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!


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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.

Student Tech Support for Canvas

This is a post following up on the Student Voices post, where I shared the results of the survey I conducted in Week 8 asking students for feedback about Canvas: Student Voices about Canvas. In this post, I’ll explain how I used those results to offer some more tech support for students, based on what I noticed in their comments. And here’s something cool: at the bottom of this post, you can see the live stream of posts from my students’ blogs about their use of Canvas. (The power of Inoreader and iframe at work!)

Meanwhile, here is the support I’m using right now for Canvas:

Canvas Tech Tips. The main way I do tech support in my classes is by offering extra-credit Tech Tips that students can use to learn more about the technology we are using in class. The most popular tips are the ones for customizing their blogs, but I also offer tips on other tools, and after the midterm survey I realized that I needed some tips for Canvas. Here are the four tips I decided to write up:

  • Canvas Mobile App. Based on the limited number of students who reported using the mobile app, I wrote up a tip about that. Although I don’t use a mobile device myself, the students do, and so I wanted to make sure they knew there is a Canvas mobile app and, based on what I’ve heard, Canvas’s commitment to mobile was a big plus in their adoption at my school.
  • Canvas Calendar. This is the Canvas feature that is the most important for my classes, and I really hope students will take advantage of the ability to synch the Canvas calendar with any other calendar the students might be using like Outlook, Google, etc. A couple of students mentioned that in their comments, but my guess is that most students had not explored that option.
  • Canvas Notifications. Although I have mixed feelings myself about how Canvas handles course communications (more on that in a later post), it is still crucial that each user configure their notifications. I could tell from some of the student comments on the survey that not everybody had done that, so this tip is meant to encourage students to explore the notification options to see what will work best for them.
  • Canvas Profile. Admittedly, this was not something that came up in the survey, but I wanted to be sure to include it also because of one of my favorite Canvas features: unlike in D2L, students can choose their Canvas display name! So, for the many students who do not use their first name of record (because they use a nickname or their middle name or some other name of their own choosing), Canvas allows them to set up that display name. In this tip I encourage students to complete their Canvas profile and I also alert them to the display name option.

In addition to these tips, I also put some Canvas tutorial videos in the sidebar of the Announcements blog which is my Canvas homepage, as you can see in this screenshot:


Because students write up a quick blog post when they complete a tech tip, that gives me some additional feedback about their technology use. My feed reader, Inoreader (I LOVE INOREADER), allows me to assign rules automatically to incoming posts based on keywords, and I can then syndicate those results in a new feed, so here is a live stream of student blog posts which mention Canvas! More student voices, and more feedback — direct and indirect — that I can learn from as I try to improve my Canvas support next semester; it’s easier to read outside the confines of this blog post: Canvas Post Stream.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.