Inoreader and Tracking Blog Comments

I was going to post about Twitter4Canvas today, and I might still have time to do that, but I wanted to write up something today about Inoreader and how it helps me make sure everything is going as planned in my classes with the students commenting on each other’s blogs, which they did this weekend.

Here’s how it works: For each student’s blog, I subscribe to their blog post feed AND to their blog comment feed (that is one of my requirements: they can use any blog platform they want so long as it is ad-free and has separate full feeds for posts and for comments). That means I end up with a folder in Inoreader that contains all the comment feeds, and I name each feed for each person whose blog the feed comes from, with a two letter prefix for the class.

Then, after the first round of comments (which is sometimes kind of chaotic because of add/drop), I can quickly click through the subscriptions in that folder to make sure everybody has at least two comments, and hopefully four. Some people might have even more than that if I have also left some comments (which I do when I have time). Here’s a screenshot that shows how the interface looks. This student in Myth-Folklore (MF) has gotten five comments, so that’s good! (I could read the comments too if I wanted, but I’m honestly just checking for numbers of comments today.)

So, it takes literally just a couple of minutes to click on through all the students (I have anywhere from 80 to 90 in any given semester, both classes combined), making sure that despite the chaos of add/drop, things look good.

I rely on the power of random for the blog comments, and as the semester goes along, students will sometimes have four comments each week, sometimes just two, and possibly none (it’s rare, but it happens), and at the same time, they also understand why it’s unpredictable. Some weeks they themselves might skip the blog commenting assignment, and so it’s a kind of lesson in comment karma. Overall, the goal is for everyone to do the commenting assignment every week and for every person to get four comments… and on average, that is mostly how it works out, with a little fluctuation from week to week. When I set up the blog comment groups for Week 2 later this week, I’ll write up a post here to explain exactly how that works; the power of random minimizes the time I spend in creating the groups, while maximizing the spread of comments throughout the class as a whole.

Meanwhile, though, I am really glad that Inoreader makes it easy for me to check on the comments during Week 1. It’s important that everybody feel included in the class during the first week, and both giving and getting comments is part of how that works. And it worked pretty well this week I think!

How is this relevant to Canvas? It’s relevant because there is nothing in Canvas that helps to check on levels of engagement in a class like this. Blogs, by having a person-based stream which in turn collects comments, lends itself to this type of inspection. Especially because I teach fully online classes, I need to be able to see that things are going well, checking on each and every student as the semester gets started, just to make sure! That’s why I am glad I have Inoreader; it works for me. 🙂

Connecting with others: it’s important both for life and for learning.

Connect with others to reduce stress.


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Big Canvas News for Spring

Wow, big news about Canvas for Spring: instead of being opt-in, it will be opt-out. Unless faculty specifically ask to use D2L, they will all be on Canvas in the Spring. You can read the email here.

Given that I am an Internet enthusiast, I was disappointed that there were no links in the email for learning about Canvas or for connecting with other faculty who are using Canvas now — thanks to Kevin Buck, we have an OU Canvas Community all ready to go, and that’s why I created this blog, crossposting everything here inside that OU Canvas Community space.

In addition, I was sad to see that there was no mention of the option to create open syllabuses in Canvas, something which is very different from D2L and, in my opinion, one of the most useful things about Canvas, even for faculty who don’t use many LMS features (I fall into that category). I’ve written several posts here about the way that Canvas (unlike D2L) has some great open options, including both open syllabuses and also open courses.

Most of all, I was disappointed that there was no mention of OU Create, OU’s Domain of One’s Own initiative, which gives all faculty access to web space of their own, beyond the LMS, so that they can create content which would be impossible to design or manage inside the very constrained space of the LMS. And even for faculty not developing content with the OU Create project, it really is handy to be able to create your own Canvas URLs.

Faculty don’t get a lot of mass emails related to teaching, so I see every such email as an opportunity to let faculty members know about some of the really exciting new things that are going on, like OU Create. I don’t really care about Canvas one way or the other (being an LMS minimalist), but I really do care about opportunities for faculty to connect and to do more open sharing of their work.

Which is why I am blogging here. Hope springs eternal. And now that Canvas is going to be our default LMS already in the Spring, I am even more pleased that I got this blog project up and running already in the Fall. Plus, I am even more motivated to carry on with this blog, hoping it can be useful as the record of one faculty member’s learning experience with Canvas on our campus.

So, if you want to connect with others and share your experiences, check out the OU Canvas Community and/or start your own blog (either with OU Create or any of the many blogging options online). Are you at Twitter? That’s another great place to connect. I’m @OnlineCrsLady, and there are lots of OU faculty and staff who you will find on Twitter; I keep a list. Plus, I try to remember to use the #OUCanvasCommunity hashtag on my Twitter posts. It’s easy to connect and share. 🙂

Curiosity: the quest for new ideas and information.


Moving from Marketing to Conversation

Last week I shared here some of the ways I am gathering feedback from my students, including the nifty live feed which collects their blog posts which mention Canvas; I’ve pasted in that feed again below, and here are the relevant posts: Student Tech Support for Canvas and Student Voices about Canvas.

Even though I am an absolute LMS minimalist (I use it only for gradebook; no content, no interaction — for that, I use other tools), this shift to Canvas was a really big deal for me, and I was eager to hear from students what they thought about it. As the semester started, I knew it must be going okay because I was not getting complaints, but feedback means more than just complaints (or the absence thereof). I wanted to find out what the students liked and what they didn’t like so that I could make sure I was highlighting the features of Canvas that they found valuable, as well as finding solutions to any low-level problems they were having. Some students were bound to be more adventurous than others in exploring Canvas’s features, so by asking all the students what they were doing with Canvas, I could then turn around and do a better job of promoting Canvas with students who were less likely to explore Canvas’s features on their own.

Mutatis mutandis, I would say the same is true of faculty: some faculty are bound to be more adventurous than others in exploring Canvas’s features, so by asking all the faculty what they are doing with Canvas, we could then turn around and do a better job of promoting Canvas with faculty who are less likely to explore Canvas’s features on their own.

Yet there has not been any effort to solicit feedback from faculty using Canvas so far this semester, and that seems to me a lost opportunity. Every week, we receive a marketing email about Canvas (here’s this week’s email), but that email never requests a reply from us. There is no survey. There are no faculty stories. There is nothing in the email to turn the top-down marketing into a conversation among faculty who are actually using Canvas.

Personally, I think we need the faculty voices. Just as we need to make sure that there are ways to listen to student voices in our classes, I believe that faculty voices are also important, sharing stories of just how we are using Canvas the ways that we do, and why, talking about what is working for us and what is not working. By sharing our experience and expertise, we can learn more than we would learn on our own. No marketing team is ever going to have the experience and expertise that faculty do. We are the ones actually using Canvas, and we need ways to communicate with each other how that is going.

I’ve been told that there are plans to do a survey at the end of the semester, yet it seems to me that just as student evaluations lose a lot of value by taking place at the end of the semester, the same would be true of waiting until the end of the semester to solicit faculty feedback about Canvas. A semester is four months long, and your experience changes over that time: setting up the courses happened back in August (doesn’t that seem like forever ago?), and then there was the big effort of the first week of classes, then settling down into the regular routine of the semester, and then the hectic flurry of end-of-semester activities (starting about now), all focused on finals and grades. People are stressed and pressed for time at the end of the semester, which is not going to result in the best feedback, and that end-of-semester stress besieges both students and faculty alike.

When that end-of-semester evaluation does come, I hope it will have open-ended questions to collect faculty members’ stories of how they are using Canvas, beyond just asking us to rate the features. When I surveyed my students, the most valuable comments came when I asked them for advice they would give to other students and advice they would give to instructors using Canvas. Open-ended, consequential questions, not just metrics. I’ve shared those comments from my students because I really DO hope my students’ advice to other instructors will reach those other instructors… but will that happen? I’m not sure.

I also hope that the results of a faculty Canvas survey will be shared quickly with all the faculty who are using Canvas so that we could make use of it in preparing our Spring courses, although that’s probably a long-shot given the constrained calendar. Classes start on January 17 (the Tuesday after MLK Day), which means I’ll be releasing my classes to students on January 9. It doesn’t give me a lot of time to tweak my classes, but based on student feedback so far (and ongoing feedback; see below), I do have some ideas about how to do a better job of introducing my students to Canvas. It would be great if I can could also benefit from the learning and experience of other OU faculty members, both in terms of how they are using Canvas and also what they are hearing from their students.

As for those marketing emails, I wrote back to one of them, asking if the OU Canvas Community could be promoted in the emails. And, yes, it did show up in the email after I made that request… and was never mentioned again. There is no link to our OU Canvas Community in the email boilerplate included in every marketing email, and there is no link to the OU Canvas Community in the list of Faculty Resources.

So, I guess I should not be surprised that the OU Canvas Community is a ghost town. But I’ll keep on posting, because hope springs eternal. And I’ll keep on sharing my Canvas “stories,” minimal though they are, here at this blog and crossposting to the Community. Leaving a trail. Digital trails are good. 🙂

And in honor of #Caturday, here’s a growth mindset cat on the power of colearning:

Observe others: the task is possible!


~ ~ ~

As mentioned above, here’s the live feed (thank you, Inoreader!) of my students’ blog posts that mention Canvas. I’m hoping to be gathering new feedback from students every week this way, in addition to the midterm survey, as the semester draws to a close. It’s easier to read outside the confines of this blog post: Canvas Post Stream.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.


Thanks very much to Jesse Stommel whose blog post today — 16 Creative Online Educators — gave me a topic for this still-new blog: connectedness.

When I opened the post and saw this whole cast of characters, some of whom I know well and some of whom I have just admired from a distance, it felt like walking into a cafe full of friendly faces, people I could hang out with, just chatting and talking, sharing and learning. I’ve only met a couple of the people on that list in person, like Alan Levine (and we had been online buddies for a LONG time before that, way back to probably 2003 or so when I connected with Alan thanks to the free tool he had developed and shared online back in the day, Feed2JS) and also Howard Rheingold, who is a connector extraordinaire.

Yet even though we don’t meet in person, these people have been incredibly important to me in my work as an online educator: inspiring me (like how Alan and the whole DS106 crew inspired me to design my classes around creating stories), challenging me (Jesse, for example, has challenged me in some ways that have changed my approach to teaching very much for the better), and just helping me day to day in all kinds of ways (I sometimes feel like I am sharing an online office with the Michelle P-B even though she is 2500 miles away).

And these powerful connections all happened just as a result of “showing up” online, asking questions and having fun. I’ve got an omnifeed (thank you, Inoreader!) that pulls the different pieces of my online life together in one place: If you scroll on down, you can basically see what I do, every day, day after day: show up, ask questions, have fun… and connect.

At the same time, I understand that the open Internet can be kind of overwhelming, which is why I was so glad that Kevin Buck set up an OU Canvas Community where people using Canvas at OU could get together and share ideas. To make that community come to life, though, we have to work at it, which is why I created this blog… hoping to connect with other OU faculty using Canvas, sharing both here and via the same blog reposted inside that Canvas Community space. I’m going to try to make a daily contribution like this to our OU Canvas Community space, and I hope others will want to show up and connect. I know we will learn so much more if do that together, learning and sharing as we go!

And now: you know where to find me. 🙂

Learn, and then share what you learned.
(one of the Growth Mindset Cats)


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.