Preparing Your Canvas: Ekphrasis

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This is the fifth 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:

Summer is slipping away, and Fall semester is barreling towards us! Next week we will begin our third Summer Faculty Institute out of the four we have scheduled. For the past few weeks we've been continuing our stand-alone workshops. We also completed a cycle of synchronous, virtual trainings. Basically, these were instructor-led versions of the workshops delivered through WebEx. For folks who have been teaching online, what I'm about to say next won't surprise you: delivering content online is very different from delivering in-person. 

What I'm not saying is that online delivery is less effective than in-person delivery; virtual synchronous sessions are just different, and your pedagogical strategies have to adapt to account for that. Because I'm a huge nerd, this reminds me of a concept I learned as an art student: ekphrasis. In short, ekphrasis is the use of one artistic medium to describe a different artistic medium. A poem about a painting, for instance. So how do you translate your pedagogy from one medium to another? Your tools will be different from face-to-face (or brick and mortar, if you prefer) to online (or VILT - virtual instructor-led training).

Now, in a former life I had experience running synchronous virtual trainings. I was pretty comfortable (and in fact required by the job) to reach a minimum threshold of engagement from every participant through chat, audio, and video, and to use collaborative tools like shared documents and whiteboards to enhance the learning experience. Trying to apply that experience to my work at NKU has been a major learning opportunity for me, as I've come to understand just how much of my perception of effective pedagogy is mediated and organized by the tools I'm using. Its a theoretical concept people are familiar with, but delivering this WebEx workshop series grounded it in very practical terms.

I came into the workshop series with several assumptions: I would have access to a public chat where all participants could see each others' responses. I would have an object-oriented whiteboard (meaning I could select annotations and drawings from participants and move them around the whiteboard). I would have a participant list that showed participant status that would automatically refresh. Participants would be able to easily mute and unmute themselves. And each of these assumptions, and others, predicated on my entire online teaching experience being based in AdobeConnect and Blackboard Illuminate. And none of these were valid in WebEx. 

As an aside, participants can unmute/mute themselves in WebEx easily depending on how the virtual sessions were setup. Our sessions had been built so this was not feasible.

Fortunately, the workshop series didn't crash and burn. Also, I was not the only person delivering the workshops. My challenge was in translating the fifth workshop in the series to this virtual environment. This final workshop covered best practices for structuring a course in Canvas. A major part of the workshop revolves around having participants define terms like information architecture, student UX, and cognitive load. Then, we use those terms to have learners analyze how we, myself and the other designers, built a previous module in Canvas 101. We ask participants to critique our design choices as a means to applying the concepts they just defined. Once they've worked through our design choices and analyzed them, we wrap up the conversation by showing them the same module structured four alternative ways, assessing how each option solves or creates design problems.

screenshot of content page in Canvas, showing several examples of how to organize a module

All of that necessitates  a lot of back and forth between participants. My solution was to build a whiteboard with predetermined spaces for learner comments. Remember, they can't see each other's chats, and once they add something to the whiteboard, I can't move it.

screenshot of WebEx whiteboard

So far we don't have any more WebEx workshops planned. We do have recordings of each session to share for people who weren't able to attend. However, we know that the faculty response has been incredibly positive, and we'll want to offer more opportunities for them. Also, as the first semester of our transition careens towards us, we are getting more requests to create resources for students to equip them to use Canvas. But this post is long enough, so that'll have to wait.

Button update: Canvas 201 is finished and live! I'll be sharing material from it shortly. For now, here's the first page of it:

screenshot of home page for Canvas course

Next: Preparing Your Canvas:  All Together Now

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