Creating an Interactive Syllabus in Canvas

For those who wish to eschew Canvas’ obscure “Syllabus” page (and many other un-customizable menu items), create a one-page interactive syllabus, or have their class look more like a Moodle weekly page, I offer the following:

1. Load your course into Canvas from Moodle, Blackboard, etc. (Settings -> Import Content into this Course). This will create a URL for all your quizzes, discussions, and pages.

2. Get a messy copy of your interactive syllabus framework from where it is now. Copy the text from Blackboard, Moodle, GDocs, etc. to use as a template. (Since the resulting text may have a lot of code, I recommend pasting it into Notepad or TextEdit and creating a plain text file.)

3. Create a page in Canvas. (Pages -> Add New)

4. Paste the text in to clean up.  Decorate the page as you wish with images.

5. Use the menu of “wikipages” on the right to add the correct links for all quizzes, discussions, etc, on to the syllabus.

6. Check the page using the HTML editor to make sure  nothing is linked to your old LMS.

7. Create a link to this page on the Course Navigation Menu.

First, copy the URL of your new interactive syllabus page.

canvasurlsyl

Then use Settings -> Apps, find Redirect Tool, add app, create a new name (such as “Interactive Syllabus”), unclick box to have it open in new window, click box for Show in Course Navigation, and paste in URL of your interactive syllabus page. Click Add App.

canvasredirect

You will need to click on the course name in the breadcrumbs at upper left to see the change. The interactive syllabus will then appear inside the Canvas window. You can set it as your home page or leave it in the menu as it is.

canvassyl

This could be done by creating it in Google Docs and embedding it in Canvas, but that adds the extra step of copying and pasting from the list of pages, quizzes and discussions in Canvas. Although I normally advise people not to build inside the LMS, the HTML text from this interactive syllabus can be saved on your hard drive for later use and edits.

However, if your interactive syllabus includes any scripts or script-based embeds (such as embed code from Voki), this won’t work – Canvas will strip the code, and you won’t see it until you use the Rich Content Editor or go back into the document. Google Docs will also strip script code. In this case, to keep  your scripts, you would need to make a separate web page for the interactive syllabus, make sure it is served as a secure “https” page, and use the Redirect Tool as indicated above.

From the Drive-Thru Window: Non-features in Canvas

Many of us being forced to switch over to Canvas are coming up with metaphors, such as my idea of your old LMS being like your old house, and your new LMS like moving to a new house where nothing’s in the right place.

drive-thruBut you can eventually set up your new home the way you like it, so this analogy doesn’t fully work for an LMS. For me, Moodle was like running my own restaurant, with table service. Canvas has reduced me to a drive-thru window. It is difficult to present your meal attractively or in an appetizing way through that window, though I can package it for you conveniently so you can take it with you in a box.

I can now get a little more specific about what I would need in Canvas that isn’t there, just by looking in the Canvas Community for what people want to add. Ideas are submitted, evaluated, and then some are voted on and moved forward.

I have marked the ones I’ve been accustomed to having in Moodle, or very much need in Canvas, with a *.

List of features open for voting in Canvas include:

*Create a student-accessible rubric for self-assessments
Allow two-part quiz questions
*Add subject lines to discussion posts (I have them edit them by putting their thesis there for easy searching)
Tables in Canvas (request for actual WYSIWYG in Rich Text Editor)
Batch question editing in a quiz
Assign peer reviews by student group
*Custom canned comments in SpeedGrader
Context help
*Add, Create or Modify a Calculated or the Total Colum in the Gradebook
Time between quiz attempts

And under consideration: (not likely in six months)

*Allow students to upload an image directly to discussion (crucial for my Primary Source posts)
*Make attendance visible to students
*Compile all essay reponses to a quiz questions on one screen for grading (crucial for my writing assignment and primary source grading)
*Create a more simple, intuitive way to offer extra credit
Warn before leaving unsaved item
*Show quiz as percent score in Gradebook
*Warning when submitting quiz
*Assessments – add more than just quizzes
*Override final grade (critical for getting attention and adjusting grade upward)
*Treat zeros as ungraded for both teacher and student views
*Make polls available in the desktop version of Canvas, not just as an app

This is the start of the list of things I’ll have to find workarounds for!

Would you like fries with that?

Adventures in Accessibility Part II

Having discovered how to more easily caption videos I upload into YouTube, I have now had to deal with video clips that others have uploaded to YouTube. This seems to mean putting an overlay with captions on top of the video, then embedding the overlay on my lecture pages.

In the old days, I used Overstream, which is still there.  It was pretty awkward, and now I’ve forgotten how to use it. Our accessibility specialist Robert Erichsen recommended Amara.

My first video captioning experience on Amara was a nightmare. I was working on a cartoon, which I now have memorized, about Nikola Tesla:

If you click the CC, you’ll see the awful automatic captioning, which is unusable. (Does YouTube have something against punctuation?)

So I put it in Amara, but the timeline kept shifting when I made a mistake. I had to keep dragging handles right and left, and different segments got mixed up. It took me hours just to straighten it out. Then I got the embed code and put it in my lecture so it looked like this:

I noticed a couple of things:

You can still see the YouTube CC symbol so it’s totally possible to accidentally play the hideous YouTube auto captioning instead.

The embed code was super simple, so simple you can only customize it in “advanced embedding options” with four bits of code, mostly to turn the captions on or off without the viewer clicking.

You cannot change its size. In YouTube itself, to embed any clip, you can easily change its size using the suggested sizes or the dropdowns:

YouTubeembed

Not in Amara – I have to go into the code and reduce the size proportionally. I do remember how to do this algebraicly, but I graduated high school so that I’d never have to use algebra again, so I use a ratio calculator.

And, I can’t center it. Even though it’s in “div” tags, it won’t center the div. Or accept “span”. I have to create a table by hand and center the table.

And (last one, I promise) you cannot see it in WYSIWYG. Not in Dreamweaver, anyway. At all. I can’t find it. Of course, having to use a table helps – I can set the width and height of the table. At least then I see a blank rectangle.

I appreciate that it’s a free program, but this still seems awfully cumbersome.

What might they recall?

This semester I instituted “roll calls” in my online classes, one during each week before a drop deadline. My idea was to check on my students quickly, see who was paying attention, before looking more closely at who might need help or need to drop the class.

I did this in the form of a “Choice”, a tiny Moodle survey. Once they answer, they can see everyone’s answer.

The first one is just a check to make sure they’re receiving the announcements (called Latest News in Moodle) by email. The options are:

• Yes, I am!
• No, so I’ll check my spam filter and profile settings.
• No, but I don’t need them because I check Latest News every day.

For next semester, I will be adding: “No, but then I found them in my Promotions folder in Gmail, so I’ll change my settings.”

The second choice asks what their favorite part of the class is so far (see results here).

My third one, about 75% into the semester, said, “What might you recall when this class is over?” and I only gave four options, and they could only choose one. Here’s what happened, across four class sections:

  • factual details from history 36
  • the primary sources I found and posted 48
  • how to write a historical thesis 30
  • how to manage time while taking an online class 29
  • not answered 5

I was surprised by how evenly these were spaced, but gratified that the searches they did themselves were likely to stick.

I have yet to find a way to do this in Canvas. They don’t seem to have open surveys…

Giving SCOPE to Online Classes

It isn’t enough for those of us who are labeled “early adopters” and “artisan” online teachers to just complain about what we don’t want. We know what we are against: monolithic systems, simplistic solutions based on administrative goals, dumbed-down pedagogies, standardized course design, and the stifling of creativity.

But as I’ve been saying about democracy in America (well I have, just not here), we can’t just moan about what’s going wrong – we have to be able to articulate, clearly and convincingly, our positive position. We need to present what we do want, what we favor, what is worthy of defense and respect.

We value:

Serendipity over restrictive pathways.

We believe in frameworks for guiding students in their work — it’s our job to create them. But there must be room for discovery – opportunities for students to find things, pursue their own interests, go down the “rabbit hole”. This might mean having students create content or access the “teacher” features of the technology. It might mean re-evaluating standard grading schemes and “learning outcomes”. This can be messy, and messiness is essential to learning.

Complexity over simplicity.

This does not mean we do not appreciate clear navigation and helping students understand what tasks to do in our classes. What it means is that we really want to challenge students intellectually, to provide multiple pathways to learning and plenty of resources. Online classes should not be simpler than on-site classes, but rather train the student mind for intensive cognitive work. Simple classes which emphasize rote learning and/or “completion” and/or student retention encourage students to see the purpose of the college experience as “getting stuff done” instead of building their minds. What’s easy for students is not necessarily what’s good for students.

Originality over processed content.

Certainly textbooks and material created by others are useful. But the course itself, in design, intent and materials, should be the work of the instructor. Many of us who use Open Educational Resources came to them, not just to save students money, but to provide less restrictive yet more focused objects for student learning. Universal design, while well-intentioned, should never prevent original approaches to material. To us, professional development does not mean learning the LMS – it means discovering ways to find, create, build, and explore so we can create better classes.

Pedagogy over management.

Yes, having an operational website, or even an LMS, may be preferred for “delivering” the class. But the emphasis should be on allowing the instructor to develop their own pedagogy by providing them with the tools and/or freedom to create. The convenience of administration should be a secondary consideration behind creating courses and using tools that emphasize the instructor’s teaching strengths. We want teachers to be able to say, “X works in my class, but Y doesn’t work”, even when the “guidelines” say that every class should have Y, and funding should be provided for X.

Excellence over expediency.

Rewarding instructors who create these serendipitous, complex, original classes for students would go a long way toward making more of them. The goals of building student minds, creating an educated citizenry, and sharing our enthusiasm for our subjects – these define excellence. Excellence is not defined by the opinion of those who appreciated the easy A, or how well a course meets the “best practices” determined by “experts”, or whether the course design is consistent across the disciplines. Rewarding classes that fit the rubric, make administrative processing easy, allow student thinking to remain rudimentary, and provide “options” from a list of things that are all the same — this does no service to our society.

There are many ways to give online classes “SCOPE”, and we need to articulate them.

A 50/50 Proposition

The saying goes that there are two types of people: those who divide people into two types of people, and those who don’t.

Our current Program for Online Teaching Chat has turned toward the issue of learner-centered versus teacher-centered instruction. This week’s discussion focused on what has become the so-trendy-we-must-question-it shift from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side”. This is the belief, promoted in numerous papers and presentations over the last decade, that instructor-led, lecture-based, textbook-based, LMS-dependent, top-down models of pedagogy are antiquated and useless, leaving underprepared or economically disadvantaged or socio-economically challenged students out in the cold.

The answer is to shift to student-led, interest-guided, open resource, open format, participant-centered pedagogies, exemplified by but not limited to Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs). Even apart from the fact that corporate interests have taken the side of this more-customer model, we still have two types of people: those who support a 100% shift to student-centered learning, and those who don’t.

z_creamsicleBut, as many of our experienced faculty have pointed out in our Chat, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. And certainly, every time I change something in my classes, I end up with a combination pedagogy, a 50-50 type of deal.

I hesitate to stay this, but there are few faculty who can actually pull off fully student-centered classes. I do know some who have, and I admire them enormously. But the difficulty is that the risk is too high for those of us who teach large, publicly-funded classes. For these instructors, if we cut off the instructor-directed elements (textbooks, continual reminders, poured-in information) our students could drop or fail. Since many of us can’t afford to let that happen, we have to be careful.

So yes, I support a shift from fully prof-directed pedagogies. But to a 50-50 model:

  • 50% prepared materials / 50% student-created materials
  • 50% open stuff / 50% closed safety
  • 50% instructivism / 50% constructivism or connectivism

Not quite a popular point of view in our increasingly polarized educational and political climate, but heck, I’m a pragmatist. Some students do better with the more instructivist elements, likely because they’re trained to it and it feels safe. Other do better with the more constructivist work, finding it more fun and interesting. I set up my classes with three areas of graded work: one part instructivist (quizzes based on reading), one part constructivist (posting primary sources), and one part a combination (writing assignments based on those sources).

I didn’t do this consciously – it has simply evolved based on my practical experience. Students are pushed out of their comfort zone, but only 50% of the time. They get the content I feed them, but only 50% of the time. My grade scale makes it possible to get a C in the class by being good at half and not good at half. That works for me.

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