Blog Index / 2016 Round-Up

I’ll probably be blogging only a little and perhaps not at all in the coming two weeks, so I decided to do another blog index post to let stand as the 2016 Round-Up. I’ll see you back here in 2017!

I also have to say that I’m very pleased at how this turned out: I started blogging here in Week 10 of the semester, and it’s been a big help to me in reflecting on the semester and getting ready for Spring. Even better: next semester, I’ll have a blog in place right from the start to report on how things are going and brainstorm about how to make things go even better! 🙂

New posts are in bold:

Widgets and Other Dynamic Content

Openness, Sharing, and Connectedness

Posts about Students

Posts about Instructors

Teaching Writing

Canvas Class Announcements

Some Practical Canvas Advice

Grading with Canvas

And here’s one of the Growth Mindset Cats from this week:

Do things you’ve never done before.

 Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Faculty Survey … Faculty Voices

Since I posted about student voices yesterday, it seems appropriate to post about faculty voices today: this morning we received by email a Canvas survey to fill out. I hope the results will be shared and shared widely so that we can learn from each other, especially in the open-ended comments. The ratings questions did not seem especially useful because they did not delve into which Canvas features we are using, much less WHY we are using those features, and what we have learned about those features this semester. Those are the kinds of questions I was hoping for, but at least there were open-ended questions at the end.

Here’s what I wrote in the questions which asked for our basic Canvas likes, dislikes, and other feedback; a lot of these are topics I’ve blogged about here, so that made it easy to write my comments on the survey:


I really value the ability to create open courses to share with others and to use as persistent online resources that do not come-and-go with each semester; open courses were not possible in D2L.
I very much like the hard/soft deadlines we can set for quizzes; that was also not possible in D2L.
I am glad that students can choose their own display name; also not possible in D2L.


Gradebook functionality is very poor: I need filtering, searching, sorting, flagging, and I need a simple text field to communicate with students via the gradebook and also to record a final letter grade. The only messaging possible from the Gradebook is single-assignment based, and that is a huge drawback for me; in D2L you could manually select students for messaging in the Gradebook, and you could also filter/search on multiple parameters. Overall, the Gradebook functionality is incredibly poor compared to D2L.
When you copy quiz content there is no way to update multiple instances of an item. Neither the question bank nor the quiz copy maintains a lasting connection between the copied items; you have to edit the copied items individually. This is a huge problem for me. In D2L, when you copied a question from quiz to quiz, D2L “knew” you had copied it and you only had to edit once.
I desperately need to be able to mass edit due dates when a course is copied from semester to semester; D2L offered that option, and it was great. I could reconfigure my course dates in D2L in a couple hours. In Canvas I am expecting to spend a solid 8 hours or so of click click click as I enter two new dates for every single quiz in both of my classes (because I use a student-choice driven system, I have hundreds of quizzes for which manual dates have to be entered, and that much tedious manual labor also results in so much potential for errors to occur also).
I don’t have comments on other features because the Gradebook and Quizzes are the only features I use.


Lack of faculty voices in the Canvas rollout is a real problem: we are not taking advantage of the opportunity to learn from each other. We just get emails from a marketing team which do not actually feature what faculty and students have to say and news of what people are actually doing; I would really like to hear more about the creative and successful ways OU faculty and students are using Canvas, but that has not been happening in those emails. I can get a good sense of student perspective just by asking my students (and I do!), but for faculty perspective, I am depending on OU IT and CTE to provide a space where that sharing can happen from day to day. The OU Canvas Community would be one way to do that, but people from IT and CTE are not participating there, not even the Canvas Fellows; without leadership in that regard, the faculty are just going to be working in isolation, as was the case with D2L.
As one way to promote sharing of faculty voices, I hope very much that the results of this survey will be shared in time for people to learn from others. Finding out what other faculty see as most beneficial about Canvas would be extremely useful to know!

My hope is that as people look at their use of Canvas (and at the way other people are using it), more creative uses will emerge.

The creative process starts with making observations.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

More Student Voices from Fall 2016

Earlier I shared the results of the Canvas survey my students filled out mid-semester, along with an overview of their advice: Student Voices about Canvas. I also explained how I used those survey results to reconfigure my Student Tech Support for Canvas. In this post, I will do a follow-up with more student voices coming from the student blogs in the last weeks of the semester. Those students who chose to learn more about Canvas via my Canvas Tech Tips wrote up quick blog posts with their reactions and impressions. You can see that blog stream here, and I’ve also embedded it at the bottom of this post. (If you’re curious, that’s Inoreader at work: a blog aggregator that can filter posts into streams based on filters and rules and then republish the results as a new RSS stream, also available via HTML as you see here.)

Feedback is essential. For me, getting this kind of feedback is really important; I teach online, so being able to read through the students’ blog posts is a great way to check in and get a sense of how things are going with them, just to gauge the mood as much as anything. I was told that there was going to be a campus-wide survey of faculty and of students who used Canvas in this first semester of our Canvas deployment (when Canvas was still opt-in, before going to opt-out next semester), but so far I have not received a survey. I know I found it very helpful to hear directly from my students this semester, but they are just a small subset (appx. 80) of the presumably thousands of students who did use Canvas this past semester; I hope we will be hearing more student voices, and faculty voices too.

Selected remarks. I’ve selected below some remarks that I think could also be helpful for other instructors using Canvas; you’ll see some references there to the grace period or extension I have set up for assignments, which is personally one of my favorite Canvas features that we didn’t have in D2L. Details here: Canvas Grace Period. All the other comments are general, not really specific to my class in any way. The students’ enthusiasm is very strong, although it’s also clear that actually encouraging them to download the app is important — some had downloaded it before I set up my Tech Tips, but many had not and said that they wished they had done so earlier. I will be encouraging my students next semester to download the app and configure their notifications on the first day of class!

~ ~ ~

I honestly with I would have done this Calendar tech tip earlier on in the semester! I typically just type down my to-do list in the Notes on my phone, but having it synched with my own digital calendar on my phone would have been perfect.

I’ve had this app on my phone for the entire semester. So here are some good things. You can pin individual parts of it to a home screen. For instance, I have grades on one page, and assignments on another. The bad news is that it’s slow and clunky. The pins you set-up don’t update like that should. It seems to be incredibly sporatic. I had one freeze for three weeks. It’s a good effort, but it’s not up to snuff from my perspective. My experience is on a Galaxy Note 3.

As of right now the push messages were really easy to set up and thing I will really enjoy this alert next semester!! I recommend every to turn this on especially if you forget stuff a a lot!!

I rally enjoyed this tech tip because I had no idea it did that and enjoyed personalizing my account. I think it is awesome that we could do that because we spend so much time on there it was nice to personalize it so its not so boring.

I think I set up a bunch of notifications at the beginning and now I was able to adapt them a little better to the ones I really needed.

It was surprisingly a lot easier to upload my canvas calendar to the calendar that I use on google so that I could see everything all in one!

I chose to have canvas notifications for this class sent to my OU email. I find with a class that has many assignments, that my email is the best way to get notifications. This is because I check my email multiple times throughout a day, and I only check canvas one or two times.

For me, the canvas app was not my favorite. It was slow and kept denying my user information! I did, though, find an alternative way of having it up on my homepage of my phone- if you go on “safari” and go to canvas’s homepage or login page, you can hit the options button (lower right corner) and select “homepage” and it will make itself into an icon. So neat!

Personally, I think the calendar on Canvas is even better than the one on D2L because it is color coded and has so many different views! You can see what you have due in just one class, all classes, for a month, for the rest of the semester, in calendar format or in list format. The options honestly are endless. It is a great feature! If you don’t know how to use it yet, go look it up! It is amazing!

I really like how you can change the notification preferences on Canvas. It is very helpful and convenient. I changed it to things that were more important to me. I usually get notifications for things that are not as important so one bad thing that I do is just skip over all of them and not pay close attention to the important ones. I have missed important notifications/emails by doing that. It is really helpful and I think this is one of the reasons why it is better than D2L.

I have had canvas set up to email me anytime a grade gets updated for a while now. I find this to be very helpful for times that I am concerned about what grade I got. This is an easy way to get notifications and it keeps me from endlessly checking canvas for grades to be posted. I highly suggest this for this time of year when it seems that everyone has at least one class they are worried about getting a high enough grade in.

I really like how it is able to give you a quick look at what your grade percentage is by just pushing a button! Now that I have downloaded this app I kind of wish I would have done so sooner, because I believe it would have made my life much easier thought the semester to look on my phone for due dates rather then get my laptop out every time.

So I had read about the Canvas app on several others’ blogs and decided it was about time I figure it out. All of my classes are on Canvas this semester so I figured I should hop on board and get used to working with Canvas. At the beginning of the semester I was pretty mad that my last year was when they decided to shift support from D2L to Canvas, but then realized if it wasn’t my senior year it would certainly be someone else’s senior year. The app allowed me to set up notifications on my phone, which was the biggest plus for me. I am not a huge fan of how Canvas has the grading set up, purely because I like to avoid seeing my grades for as long as possible. I am glad to have such easy access to my coursework now though!

I love that you can change your display name on Canvas. As soon as I got it, I took my middle name out. I find this a great way for people to recognize others, expecially those who go by different names. I also added a picture to my profile so that people can see who I actually am.

This week I decided to do a tech tip by downloading the Canvas mobile app. I kind of hate technology so this was a big step for me. Next semester, more of my classes will be using Canvas so I look forward to using the app more then!

Notification adjustments might be more useful if more of my instructors used Canvas in similar ways. When every class is different, there’s no making decisions about notification settings.

I’m a big fan of Google Calendar, especially since it automatically integrates my Outlook calendar–meaning that any time someone emails me with an event, or any time I schedule a meeting with a student or instructor, it appears on my phone calendar without any additional effort.

I will say that the Canvas calendar the easiest place to see which declarations you’ve done for a given week, since it crosses them out as you complete them–a far easier visual than the list you’ll find under modules.

Like many of you (or maybe it’s just me….), I am very resistant to change. I will be honest. When OU switched from D2L to Canvas, I wasn’t happy. Canvas had a lot going on and I didn’t feel like I had time to figure it all out. Once I downloaded the app, I realized it was definitely better. I can see all of my classes and by clicking the “A+” button at the top, it instantly shows me my overall grades in each one of my class–WOW.

I decided to update my canvas profile! I changed my display name from “Kimberly” to “Kimber” since that is what most people call me. Then, I added an avatar photo to my profile. I picked this picture because I think I look pretty normal in it. Normally I like to have profile pictures be a little bit goofy because I feel as though that is how I am in real life, but I figured since this was school it would be a little better to have something I little more professional.

I heard of the Canvas mobile app while doing extra commenting on some people’s posts and decide I would blog about it in hopes more people will discover it. This app takes away the hassle of going to your browser and logging in every time you want to do anything on Canvas.

After having to access D2L through a mobile browser all last year–signing in every time on the teeny, mobile-unfriendly access page (–having an app which keeps me signed in all the time was the first step in guaranteeing my regular usage.

I have updated my profile on canvas and it was very easy! I even put a link to my linkedin account on my canvas profile.

If I make the bad decision of relaxing with Netflix instead of doing the work that is due that night I get an extra reminder at 7 am through email to wake up and do all work within the grace period. Although, notifications do not combat against some of my bad habits or crazy class/work schedule the extra help does not hurt!

I am just a little worried about the professors who are reluctant to switch to canvas. They only make it harder on the student trying to figure out the new system when they do not attempt to learn it as well. I do not know what I would have done if not for the extension you have added on to our assignments. It would make the students live’s so much easier if they had a professor willing to learn.

At first I was concerned about the switch to Canvas as it was an unwanted change because I honestly liked D2L. But after experiencing the mobile app and its capabilities. I am so pleased with the switch.

One of the great things about the Canvas app and having an iPad or an iPhone or anything with internet connection capabilities is its use alongside Microsoft’s Onedrive. I store all my slides that I download from Canvas to Onedrive. I can even submit assignments directly to canvas from Onedrive. I am honestly pleased with the direction that OU decided to take with its technology services!

I think it makes things a lot easier when I am trying to see what comes up next for each class, when the D2L calendar would show things for every class at once. I love that there is a grace period for this class and the assignments which has helped more than anything. There might be times when I forget to do an assignment for this class or have an emergency where I cannot do it on time, and realize there is a grace period the next morning.

At first I was very skeptical of canvas. I was so accustom to D2L and did not want to learn a whole new format on my last semester at OU. To my surprise canvas is very simple and easy to use. I like how when you open it, it shows all your classes and they are color coded.

I especially like the assignment or “modules” part on the app. When you click on it, depending how to professor has it set up, you can then just click on what unit you are on and then all the assignments for that unit are right there. You don’t have to search for them.

Doing assignments/ quizzes is very easy on the app as well. It formats it so they fit your phone and you don’t have to zoom in like you had to on D2L.

The calendar has helped me keep up with not jsut school but school related events. I am able to add all my events to the calendar even though there is not a class for them. The color coding for each class is very cool, and I love how it marks out what has been accomplished.

I have canvas bookmarked in my safari browser on my iPad. Going through safari seems to be the exact same as using the app.

I just downloaded the Canvas app for this week’s tech tip! I didn’t know that there was an option to put it on my phone. I already receive notifications via email so I never thought to look for an app. Now, I can unsubscribe from those emails and have a lot less clutter in my inbox!

I absolutely love the notification system that Canvas has. I am a frequent user of my OU e-mail due to the amount of extracurricular organizations that I’m involved in, and receiving notifications there is really nice.

I wonder why it takes so long for notifications to appear, especially after I submit a quiz to be graded. I usually have to wait at least 30 minutes to get a notification from Canvas telling me that something has been graded. Other than that, I’m grateful for it!

I really appreciate the fact that you’re able to change your name in Canvas… while I am lucky/privileged to go by my birth name, this is especially important for queer people that might not identify with their birth name.

Unfortunately, not too many professors put their entire class schedule online (thanks Laura!) which makes it a little difficult to rely on it in whole. However, it is certainly an effective organizational strategy! Below is a screenshot of my Google Calendar for this last week with the integrated calendar.

I am not a notification fan, so I have everything sent to my email. Now, I get to see everything that is due, has been graded, etc all in one place. I made a specific folder for these emails, so I can check them quickly.

I love how canvas has a list of all things due for all classes in one location- it is great for figuring out which weeks will be busy and which I can work ahead during! Now all I need to do is teach my teachers how to use it correctly…

The app’s view is clear, and the fonts of link are large, which makes it easier to navigate from page to page. In addition, it has many function that D2L app lack or insufficient like the to do list, message page, calendar, and etc. I regret that I didn’t download the app earlier. Everyone should try it out!

I love the Canvas App. I already had it downloaded, and it has saved my butt plenty of times. I love how you can view your calendar with due dates easily on it. One thing that has helped me the most is that you can take your quizzes from the app directly.

You can take quizzes on your phone, but the only downside is that it gives you the score but won’t show the summary of your attempt.

~ ~ ~

As mentioned above, here’s the live feed (thank you, Inoreader!) of my students’ blog posts that mention Canvas, which means there will be new posts coming in to this stream starting in Spring semester too. It’s easier to read outside the confines of this blog post: Canvas Post Stream.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Open: It’s the Canvas Difference

For the past two days I was participating in a WEC minicourse in Canvas, and yesterday I also got to participate in a fun remote session with the TLInnovations group at CSU Channel Islands. They have a Domains project and are also looking at a Canvas transition in the near future, so we had a lot to talk about. And yesterday was the debut of Keegan’s Canvas Camp: Learn and Build Courses in Community website, which is what I am eager to write about today. Other people have been busy with finals this week, but I have been having such a good time just connecting with people and sharing ideas. Definitely more fun than finals. 🙂

The Canvas Camp site is published at Keegan’s domain, as you can see, and it provides support for his four-day in-person Canvas workshop. I am really glad that there is now something like this site to go along with all the face-to-face training that has been happening all summer and fall. Having online resources like this benefits people who, for whatever reasons, do not attend the in-person training, and it also benefits people who attend the training and later want to refer back to what was covered. Everybody wins!

The Big Picture. Keegan also provides a helpful background page to give an overview of the thinking behind the materials he has assembled, and it’s a really attention-getting list of topics, very different from the click-here-click-there approach of so much LMS training:

Teaching the technical skills to use Canvas
Engaging faculty in course development
Producing Canvas courses
Reflecting on why the university switched to Canvas
Learning Canvas as part of a community

I’m most interested in course development and community along with institutional goals, and Keegan is providing a real service by including those areas in his work with the faculty. There’s already a super-abundance of materials online from Canvas and from other schools that address Canvas features and technical support, but these other areas are what will lead us to a truly successful Canvas adoption. Without a discussion of those broader topics, people are probably going to seek to use Canvas just as they used D2L, and D2L use was very limited (and also typical; see How Instructors (Don’t) Use the LMS). If we want Canvas to be something not just new but something better in terms of teaching and learning on campus, those broader topics are the key.

LMS… or the Internet. Of course, there’s an obvious irony here, one which Adam already pointed out in his share of Keegan’s site at Twitter: If we must teach the LMS, then we shall build on the domain. Indeed! Keegan has chosen not to build this site as a Canvas resource course, building it instead outside of Canvas at his domain. My guess is that a statement about the reasons why he made that choice would be a great way to get faculty to ask themselves that question as well, reflecting on alternatives rather than just uploading their content into the LMS willy-nilly.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to putting content in an LMS, and it’s important for faculty to ponder that before they get started. That is exactly the kind of thing they need help with, in fact, since it is probably a question they have never asked themselves before. The assumption has always been “just put your course materials in the LMS.” That was true when we had Blackboard and when we had D2L, but I hope we can have a better informed conversation about that now with Canvas, especially because Canvas offers very different options than D2L or Blackboard when it comes to content.

OUCreate. In addition to Canvas being very different from D2L (more on that below), OU’s Domains project (OUCreate) provides faculty with strong support for web publishing that they did not have in the past, along with all the hosted options out there too (I’m still loyal to Blogger; here is Blogger-in-Canvas). My guess is that most faculty still do not really know what OUCreate is about, and we probably need to use every possible opportunity to educate people about it, yet it has not been the focus of any of the Canvas Taskforce emails I’ve received.

The Canvas Difference. In D2L, it was impossible to share courses on the open Internet. That has now changed with Canvas: you can choose to share your course publicly, or you can choose to share just the syllabus. Canvas also makes it possible for faculty to create resource courses on their own, without having to ask an administrator (as in D2L). So, in addition to deciding what content goes in the LMS, faculty also now have different options for what to do with their LMS content. The ability to create resource spaces in Canvas, not just official courses, allows Canvas to become a true content platform. Instead of having content associated with a course (so that you have to copy the content from one semester to the next to the next), you can now create a true content space in Canvas, linking to it (to the pages, to the modules, etc.), thus developing the content over time, using and re-using it from semester to semester. I’ve written a blog post about that already, and I hope that is an option faculty will explore: Open Content: Resources, not Courses.

My Canvas Resources. I choose to keep all my course content outside the LMS (“open by default” is my motto, so I never put content in D2L), but now I’m having fun developing some resources in Canvas: last summer I built a Growth Mindset resource that demonstrates the use of live content in Canvas (Twitter, RSS, etc.), and for winter break I’ve built a Widget Warehouse where I am sharing Canvas-friendly javascripts (feel free to use them in your courses if you want, or use them as models to inspire you to build your own). Since both of those projects are about Canvas, I am really glad that I can do the content development inside Canvas, while sharing that content on the open Internet. Good scholarship needs a community to grow, and so does good teaching. Canvas gives us that opportunity to share and learn from each other.

This openness is, in my opinion, the most important difference between Canvas and D2L, and about that I say: vive la différence!

Learn to look at things from different angles.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

WEC Minicourse, Day Two

I’m starting Day Two of the Writing-Enhanced-Curriculum (WEC) minicourse, and we begin with a table listing the metadisciplines and metagenres of academic writing: problem-solving, empiritical inquiry, source-based research, and performance (process and/or product-directed). I guess my students’ writing is in that last category: “engage in field-specific processes that ultimately produce artifacts.” Although I’m not sure, because the two examples given are critique and review… not creative writing.

So, I will find out on the next page whether creative writing figures in this scheme at all… but the next page is a survey/quiz. Please remain on hold while I complete the survey/quiz.

Here’s what I wrote in response to the request that I locate my students’ writing on the chart:

My students do creative writing, retelling traditional myths and legends in new ways (sometimes VERY new ways). I’m dismayed but not surprised at the total absence of the word “creative” from the chart. I guess my students are doing “performance” writing, but nothing to do with critique or review. I did one year of teaching traditional academic writing (writing ABOUT the myths), and gave it up when I could tell that either I or my students or all of us were going to die from the sheer boredom of it. But MAKING myths works great, even for students who are otherwise very reluctant writers. That’s been my experience anyway. So I preach the gospel of creativity, and even the students who declare “I am not a creative person” in Week 1 soon realize just how wrong they were. We don’t write about stories; we DO stories. 🙂

I like the dramatic use of the next page. It features a question, and only a question, asking us to answer that question before moving on to the next page: How important is it for you that undergraduates to learn to write “within the conventions” of your discipline?

I had to laugh because that single dramatic question posed right there on the page reminds me of Arlo Guthrie’s immortal words (see also below): There on the other side, in the middle of the other side, away from everything else on the other side, in parentheses, capital letters, quotated, read the following words: “KID, HAVE YOU REHABILITATED YOURSELF?”

And at last, here it is: creative writing. It shows up as item 3 on this new list of kinds of university writing: 3) Alternative / creative / personal / experimental writing.

The next page is a long extract from John Bean’s Engaging Ideas (new to me). We’re given a list of 5 different ways to work on a controversial topic (therapeutic touch) in the context of a nursing course where the writing is supposed to address the “critical thinking, inquiry, analysis, and problem-solving required of nurses.” This is very different from the kind of courses I teach (Gen. Ed. without any specific pre-professional context), so I’m going to quickly write out my reactions to each of these options, partly based on my beliefs about teaching writing (very strong beliefs) but also just trying to sort through my thoughts on discipline-specific writing (not very clear thoughts given basically no experience):

1. 8-10 page research paper. This might be an occasion for critical thinking, inquiry, and analysis, but I doubt it. Plus: BOREDOM. Danger danger danger.

2. Role-play a nurse writing a letter to the hospital board. Again, this is teetering on the precipice of boredom, but at least it is anchored in real-world practices and problems so that the research would have a problem-solving angle.

3. Literature review for a grant proposal. See comments on #1. It would be better to at least think about what the research study might entail; just doing the literature review and nothing more than that seems dangerously boring.

4. Critical review of empirical studies. This just sounds like option #1 but with a more specific slant. It also sounds fatally boring.

5. This final option is an “exploratory” research paper with a “reflective narrative” where the research is conceived as personal thought process: “your goal is not to take a stand on this issue, but to report on your process of wrestling with it.” Obviously this is the one that is least formulaic, impersonal, boring, etc. Totally do-able, open-ended, and potentially interesting.

And now, pause for another quiz/survey. It asks for a response to the nursing options, plus a response from my own discipline. I type my first paragraph:

Options 1-4 seem potentially boring and even fatally boring, although each could be improved to become less boring with some tinkering. Option 5 shows the results of tinkering so that the assignment is more personal and open-ended, less abstract and formulaic. I’m guessing students would find it stimulating to write and the instructor would find it stimulating to read. Although I’d advocate for using that framework while letting students CHOOSE a controversial topic that they are actually interested in. Is there any reason to focus on therapeutic touch only? My guess is that the class would benefit from students researching lots of topics of this type, and then sharing what they learn. The instructor could come up with a list of many such topics no doubt, and the students would then do the reflective narrative on the topic they are most motivated to learn more about. The class would benefit from a diversity of content, and the instructor would also be far less bored reading the collective results.

But just a few words into the second paragraph, Canvas timed me out so I did not get to finish my answer (I got distracted and left the quiz window open). It gave me all of 10 seconds warning: what is someone supposed to do in those fatal 10 seconds I wonder? Ugh. I’ve taught online for a gazillion years but the ways of the LMS remain a mystery to me. Here’s the other paragraph I was going to write:

Since I am not teaching within a discipline, I will instead write a pitch for why creative writing would be a meaningful and important option in a nursing course. It would not be a substitute, obviously, for the “critical thinking, inquiry, analysis, and problem-solving required of nurses,” but instead a supplement to it, one that would cultivate the practice of role-playing and empathy. Many of my students are future health-care professionals and I actually make it a point to emphasize the importance of creative insight and empathy in the medical field as, for example, in this video: Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care. If a faculty member felt uncomfortable with the idea of having their students do actual fiction-writing, then I would advocate for including interviews as one of the genres practiced in the course. In the reflective writing project from the nursing example, there is a mention of “talking with classmates,” but I would build in a component of actually interviewing someone: patients, family members, nurses, doctors, administrators, etc., and finding ways to elicit their experiences and reflect on them through the process of an interview.

Ahhhhhhh… on the last page, I have found my niche: Informal / Creative Assignment Ideas. And my course is actually ALL low-stakes. But lots and lots of low-stakes assignment. Why? Because practice is the only way people are going to learn to write. Lots of practice. Lots of feedback — from me, from other students, from the self-feedback that is naturally a part of revision.

Less judging. NO GRADING.

The final discussion is open-ended, so I will now go compose a response. 🙂

And, just because I can, here’s Alice’s Restaurant. A wild and crazy English teacher introduced me to Arlo in eighth grade, and my life has never been the same.

Plus, there must be a cat! I made a new one yesterday, and here it is:

Do things you’ve never done before.

That’s a good thought as the New Year is about to be upon us.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Writing-Enhanced Curriculum Canvas Minicourse

I’ll be using this blog in conjunction with the Writing-Enhanced-Curriculum minicourse I’m doing at Canvas; I don’t think the course is public but I will put in a plea for public at some point! I just checked and the link to a content module challenges readers for a log-in. For me, this is great opportunity to connect to other faculty who want to work on writing with their students and also to experience Canvas as an actual course space. I only use Canvas for the Gradebook, but here I will be using Modules and Discussions. Thanks to much to Nick Lolordo for putting this together!

There are learning objectives on the first Module page, and of course my favorite is this: “to allow OU WEC team members to open a dialogue” … I know the WEC team has been doing f2f events on campus, but this is the first online event, so I am excited about that (I live 1000 miles from campus, so I depend on online for access).

Reading through the page on “faculty within a discipline,” I have to confess that I opted for a different path when I switched from teaching in a department (Classics) to teaching General Education courses. Instead of teaching students to think/write like a classicist or folklorist, I’ve gone with storytelling instead. My students are reading stories (I teach Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics), and they are writing stories. Instead of writing within a discipline, I am hoping students will connect more deeply with the content this way: they too are storytellers, and I want them to learn to read like writers.

I can also very much relate to the “separation of writing instruction from instruction” in the modern university. I never expected to become a writing teacher at all, but when I saw how my students were struggling as writers (and my students are mostly graduating seniors!), I redesigned my classes to make them writing-intensive. This admittedly comes as a shock to the students, many of whom come to a “Mythology” class expecting to memorize the labors of Hercules and reproduce that list on an exam. Instead: they are retelling the labors of Hercules in their own way — like this semester, Hogwarts-style.

So, I cannot really connect to discipline.. but I can definitely connect to genre, the subject of the next page. And the fact that it starts with a horror movie is perfect: one of the first writing options in my classes each semester is using Tom Gauld’s horror-filled Holiday Home map as a storytelling prompt. The free-form structure of my class allows students use all kinds of genres, and I encourage students to use genres that relate to their future professions when possible: public relations, advertising, health professions… there are many ways to make story-ful connections like that, and I encourage students to explore all the genres.

And I very much appreciate the truthfulness of this statement:  “If your students are writing simply to demonstrate mastery of “the material,” then, speaking from a WEC perspective, you’re not teaching writing! Even if you demand long “research papers” or many pages of writing produced under exam conditions; even if that writing frustrates you with its grammatical errors and stylistic infelicities….you’re not teaching writing. You are using writing; you are teaching; you may be a wonderful teacher! But you’re not teaching writing.”

I agree that the use of writing-as-content-exam is not going to advance students’ writing skills, and in the future they are far more likely to need writing skills than they are likely to need the specific content covered by a specific college class — with only a few exceptions, and Gen. Ed. classes in particular (like the ones I teach) are not likely to be among those exceptions.

After those content pages, there is a brief survey, so now I will go take the survey!


I was able to just re-use two paragraphs from my notes to use in answering the survey, and I had to laugh about the mind-numbing LMS. Hacking a quiz to get useful feedback from students is excellent, but poor Canvas is baffled: “Correct answers are hidden” it proclaims, in some kind of oracular proclamation that has nothing to do with what I just typed in the “quiz” box ha ha. So it is, ye seekers after truth: correct answers are hidden indeed. 🙂

Now back to content: mutt genres. This phrase is new to me! It seems to be like what I call “faux genres” or “schooly genres” like the five-paragraph essay and its ilk that we use in the classroom only but which you are not likely to find being used elsewhere. So, in that sense, I am promoting writing within a discipline, but the discipline is not “analyzer of stories” (i.e. classicist) but instead “teller of stories” (i.e. Aesop).

That is the end of the first round of reading and now there is… discussion! Yes! So I will close with a cat here and then go post at the discussion board.

Scribendo disces scribere.
You will learn to write by writing.
(Latin LOLCats)

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Widget Warehouse Update

I had a great day working on the Widget Warehouse Canvas space! I was motivated to focus on that this weekend because of the Canvas Writing-Enhanced-Curriculum Workshop on Monday and Tuesday, which seems like a great opportunity to connect with other faculty at my school (such online opportunities are few and far between in the very face-to-face world that is my school). Are you an OU faculty member or graduate student instructor? Come play! Online Mini Course: Writing Enriched Curriculum.

Here’s a quick overview of the things I got done:

Set up navigation bar. I used the (awful) “Redirect Tool” to add some useful links to the navigation bar in the course. There’s a link there now to this blog, plus the internal navigation I need.

Created a Widget Catalog. I will update this Catalog page as I add new widgets. And there are now five, count ’em, five widgets in there, all with Canvas-friendly https iframe options.

Added new widgets. Now in addition to the Growth Mindset Cats., there are widgets on Writing, Reading, Time, and the H.E.A.R.T. topics.

Built an omni-randomizer. On both the Homepage and the Catalog page, there is now an omni-randomizer which shows items from all five widgets at random. It’s easy to update, too!

I’m especially excited about the Writers and Writing widget ready to go. If I have time tonight, I’ll also do a punctuation humor widget… because you can never have too much humor when it comes to English punctuation. 🙂

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Blog Index / December 11, 2016

Here is the round-up of the posts at this blog so far, which marks the start of Laura’s Widget Warehouse and also the end of my battle with the Canvas Gradebook (the Gradebook won, sad to say).

New posts are in bold:

Widgets and Other Dynamic Content

Grading with Canvas

Openness, Sharing, and Connectedness

Canvas Class Announcements

Some Practical Canvas Advice

Posts about Students

  • Student Tech Support for Canvas. Based on student feedback, these are the Canvas features I am supporting and promoting: Calendar, Notifications, Profile, and Mobile App.
  • Student Voices about Canvas. These are the results of my Fall 2016 mid-semester student survey, with lots of advice from students for instructors using Canvas.
  • Time Management Brainstorms. I got some big ideas from an ILED studio session on helping students with time management.

Posts about Instructors

Philosophy of Teaching

And here’s one of the Growth Mindset Cats from this week:

Obstacles teach you to leap higher.

New Canvas Course: Laura’s Widget Warehouse

Sure sign that you are a nerd: the very first thing you want to do on the very first morning of winter break is . . .  build a Widgets Warehouse in Canvas, ha ha. But seriously, that’s what I wanted to do this morning.

So, here’s what I’ve got so far: (Yes, that’s an example of a custom URL for a Canvas course: very useful! Find out more.)

That takes you to Laura’s Widget Warehouse, a new public course I just created in Canvas (and thank you, Canvas, for letting us create courses like this on our own; we didn’t have that freedom in D2L).

The purpose of the course is to provide a kind of catalog for widgets that I am creating based on what I’ve learned about widgets in the mixed-content era (https required!), and also about widgets in Canvas (no javascript allowed; only iframe). I’ve been making widgets like these for over 10 years, but now in the mixed-content era, I am going to have to start systematically re-creating the widgets I want to keep. So, one of my projects for 2017 is to figure out which widgets are worth that extra effort… and of course it will also inspire me to make new widgets. As I create or re-create each widget, I’ll write up a catalog page for the Widget Warehouse.

Here’s what I mean by a catalog page: Widget: Growth Mindset Cats. The catalog page links to the content source that supports the widget (it’s almost always one of my blogs). There will be a link to the source for both the https javascript and for the Canvas-friendly iframe. There will also be a brief description of the contents of the widget along with a link to the source table so that anybody who wants to use the widget can see all the potential content in advance (no surprises). I’ve also included links to examples of where/how I use the widget for my own classes.

As you can see, there is no real new content in the Canvas course, and I have no interest in creating content inside Canvas; I far prefer my blog network for creating and sharing content. There is, however, real value in creating a catalog like this in Canvas… even just for selfish reasons: it will help keep me organized as I work through this widget redesign process. So, as often with things online, I’ll be getting the benefit of it whether or not others use it — but if this can be useful to others, so much the better!

Feel free to use my scripts or, even better, perhaps seeing how I use the script tool will inspire you to make your own. As this project evolves, I’ll be writing up some tips and how-tos for creating your own widgets. Now that my students also have access to https webspace through OUCreate, I am thinking they might even be interested in giving this tool a try,

I’ll have more to say about all that as this project evolves in the coming semester. During the semester, I don’t have time for a really sustained project like I do during the summer, but something like this should be great: when I find myself with a free morning or afternoon, I can pick a widget, redesign, and add a new page to the catalog.

And when I have a whole day free… I can create new widgets! YES!!!

So, more about all that later: this is just the inaugural post in what should be an ongoing series on Widgets for Canvas. 🙂

Advice from the cats:

Immerse yourself in a project, and create something new.


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Fall Semester: Blog Success

I finished the Fall semester today! Grades are turned in, students are congratulated… and while they might fretting about finals next week, I am thinking about the fun things I get to do between now and January when classes will start up for me again.

And one of the fun things I will get to do is to keep on blogging in this webspace. I started this blog on October 25, and I’ve managed to keep at it, Monday through Friday, for the past six weeks, with no shortage of things to blog about, even though I am still an LMS minimalist. Canvas is not so much the subject but more like the excuse for writing about issues in teaching and learning that interest me.

Someone at Twitter remarked today that she didn’t have time to blog, whereas for me, it is kind of the opposite: I don’t have time not to blog. Blogging is what helps me keep my focus from day to day, especially on big questions and long-term projects that I would lose sight of if I were not blogging. Blogs are also how I share my work with others online, linking to my blog posts at both Twitter and Google+. And, most importantly, blogging is how I become a co-learner together with my students: they are writing in their blogs several times each week, and I am doing the same.

This blog, for example, is my first WordPress blog; I usually use Blogger, and so do most of my students, but some of my students do use WordPress, and now I will be able to learn some blogging nitty-gritty together with my WordPress students in the Spring.

Since there is a WEC workshop next week at my school, that will probably be a good excuse to think some more about writing in general and blogging in particular, so after the flurry of posts about grading this week and last, next week will be about something more fun: writing. Are you an OU faculty member? Come join in; you can find out more and register here: Online Mini Course: Writing Enriched Curriculum.


And, as always, this is crossposted at OU Canvas Community.