First road test of Hypothes.is

It’s all about annotation, and I’ve been comparing Kami and Hypothes.is. Last semester, I used Kami  ($50 for no ads) for students to annotate text with my History of Technology class. I had some success, but I was not happy with its limitations, so this summer I tried Hypothes.is instead.

The students were offered a video tutorial on how to use it. I made a group just for them. The assignment was extra credit — for each of the three classes I uploaded an article for them to read and annotate, replying to each other. Sample instructions:

Extra credit for up to 3% of the grade:
1) Get your own account at Hypothes.is at https://hypothes.is/register. Please use your name as enrolled for the username.
2) Join the test group at https://hypothes.is/groups/n3an6ndm/test-group.
3) Go to https://via.hypothes.is/fand.lunarservers.com/~lisahi2/hist104/AnAggravatingAbsence.pdf
4) Annotate the article with your own responses and answer those of others. Annotations are graded on academic quality, connections to coursework, acknowledgement’s of others’ ideas, and evidence of understanding of the article.

I had been concerned that they would automatically post in Public instead of in the Test Group, because I could find no way to limit that or point them directly to the group page – the choice is made only via a drop-down menu in the upper right corner. Sure enough, several students posted in Public and missed the discussion going on in the group. I will have to add this to the instructions as well as in the tutorial.

I had thought that analysis and counting their contributions would be made easier by the brilliantly conceived Hypothesis Collector, created by John Stewart. It worked great last night. Unfortunately, when I tried it this morning, it only gave me the posts that had been made as of last night. I simply couldn’t get it to work and had to manually count annotations to assign points. I have been contacted by Jeremy Dean of Hypothes.is for ways to integrate with Canvas – this might be a huge help next year.

I am considering providing my next class textbook, The American Yawp, with my own annotations. The book, an open textbook, has a number of faults and omissions that would make for great learning opportunities for students. My own annotations would be like mini-lecture commentary, glossing on the text. But for some of the summer articles (one out of three of mine) in Hypothes.is, the section one highlights is quoted in the annotation without spaces, which is ugly. Also, there is little color or design in the annotation box to alert the student to the presence or unique character of an annotation.

Samplehypothesis

I think Kami looks better for this, and then I will export my pages as PDF for the students.

Kamisample

I had originally thought I could use The American Yawp’s own affordances as an updated online text, but just got an announcement that, ironically, their current update will be integrating Hypothes.is. Each page served by them will then come up with an invitation to annotate publicly. While this might or might not help students with the text, it provides an additional way for students to go wrong beside the Public or Group problem, so I don’t think I’ll be working off the Yawp html pages regardless.

Don’t get me wrong – the business model of Hypothes.is is wonderful. They make a real effort to reach out, adapt and update. In fact, that’s one of the reasons for this post – to provide input that I hope will continue its improvement as an open source product made by people who really understand the value of text annotation.

The last role shift for faculty

I wrote last year about my concerns that instructional design (with all its newly-minted PhDs) is taking over teaching, even to the extent that teachers doubt themselves. In 2013, I worried that market forces were undermining the independence of faculty to choose tools for their pedagogies. Way back in 2008, I said I would look into how faculty are becoming content experts and having design taken away from them. In the current iterations of large schemes to standardize online education through “best practices” and “instructional quality improvement”, I am watching it all come home to roost as our roles are forcibly shifted.

Roles shifts for teachers, of course, are not new. For some time, research has indicated that instructors should consider shifting roles from “sages” to “guides”, using the affordances of the web. I have various concerns about this, and tend to prefer an approach which balances instructivism with constructivism. So far I’ve had that freedom. But this current role shift is more insidious, because it assumes that we do not have the knowledge to teach at all. rubrica1As our courses are assessed for “quality” by outside teams of instructional designers and instructional administrators, the rubrics they apply enforce self-referential norms developed by those fields. If their research indicates that collaboration among students is good, then collaboration should be part of every class. If the presentation of course objectives are seen as being important, they must be clearly articulated and appear, preferably with specific “outcomes”, at the beginning of the class. If it is determined that “content” should be “chunked” in manageable segments, then all classes must do that.

What if an instructor decides, however, based on his own experience, that these rules are not right for his pedagogy? I know an instructor who has designed her skills-based courses in such a way that collaboration is useful only to share basic ideas or final products, but not for working together on projects. I know another who reveals course objectives in a “just-in-time” way, as the students are working on particular tasks, not at the beginning in a list. I know a wonderful lecturer who puts his long, written, narrative lectures online, with no chunking involved. All of these instructors have students who do well, and some who do badly, but whether they do well or badly they tend to learn a lot.

But the “best practices”, applied as mandates, will not allow any of them to teach in these ways, ways that reflect the strengths of their own practice and their own pedagogy. They will not be respected as professionals, but rather treated as cogs of a larger machine, as mere “content experts”.

QualityControlIn other words, the role of teachers as instructional designers, as developers of the students’ learning experience, is being taken away. That crucial aspect of our role, the reason many of us became teachers in the first place, is being outsourced to others. And we are told that is in the interest of quality, not standardization. We are told that it is to help us become better teachers. We are told that what they want is “student success”.

We are not told that the goal is to create easy-to-administer McClasses, or to support the rise of a plutocracy, or to micromanage “course delivery“. We are not told that “student success” means passing students through the system as quickly and easily as possible, and that faculty who teach creatively are basically just in the way of the goals of administrators and students alike.

The separation of “course design” from teaching is false. Will we be fooled as this lack of respect for our profession is couched as trying to “help” us do better?

The Pedagogy of Canvas

Having worked in Canvas for just a little while, its insidious pedagogy is beginning to reveal itself.

Above all, Canvas’ appearance is designed to evoke simplicity, like Google’s Search page. The fonts are large, friendly, sans serif. There is plenty of white space, implying rest, with no need for cognitive agitation or disturbance.

PCcleandesign

The language for instructions and content regions uses short words at the second-grade level, which is more reassuring than complex instructions. This implies that this will be easy, no need to fear the system.

The default left-hand menu, which cannot be moved or removed, makes it clear that certain elements are expected and that they are meant to be organized by type:

CanvaMenuAnnotated

This type-centered pedagogy is enforced by design that does not permit any of the menu items to be changed, only disabled. Once on the DL, they never disappear. But neither can they be edited to prevent a long list of disabled mistakes.PCdisabledpages

You can create new pages or even external URLs as menu items, using the Redirect App, but it takes multiple clicks and multiple saves and is quite tricky (thus my long DL). The implication of so many steps is that doing this should not be standard operating procedure.

Notice that some pages cannot be disabled, only hidden (Discussions, People). This implies it is wrong not to want those items, that you should reconsider.

Getting back to the navigation: if you don’t like the content organized by type, and would prefer an interactive syllabus (like Moodle’s weekly design), you’d use Modules. The Modules page lets you organize all the class items within subheadings. These headings and all the links are bold text, with no provision for adding images (though you can apparently substitute icons if you know what you’re doing). The list of links is in forest green text and is spectacularly ugly, suggesting one wouldn’t want it to be a landing page – wouldn’t it be better to go back and do everything by type instead?

uglymodules

The Quizzes use test banks for creating variety (i.e. 50 questions in the test bank, using 10 randomly on each quiz), but items changed in the banks don’t change in any quizzes that have already been created. Created quizzes are thus intended to be static.

Each question in a quiz must be worth at least one point, and increase in whole numbers only. You cannot take a batch of questions and combine them into a single quiz of, say, 10 points, which might make each question worth .35 points, for example. This implies that quiz questions should be simple, each worth numbers that are easy to add up.

There are few areas where students can take control, and most of these are outside the actual LMS (like in Google Docs). Crocodoc is available for the instructor to annotate student work, but not for students to annotate together. This implies that the instructor is supposed to control all class elements that are inside the system.

Of interactive elements, only Discussions are actually inside the system. The posts are somewhat nested. This implies there should be replies to posts, but the large font size and huge amounts of white space, and the fact that the Discussions page itself is a long list of links, imply that there should be multiple discussions, on different topics or for different times, rather than one large discussion area.

Going outside the system to collaborate and meet synchronously implies these are unusual things to do. They require additional log-ins to places people might not be comfortable with, like Google. There are many “Apps” that can be linked into the class in such a way. Many require not only additional log-ins but additional payments. This implies that such places are special, unusual, perhaps dangerous.

Adding media to a post offers few options. To add media to a post, you may either record a video or audio file right then, or upload a media file. This implies that you should be using some talking head video, or have your video in computer-based files, rather than on the open web.

Confused? Assistance is available. On the top of the first page when you go into your new course is an offer of help setting up. This leads you to a list of steps:

PCcoursesetup

The list implies that you should import content if you can, then add assignments, students, and files. Then decide which items on the menu you want to use. Customize your home page, set up a calendar, add TAs (how lucky are you to have these?), then publish. There is no discussion of  your objectives or your pedagogy on these helpful steps. Really, you aren’t meant to think about all that, just put all your stuff in the right place so students can find it.

In the 2013 article The Predatory Pedagogy of On-Line Education , anthropologist Brian McKenna uses an investor conference for Instructure (makers of Canvas) to highlight problems with LMSs and online education. This caught my eye:

The stakes are incredibly high. But most faculties across the country seem in the dark. “Pedagogy as an intellectual, moral and political practice is now based on measurements of value derived from market Competition,” argues educational theorist Henry Giroux, “Mathematical utility has now replaced critical dialogue, debate, risk-taking, the power of imaginative leaps and learning for the sake of learning. A crude instrumental rationality now governs the form and content of curricula, and where content has the potential to open up the possibility of critical thinking, it is quickly shut down. This is a pedagogy that has led to the abandonment of democratic impulses, analytic thinking, and social responsibility.

It is not the case the one cannot create constructivist or connectivist pedagogies, or design explorations or learning adventures, in Canvas. I intend to spend much of the next year doing exactly that. But the design of the system does not encourage it. The system strips code entered into its pages, won’t display elements it doesn’t like from outside URLs, and makes embedding tricky and difficult. In the Canvas Community, there are hundreds of requests from faculty and instructional designers to add features that have long existed in other systems. While many of these features are managerial, at least as many concern aspects of opening up the system to greater customization, faculty control, and student leadership.

As I noted years ago in Insidious Pedagogy, LMSs each have their own internal pedagogy, based on the principles of their designers. The teachers who are most likely to be led by the default designs of these systems are instructors who are new to online teaching, or teaching with a pre-made course, or using few online technologies in their own lives outside their classes. More online teachers than ever fall into these categories. Like their students, they will prefer things simple and standardized so they can work more quickly rather than learn more. Thus will the critical pedagogy of faculty, which is so necessary for creating critical thinking in our students, be suppressed.

A nicer looking Canvas syllabus

Another post to remind me how I did something.

I am trying to replace the ugly modules page. I tried to get used to the full page of text with the stupid icons, really I did, and its horrid forest green text, but it just made me gag.

uglymodules

So I’m thinking a nice menu, all on one page for HTML convenience for editing in Dreamweaver (or insert your WYSIWYG editor here – I’m liking Kompozer). But when I tried to make such a delightful page with tabs or accordion, or anything using CSS and Javascript, Canvas stripped my code. This happened even when I tried to embed using an iframe, or redirect using the Redirect app tool. Even when it didn’t strip stuff, it would not display to do what I want. I’m beginning to think that Canvas does not, as has been thought, simply display complex web pages in iframes and Redirect, but rather acts as a limited browser within the browser, ignoring code it doesn’t like.

Canvas itself has some styles one can work with. So I used its accordion code, though I had to adapt it some using html posted by Jeremy Perkins at the Canvas community. More style guide to stop the bullets on unordered lists. I tested it on a page inside Canvas, then copied the code over to Dreamweaver.

In Dreamweaver I was able to see the code more clearly with the colors, and catch all the relative URLs to my images, and create the many weeks for the final version. I commented out a bit in the code view so I would just paste in the material Canvas would accept.

I did try to do the editing in Canvas, by the way, but it took a terribly long time because it’s a large page and every time I’d try to edit one thing, it would hang on reloading, show me code when it was trying to switch to the Rich Text Editor, then lose my stuff. Much easier to paste the whole thing in from Dreamweaver periodically to make sure it was working.

And of course to add it as the Interactive Syllabus to the course menu requires copying the page’s URL, then selecting Settings, the finding the Redirect app, then plugging in the URL and telling it to show in the course menu. The result is here.

Now of course, this workflow is not clean and beautiful. Iframes would have been so much better. But at least it has my own images and icons, and is useful to students.

Complexity over simplicity in online classes

road to the hamlet A student goes into Online Class A for the first time. They see a list of items by type (syllabus, readings, lectures, discussion). They see a syllabus, listing the dates for when each of these content type items is due, and what constitutes them being done (i.e. complete this quiz, post one posting and two replies, submit this essay). They buy their textbook, and follow it, with chapter readings listed clearly on the readings page. At the end, they take a final exam that goes over the entire course content.
forest Another student goes into Online Class B. They see a list of weeks, or topics. There is a syllabus laying out the goals of the course: exploration, discovery, production of assignments, community. Readings are provided, but may not be required or there may be a choice. Perhaps there is a learning contract instead of a syllabus. Forum postings may be focused on what the student has discovered by following research instructions, scaffolded to adapt as the student’s work changes. Assignments may emphasize skills rather than content. The final exam is a video project where their unique research is shared and peer evaluated.

Given the dozen or so years a student has spent in traditional classes prior to college, Class A may seem more familiar, comfortable, and simpler. Class B may be perceived as difficult, or disorganized. Data on student clicks and questions asked may show some confusion, some cognitive challenges that need to be overcome. More questions may be emailed to the instructor, or posted to a forum.

Recent efforts to “improve” online course “integrity” have led to various rubrics, standards, and evaluative tools, wielded by administrators and instructional improvement teams. These assess the “quality” of an online course. The ones I’ve seen, and the faculty I’ve talked to who have been subject to them, note that the rubrics clearly prefer the Online Class A model: content-based, simply laid out, clearly expressing not only expectations but overall outcomes. Complexity is seen as “cogitive overload” and is discouraged.

The result is an unexpected (and for the admins, often unintended) standardization. Although the teams and projects deny that the intention is to standardize online classes, to make them “cookie cutter”, that is the likely result. The instructor’s role is to guide students through the material in an organized way, and to use insightful discussion prompts and exam questions to assess deeper thinking about the content. If the content they used has been structured to clearly align everything the student encounters with particular learning outcomes, so much the better, privileging textbook publishers who create such programs for profit.

How do faculty respond to this push for simplicity, when we know that teaching is inherently complex? In my years heading the Program for Online Teaching, we have always seen a tendency for any instructor new to online classes to automatically follow the Class A model. The reasons for this are varied. In most cases, the instructor has not examined their own pedagogy in the traditional classroom, or does not use online communities and resources for their own learning. Some are intimidated by the technology and throw their own classroom pedagogy out the window, having been guided by instructional designers and other support staff to simply fill in the blanks of the LMS.

Since many faculty new to online teaching are under time pressure to develop a class, the cognitive dissonance in their own learning becomes overload very quickly. The easiest thing to do is opt for the simple path – upload a syllabus in Word or pdf, upload readings the same way, set up a weekly discussion post with a question requiring a response, and create some exams. Many, many students complain that their online classes are impersonal, that they feel like they’re just learning from a computer instead of a person (and in the case of instructors who adopt course cartridges, that is often true). Students come to believe that this is what an online class is – a list of tasks to be completed and graded, rather than a learning experience.

simplemaze complexmaze1
This maze looks complex, but it is actually simple – there is only one path. You will learn little by attempting it.
This maze is complex, so you will need to make choices.

This is why POT has focused on helping instructors understand their own pedagogy, assess their teaching strengths, and build online classes that emphasize these strengths, calling this “Pedagogy First”. We encourage models that break away from “type listing” to create a unique interactive syllabus. And we want faculty to explore models that encourage students to think critically, express their learning creatively, and utilize the affordances of technology. If the supported LMS doesn’t fit what they want to do, we want them to link out or adopt a different venue. If they excel at student-directed learning, student-developed content, constructivism, or connectivist learning, we want them to have the freedom to build their classes around those models.

That’s because we value faculty creativity, originality, and pedagogical goals. We also believe that only by offering various pathways and options to explore learning about online teaching can we help teachers excel as the professionals they are.

Unfortunately, a trend has begun to cast those of us who were early adopters of online technologies, and originators of our own online pedagogies, as outliers instead of guides and modelers. We are being told that the days of “cobbling” our own systems together are over, that we need to join the “community” of large initiatives designed to create more accountable and approvable online classes. There is head-shaking about the learning we had to go through “back then”, and reminders that such efforts (like learning html, or exploring different online tools) are no longer necessary. We now have everything laid out for us; all the features we need are inside the mandated LMS. We must step down from our role as innovators and join the parade, marching together. We must realize that it is time to, in a word, simplify.

The temptation is appealing, but what is lost when we shift from complexity to simplicity? When instead of exploring and discovering, we are given the tools and the platform? Do we wish to encourage that sort of simplification for our students, when employers have made it clear that what they want is workers who can actually learn? Are such industrial models appropriate in a post-industrial world?

The only solution, as I see it, is to continue to encourage complexity, in both the development of faculty talents and student potential. POT will continue to encourage the reassessment of the Class A model, and continue to question content-based, standardized, simplistic classes both online and in the classroom. We will view ourselves as people of value, with knowledge to contribute to the discussion. We will treat our fellow faculty as creative, self-actualized human beings, lifelong learners who want to express their teaching goals through any of the myriad of available tools and approaches. And that task, like the work we all do, embraces complexity.

Eating (some of the) Canvas breadcrumbs

Even in these early days, I can see how the breadcrumbs in Canvas can cause real problems. They not only don’t get you out of the woods – they can lead you the wrong way into them.

Let’s say you have created your own navigation in Canvas, by creating an interactive syllabus on a Page or Google Doc, and hidden many of the standard navigation items so students won’t use them.

It turns out this will work for important pages like Quizzes. When you disable the navigation item called Quizzes, you can still create and deploy a quiz via the Modules or the link to a module. Then a student taking a quiz will see the Quizzes breadcrumb, but when they click on it, it will tell them that page is disabled.

canvasbreadcrumb

However, you cannot disable the Discussions or People breadcrumbs. If a student is in a Discussion you’ve listed on your syllabus page, they can still click the breadcrumb “Discussions” and see a list of all the discussions. This list is often in poor order, and the student can choose the order in which to see them. All this could lead to confusion. It is necessary then to “pin” all the Discussions and put them in order. If you don’t, it could even lead to anger if you’re using the Requirements feature in each Module that forces students to complete one task before moving on to another. Then they could use the breadcrumb to see links to Discussions they cannot view.

hansel2Workflow for breadcrumbs if using your own navigation:

1. Disable all pages that can be disabled (Home, Quizzes, Assignments, Syllabus, etc.)

2. Clean up pages that can’t be disabled:

a. Discussions should be pinned and put in order

b. Grades should be organized by assignment groups for clear viewing

3. To change the names of any items in the menu:

a. Copy the URL for the page you want to change the name of (such as “People”)

b. Use the Redirect Tool to create a course navigation item using that URL, titled as you wish (such as “Colleagues”)