assignment tools to assess understanding with students presenting to us in a variety of ways. These can also be assigned to individual students or groups of students to allow the personalised learning opportunities you would normally deliver in the classroom.
Using the text entry online submission will give students the option to present ideas and work in a variety of ways. They can include text, files and media all within the same submission. This gives opportunities to assess verbal skills along with written skills.
Group and Peer Review assignments can also be used to create the social interactions between your students whilst they are not physically together.
Collaborations and Group Work
Group spaces allow students to create their own discussions, collaborations and share files. Collaborations can be created using your institution's tools such as Google and O365. A simple idea would be to collaborate on a presentation that can be delivered in a virtual classroom using Big Blue Button.
Within the classroom, we have the opportunity to create a dialogue of feedback with the student. We can see each other's facial expressions such as the smile of recognition or the raised eyebrow when we don't truly understand. Using the Canvas Speedgrader you could consider the format you provide your feedback in.
The assignment comments field allows you to provide audio and video feedback to your students helping to improve the comprehension of the feedback being delivered. Students also have the opportunity to respond to this feedback.
When you can't walk around the classroom or lecture theatre, and monitor what's students are doing, how do we monitor engagement? New Analytics allows you to view the activity report of your students. You are also able to send messages directly from the analytics view based on engagement criteria. For example, messages can be sent to students who have not viewed a specific learning resource.
If you are looking for more ideas I've included this video from Kona Jones.
Energize Your Class With Student-Centered Course Design
We'd love to hear any specific examples you have around maintaining social connectedness whilst teaching online and also any feedback or questions you have around the ideas above.
Before I begin this blog, I do want to send huge kudos to erinhallmark who kept me sane through a more-than-trying Canvas release week. Erin, you are a hero who stuck with us and helped throughout the week.
However, I must articulate my frustration and concern over the latest Canvas release – which I can only consider a debacle.
I spent almost every waking hour of last week with my finger in the dike, so to speak, trying to help users from all of the four institutions I support. It appeared that every time we identified an issue and created a workaround, another issue sprang up. Although engineers worked on resolutions diligently, the issues were just too far-ranging and too impactful – on both old and new gradebook users -- as well as students. Not one communication about the new release had any indication whatsoever that students (or old gradebook users) would be impacted in any way – and yet they were. We are still waiting for the resolution to the broken Plagiarism Framework, which is not working as I write today.
I realize that sometimes things do not work out as planned, and I have a very strong heart for the challenges of software engineering. However, I need to articulate some issues that I truly believe Canvas must address if they wish to maintain their customer loyalty.
Listen to your Beta Testers. Reading back through the comments from beta testers (https://community.canvaslms.com/docs/DOC-16958-canvas-release-notes-2019-07-13), the issues with this release were identified well in advance. Tester @kmatson even said, “Why did you make muting grades so complicated? It was simple: they are on or off. Now we have so many layers we can't figure it out. Please remove this feature.” Why did no one really listen to feedback received throughout the beta testing process? What purpose does Beta Testing serve if it the comments you receive are not taken seriously. Folks even knew there were problems with the Plagiarism Framework. Why did this release get pushed to production when issues were not fully addressed? Is there anything that can stop a Canvas release?
Do NOT go dark when being transparent is truly important. How very frustrating it is when avenues for communications are closed or hidden. You can see from the Release Notes site that commenting was turned off. The ostensible reason was that people needed to submit tickets. What that did was close off a single avenue of communication and force comments out to myriad different threads – so the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing. This was exactly the wrong thing to do. There needed to be a single place where issues were uncovered, workarounds posted, and communications recorded. Your greatest ally in service is this community, and you sent us all out on crazy wild goose chases to figure out what others were finding and try to get answers to questions. Again, I can only shake my head and wonder what you were thinking. This is not the transparency one would hope for.
Be open to the WHY question. I am feeling very strongly that Instructure is operating on some hidden logic – rather than using the community to determine direction. This latest release does not seem to have added any value to the student or instructor experience – and turned a simple and elegant functionality into something convoluted and ungainly. It is very hard for us to understand WHY this change was more important than the myriad of requests voted up by the community that never seem to get done. Just explain yourself. I don’t even care what the reason is – I just want to know that someone at Instructure is actually thinking about why what they are doing actually makes a positive experience on the user experience – in any way.
End-user test your customer communications. I do not know who writes the notes called “Canvas Status Updates” that I receive in my inbox. What I do know is that these communications rarely articulate the issue in a way that our end-users could possibly understand. For example, “Allow instructors to grade in the submission details page with manual post policy.” There is no way any of the users I actually work with will understand what this means. I have to go through each item and explain exactly how this impacts them. To my users, something like, “ The grade entry box you used to see on the submission details page is now restored. You may once again enter grades by clicking on a student’s assignment” (probably with a screenshot). I think this is related to the post I saw indicating that Instructure would be well-served by having its customers provide user stories. These kinds of updates seem to have no connection to the user stories that surround this issues, and therefore I have to spend large amounts of time translating and explaining.
I still believe that our organization made a good decision in moving to Canvas. I just want Instructure to realize how disturbing things are looking to some of us out here working with real students and real professors and trying to hold our fingers in a dike that is growing increasingly scary.
Please, others, reassure me by commenting on this blog.
I had a situation this morning when I needed to "act as" a student in a course via the Canvas Student app. I knew the "Act as User" functionality was there but I never had an opportunity to try it out.
I decided to make a Canvas admin guide on how to use it and share it in the community.
In our instance of Canvas we include all of the course modules as buttons on the course homepage. We wanted to make this buttons a little bit more accessible so I wrote some JS which scrolls to the module when they click the button and collapses all of the other modules. This makes navigating to the specific module just that little bit easier for the user. See the gif below for an example:
To use this, include the JS file in your current JS (you may need to remove the first and last lines of code).
Important: For this to work, you need to set up the button in a specific way:
In edit mode on the homepage click the button (we use images for ease of use)
On the right click links then open the modules drop down
Click the respective module
And you're all done! Feel free to drop any bugs or edits below in the comments
When I first started using Canvas I surprised about the lack of accessibility features available to users, so i decided to create my own and to share them with the wonderful community.
Below I have attached some JS and some CSS too which I highly recommend that you implement into your version of the LMS. (I will happily write up a guide on how to implement it as well as how it works if anyone would like).
The accessibility tools below allow learners to change the text size of each custom page that you create. (Nothing native to Canvas, simply any pages, quizzes, assignments, etc that you have created).
It also allows the user to change the background colour of pages too (I may be implementing a text colour option soon too).
Clicking 'Accessibility' on the global navigation toggles the menu that you can see in the bottom left:
I hope this helps your instance of Canvas become more accessible and that you all find it useful