Browsing "education"
Feb 7, 2013 - education, technology    No Comments

Canvas, Part 2.

I posted before the fall term about my excitement at getting our Canvas implementation off the ground, and haven’t updated since, so I wanted to follow up on how it all went down. Tl;dr: it went GREAT. When I surveyed the other users, the biggest complaints were “Canvas doesn’t do X,” when in fact, Canvas DOES do X, and I would show them how to do X, if they’d asked! I used that feedback to make some targeted tutorials that I hope reached those users. Since the survey was anonymous, I can’t know who was looking for those specific features. SpeedGrader has been a huge hit, for me and for users.

This semester, we have about double the courses being taught in Canvas from last semester. What I’ve found is that those who had to use it (as required for online instructors, for instance) were requesting permission to use it in the courses that it wasn’t a requirement. Other users requested based on feedback from the mandated users, as well. I’ve also had several faculty that teach and learn using other systems (because they are adjuncts at other colleges, or because they are taking classes at other places) that have come to me and said that after using Canvas, they are realizing how much more they like it as compared to other systems. (Blackboard and Moodle are the main ones that others report using.)

When I tweet about these things, there are a few people who will fire back with a bit of a “yeah, really? Other Company is so much better!” — but reading their tweets, its clear that they are changing from another vendor to Canvas, so there’s a different level of learning there. One area is in the way discussions post. I, personally, have NEVER liked the “click each response” type of forum (and I’ve moderated or been a member of forum systems — outside of an LMS — for more than a dozen years now) so the Canvas forums make sense to me. And that’s the thing – when it’s a change, it’s going to be frustrating. Being that we are starting with Canvas as our first LMS, I don’t have to “unlearn” users and reteach them the Canvas way. If the forums on Canvas were the “click each one,” I’d be complaining, too. I recognize that that is an advantage, and am thankful for it.

But more than that, I am thankful for being able to teach with Canvas. Now that I am teaching my Tech in Ed class, the beauty of Canvas is starting to really show for me. Being able to put all of our twitter links and blog posts together (I’m a big advocate of connected educators) within the course is great. I used to teach Google Reader, but am moving that focus to Twitter – partly because of the changes that Google made to Reader and it’s sharing features – but I still use Reader myself, and have bundled the class blogs and embedded them into a Canvas page. (Here’s a screencast showing how to do that.) I’ve also added the Twitter LTI extension (I am a full Canvas admin, in addition to being an instructor) and have the results for our #ed307 hashtag embedded on the front page. I have plotted out all of the assignments, but left some of them as TBA — because Canvas will let me edit and add details later (and notify the students when I do), but at least I can give my students an expectation of the scope and sequence of the work we’ll be doing. And SpeedGrading blog posts — one of the first possibilities I saw when reviewing Canvas last spring — is exactly as great as I hoped it would be. I can make public comments, and private grades, all from the same screen. EXACTLY what I needed.

I have faculty members doing some cool things, too. One instructor has fallen in love with using audio media comments to give feedback on written papers, and her students are reporting back that they like that method more than written, because they can hear from her tone of voice the way in which she is intending her comments to be interpreted. The way faculty can do graded discussions has been very well received by many faculty, as the previous method involved a lot of sifting and hoping you didn’t miss anything. And importing quizzes from test banks is making even more people happy.

What would I change?

I would like for discussion posts to have the option to be locked from editing or deletion. The one thread I have done in my class was a simple “post a link” so I assume that most of the deletions were people trying to figure out how to create the clickable link, but I can see how in a higher stakes graded discussion that would be frustrating.

I love, love, love using Google Docs, and love the concept of collaborations, but it would be nice if a collaboration could be turned in as an assignment. I have students submit their URLs to do that, now, but it would be nice if the snapshot wasn’t of the login screen when that’s submitted. It’s just an extra click to view the original document, and it’s worth the click to be able to use the Google Docs commenting.

I’d also like to be able to copy assignments. I have 12 blog posts for my students to do, with a generic rubric, but I have to create each of the blog posts individually and then add the rubric (which I CAN reuse.) I’d love to be able to be building a collection of content to pick from as I teach my courses, and faculty would like this, too. Now, they have to go into old courses (and I had to extend the term availability for them to do it) to copy content.

Most of the things I would like to see changed are on the Admin side. I’d like it if course names and their IDs were able to display at the same time. When there are multiple offerings of Intro to Canvas, it’s a lot of clicking to find the section you are looking for. (Maybe schools that use Sections don’t have this, but we haven’t done that because it is an exception that an instructor would be teaching all sections of a course or that all sections of a course use the same content.) Even if it was something that was revealed by hovering over the course name, that would work, but it can be a little annoying to click around looking for the course you need.  When I look at user lists in a course, too, it’d be nice to have  a collapsed view to see them all at once.

But overall, things are really good with Canvas. I am going deeper this semester, and have already used peer reviews and loved it. I can’t wait to try playing with outcomes this semester, too, and more of the LTI integrations.


Sep 2, 2012 - education, technology    2 Comments

Back to School with Canvas

Today I greeted my new class of first year students. I love teaching this class (you have to, to be okay with giving up your holiday weekend each year to teach it!) because I am the first instructor they meet. I take that role seriously — I try to set the tone for their college experience on that first day, by being positive and friendly and accessible.

This year, I am setting the tone by being even more prepared. Sure, I have started each class with a syllabus, posted a link in the portal, etc, but this year I built my whole course in Canvas. The other sections are using a 3 ring binder, developed by the course leader, and in lieu of the binder,  I rounded up electronic versions of those files and created modules (where the binder has tabs.)

But that’s just the baseline – the part I am even MORE excited about are the assignments, and how in Canvas, the assignments can be done so flexibly. For instance, my students are required to attend two different events during the semester, and in the past, that was proven by the student providing the handout in their portfolio. Which was fine, but easily forged. So, when I heard an instructor lament that they’d never seen an electronic device being used in class for classwork, I decided to make those event assignments something different than providing the handout. For those, the students need to provide a photo of themselves at the event. They will get 10 points (full score) if they are in the photo, and 5 points if it’s a photo of the speaker. Simple, but that I can specify the file type of .jpg or allow a link makes it easier.

We also do journaling in this course, but in the past, we were to collect journals at the end. So, of course, many were done the day before they were due and just backdated. This time, I have made 5 journal due dates throughout the semester, and only accepting submissions via URL. (Have I mentioned that we are ALSO converting to Google Apps this year, too? Another huge, bright spot in my day!) Attaching the rubrics makes the expectations clear to the students what is due. The calendar makes it clear WHEN it is due. I am in love.

When I was researching our next move with an LMS, Canvas was my personal first choice, and I knew that regardless what direction the institution would go, that I would use it my Technology in Education course. (Due to the nature of the course, it’s sort of part of the design that I get to go a little rogue with my choices.) The one thing that my evals have dinged me on is “timely feedback for grades,” and it’s the area that I’ve tried to make better with each class. The challenge in that course is that so much of it is blogging, and I can’t provide a grade on the blog, for privacy’s sake, so I end up with my Google Reader open and a Google Spreadsheet and trying to cross reference and set color coded rules, but I can’t share the spreadsheet with students because it has ALL their grades (FERPA again) and I inevitably scroll past (and thus, “mark as read”) a blog entry, and half of them title their blog “my ED307 blog” so I have to dig to see which student is saying what, and…. it’s a logistical nightmare. Add Twitter to my curriculum, and that doubles. So, when I saw the URL submission piece in Canvas, and the Speedgrader, it was the EXACT solution I had been looking for. I can now use a rubric for the blog posts, grade and comment all at the same time, and my students will know exactly where they stand.

Secondly, one of the biggest WTF? moments of last semester was when many students bombed a major project. I am a big fan of the “double dip” – I don’t create work without a purpose. So, when we discussed writing rubrics, and rubric tools, I used that class to have students design the rubric for the next big project. We designed the rubric, I posted it, and they had 3 weeks to complete. Many students failed, and it was clear that they never went back to the rubric to help guide their project. Those that had used the rubric, did great. Those that didn’t…. After that assignment, I knew that next year, I would have students do a peer review – if they had just had a peer look at it, with the rubric, everyone should have aced the project. And so Canvas offers every.piece.of.that. Every one. I can create the rubric, they submit the project via URL, I can demand a peer review, they can correct any issues, and THEN I can assess with the rubric.

I am convinced that my students will be more confident in their progress in the course, and that I will see that reflected in my teaching evals. And I am also convinced that students will start asking for more of that from their instructors, and once they see how much EASIER it is than any other method we’ve used before, that they will be into it, too.

Here’s a little clip showing how SpeedGrader works, from Instructure’s guides:


Apr 18, 2012 - education, technology    No Comments


In January, I got a dreadful email that my beloved Picnik was closing. Picnik was a free (with premium options — and I was a premium member) photo editing site that was absolutely the best solution for my many and varied needs. A flurry of blog posts ensued, with Picnik alternatives, but they weren’t alternatives. They were just other photo editing sites. I loved that Picnik was NOT trying to be like Photoshop, because it made it so accessible to my students. Or, if they veered close, they had ads that were not PK-12 appropriate, so that doesn’t work either. Or, they just didn’t have the essential tools that my undergrads need — a major use of Picnik for us is to anonymize photos of students to keep in line with FERPA, so if you don’t have a “focal pixelate” or “focal blur” option, you aren’t going to work. (Use ‘reverse effect’ to blur out student faces or names while preserving the spirit of the image.)

With the kill date for Picnik being 4/19, I tried to impress upon the student teachers that they needed to work on getting their images edited before then, and then shared my hope that the developers of Picnik would spin off a new product before then that they could take to the classroom once they were practicing teachers. Hallelujah, Picmonkey was born!

It worked out great, actually, and Picmonkey was what we used at our last teacher workshop. The only wrinkle? One of the cheeky suggestions was, funny, to an adult, but might lead some kids to wonder what “sacrifice a virgin” meant. I tweeted to the Picmonkey team, and emailed them, and within HOURS — hours! — they had changed the text to reference a “hamster in a wheel” instead. I was beyond impressed.

Picmonkey fills that gaping hole that Picnik left for me, and for my students. It’s NOT Fauxtoshop. It’s not peppered with ads for dating services. It’s easy to use for anyone who touches it. And when they offer a paid membership, I will totally be first in line to buy it. 

Jan 20, 2012 - education, family, technology    No Comments

Want to show Ingrid’s school the power of Twitter? Send her a postcard for this project and mention that you learned about it on Twitter. (And include your @name so I can thank you!) The postcards go directly to the school, and she is the only Ingrid there. Here’s a chance to show real teachers in a real school the real power of social media. 

We would love our tweets to generate a postcard from every state. When the project is over, Ingrid will be allowed to bring home the cards, and I will be excited to see who participated! Won’t you send a postcard, and pass it on? Thanks!

Jan 19, 2012 - education, technology    No Comments

Apple’s new education moves

I was excited to hear about Apple’s education products today for several reasons — in my career I deal with faculty at higher ed, AND with preservice K-12 teachers, so I look at these things through many lenses.

iBooks2: I really hope that there is a setting that allows people to trace the page without turning the page. That is, hands down, the hardest part of that app (or any e-reading app) for a new reader, I think.  The textbook feature is huge, and a long time coming, but I am truly puzzled as to why the focus was on K-12 and not higher ed. For one, K-12 students don’t buy their own textbooks, a district does, so anyone who is purchasing a $15 textbook at this point would require that that family has enough disposable income to have both an iPad and an extra $15 to rebuy a text. (I’m going to be general when talking about students, because I can definitely see a student that has special needs benefiting from a device and iBook that might be funded via the school system.) Hm. Also, K-12 students are generally in the same classroom, or at least the same building, each day, so portability is nice, but it’s not essential when it comes to books. (I won’t go into my anti-homework rant here, but making a lighter backpack for the trip home should not be done by making the textbook more portable.)

But higher ed — that’s where this could be revolutionary. There is not a single student on this planet that has ever said “Wow! I am so glad I spent this much money on that textbook!” Even if it provided good info, even if they learned, the college textbook industry is a total racket. Then, to lug those texts from home or your dorm room to class (and then it may or may not be used — I would also bet that there is not a single student who would say “I’ve used every textbook I’ve ever been required to purchase.”) and to manage which texts are used when, oh, and also maybe you are hauling a laptop… that’s where mobility comes in. College students pay for their own texts. College students are all carrying a mobile device, right now. (I’m including cell phones to laptops in this, and maybe it’s not “all” but it’s “a whole lot of ‘em,” based on my scientific research of looking around my own campus. (Okay, that’s not really scientific. But still.)

Now let’s throw in the iBooks Author — imagining turning the “supplemental readings” into it’s own text, well, that’s awesome. And to go the next step, and have my ED 307 students (Technology in Education) learn to make THEIR own texts for a mobile device, that could be great. What a way to differentiate in a classroom without ‘othering’ the kids that require it! (Oh, and in addition to being a teacher and an instructional technologist, I am a parent of a kindergartner, and hoping for discreet differentiation with her.)

And THEN, then, dump alllll that up there into iTunes U, and that’s something that’s pretty damn interesting. Although the “rate this class” feature, well, I can see that being the reason that some folks retreat from getting in there too much. And not everyone is into open resources, and it wasn’t clear if an iTunesU course could be restricted to just the registered students. 

My takeaways:

Apple really wants more 1:1 stuff in the K-12 realm. If you can subsidize your iPad program by cutting costs with your textbook expenses, and then outfit your teachers with the ability to draft their own texts, that’s pretty huge… but it’s also platform specific. One of the reasons I adore Google Apps is that it isn’t platform specific, so when our students use Apps to do portfolios, and not Noteshare (which is apple only) it’s because they might end up at a Windows or Linux or heck, even a Chromebook school, and I want the ideas to transfer wherever they go. Moving towards stuff like this is definitely moving to Apple in general. For instance, I was madly refreshing the Mac store to get into iBooks Author, but when it finally appeared, I had to be running Lion to use it, which is going to mean hounding my IT guy to upgrade my computers, already. (I do have Lion at home, and am anxious to try it out!) I love Apple. With wild abandon. But I can’t yet require my students to purchase an iPad to use my homegrown textbook. In a 1:1 pilot school, this will be a great way to expand on the investment, however.

I’m excited to get in there and try some of this stuff, though, and it’s always good to be excited about a shift in your field.

Aug 3, 2011 - education, technology    No Comments

Missouri’s Facebook Law

Have you heard about this? Missouri has created a law that prevents teachers from interacting with students via social media.   My first thought was that I went back to the conversation my ED307 students and I had about social media and boundaries, where they all very strongly agreed that teachers shouldn’t friend students, but when presented with more real life situations, they realized that area gets gray, really quickly.  What about the student that is a family friend? Or the parent friending a teacher? Or the parent that is also a teacher? (My mom was a teacher in my school; would she have been allowed to friend me on Facebook?)

The law is part of the Amy Hestir Student Protection Act, which is named for a student who was sexually abused by a teacher…. decades ago. Which brings back my mantra “the internet is real life.” Will banning teacher/student interaction via social media stop sexual abuse? Nope. Will it create a false sense of ‘safety’ for some people? Yep.

I DO think it’s a good idea for teachers to be professional in their use of social media, and think that the idea of a fan page for a teacher is a great one. But I think this law is a little short-sighted, because it didn’t take Facebook/social media to create an environment for abuse for Amy Hestir, and it won’t prevent it in the future.