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Preparing Your Canvas: All Together Now

Community Champion
6 2 923

This is the sixth entry in my Preparing Your Canvas series, documenting NKU's transition from Blackboard to Canvas. If you want to start from the beginning, here's the rest in chronological order:


I started writing this post over the weekend, intending to finish it before the final SFI started. Oops. In general there's this palpable sense of acceleration as the beginning of the fall semester looms on the horizon. Although interacting with faculty in the intimate setting of the workshops is rewarding, its only one part of our responsibilities. This applies equally to the participating instructors as well; the rest of our duties do not patiently wait while we all set aside this time to dig into building great classes. Part of navigating this transition successfully will involve faculty and staff alike negotiating a balance of their time and resources. 

We spend part of the workshop time thinking about cognitive load in different contexts. For example, how much information is being presented to a viewer at once? Humans can be visually overwhelmed easily. We also expand cognitive load to encompass what students are being asked to do overall. Just like faculty and staff, their behavior as students is a constant negotiation of time, resources, and competing responsibilities. Looking back at our Summer Faculty Institutes, we connected these points with participants while learning about Canvas:

  1. Students attend a class to learn content, skills, and meet objectives.
  2. The more students think about the structure of a class, the less they will think about the content.
  3. Canvas helps improve course design so that students think about course structure less.

These last two SFI's have also offered us new perspectives on the problem of engagement and disenfranchisement. In earlier posts we brought up involving other staff in learning Canvas. Many people besides instructors need to know about Canvas. We also have to respect the needs of instructors who aren't on campus. Online-only instructors, remote faculty working out of other states or other countries — they are equally important in the adoption of a new LMS. To that end, we recorded our WebEx sessions, which I covered more in depth in a previous post. This dips into a larger problem that many institutions face, which is how to provide equity and empowerment to remote faculty and students. Working with online-only organizations previously, I'm familiar with the communication problems that arise for individuals working remotely. Communicating at a distance requires a higher degree of intentionality and follow-through from everyone. You can't just "drop-by" their office or cubicle right when you remember something. The dematerialization of the physical office into emails, WebEx sessions, and phone calls can easily create a feeling of disconnect from the larger system.

Besides holding virtual sessions, sharing the recordings of those sessions, and having the independent Canvas 101 course, what are other ways to support remote faculty and students? I'm curious to see how other institutions have tackled similar issues.

There's still one final group we haven't talked about: the students! The students need to buy into the new LMS just like anyone else. Good things can be ruined by bad introductions. Part of our adoption strategy needs to account for setting a clear narrative for students about what is happening and why. In the past week we've reached out to our Marketing & Communications group to establish a plan of attack for getting the word out. Currently our plan involves 4 stages of advertising, using a combination of digital signage, campus-wide email newsletter, and social media. The advertising strategy performs a couple duties for faculty and students. For students, it makes them aware of the transition, and sets clear expectations for how their education will be changing. For faculty, it will help encourage more voluntary transitions before the end of Spring '18, when everyone must transition. Part of our overall strategy relies on distributing when faculty make the move as evenly as possible.

The summer institutes, and summer in general, are behind us. Canvas is in front of us. In my next post, we'll get to everyone's favorite: buttons!

Next: Preparing Your Canvas: Buttons!