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.

More on Embedded Blogs (or Sites)

Keegan just shared a great post about embedding a website in Canvas via the Redirect Tool: How To Integrate Websites Into Canvas. Lots of helpful information and screenshots also! If the goal is to have students actually stay in Canvas, using the Redirect Tool to add the site address to the course navigation definitely works. That is the method Keegan documents there in his post.

If, however, you want to use the embedded site as your Home Page, then you need a different option: the iframe tag is a way that you can insert a website into a Canvas Page. You can then make that Page the Home Page of your course. That’s the main difference between these two methods of embedding — unless there is some way to make a Redirect item into a Home Page??? If there is, I have not figured that out.

Here’s how the Blog-as-Home-Page works for me:

Whenever a student arrives at my Canvas course, the first thing they see is the announcements: Myth.MythFolklore.net (course is fully public, so you too can just click and go). Here’s a screenshot:

You’ll notice I also have a note up there at the top, alerting people that they can just pop open the embedded site in a tab of its own if they want.

So, if students are just on their way to the Gradebook, at least they will see the top part of the announcements (which is where I put the key information each day). If they are going to read through the whole announcements page, though, they will have a better time doing that outside the Canvas straitjacket, which is why I encourage them to open the blog in a new tab.

For details on how to embed a blog this way and also configure it to be the Home Page, see this post: Blissfully Blogging Announcements.

IMPORTANT: http links. Also, if you do embed a website, either with iframe or with the Redirect app, it is really important that you make sure the links open in a new tab. Canvas will not open http links inside Canvas; you have to open http links in a new tab. Worse: there is no warning or error message from Canvas if you click on an embedded http link. Just… nothing. You click and click and nothing happens. A student might figure out that they need to right-mouse-click to open in a new tab, but I wouldn’t count on it. They are just as likely to assume the link is broken.

So, given that there are still plenty of http links out there in the world — including all OUCreate sites that have not turned on encryption — I’ve found it easiest just to set up the site to open all links in a new tab automatically. I use the <base target=’_blank’/> tag in my blog template header, but I am guessing there are other good ways to do that too (more details).

Are there any other tips and suggestions from people who are using the Redirect app or iframe to bring external content into Canvas? Share your ideas in the comments here or at Keegan’s post. Or you can find us both at Twitter: @OnlineCrsLady and @KeeganSLW.

Break through the barriers!

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

More Visible Learning, NOT More Visible Grades #TTOG

Last week I went to check to see if a student had completed some assignments from earlier in the semester, and when I clicked, I saw a new panel pop up; here’s what it looks like for the Test Student:

From Chris Hofer I learned that this is a new “Student Context Card,” and my school chose to turn it on (without telling us, which is odd) when it was released last week. Canvas has invested what is clearly a lot of effort and resources in order to give us this new grade book view with information that shows me their latest graded items, ranking them compared to the rest of the class.

And I find this to be very depressing.

By emphasizing this “view” of students, Canvas shows us (the instructors, the students) that it really is all about the grades, ranking student against student. Not about the learning. Not about growth.

As I’ve documented elsewhere, I find the Canvas Gradebook to be mostly useless because I cannot include my own data fields (“Feature Request: Text Fields in the Gradebook“). In D2L, I could create little text fields to record important information about a student that I needed to remember (out with flu Weeks 3-4… needs Tuesday reminders… waiting on 2nd Portfolio story revisions… etc. etc.). Because the Canvas Gradebook refuses to let me enter information I consider important, I run my own spreadsheet outside the system. I definitely believe in analytics, but the data I need are not the grades: I need data about the whole student and about their learning process.

And that leads to my bigger concern here: by making it all about the grades, we are doing our students a huge disservice. We tell them to care about the grades as if the grades were a true representation of the learning. But we all know… if we are honest about it… that grades are a poor proxy for learning at best. And at worst, they are a huge hindrance to learning, a reward-and-punishment system that has negative consequences for many students. (Don’t believe me? Read Carol Dweck.)

To learn more and to learn better, students need FEEDBACK. Lots of it. And grades are a terrible form of feedback.

I have written about this often; here are all the posts at this blog labeled Grading, and I’ve also collected materials at Grading.MythFolklore.net, where you will find links and resources about the un-grading movement; see also the hashtag #TTOG (Teachers Throwing Out Grades) at Twitter.

Short version: I’m ALL-feedback and NO-grades. That has been my approach since I first started teaching online in 2002, and it works. How do I know it works? Because the students tell me it does: What Students Say About Un-Grading.

For information about what good feedback can and should be, check out my Feedback Resources at Diigo. Yep, that’s an RSS feed inside a Canvas page… and RSS is just one technology we could be using to bring real evidence of student learning from their own webspaces into the Canvas space.

So, instead of a dynamic whiz-bang Gradebook view of students, we instead need a dynamic whiz-bang LEARNING view that helps students and instructors see what their learning looks like and that also allows them to connect with others based on what we are all learning together. To get a sense of the dynamics of connected, visible learning in my classes, take a look at the blog hubs for Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics. Take a look at the student projects, past and present at eStorybook Central.

I’ve also proposed creating a Connected Learning Group here at Canvas; if you are interested, let me know!

To help students learn more and learn better, I need to see what they are learning. To help them in their work, I need to see their work. Not quizzes, not tests. Their work.

The work, not the grades, is what matters, and I show the students that their work matters by giving them detailed feedback about it, by creating opportunities for them to share their work with others, and by saving their work in the class archives to sustain my classes in the future.

Grades penalize mistakes… feedback helps you learn from them. That’s what we need: feedback, not grades.

Because I feel safe, I can learn from my mistakes.

A meme inspired by this infographic:

Crossposted at Canvas Community.

Marketing and Community

I was both pleased, but surprised, to find a link to the University of Oklahoma Community space in the marketing email that went out this morning (we get regular marketing emails every week). Here’s the screenshot:

It would be SO GREAT if OU Canvas users started participating at the Community. I’ve been faithfully crossposting this blog there for months now… although at this point, my main reason for doing so is that the blog posts show up in the Canvas Community search, not because there is an OU Community there.

And why is there no OU Community? Because nobody participates. Literally. There are probably dozens of people working on the Canvas rollout at my school: people in IT, people in our Center for Teaching Excellence, people who do teaching support in all the different colleges, not to mention the hundreds of faculty who are actually using Canvas.

But if you go to our OU Community page (which I do every day), you will see that there’s nothing going on except for my crossposted blog posts:

My guess is that if any faculty do follow the links in the email, they will look for the people they know in the Community: the lead Canvas managers from the Center for Teaching Excellence, the lead Canvas people in their colleges… but they will not find those people there using the Community, demonstrating its value, showing how it’s useful, etc.

To build a community online requires participation and persistence from people who are committed to building the community and sustaining it. Just sending out a marketing email with a link in it does not a community make.

But we’ll see! I have found the Canvas Community to be incredibly valuable (like in this total revelation about Canvas Pages and Files last week), and I have enjoyed the opportunity to crosspost my blog here.

So, I will remain optimistic and hope that something might happen in the OU Community space in Canvas. And I’ll keep on cross-posting. Because I am a believer in DIY… and in the power of online communities!

Growth Mindset Cat knows:

Life has no remote. You have to get up and change it yourself!

 

Crossposted (ever hopeful) at OU Canvas Community.

Flickr Albums in Canvas Pages

Today’s post is about Flickr Albums! Canvas already has good integration with Flickr image search which makes it easy to include individual Flickr images in a Canvas Page, and you can even browser Flickr to find images to use as course cards.

Thanks to the great File-in-Page trick I learned at the Community last week, I’m now able to embed Flickr Albums in Canvas pages too. Here are step by step instructions: Step by Step Flickr Album in Canvas. Here’s a screenshot of am album in a Page:

So, in addition to being able to embed Flickr albums in other spaces (blog sidebars, webpages, etc.), now you can embed them in a Canvas page or in a Canvas discussion board. The iframe solution works in both spaces; here’s a screenshot of the same album in the Discussion Board. You can use an album to provide a range of visual prompts for the discussion, and the album approach allows students to respond to the one that most interests them — and they can easily access the Flickr photo page to grab the URL to include in their reply:

For people who have followed Flickr for a while, this embedded album option is really great to see! Years ago, Flickr had an excellent embedded slideshow option, but it was Flash-based. They discontinued that, with no other good option in place, but now this new embedded album has come along, and I think it is a very nice solution. I wish they would offer an embedded album option for displaying live search results (that would be really cool!), but this is certainly as good as the old slideshow, and in some ways it is better; I find it more visually appealing anyway.

When I wrote my last Aesop book (Mille Fabulae et Una), I created slideshows for my collections of Aesop illustrations, like this one from Steinhowel’s wonderful illustrated Aesop (hand-colored too!) circa 1500. As you can see, Flickr albums can serve all kinds of purposes; they don’t just have to be photos. Now that Flickr has this wonderful new embedding option, I am inspired to make more albums. 🙂

Steinhowel (colored)

Blog Index / February 18, 2017

In all the busy-ness of the past couple of weeks, I forgot to do an Index post last week. And now… I am indexing not just this blog, but also my Twitter4Canvas blog and CanvasLIVE Playground blogs. I am clearly having too much fun with this! 🙂

The posts new to this index are marked in bold, and there are also “latest posts” from all three blogs in the sidebar.

CanvasLIVE

CanvasLive: Growth Mindset / Feedback Cats

Twitter4Canvas Mini-Course

Widgets and Other Dynamic Content

Spring 2017 Reports

Openness, Sharing, and Connectedness

Canvas Class Announcements

Blogs and Blogging

Thoughts about Canvas and about LMSes

Posts about Students

Posts about Instructors

Teaching Writing

Some Practical Canvas Advice

Grading with Canvas

And here is one of the growth mindset cats from this week:

Don’t stop! Just keep going!


 

CanvasLIVE: Planning Twitter4Canvas

Okay, so like with Growth Mindset Cats post yesterday,  this is going to be a brain dump of how I might do a 15-minute presentation on Twitter4Canvas, which seems the other likely candidate for a way to get started with CanvasLIVE. Like yesterday, I’ll start with some “why” examples in terms of teaching and learning, and them zoom in on the technical stuff.

Update. Okay… I am excited about BOTH of these options, but after writing up this post, it’s clear that Twitter4Canvas one is closer to being ready to go; almost everything is already in place, so my guess is that it will be better to do this one first, and then do the Growth Mindset Cats a couple of weeks later after I’ve had a chance to finish documenting those materials more fully. I will see what Stefanie thinks about that! Also, this one provides a kind of lead-in to the idea of dynamic content in Canvas, but it starts with something more familiar: Twitter. I think if people experiment with this first, then some of the strategies in the Growth Mindset cats (other kinds of embedding) will make more sense.

Update again. I’ve been able to radically streamline my Twitter4Canvas Workshop thanks to the Canvas Files trick I learned at Canvas Community, and I have modified this presentation accordingly!

~ ~ ~

Some kind of quick 1-minute introduction followed by:

TWITTER FOR TEACHING (total of 4 minutes): My focus is not on students using Twitter (although that is a great opportunity also), but instead Twitter was a way to deliver fresh, new, real stimulating content to students, especially images and video.

My Class Twitter stream (1 minute). I’ll talk about the sources I draw on to create the @OnlineMythIndia Twitter stream for my classes, and I’ve written a post about Twitter curation: Twitter for Class Content: My Top 5 Strategies. My students see it embedded in my class announcements.

And it can run in other webspaces too, like  at our class wiki.

Other Account streams (1 minute). I’ll show some of the other account streams I’ve widgetized, like our student newspaper

and our Library Twitter account.

Hashtag streams (1 minute): There is an international weekly chat by folklorists at the #FolkloreThursday hashtag:


And there are also occasional hashtags, like the beautiful #ColorOurCollections

Sample Twitter-based assignment (1 minute): Wikipedia Trails (1 minute). One of my favorite ways to use our class Twitter is as the starting point for a Wikipedia Trails assignment. (I should mock this up as a Canvas page; right now it is just a page at my class wiki, and the student blog stream is also just at the wiki, but I can also mock that up as a Canvas page):

Some kind of quick 1-minute transition into next section:

TECHNOLOGY (total of 8 minutes).

Canvas Twitter App versus Real Twitter Widgets (1 minute). It’s all about the media. The Canvas Twitter App displays no media; for me, that makes it a complete nonstarter.


Different Kinds of Twitter Widgets (1 minute). Another difference from the Canvas Twitter App is that Twitter offers a lot of different kinds of widgets, not all of which are supported by the Canvas Twitter App, such as List. Here’s a simple List example: our two university museums, combined in a single list:

Twitter4Canvas Workshop (1 minute). I’ve created a self-guided Twitter4Canvas Workshop which has everything you need to get up and running with Twitter (even if you have never used it before), and to then create a Twitter widget for your account and include it in your Canvas course. The key steps are Creating a Widget, inserting it into a File, and then inserting that File into a Page.

Generate Twitter Widget (1 minute). After you are up and running with Twitter, you can use the Twitter Widget generator to get the Twitter Widget code you need; it just takes a few seconds.

Insert Twitter in Canvas File (1 minute). For the next step, you’ll insert the Twitter Widget you created into a Canvas File:

Insert File into Canvas Page (1 minute). Then, you insert the Cavnas File into your Page; for security reasons, you cannot just paste the Widget directly into your Page, but routing it through the File system takes care of Cavnas’s security concerns:

Canvas Tables (1 minute). Tables can be useful for layout. You might consider putting the Twitter Widget in the right column of a table, and then using the left column to explain what the Twitter stream contains, how to use it for a class assignment, etc.

Ready-to-Use Twitter Widgets (1 minute). One of the other powerful things about Twitter Widgets is that you can share them with others. So, I’ve been making “ready-to-use” Twitter Widgets to share with people at my school. They don’t even have to use Twitter: just copy-and-paste the code snippet, and they can put Twitter into their Canvas Pages directly. So, for example, our student newspaper, as I mentioned earlier:

Quick 1-minute conclusion to review and point to Slidedeck online plus single page with all the links mentioned here.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.