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Community Champion

5. The Canvas Past

You can see the embedded video here: Josh Coates

The first keynote came on Tuesday evening, before all the sessions got started on Wednesday; it was Josh Coates talking about the history of Instructure, with an introduction to the new president, Dan Goldsmith. It was also our first introduction to the carnival barker who provided entertainment at all the keynotes! The carnival theme throughout the conference was really fun; I've never been to another InstructureCon so I can't compare, but I thought everything about the carnival theme was really charming; even the artwork you could see around was delightful -- here's a sample from a building column they had decorated in the registration area (see also banner image above):

lion tamer graphic

The carnival theme was very nostalgic and backward-looking in a good way, and so was the first part about Josh's keynote. I already knew some things about the history of Instructure before, but I learned new things here; the picture of Brian Whitmer with their first-ever check was wonderful to see. It was also wild to think about them shipping the software without documentation because they were so convinced that it was just that intuition (but hey, as teachers we all know that nothing... literally nothing... is going to be equally obvious to every learner). Josh showed the flamethrower video, Change is Good (that video had endeared me to Canvas back in the day!), plus a hilarious K-12 roll-out video that I'm still thinking must have been a gag and not a real video but, hey, with Instructure back in the day, anything is possible ha ha. Here's the Change is Good video, which you can see at YouTube:

In another session, I also learned about the panda from early days: the reason the Instructure mascot is a panda is that they couldn't afford a receptionist at first, and so they put a stuffed panda toy animal in the receptionist's chair until they could afford an actual person. What a great story ( snufer who shared that with us, told us that Instructure is sticking by this story, although he could not get it independently verified, ha ha).

Canvas definitely has a storied past, with some great people and personalities involved. In particular, I have been a big admirer of both Devlin Daley and Brian Whitmer from early days, and I got to meet Devlin at InstructureCon this time; they are both involved in wonderful new work of their own now, having left Instructure.

As for the future, I have to confess that I was very disappointed by the second half of the keynote where Josh was talking with Dan Goldsmith. What a lost opportunity. That was a really valuable moment for an important group of people from the Canvas world to meet the new president and learn about him, but we learned very little, and what we did learn was off-putting (at least for me), especially when they started talking about driving for Uber and delivering packages for Amazon, and what great employment opportunities the new gig economy is making available now.

In a word: OUCH.

One of the biggest problems in higher education is the Uberization (i.e. adjunctification) of teaching, with most college teaching now being done by adjuncts who are poorly paid and have zero job security (I know; I am one of them). Likewise, in K-12, teachers are poorly paid; Oklahoma was one of the states this year that saw a massive teacher walkout to protest poor salaries and working conditions. A lot of the hostility towards  education comes from instructors who, rightfully, fear that bureaucrats would like to replace actual human teachers with automated processes: auto-grading, auto-feedback, auto-everything. So, to hear Dan Goldsmith and Josh Coates talking about how great it is to be a casual employee for Uber and Amazon was really depressing (and disingenuous, coming from men who do have real jobs of their own). Uber and Amazon are both companies that, to my mind, provide terrible models of employment at a moment when teachers at all levels are having to fight for their most basic rights as employees.

Luckily, though, we had fantastic keynotes from the invited speakers Adora Svitak and Michael Bonner to provide a strong counterpoint to that strange first-night conversation; I'll have more to say about their inspiring work in future posts!

Who else has quotes and pictures to share from that first night keynote? Although I was disappointed by the second half, the first half was a blast! Even Scott gave a death-defying as a "volunteer" from the audience! I need to find a picture of that fun carnival moment to add to this post. 🙂

I was traveling yesterday, so I'm one blog post behind but I'll get caught up this weekend! Here are 

here are my #InstCon30 posts so far:

  1. Hats Are Good
  2. All the Feels
  3. I am TPACK
  4. Inspired by Earl
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18 Replies
Community Coach
Community Coach

InstructureCarn 2018

 @scottdennis ‌

Scott on the Wheel

Community Champion

Oh, that's it: yes!!!!!! Thank you,  @chofer ‌!

Community Coach
Community Coach

Hi laurakgibbs

I often think that what this Community really needs is a love emoji like FB. Just a simple heart; but then, we all know there is nothing simple about a heart - neither the biological one nor the symbolic one.

If we had such a thing in here, I would have clicked it for each of your entire series of InstCon 18 posts! They please in so many ways that are both simple, and not so simple.


I am so glad,  @kmeeusen ‌! I made that big list as soon as I got home, because I knew that once life started back up again (for example, I'm in Austin now at my dad's), I would forget all the things I wanted to write about. This will help me keep reflecting back, which is absolutely a pleasure too. 

Hats are good, T-shirts are good... and hearts are best. 🙂

Community Coach
Community Coach

laurakgibbs, thank you for sharing your thoughts on the first keynote. I find your take on it very interesting because I didn't take it quite the same way. My interpretation was that they were trying to humanize Dan and show that he would not only fit in with the quirky Canvas culture, but add to it in his own unique way.

I enjoyed hearing about his experiences with different industries because to me it showed that when he is curious about something he has no problem digging in and trying to authentically see what it's all about. Is his experience different than someone who is trying to make a living doing these jobs, yes, but he can't help who he is and that he has a well paying (I'm assuming ;-)) full time job. Yet, I appreciate that instead of just reading about it or talking to people in the Industry he decided to do his research in the field. I bet the people he drives or delivers for have no idea of his "status" or who he is, thus allowing him the most realistic experience he can have. To me that means he's going to be pretty hands on with his leadership and in making sure he really understands how things work - which I really appreciate. To me it also shows that he doesn't mind doing the dirty/hard/hands on work to learn more about how something works, also a great quality in a leader. 

Could Dan's interview been handled a bit better, probably. Yet, I felt like I knew him better after the interview - him as a person, not him as a President - and what I saw gave me a lot of hope for the future of Instructure. 


Community Champion

 @chofer , what a great shot of  @scottdennis  on the wheel. It looks like a postcard.

Community Champion

So many times I've gone to click a heart too  @kmeeusen .

Community Champion

Thanks for your take on that session laurakgibbs. I beamed in remotely early in the morning. Lucky us. 

It was cool seeing the evolution of Canvas and getting to know the real people behind the scenes. 

Community Champion

That is the context I was looking for,  @kona ‌! But there wasn't any acknowledgment of that context in that talk... so when he asked who in the audience was an Uber driver, my immediate thought was, "Okay, yes, who else in this audience is, like so many teachers and instructors in this country, not making a living wage so that they have to take another job?" (I'm only able to carry on at my low-paying adjunct job because my husband has a military pension after a career in the Air Force; if I were a head-of-household, I would have had to quit my job long ago.) It's a totally different game to be an Uber driver for fun and curiosity, as he was, as opposed to being an Uber driver because it's the only way you can pay your rent. Maybe that was indirectly acknowledged somehow in the conversation, but if so, it was not coming through loud and clear, because I missed it.

Here are some pieces of Oklahoma teachers in the news; having to work second and even third jobs was a big part of why the teachers walked out:

  • AP News: excerpt -- "Lovelace, 35, teaches third grade at Leedey Public Schools in northwest Oklahoma. Part-time job: Teaches special education for an  charter school. Extra hours worked: 30 to 40 per week. “I have to work that second job because I’m a single mom with a teenage daughter,” Lovelace said. “If I didn’t have a second job, I’d be on food stamps.”
  • Mercury New: excerpt -- "After a day of instructing first-graders at Oologah-Talala Public Schools in Oklahoma, Melinda Dale puts on a janitor’s uniform and begins cleaning the very same school building. Dale, who has taught for six years, earns $32,000 a year as a teacher. She spends about 15 hours a week on the janitorial work, which at $10 an hour allows her to earn nearly a quarter of what she makes teaching."
  • EdWeek: excerpt -- "In Oklahoma, where teachers walked out of the classroom for nine days this spring, having to work multiple jobs was a rallying cry among educators. Kara Stoltenberg, a high school English teacher in Norman, Okla., who also works at a clothing store, pointed to her second job as one reason teachers needed a raise. Oklahoma teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation."

And the situation for adjunct college instructors, like myself, is even worse, because it is hard even to secure full-time employment of any kind as an adjunct (in that, I am one of the very lucky few who do have full-time jobs, albeit with no job security of any kind, just a year to year to contract which can be terminated at will and without cause anytime my school decides to hire someone at an even lower wage to do my job).

And an irony: when I searched on "teachers in oklahoma working second jobs" Google helpfully let me know that Amazon is hiring night-shift warehouse jobs near me (screenshot below). Which is exactly the point I was making above about Uber and Amazon: they are thriving as companies because they successfully exploit people who are economically vulnerable. I wish that had been acknowledged somehow somewhere in the keynote conversation, but I don't think that it was. And for that I say: thank goodness for the invited keynote speakers who were not afraid to get real about politics and economics in their keynotes (and kudos also to Jared Stein for that also).

screenshot of Google search results showing ad for Amazon night jobs