Advice: Use the Canvas “Grace Period”

Today I want to focus on what I think is one of the best features in Canvas: there are two different “deadlines” for any assignment, not just one. Generically, these are usually referred to as “soft deadline” and “hard deadline,” although I like to call it a “grace period” when explaining the system to my students.

D2L did not have a two-deadline option — not for quizzes anyway, although for reasons unfathomable to mere mortals, they did offer it in the Dropbox (which I never used). In Canvas, it’s consistent across the system: if you have a due date, you can choose a soft deadline and a hard deadline, and I would urge everyone to consider taking advantage of this system. I cannot imagine teaching without it! In my classes, I use the “grace period” as an automatic emergency extension, no questions asked, so that if students are a little bit late with an assignment, they can still turn it in, no problem, no penalty. Specifically, I have assignments that are due by midnight on such-and-such a day, but there is a grace period until noon the next day, and I offer that “grace period” for every assignment in my class.

Advantages. There are a lot of advantages to this approach. Just practically speaking, it means that midnight does not become some kind of fetish. Sure, if I say something is due on Tuesday, I’d like for them to finish the assignment on Tuesday, but it honestly doesn’t make any difference if students turn something in at 2AM as opposed to midnight. I’m not awake at 2AM, but I know that many of my students are. This approach also respects the fact that there are all kinds of emergencies that come up in people’s lives; that’s only natural. Students shouldn’t have to share those details of their private lives with me, and they shouldn’t need me to pronounce on what is a “legitimate” emergency or not. If they consider something an emergency so that they are not able to finish an assignment on time, that’s totally their decision, and they can finish up the assignment the next morning. I also offer extra credit options to make up for assignments they miss if the grace period is not enough; I’ll write about that in a separate post.

Grace period in D2L: so clunky! When I used this system in D2L — and I did, for many years — it was really clunky. D2L has only one possible deadline you can set for a quiz (which is how my students “turned in” all their assignments), so I had to make it the noon deadline of the following day. I would title each assignment based on the day it was due — “Wednesday Storytelling” for example — but that assignment would show up as due on Thursday at noon in the calendar.

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Even with that serious drawback, I did use this system in D2L, and I was really excited when I learned that this is an easy-to-design option in Canvas, something that is officially built in as part of the assignment/calendar system.

Here’s how it works in Canvas:

When you set the availability dates for an assignment, you have three different dates you can enter:

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  • Due: The due date is what shows up on the calendar. All my assignments are due on a specific day, and I let it default to the Canvas end-of-day time which is 11:59PM.
  • Available from: This is the earliest possible date on which students can complete an assignment. I use this option for only a few assignments. I prefer for students to work ahead whenever possible so, as a general rule, all my assignments are available starting on the first day of class, which means I leave this option blank.
  • Available until: This is when the item actually becomes unavailable to students. So, for this, I set the available until date for every assignment be noon the next day (I use 11:59AM instead of noon to parallel Canvas’s default use of 11:59PM for midnight).

The grace period is that gap between the “due” date in Canvas and the “available until” date.

Gradebook highlighting. If a student turns something in during that grace period, it shows up as a red in the Gradebook, but with no penalty. To be honest, having those red highlights is not very useful. You can see the splotches of red in the Gradebook; here is a screenshot of my smushed Gradebook (more about the awful Gradebook in a separate post) that shows the pattern of grace period use in one of my classes:

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Instead of those splotches of red, I would actually prefer a real report about students who are using the grace period a lot so that I could share that data back with students. Is that possible? I couldn’t find anything like that in the Canvas documentation, and given the extremely in-flexible and un-useful Canvas Gradebook, I guess I am not surprised. If I had such a report, I could share that report with students who are struggling with time management so that they would know just how often they are using the grace period. They could then could consider making it a personal goal to use the grace period less often, but Canvas unfortunately doesn’t give me any data to use in that way (at least not that I can find out).

In terms of my Canvas advice tips, I would rate this one at the very top: it really does help students! So, I would strongly urge faculty to consider using this two-deadline option in Canvas. You couldn’t set a grace period with quizzes in D2L, but now with Canvas, you can!

As for procrastination: it’s a proverbial problem, something that we are all struggling with: For the diligent, a week has seven days; for the slothful, seven tomorrows. I am grateful for any and every tool I can use that will help my students to manage their time in positive, successful ways.

Carpe Diem

carpe

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

New Countdown Widget on Homepage

As we get near the end of the semester (as of today, there are five weeks of class remaining), I wrote up a new “countdown” widget for my class, and I thought that would be something good to share here as an example of simple date-based widget. In this post, I’m going to focus on the nitty-gritty of how to make the widget. Meanwhile, you can see that this widget is also related to time management; more about that here: time management posts.

How does the widget work? I created this date-based text widget using RotateContent.com, a free online tool that converts HTML tables to javascripts. As you can see, the countdown widget “counts down” the days until the end of the semester, and alerts students how many points, more or less, they should have based on whether they are trying to finish the class with an A by the end of Week 15 or if they want to finish up before Dead Week in order to have a week off at the end of the semester to prepare for exams in their other classes (Dead Week is has long been a sore spot at my school, as you can read in the student newspaper).

So, voilà, you can see the widget at work in the side bar of the blog here: Class AnnouncementsBecause I use that blog as my Canvas homepage, you can see how it looks here in one of my classes; the countdown widget is under the growth cat and above the Twitter stream; I don’t want to make a big deal about it, but I do want it to be there persistently, updating automatically day by day as we get closer to the end of the semester. My classes are open, so feel free to click and take a look; no log-in required: India.MythFolklore.net:

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Making the widget. Here’s a step by step guide:

STEP ONE. Create an HTML table. The content is dynamic with a date that responds to the system clock, but it doesn’t require any fancy programming. Instead, you create the widget by generating a simple HTML table with the dates you want in the left-hand column and the corresponding HTML content (which can be anything: text, links, images, etc.) in the right-hand column: countdown.html. I actually wrote this using a spreadsheet since the content is basically a kind of formula that repeats, although the formula shifts during Thanksgiving Break and then during Week 15 when it’s no longer possible to finish before Dead Week. So, the content is partly automated (I used the spreadsheet to fill in the dates, the points, and most of the text), but also something I manually tweaked in the resulting HTML table.

STEP TWO. Convert to javascript. After you prepare the HTML table, RotateContent.com converts the HTML table into a javascript. You then need to upload the javascript to your own webspace (RotateContent.com converts the javascript but does not host it for you; you need to do that yourself). If you want to use the widget in Canvas, you need to make sure that you have https webspace so that the javascript and its assets (image assets, for example) will have https addresses that will display properly in Canvas.

STEP THREE. Insert the javascript. Then, you use the https address of your javascript to insert it wherever it is going to go. I happen to put it in the sidebar of my class announcements blog, but I could also put it into a Canvas Page, for example; you can see examples of javascript widgets in Canvas pages in this demo course I created last summer: Canvas.MythFolklore.net. There’s information there about calendar-based widgets, random widgets, and also about how to randomly display a date-based calendar widget (it’s like having two widgets for the price of one).

Thanks to Reclaim Hosting! As always, I am very grateful to Reclaim Hosting and the Create project at my school — check it out at Create.ou.edu — which gives students, faculty, and staff access to their own web hosting space, including an https option that is very (VERY) simple to use.

Aside: I’m also using my Create domain to host this blog so that I can learn more about WordPress in order to provide better support to my students who are also experimenting with WordPress in my classes.

The power of dynamic content. Creating dynamic content like this is one of my favorite things to do! Unlike static content that students have to find manually (click-click-click, where you risk losing them at every click), dynamic content allows you to present fresh content to students automatically either based on the date (something new each day, like this countdown widget) or at random (like the growth mindset cats, with a new cat whenever the page loads). On days when they are doing a lot of work for my class, students might visit Canvas multiple times, and I want to take advantage of that by presenting them with new content. And it’s easy: I just create and insert the widget, and it is ready to go-go-go at any hour of the day or night. I like to get a good night’s sleep… but my widgets are always awake! 🙂

THANK YOU, RANDY HOYT! And, finally, a big shout-out to Randy Hoyt who created the RotateContent.com tool many years ago and continues to make it freely available to everyone online. Randy is an OU alum, a web-maker extraordinaire, and is also a founder of Foxtrot Games, maker of beautiful board games. If you give RotateContent.com a try for yourself, you can say thanks to Randy over at Twitter where he’s @randyhoyt.

Plus… cats.  I also want to sing the praises of Josh Walcher’s writtenkitten.co. I used that to write up the first draft of this blog, and it rewarded me with kittens throughout. Why are my blog posts so long? Blame the kittens! And if you want to thank Josh for helping cats take over the Internet, you can find him at @Josh_Walcher.

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Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Time Management Brainstorms

Yesterday I participated in a great ILED Studio session with Bucky Dodd and Rob Reynolds about helping students with time management.

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This is a topic I have been thinking about a lot lately, both because on the Week 8 survey students indicated that they had a very high level of interest in learning about time management, and also because I have some students who are at risk of failing the class (seven students right now, which is more than it should be) — and that’s not because of any real academic problem, but simply because of time management problems: they have not been able to find 6 hours each week to do the work for this class.

To some extent, Canvas helps with time management because the Calendar is very responsive, and students can also synch the Canvas calendar with any other calendar system they use. I wrote up a Tech Tip to encourage students to do just that: Canvas Calendar.

At the same time, though, Canvas is really NOT helping, and that’s because it perpetuates the fundamental passivity at the heart of the system: in Canvas, I set all the deadlines, instead of each student being on the schedule that is really convenient for them.

Starting with the very first day of class, I ask students to tell me what 6 hours of the week they will use for class, and I show them how to fit the weekly assignments into that schedule. ANY 6 hours will work… literally, any 6 hours! Here’s the form I ask them to fill out:

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Based on the 6 hours they report, I send them back a customized schedule, and because of the total flexibility of the weekly assignments, there is literally no schedule that I cannot accommodate.

But here’s the problem: instead of sticking to their own schedule, they drift into the Canvas due dates, no matter how inconvenient that might be for them. Then, in the midterm evaluation, many students reported that the Canvas due dates were not convenient. I sent around an email after that, reminding students that they could use any schedule that they wanted for the class (here’s what I said), but it’s still the case that a majority (a large majority!) of students do the assignments on the Canvas due dates, no matter how counter-productive and inconvenient those dates are in terms of their own personal schedules.

This is nothing new; I have been struggling with this problem ever since I started teaching online. Even though in an online class students can (and should!) set their own schedules, years of enforced passivity have made it very difficult for them to do that.

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Cartoon by Dan Regan.

So, I got some ideas from the ILED Studio session, and I am thinking of trying a major revamp in the way I organize the class in order to tackle this. Right now my semester works like this:

Week 1: Orientation Week

Weeks 2-7: reading/writing
Week 8: Review Week

Weeks 9-14: reading/writing
Week 15: Review Week

In order to really get students to launch their own schedules and stick to that, though, I think I need to regroup like this:

Week 1: Orientation Week

Week 2: Planning Ahead
Weeks 3-8: reading/writing

Week 9: Review Progress / Plan Ahead
Weeks 10-15: reading/writing

See how that works? Instead of having backward-looking Review Weeks, I have will have forward-looking Planning Weeks, while the core reading/writing weeks remain the same.

I don’t think I can manage a shift that big mid-year, but what I will do next semester is to start accumulating LOTS of time management strategies and resources for the students to use and give me feedback on, and that will help me learn which materials are most useful for implementing this new structure next year.

I’m pretty excited about this, and kudos to Bucky and Rob for offering such a fantastic space for brainstorming. Next week the ILED Studio topic is student engagement, which is a closely related topic, and one that will help me a lot as I contemplate these big changes for next Fall, along with some interim changes for Spring too!

And hey, in the spirit of the ILED Studio Session, I am trying to use design thinking here! I’ll update this later as I learn more about time management strategies that can help students free themselves from the Canvas Calendar.

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Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.