My Courses… in just 10 links :-)

I’m attending a video-meeting on Thursday with some people I’ve known for a long (LONG) time and also some people I have not met before; the person organizing the meeting asked me to prepare a quick tour of my courses and how they work.

So, what I decided to do is to create a kind of link-trail that people can follow, stopping out at any point along the way to explore… and then coming back to pick up the trail again. I’ll limit myself to 10 links to keep from things getting too much out of control!

  1. Canvas Courses. I teach two courses, and I’ve set them both up as open courses, so you can click and go right there: Myth.MythFolklore.net and Indian.MythFolklore.net. I created those as URLs at my MythFolklore.net domain that I can redirect every semester; my specific Canvas course address changes every semester, but those custom URLs are always good. As you can see, I use a blog as my announcements homepage. My goal is for students to see something new every time they come to the Canvas course space. So, there are new announcements every day, and randomizers in the sidebar too.

  2. Class Calendar. In the upper-right box of the announcements blog there’s a link to the Class Calendar; the calendar is the same for both classes. I’m always hoping that students are working ahead in the class, so I created this calendar page with the current week and next week up at the top, a random “time management” meme, and the remaining weeks of the semester down below, plus completed weeks.

  3. Weekly Activities. Each week, both classes have the same structure, with six core activities, plus extra credit every week too. The week starts off with reading (the students do two blog posts with their notes, so that’s two assignments), followed by a story post (either writing an actual story, or planning a story that they will write the next week). That’s the first half of the week. Then, in the second half, students work on their projects (either a Portfolio of stories at their blog, or a separate Storybook website), and they also comment on each other’s blog posts and projects. The only difference between the two classes is the reading, so that’s why I am able to use these weekly assignment lists for both classes. Here’s Week 9 for example.

  4. Reading. In both classes, the students choose what they want to read. In Myth-Folklore, the readings are all online at our UnTextbook. In Indian Epics, there is a library of free online books plus a fabulous collection of materials on reserve and for checkout in Bizzell. In the Myth-Folklore UnTextbook, there are 100 reading units to choose from, and the students move through different regions week by week; in Week 9 in Myth-Folklore, for example, the readings are from Native American stories.

  5. Storytelling. Instead of reading for a quiz or exam, the students are reading to find raw materials for the stories they want to retell. You can see a stream of the story posts and story planning posts from the Myth-Folklore class here, and from Indian Epics here.

  6. Projects. Some students collect their favorite story posts into a Portfolio as their semester-long project; other students choose a topic that they work on all semester, creating a Storybook website for the stories they are writing. You can see this semester’s projects for both classes here: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics.

  7. Project Archive. I’ve been teaching my classes this way since back in 2002, and students have been doing projects all that time. Almost all the students leave their Storybooks online after the class is over, for which I am very grateful; the archive of links to past projects is the most important resource in my class for helping the new students each semester to see themselves as writers and to be ambitious about their own projects: eStorybook Central.

  8. Comments and Feedback. One of the most important parts of the class is learning both how to give feedback and also how to make use of the feedback you receive. I put the students into blog groups and project groups each week using a randomizing spreadsheet. Thanks to the power of random, the students get to meet and interact with all the other students in the class week by week, and there’s an extra credit commenting option each week too if they want to reconnect with students they have met in past weeks. Here’s what one of the blog comment group pages looks like: Myth-Folklore Week 8.

  9. Extra Credit. I use extra credit as a way for students to make up missing assignments. It is also a way for them to do more of what they really like in the class (more reading, more commenting), and there are also some metacognitive and reflection assignments. I am a big believer in the power of growth mindset and other self-awareness strategies, so I like to promote them in the class by means of these extra credit options. Here’s what the range of extra credit looks like each week.

  10. Orientation. Okay, I’ll finish by going back around to the start of things: if you want to get started in the same way the students get started, you can begin at the Orientation Week. For the past couple of years I’ve used this Dumbledore meme to get things started…

(Word Magic)

Advice: Use the Canvas “Grace Period”

Students are filling out Canvas Surveys this week as part of my mid-semester evaluation process, and I’ll be reporting back on that after Spring Break… one survey result popped up yesterday, though, that caught my attention because for the question soliciting “advice to instructors using Canavs” the student wrote something in all-caps:

The Grace Period is a term I use in my classes to refer to the difference between the soft deadline at midnight and the hard deadline at noon the next day. I really like how Canvas makes that easy to do, unlike D2L. I wrote a post about this last Fall, so I am reposting it here, prompted by my student’s plea to faculty in all-caps! 🙂


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 several 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:

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-11-44-32-am

  • 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:

screen-shot-2016-11-15-at-10-47-55-am

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: Instructional Designers.

Mid-Semester Reflections from Students

In an earlier post, I outlined my mid-semester feedback/evaluation process, and now the mid-semester week is here. I really enjoy getting this feedback from students. When they are happy, I am happy… and when they are not happy, that gives me challenges to work on in future semesters. And there is never a shortage of challenges. But that’s good: we all get to keep on learning!

On Monday, students finished up the first part of the process, which is a general Reflections post. You can see the prompt here. There’s no word-count minimum or maximum; some students write a lot, others not so much. I learn things from every post, partly just from the contents of the post itself, but even more so from seeing that in the context of each student’s class project, etc.

I read the posts in Inoreader, but it’s also possible to use Inroeader to share a live stream of the posts in other spaces, so I create that live stream to share with Scott Dennis here: Blog Network RSS (with Inoreader): Reflections Posts. That’s a Canvas page, as you can see in this screenshot. Scott was interested in some quotes about #connectedlearning from students, so I’ve also highlighted some quotes below, along with a step by step for anybody who’s curious about the amazing powers of Inoreader.

What follows are selected quotes about connected learning with class-as-community; as you can see, the students are writing stories every week that are inspired by the reading, and they are also reading and commenting on each other’s stories. I don’t want them to just be waiting for my reactions to their writing; I want them to all be reacting and learning from each other all the time: that’s how massive learning happens. For a typical week’s assignments, see Week 7 (the week before this one). Meanwhile, here are some student comments where they are remarking on what they learn from in each other’s stories:

I think what I have enjoyed most about this class so far is reading other people’s stories and getting to enjoy such a wide range of writing styles. It has given me inspiration for my own writing, and it has been a great tool to see just how differently people might choose to interpret a story.

When reading other’s stories, I love looking at the different styles and vocabulary that people use in order to get their message across. Everyone writes differently and seeing those differences manifest themselves into great stories is awesome! I enjoy seeing all the creativity. I have been receiving lots of great feedback on my stories and I have been doing my best to give the same kind of valuable feedback to other students in this class.

I love reading all the different stories and seeing all the different writing styles that we have in this class. I have also enjoyed getting to read peoples introductions, I think that these posts give people the opportunity to express themselves in a way a typical in class introduction would not let you. I have also learned so much more about my classmates through the online introductions than I feel like I ever would have learned in a classroom setting.

When I read other people’s stories I often find myself amazed at how well other people can write. My skill level in writing is not the highest so it is nice to read something that is done by a better writer than myself. It helps me to study their writing style a bit and then add it to my own.

When I read other people’s stories, I am blown away. People do such an amazing job and are so experienced. The creativity in this class is honestly amazing. I think I have been so amazed I forget to be constructive so I will focus on being more constructive as well these next few weeks.

I really enjoy looking at other’s blogs and reading their work. It is cool to see how someone can take the same original story I have read and interpret it in a completely different way in their own story. I also admire those in this class who are technologically gifted and have truly made their blogs a work of art.

When I look at other people’s story I love how majority of them use a lot of dialogue. Dialogue is one of the things that I struggle the most with so I would love to be able to incorporate it more in my own stories.

I have been liking everyone’s stories so far. They are all so different and unique, that I get a new perspective on story writing every time I go to someone’s blog. I think that I need to use dialogue more in my stories. I read a lot of great stories where the author used dialogue really well, and that is something I struggle with.

I think one of the best ways to develop my writing skills is simply to practice, read others’ stories, and get feedback- all things we do in this class!

I saw a story one of my peers wrote and was amazed. He made me think about the different ways I could write a story for this class and the future. He spoke through to the reader breaking the 4th wall, so to speak. I felt like he really captivated the reader instantly and kept their attention. 

Each week as I read unique and wonderfully written stories, I am amazed on how people can create so many different stories from different perspectives, inspirations, and characters all derived from the same story. After reading their stories, I became more determined to enhance my storytelling, and judging by my writing since the beginning of the semester, I can honestly say that I’ve noticeably improved!

I really like reading others’ stories simply to see the wide array of storytelling techniques and styles people have.

I think my fellow students are very talented. I like reading their work because they bring different perspectives and insights to the same readings. I have noticed that the other students have no problem making their stories short and to the point. This is something that I need to work on, so it helps for me to read their work and to understand how they think and write. I love a cliff hanger, but I definitely need to work on bringing my stories to a close without going way over the word count.

I so admire the creativity of so many of the other students in this class. I am blown away by how they have written their stories and how they have made them their own.

I love the imagery that some people have used in their stories. I feel like I am there with the character and not just reading about him or her. I am definitely working on that especially with my storybook.

When I read other peoples stories, I admire a lot of the different qualities that people use. I like the dialogue and description. I think that my stories could use more of that.

I really like everybody’s creative ideas. I’m always amazed by what everybody comes up with about the stories! We don’t all read the same ones, too, and I really like seeing what everybody else chooses to read.

I really enjoy good stories. There are so many people in class with amazing writing skills and there are some that are about average. Some people have the tendency to make their stories a huge wall of text that makes it hard to digest the story. That is something I would like to avoid in my writing. 

As far as other people, I really enjoy reading my classmates stories. I love seeing how we all interpret things differently, and how our creativity comes out in different ways as well.

I admire the variety of people in this class. We have professional writers, engineers, nurses, and a crazy active mom. Everyone is so unique in their own special way. Its great seeing the different approaches they have to writing as well.

When thinking about other people’s stories, a couple things come to mind. First, there are a lot of good writers out there! At least that’s what I’ve noticed when reading other people’s stories. Some good habits that they have is their use of detail and imagery, both things that I am trying to improve upon. Second, is their grammatical errors in their stories. For the most part this doesn’t really bother me, but if I’m reading along and there’s a trip up in the writing, it throws off my groove and that can be a little annoying. I think that people just get excited when writing their stories and they forget to go back and edit their stories afterwards. I guess that’s where feedback comes in.

One of my favorite parts of each weeks assignments is to read other peoples stories. I like to see how creative people can get. We all read the same thing each week, so it is really interesting to see how they interpreted it and how they think about the content that was assigned. Reading these stories also allows me to see what to avoid. I try to stay away from too much dialogue. I also try to stay away from really long paragraphs. When I read stories that have big chunks for paragraphs, it gets tiring and draining for the reader. Either add some pictures to divide it up or make smaller paragraphs! This class is able to allow the readers and writer to grow every week, and I really admire that!

I enjoy the weekly commenting so much more than I would’ve expected to. It’s so interesting seeing how the same source material can end up becoming so many different things once different people start approaching it, and how sometimes you can see the interests mentioned in people’s intro posts end up influencing what they do in their stories.

I think another interesting facet of this class is being able to read the other student’s posts because it not only shows their creativity but helps me gain some inspiration as well! 

I have enjoyed reading my classmate’s stories so far this semester and I am often inspired by their creativity and unique approaches to stories that I never would have thought of! Sometimes, I am intimidated by reading them because I feel like my stories are far inferior, but it it still enjoyable and inspiring for me.

I definitely aspire to write more like some of the people in their class. I wish I could easily write funny stories that flow well. Some of my classmates are fantastic writers.

When I look at other people’s stories, I admire the details. Again, with my background in journalism and nonfiction writing, I have lost my creative mind, in my opinion. I don’t feel like I have gotten back into touch with a way to create vivid details. I could do it with nonfiction/journalism, but it took a while to master that because I had to create vivid words (not details) using the actual details the source had given me. So there wasn’t much leeway given to me. So I truly enjoy seeing the creativity of the students and hopefully I can force my brain into letting it be more creative.

In other people’s stories, I most admire creativity. I wonder how people came up with the storylines, and what motivates them.

Looking at writings from other students, I think the biggest thing I notice is other people’s ability to write descriptively. I can often see something vividly in my head but it doesn’t translate to paper like I’d like it to. So, I’m envious of others that can do it and I always aspire to improve that area of my writing.

I most admire some people innate ability to write stories that just flow perfectly. It seems like they can just think of a topic and write a story without even thinking much. That most likely isn’t the case, but there are a few writers in our class who I can tell are on another level when it comes to storytelling and their posts overall.

I dread dialogue, and will do everything in my power to avoid writing it. It so happens that that is exactly what I love the most about other peoples stories. So many of my fellow classmates can write dialogue, and they are amazing at it, and it makes me envious of that ability. Conversely, I feel like they end up missing part of the stories because they focus on the dialogue so much that there is not space for descriptions or support. To much dialogue and the story feels superficial. Oh well, maybe I should stop shying away from the dreaded conversation.

~ ~ ~

The Amazing Powers of Inoreader

And if you are interested in the amazing way Inoreader makes that possible in just a few minutes, here’s a quick run-down:

Subscribe to blogs. I’ve subscribed to my students’ blogs and put those subscriptions in a folder in Inoreader. Details here.

Rule. I create a rule to automatically assign a tag to incoming posts with the word “Reflections” in the title. (That’s part of the assignment instructions.) You can create a rule before any posts have come in for an assignment, or you can create it after the fact and Inoreader will run the rule retroactively on the last 1000 posts in the folder:

Turn on syndication. I then turn on syndication for that tag.

HTML clippings. I then configure the HTML clippings, and I remember (!!!) to change the http to https. Thanks to Alexis for reminding me about that yesterday! (I do it automatically and sometimes I forget to mention it when I give instructions like this.)

Paste the iframe in Canvas. You see the results here: Blog Network RSS (with Inoreader): Reflections Posts.

And of course there must be a cat:

Look for patterns in the feedback.

 

Twitter4Canvas CanvasLIVE Slides

Here’s the Twitter4Canvas slideshow that I shared, with notes and links below. I’ve also embedded the YouTube from the March 23 event, with apologies for the audio: the mic cord got tangled around my chair wheel (doh!) and it was making terrible clicking sounds. I will be more careful next time (April 6: Blog as homepage!).

Slide 1: CanvasLIVE opening slide.

Slide 2: Twitter4Canvas title slide

Slide 3: Connected Learning with Cats slide
This is the first in a series of Connected Learning with Cats demos for CanvasLIVE. Check out #CLCats at the Community, and you can find more information at the Connected Learning Cats posts here at my blog.

PART A: Using Twitter for CONTENT in your Canvas Course. You may be used to Twitter as a communication tool, and it certainly is that, but what I am focused on here is the use of Twitter as a tool for collecting and (re)sharing content.

Slide 4: Dedicated Class Twitter Account
I teach two courses: Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics, hence the name of my class Twitter: @OnlineMythIndiaI would recommend that you create a separate Twitter account just for class content. You can follow Twitter accounts that are related to your class content, and also school events and activities. Then, all you have to do is retweet, and you will have a stream of content for your classes.

Slide 5: Twitter Widgets in Canvas Pages
You can use Twitter widgets anywhere that javascript is accepted, so that might mean in your blog sidebar or in your wiki sidebar, and in Canvas of course! You can see my @OnlineMythIndia Twitter account in this Canvas Page. Canvas doesn’t let you use javascripts in Pages but no worries: I’ll show you how to paste javsacripts into a Canvas File, and then embed that File in a Canvas Page.

Slide 6: Twitter Widgets in Discussion Boards
In addition to displaying a Twitter widget in a Canvas Page, you can display the widget in a Discussion Board, providing a continuous stream of live content for students to react to in the discussion!

PART B: Different TYPES of Twitter Widgets. One of the best things about Twitter is all the different widgets that it lets you create (and don’t worry: to create a widget takes less than a minute!).

Slide 7: Twitter Widgets for Other Accounts
In addition to your own dedicated class Twitter account, you can also create widgets for other Twitter accounts, like your school’s Twitter account, your school newspaper and other news sources, along with libraries and museusm. The slides hows the Twitter widget for our student newspaper.

Slide 8: Twitter Widgets for Hashtag/Search
You can also create widgets for Twitter hashtag/search. So, for example, you could have your students use a distinctive class hashtag, or you can create a widget for an existing Twitter hashtag, including the hashtag of a Twitter chat. The slide shows a hashtag that is incredibly useful for my class: #FolkloreThursday.

Slide 9: Twitter Widgets for Lists
Lists are my favorite Twitter feature: I do pretty much all my reading at Twitter by using lists, and you can create widgets for lists. So, if your students do use Twitter, you could create a list of their accounts. You can create Twitter lists of authors or lists of museums. The slide shows the widget I made with a list of OU’s own museums. Even just a list of two is useful, and here you see tweets from OU’s Natural History Museum and also the Fine Arts Museum. lists of museums: OU’s Museums.

PART C: The Canvas Twitter App. There are some serious (SERIOUS) drawbacks to the Canvas Twitter App.

Slide 10: About the Canvas Twitter App…
Yes, there is a Twitter App for Canvas, but… the Twitter App has some serious limitations: it shows no images; it plays no videos; and it allows no lists. You can see the Canvas Twitter widget on this slide, and on the next slide I’ve got a side-by-side comparison of the Canvas Twitter App and a real Twitter widget.

Slide 11: Twitter App versus Twitter Widget
On this slide, you can see the Canvas Twitter App on the left, and a real Twitter widget on the right, and you can see a live comparison here. Which one do you think students will want to explore? You know they want images and videos.

PART D: Using Twitter Content in Class Assignments. There are so many ways you could use Twitter to prompt student research and writing; here is one example from my classes: Wikipedia Trails.

Slide 12: Twitter Assignment: Wikipedia Trails
There are so many ways you could use Twitter as part of class activities and discussions, and I’ve included just one type of assignment that I use in my classes: Wikipedia Trails. For this assignment, students look at the latest Twitter items, browsing until they find something that grabs their attention, Then they look it up at Wikipedia, and then they go from one Wikipedia to another until they’ve looked at four Wikipedia article. Then they write up a blog post with links to the four articles and a blurb about each one, plus at least one images. Here’s how it looks in Canvas: the assignment instructions are on the left, and the Twitter stream is on the right. 

Slide 13: My Students’ Wikipedia Trails
Because my students are posting their Wikipedia Trails in their blogs, I can use Inoreader, a blog aggregator, to collect their Wikipedia Trail blog posts and then deliver them into Canvas. So, that means you can see the latest Wikipedia Trails from my students here; as students publish new Wikipedia Trail blog posts, they pop up automatically here. It’s the magic of RSS: you can find out more about Inoreader here. 

PART E: The Nitty-GrittyHow to create Twitter widgets and embed them in a Canvas Page (or Discussion Board).

Slide 14: Twitter4Canvas Workshop
I’ve built a Twitter4Canvas Workshop that provides detailed, step-by-step instructions for the whole process: how to set up a Twitter account, how to follow other accounts and retweet the content you want to share with your students, and also how to create Twitter widgets and embed them in Canvas. No previous knowledge of Twitter required.

Slide 15: Create & Embed a Widget: 1
The process for creating and embedding a Twitter widget in Canvas takes about 10 minutes total: it’s not hard at all. The first step is to configure Twitter widget. You just go to your Settings in Twitter, select Widgets, and walk through the Twitter Widget configuration process. Details.

Slide 16: Create & Embed a Widget: 2
Next, you take the Twitter widget javascript code and paste it into a plain text file that you save with an HTML suffix. Details.

Slide 17: Create & Embed a Widget: 3
Now you upload that HTML file into your Canvas Files area. Details.

Slide 18: Create & Embed a Widget: 4
And here’s the magic: you configure an iframe snippet with your Canvas course number and file number, along with the height and widget that will suit your purposes. Details.

Slide 19: Create & Embed a Widget: 5
Just paste that iframe into your Canvas Page (or Discussion Board), and then configure as needed. You can use tables or CSS in order to put text next to the Twitter widget, providing context and instructions for your students. Details.

PART F: Sharing Canvas Widgets. This is a brief note for those of you doing faculty development and support: you can create Twitter widgets for your faculty to use that are literally a matter of copy-and-paste, no configuring required.

Slide 20: Ready-to-Use Widgets
This slide is more for instructional designers and system administrators (and also for geeky faculty like me): in addition to using Canvas File space to host your widget javascript, you can also host javascripts in your own file space, and then share that with others. I’ve been doing that with the Reclaim Hosting Domains project at my school, which gives me my own webspace at lauragibbs.net. So, I’ve published lots of Twitter widget javascripts in that space, and it means other faculty at my school can just copy-and-paste the iframe snippet to use in their own Canvas course pages. That makes it possible to promote campus activities and services across courses, like, for example, the University of Oklahoma Library Twitter. To get a sense of the possibilities, browse my Ready-to-Use Canvas Twitter Widgets. Each Ready-to-Use Twitter widget has its own page there with more information; I’m really hoping to promote this when my campus goes all-Canvas next year.

And that’s all….!

Slide 21: Let’s connect!
As you can guess, I love using Twitter for teaching, so let me know if I can help you explore Twitter options; I’m eager to brainstorm any time. You can ping me at Twitter; I use this Twitter account for myself (separate from my class Twitter): @OnlineCrsLadyAnd you can use the #Twitter4Canvas hashtag too!

Slide 22: CanvasLIVE closing slide.

Blog Index / March 4, 2017

I didn’t do a blog index last weekend (it was my birthday, whoo-hoo), but here’s an updated index with the new posts in bold that I’ve added since the last index.

I’ve also been crossposting in different areas of Canvas since I finally figured out that the totally private University of Oklahoma area is not visible in any way to the rest of the Community. I’m glad I finally figured that out; maybe someday the OU Community will come to life, but now I know I need to put my attention elsewhere; contributions to a totally private group like that unfortunately don’t benefit the larger Community in any way.

So, here is a complete blog index, and over at Canvas, I’ll just post a list of the latest posts:

CanvasLIVE: Possible Topics

Canvas Class Announcements

Grading and Going Gradeless

Widgets and Other Dynamic Content

Posts about Students and Student Voices

Posts about Faculty and Faculty Voices

Thoughts about Canvas and about LMSes

CanvasLive: Growth Mindset / Feedback Cats

Twitter4Canvas Mini-Course

Spring 2017 Reports

Openness, Sharing, and Connectedness

Blogs and Blogging

Teaching Writing

Some Practical Canvas Advice

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

Take some time to reflect.
 

The Sidebar Never Sleeps: Live Content 24/7

I teach General Education courses in the Humanities, and that means I welcome any opportunity to share with my students the wealth of literature, art, and music that is online. I can never be sure just what will click with each student, so I’m try to expose them to a steady stream of ever-changing items. Ideally, they might see something that makes them want to click and learn more, but even if that does not happen, by the constant parade of content, I am showing them what a world of culture they can find online … if they go looking.

The main way I do this is with my Class Announcements blog: every day there are new announcements, and then in the sidebar of the blog things are ever-changing, not just day to day but every time the page reloads. My goal is that every time they log on to Canvas, they will see something new… automatically. I’m busy doing other things (commenting on their projects), but while I am working, the power of the dynamic content in the blog is working too!

I’ve written elsewhere about how I configure Canvas so make my blog the homepage, and in this post, I want to provide a quick tour of my sidebar. If you go to my class Myth.MythFolklore.net (fully open, just click and go!), you can follow along by looking at the sidebar there for yourself; there is information about each sidebar item below.

Text Box: On top is a text box which is static and does not change; it contains the single most important link for students who are in a rush to get to what they need for class: the Class Calendar. While I want the blog to be a fun, exploratory space, I also want students in a hurry to be able to find what they need to get to work on the class.

Email Subscription: Some students subscribe to the announcements by email, which I think is great. Blogger’s Feedburner service provides really nice email presentation of the blog, so I am glad when students do choose to get the announcements by email. I’m subscribed too, so I can see the same email the students receive.

Random Cats: This is a randomizing widget of Growth Mindset Cats; the cats have turned out to be incredibly helpful in promoting a spirit of learning and also fun in my classes. If you’re interested, you can snag this widget and use it too, either in a blog like this or directly in a Canvas page: Widget Warehouse: Growth Mindset Cats.

Class Twitter: I try to update the class Twitter at least twice a day; it only takes a few minutes to add new items (I just retweet), and it’s always fun for me to see what’s new. Here’s how that works: Twitter for Class Content: My Top 5 Strategies.

Reading, Writing, Learning. This is a combination widget that randomly draws on several different widgets: Writing Inspiration, Reading Inspiration, and H.E.A.R.T. (each of those links goes to the Widget Warehouse page; these are also available for anyone else to use). Thanks to the power of random, new things appear each time the page loads!

Random Storybook. These are student projects from my class archives. I really like reminding students all the time how the projects they create will become part of future classes too. Their work matters! You can see the archive here: eStorybook Central.

Free Books Online. This is my favorite widget: it displays free books of stories and legends (I teach Mythology-Folklore and Indian Epics), drawing on the 900+ free books in my Freebookapalooza Library. I’ve broken that widget down by region, too, hoping that might make it more useful for others if you might also want to share free books with your students: Widget Warehouse: Freebookapalooza.

Videos. This is the playlist that I create with the videos from past class announcements; every day there is a new video in the daily announcements, and this playlist gives the students access to all the videos so far this semester. It’s like a second chance in case the students didn’t notice the video in yesterday’s announcement. You can see the playlist directly with this link: Announcements Videos.

RSS Links. I’ve never been able to get my students excited about RSS (alas!), but I do include the RSS links here in my sidebar.

Suggestion Box. Finally, there is a link to a Google Form where students can provide anonymous suggestions. Since there are lots of other opportunities for feedback in the class via their blogs, the students rarely use this, but I want to make sure they know that anonymous feedback is also welcome!

Every semester I tinker with the sidebar, and it’s hard to restrain myself from putting even more in there. I’m happy with the selection that I have now… but when I get some time to make more widgets this summer, I’ll probably be redecorating the sidebar for classes this Fall.

 

Crossposted at Canvas Community: Instructional Designers.

Thoughts about the Canvas Outage

I wanted to write a post to express my admiration for the way Canvas handled the AWS-related outage that took the Canvas system down for a chunk of the day on Tuesday, February 28. If you look at their Status page, you will see how diligent they were in updating us at regular intervals, acknowledging our need to know: there were 18 detailed, helpful updates over the course of the outage. There’s even an RSS feed for the page, which of course makes me happy (I am the Empress of RSS).

So, THANK YOU to all the people at Canvas who managed that event yesterday: it looks like you did a great job of coping with the problem behind the scenes, and I really appreciated the clear, steady communication throughout!

Below are two observations that came to mind:

1. Twitter is powerful. The communications from our own IT were not so good, but I really benefited from my Twitter network. I only found out about the incredibly useful Canvas Status page because friends at Twitter shared that URL when I tweeted about the outage. Instead of the generic “OU IT technicians are working with the vendor” message, it would have been great if our IT had shared the Canvas Status page with us in the alert message; that’s clearly where we needed to go for information.

2. It’s risky to put all your eggs in one basket. I sometimes get pushback from people who tell me I should be using the LMS for everything; my response is simply that I choose the right tools for my needs, and the LMS does not meet my needs, so my class operates as a series of blogs, wikis, and websites outside the LMS (my own blogs and wikis, and my students’ blogs and websites), plus our class Twitter. As a result of this distributed system, it’s usually pretty easy to ride out any outage that comes along. If one area of the class is unavailable, we can always get by with the other areas.

So, because I do not rely exclusively on Canvas messaging (I have all my students’ emails in a spreadsheet), I was able to contact the students about the outage, and because I do my class announcements in a blog, I was able to update the blog throughout the outage, and my students could get updates there too while they continued doing their regular work for the class.

And of course Growth Mindset Cat has some advice about variety: Play with many different toys. Variety is how you grow. 🙂

Crossposted at Canvas Community: Higher Ed.

Mid-Semester Evaluation and Feedback

Next week (Week 8 of our semester) is a Review Week in my classes. The review is NOT because we have a test or exam to review for, but because reviewing and reflecting are essential for learning. Plus, I need feedback! I’ve written elsewhere about feedback for students (feedback, not grades), but even more important is the feedback that I get from the students about how the class is going. How else can I hope to improve? Like every learner, I need feedback too!

I am guessing other schools at at their mid-semester point right about now too, so I am curious what people are doing for mid-semester evaluations. Do you have institutional mid-semester evaluations? (My school has only end-of-semester evaluations.) In the absence of an institutional mid-semester evaluation, do you conduct your own?

Since I get a lot of value from conducting my own mid-semester evaluation, I thought I would write about it here!

So, in Week 8 of the semester, I replace the usual reading-reading-storytelling assignments that would normally occupy the first half of the week with a different set of assignments; here are all the Week 8 assignments, and these are the three assignments specifically designed for reflection and feedback:

Class Reflections. This is an open-ended blog post where the students reflect on the three types of activities they are engaged in each week: reading, writing, connecting. My hope is that this can encourage students to do some self-assessment, and I also learn a lot from hearing what they say; I read all these blog posts using Inoreader.

Growth Mindset. In this blog post, students look back on the Growth Mindset approach that they learned about back in Week 1 of the semester. Some students have done optional Growth Mindset reflection posts each week; other students have not engaged with it again since the start of the semester. I am really pleased with the chart I created to help students see mindset as a multidimensional construct, and the blog post prompts encourage them to see how their mindset might be different in different classes and in different areas of their lives.

I really enjoy these posts a lot because Growth Mindset is a topic that seems very good at shaking students free from their normal grade-seeking behavior in order to step back and think about learning instead. I usually learn more from these posts than from the Reflections post, but having the Reflection post come first is a good way for the students to get ready to write a really good Growth Mindset post.

Mid-Semester Surveys. Then, after those two posts, there are two surveys I ask the students to complete: one is about Canvas (since Canvas is new at our school), and the other is about the learning activities of the class, which is where I ask them to give me feedback specifically about how the class is going and what I could/should do differently. I used the same two surveys last semester (last semester was our first Canvas semester), and you can see the results here:

  • Canvas Survey: Week 8, Fall 2016. In the Canvas Survey, I got the best results from the questions that asked the students to give advice to other students using Canvas and advice to instructors setting up their Canvas courses. So, for this semester, I eliminated some of the other questions that did not really elicit useful or surprising responses in order to zoom in on this “advice-oriented” approach. I’ve also written about the students’ comments on Canvas here at this blog: Student Voices about CanvasStudent Tech Support for Canvas, and More Student Voices from Fall 2016.
  • Class Survey: Week 8, Fall 2016. In this survey, there are four simple open-ended questions (favorite things, least favorite things, obstacles, things I could do differently as the instructor), plus I set up two grids: one asks the students to rate the importance of the seven different learning dimensions of the class, and the other asks the students to rate their learning in those dimensions. I found these results to be extremely useful! I didn’t run any fancy statistics, but even just as a simple aggregate measure, it offered me some insight that was different from the insight I get from the open-ended questions.

Value of  the mid-semester evaluation:

Designing these activities is very helpful for me because it helps me to think clearly about the different components of my course design so that I can gather feedback about them separately. Yes, there is a holistic quality about the learning experience, but it’s also true that as I work on the class to improve it, I need specific goals to work on, and the students are the ones who help me to define those goals.

This process also lets me show the students that their input really does matter to me. The end-of-semester evaluations are very pro forma and generic, and I suspect the students are (understandably) cynical about their importance. In the case of these custom mid-semester evaluations, the students can tell that the feedback matters to me. I think this also leads to better quality feedback on the end-of-semester evaluations too; because I have shown the students mid-semester that I care about their feedback, they know that I value their feedback at the end of the semester also.

I also really believe in the power of self-assessment. So much about school is focused on rushing to finish things: get the grade, and then move on to the next thing, never look back. I definitely believe in moving forward and making progress, but looking back is an important part of how we succeed in moving forward. So, by reserving part of Week 8 for reflection and feedback, I hope to encourage the students to do something similar in their other classes too, even if it is not something the instructor makes a formal part of the class.

Growth Mindset Cat says: Take some time to reflect. 🙂

 

Crossposted at Canvas Community: Instructional Designers.

Update on New Google Sites: Happy!

This post is to report that things are going really well with the NEW Google Sites, far better than I ever expected. I need a reliable, free web publishing option to recommend to my students, and for the past seven years I’ve been using Google Sites (before that I used Netscape Composer and its successor, Mozilla Seamonkey, until my university abruptly stopped supporting student web spaces in 2010). If students want to use Wix, Weebly, WordPress, Tumblr, etc., that is fine with me, but I choose just one platform where I provide detailed step-by-step tech support, and for seven years that platform was Google Sites.

So, it was with considerable trepidation that I switched to Google Sites this semester… but now that the students’ websites are up and running for the semester, I can say that I am very happy about it! The new Google Sites approach to web design is not something that would appeal to me personally, but it sure does appeal to my students. The sites look like websites are “supposed” to look!

Plus, it has proved far easier to support than the old Google Sites. With the new system, I’ve managed so far just to provide three support pages: Create a Site, Images, and Sections. That’s all! I may or may not need to add a page to help with navigation, but so far that is going well and the students have not had any questions (as opposed to the nightmare that was the old Google Sites navigation system).

I’ll have more to say about this in a few weeks as students add more and more pages to their sites! I’ve got 40 websites going this semester, which is about half of my students; the other half opted to just do their projects inside their existing blogs. That’s about typical, but my guess is that next Fall, when the students see these nice-looking websites from the Spring, more of them will want to try creating their own (the Google Sites of the past did not exactly inspire in that way as you can see in the archive).

It’s all about peer learning: thanks to the brave pioneers of this semester, I will have student-created sites to use as examples with next semester’s students!

And just to provide a glimpse, here are a few screenshots and links to some of the sites so far; as the weeks go on, each student will be adding three or four story pages to go with the current homepage and Introduction page; here’s how it all works: Student Projects.

Site Homepages:

This is a project about the love life of Pegasus the flying horse:

This student is collecting lesson materials to use when she begins teaching school next year:

This is a project about the proverbial nine lives of cats:

 

Introduction Pages:

This is a project on Indian Epics stories retold in the American Wild West:

This student has traveled in India, so her project is a food and travel guide:

This project will be using medical urban legends from Snopes.com retold as Grey’s Anatomy stories:

Crossposted at Canvas Community: Instructional Designers.

The Power of Randomizers… Everywhere

One of my favorite motivational posters happened to pop up today when I checked something on my class calendar, and that prompted me to write up a post here about how I integrated a randomizer into the class calendar page last year… and now I cannot imagine doing the calendar without that. Here’s a screenshot, and below I explain how it works:

So, the Class Calendar is a page at my wiki, but of course the same approach could work as a Canvas Page. There’s nothing fancy as you can see: I have a table with three columns: the week, the start-stop dates, and a link to the week’s assignments (I have two links since I use the same calendar page for both of my classes).

Go ahead and take a look: Class Calendar. As you can see, I list the current week at the very top, with all the future weeks below, and then at the bottom you’ll also find the completed weeks. On Monday, I just move the top row of the table down to the bottom.

The randomizer comes between the top two rows and the rest of the table. The top two rows because I strongly encourage my students to work ahead, so in any given week, students are either working on the current week or the coming week. A few students are even more ahead than that, but only a few, so they can just scroll down below the graphic to get to their active week.

So, the randomizer: each time you come to the Calendar, an item pops up at random, and each item has a link where students can learn more about the item if it really grabs their attention. That is always my great hope: please be curious! please click! please go go go and learn more on the Internet following your curiosity!

But even without click-and-go, the graphic conveys something that I hope will be of value to the student. Try it yourself; you will probably see something new each time the page reloads. There are 20 items, so it’s not a lot, but enough to provide a decently random experience.

That particular randomizer shows time-related items, which I thought would be appropriate for a calendar page! Here is more information about it: Time Randomizer Widget.

That widget is just one of many at my Widget Warehouse, which I built to keep track of my own widgets but also to share with others. You can grab the javascript to use in your own blog or website or wiki. You can grab the https-iframe version to use in a Canvas Page. You can grab the raw source table to adapt for your own purposes. Or you can just build your own widget with the wonderful free tool from Randy Hoyt: RotateContent.com (I am proud to say he is a former student… and genius designer of board games also!).

I need to try to write more in this blog about my use of randomizers, but this can be a start anyway. And here again is the motivational poster that prompted me to write this post. Have a wonderful day! 🙂

This is a wonderful day;
I have never seen this one before.
(H.E.A.R.T. blog)

Crossposted at Canvas Community.