The oncoming train

I was almost finished with the roughed out versions of three courses in Canvas, looking toward summer, waiting for the campus installation to open so I can upload them and tinker.

It’s taken me months.

So today I pick up my phone, which I do not use in the profligate way experienced by most Americans, to see how they look on the Canvas app.

None of my images were there.

Now, we’re not just talking a few images. We’re talking 16 images on the Home page, one for each week, in a grid. The same week’s image on the week’s intro page, images to demonstrate many pages in learning units, about 12-15 images in each weekly lecture. They were all broken.

When I switched to my mobile browser, they were all there. I contacted support. He guessed that it could be because my images are all linked from my outside server, all http (not https). I know the difference because I can only embed things from my server if I use the https format. But I had no idea there was a problem displaying images, because they all display just fine in any browser.

But not in the Canvas app. The helper explained that all the browsers are going SSL anyway, so really everything needed to be https. We’re talking hundreds of hours of work, changing every link in hundreds of pages, quizzes, discussions, learning units, all of which have my images. I asked about global search and replace? in a site? No. In a course? No. On a page, for goshsakes? No.

The light at the end of my tunnel had become an oncoming train of work. If I didn’t do it, every course that rolled over in future semesters would similarly not be https, and students won’t see the images in the app.

I began. Several hours copying home pages, search and replace, pasting back in. But single images on single pages were much harder, and mind-deadening. I’m not actually sure I can do this. I considered ways to do it, by week or by item type. I considered making a chart. I considered paying someone else to do it.  I considered early retirement.

I’m still considering. Reasons for doing it include
a. students can use the app on their phones to take the class
b. some day we’re all going over to the encrypted web, which is really what all this is about

Trouble is, I’ve never, ever thought taking a class on your phone was a good idea. Of course, there is the tablet problem. They’re big phones. But although I saw a lot of tablets in the classroom when they first came out, now there are fewer. Laptops seem to be coming back. Gosh knows what they use at home.

Gosh knows what they’ll do when their browsers won’t show them non-secure pages. And how will they post images in my class? This finally explains why students complained they couldn’t see other students’ images in posts on their phones. My whole pedagogy down the drain.

Do I take all this time? I was about to start a research project I really want to do. Do I do link changes slowly over the next several semesters, a constant task hanging over my head? Do I avoid it and hope the encrypted web goes the way of all those programs I built things in, the many that died off after I did so much work? After all, the folks saying we’re all going SSL are the ones who’ll make money off this closing of the open web.

My professional activity survey results came in today, the one where colleagues say what they think of me. One wrote that I am “not afraid of hard work”.

I’m not. But this is ridiculous.

Lisa’s Top 10+ Tips for Canvas

Now that I’ve experienced conversion (including full immersion if not a blinding experience of insight), I offer my tips:

1) Use the calendar, even if just for you

The calendar is drag and drop. You can leave everything without a due date, then set them in the Calendar by opening up the “undated” items menu on the right, and drag them in. Default due time is 11:59 pm, but you can change it.

Also, adding events to the Calendar makes it possible to put ungraded things on the schedule. The most important of these for me is “Begin Week x” so that students know each week starts on Monday after Sunday deadlines.

Notice that everything with a deadline is listed on the syllabus page – this makes a good check once you’ve done the calendar.

You can also export the calendar to Google Calendar and other programs.

2) Use the modules, even if just for you

Modules can organize content, but they also make every item look like it’s of equal weight, so I make it invisible in the menu. But I use it to:

a. lock each week until I want it to open
b. make sure that students complete every item for the week
c. import from a “base course” I set up on the free Canvas – the assignments I have that every class does are created there as modules, which I then import and adjust to the class using the Modules page

3) Don’t embed much

Canvas allows embedding if your page is https, but it doesn’t like to do it and it may look awful. Although I love embedding, it’s actually better to link out even though that grey button is so ugly.p

The exception would be web pages you’ve made yourself, that reside on a secure server, and that don’t have width or height settings. My Help page is one of these, so I embed it.

4) Use small nicknames for graded items

The gradebook is not good yet (they’re working on it). You may only view graded items in order of due date, or type of assignment. If you have a lot of assignments, the gradebook scrolls out of sight pretty quickly. If you use short names at the beginning for each assignment (“WAI Writing Assignment I”), then you can drag the columns smaller and see the big picture much better.

5) Use an “end page” for each module

If you are using Modules (whether or not the student can see them), the last item in a module with always have a “Next” button going to the next page, the first page of the next Module. Students won’t realize they’re done with the module unless you put a page that says something like, “Congratulations for finishing Week 2! If you click Next, you’ll go to Week 3.”

6) Put Announcements at the top

Yes, they get emailed to students and can be accessed through the “Announcements” link on the menu. I get rid of this link, and use the new Setting for the course to have the Announcements show at the top of the Home page.

7) Use rubrics

Although Speed Grader isn’t speedy, it handles rubrics well, and can speed up grading. The trick is to make sure to edit your rubric after you’ve made it, so that you can set each assignment to be graded using the rubric.

8) Let students know how to see comments and rubrics

This is not intuitive. They get assignment submission comments sent to them, but can easily miss them. Similarly, the rubric is available when they do an assignment, but they can miss that too. They are usually interested only when they’ve got a grade, so show them how to access comments and the rubric from their Grades.

canvaswagrading

9) Think a bit about mobile

I don’t always follow this myself – I do tell them they should only use mobile to check grades and assignments, but not to submit things. However, when creating Pages, consider using percentages instead of absolute width and height to make sure the content will shrink to be seen on a phone.

10) Understand the Syllabus page

It has on it a place at the top to add your syllabus (I embed mine as pdf), but the other two elements you can’t remove are the list of all assignments, and the list of weights for each assignment category. This means that you don’t need to add these yourself to your own syllabus.

Special thanks to Robert Kelley and Sean Davis – I learned about the calendar and end page idea from them!

Calendrically speaking

I have always been a big fan of paper calendars. But when it comes to teaching, there are many things I need to put on a calendar that are the same from semester to semester. My solution recently has been creating a spreadsheet calendar, putting in these recurring items (grade primary sources, grade Writing Assignment III, etc), then printing it out and writing in the dates.

After almost three decades working with Microsoft products, I could not figure out how to get the pages to print correctly.

Why do I need such a calendar, when the LMS has its own calendar? For the first time since Blackboard days, I will be teaching in three different systems: MiraCosta’s Canvas (two classes), MiraCosta’s Moodle (four classes), and free Canvas (one class). This is how I will transition from Moodle to Canvas over the next 18 months.

The Canvas and Moodle calendars, plus my own grading calendar, would need to be in the same place to do this electronically. So today I used the URL from the Canvas and Moodle calendars, and put them into Google’s calendar, then added my grading tasks.

Both LMSs, unfortunately, export the full calendar (all classes), not each class – this is a problem because Google imports them all as one calendar, with all tasks in the same color regardless of which class it is. I wanted a separate Google calendar for each class. Luckily, I was able to solve this for Canvas by exporting each course’s calendar from Student View, as recommended by Chris Long in the Canvas Community. There is no way to do this for Moodle, but it didn’t matter, because both sections are of the same class and on the same calendar.

Now I have all tasks in one place, accessible on my phone or on computer.

I’ve never not used a paper calendar of some kind (yes, I know, call me steampunky), so we’ll see how it goes.

Canvas But Cool: Embedding Announcements

I hope to start a series of posts here on things I’m doing in Canvas, but that are cool anyway. Some will be workarounds, some ideas for making things look better, some techniques born out of utter frustration.

None will be as brilliant as what Laura Gibbs is doing at the University of Oklahoma  – she’s got LOL Cats rotating through her Canvas pages using a cool javascript. But her work inspires me and encourages me to find things that are Canvas…But Cool.

My first concerns Announcements. In Moodle (many of my posts will start “In Moodle”, an approach dreaded by many in the Canvas Community) I could just paste Announcements in at the top of the main page, and copy or adapt them into Latest News for instant emailing to all. In Canvas, the Announcements page is decidedly a separate thing. If I don’t want announcements to be the main Home page, they won’t be obvious except by email or other notifications.

But I don’t want to post twice, once in Announcements and once by editing the Home Page. I want the Announcements to dynamically appear on the Home page, where I want them to. So I followed the wonderful instructions posted halfway down this page at the Canvas Community (I’d love to link directly to the post, but you can’t do that there), posted by Sharmaine Regisford with thanks to others.

Instructions:

1. First, post an Announcement in your class (I just did a welcome message).

2. Grab the feed URL for the announcements by going to the Announcements page and right-clicking on the RSS symbol (it won’t be there if you didn’t post a first Announcement).

The URL should end with .atom.

3. Go to FeedWind at http://feed.mikle.com.

4. In the spot, paste in the feed URL.

5. Choose your settings. I like 1 feed height, scrollbar on, autoscroll off, text-only, max length 132 characters.

6. Grab the regular code from the right side, not the iframe code.

7. Start a new text document on your computer and paste the code.

8. Save the file as .html.  

9. Go to Canvas and open Files. Upload the .html file you just created to your Canvas course files. Once it’s there, mouse over the name of it to find the document number – write it down somewhere.

10. Go to the page where you want the Announcements to appear. Switch to HTML editor.

11. Paste this in:

/courses/#######/files/#########/download

In this example the first ####### is your course number and the second ######### is the file number.

The course number is in the URL of your Canvas course:

So for this example, that would be:

/courses/6660/files/57294/download

The result is an iframe on your page that will always show the most recent announcement (so long as you chose that on the settings at FeedWind).

Update: As of this week, Canvas provides the option to add announcements to the top of your home page. Not as pretty, but it works:

You know you’re working in Canvas when…

You start changing the names of assignmentcanvaspss to things like “L1” so you can squeeze the column smaller in the gradebook.

You keep looking for the arrow button on the toolbar because there’s so little available.

You just lost 95% of the custom class syllabus page because you tried to comment out everything after the first week.

You check the boxes on the Import Content page in slow motion because last time you wiped out the whole course.

You search all over the site for the section that lets you allow students to upload files, then find it as an inconspicuous link at the very bottom of the main Settings page.

You look for published images to steal instead of uploading your own because putting in a URL is so much easier than trying to upload, find and embed an image file.canvaslinks

Your idea of hell becomes a place where you’re faced with a list of dark green hyperlinks.

You stop allowing revisions of anything in a forum because SpeedGrader makes finding them impossible.

You give up on the idea of trying to link to a specific post in a forum because it’s too complicated.

You get an eye doctor appointment to deal with not being able to see the blue “unread” dots in the forums.

You spend time on support with your ISP trying to figure out how to create secure web pages so they can be embedded, only to find that the javascript you have on that page won’t work when embedded anyway.

You give up trying to embed SSL web pages and let everything link out.

You get a bad sprain from overusing the scroll wheel.

You start creating things inside the system even though you know better.

You think of the tasks of your life in terms of “Previous” and “Next”.

canvasnext

Perils of the OEI Rubric

As you may know, our campus is going over to Canvas from a two-LMS system (Blackboard in house, Moodle outsourced). I have, of course, deep concerns about Canvas as an LMS. But it isn’t just Canvas. It is Canvas sponsored by the state of California through their Online Education Initiative. Back in April, I commented on that arrangement. While I have discussed at my college how it’s being implemented, I haven’t posted on it yet.

Although not required at this time for the colleges adopting the free state-sponsored Canvas, there is a rubric and a review team for any course that will be offered on the “exchange”. The ultimate goal is to have any California community college online class count for credit at any other, a goal I have supported since, oh, 1998.

The 2015 rubric is hereoeichunked, and has been implemented fiercely. I have already spoken with faculty who have been told that the materials they set up for sound pedagogical reasons will not do — they must be changed to provide students simpler, clearer pathways and simple downloadable materials. The intent is clearly to reduce the complexity of all online classes in order for them to be seen as “excellent” by OEI.

Complexity, of course, may be a pedagogical goal in itself. Pathways to learning are not always in straight lines, either in education or in the working world. Exploration may need to be encouraged. Perhaps the instructor doesn’t want to provide too much guidance, in order to force discovery.

In some cases cognitive dissonance is being confused with cognitive overload. If a student has to click around to find something, this may cause some frustration but it may also created learning. Learning is not clean – it is messy.

Having gotten some pushback, OEI is now revising that rubric. But it isn’t really any better. Here is my annotation of that rubric (my comments are in the right-hand column). At this point, they seem to be only taking internal feedback, so all I can really do is post it here.

Some faculty are going ahead and doing whatever they want, and their dedication to offering their course on the exchange is admirable. Enforced pedagogy, however, is not my style.

The Monsters of Canvas

Goya, The Sleep of Reason Begents Monsters (1798)

Francisco Goya, The Sleep of Reason Begets Monsters (1798)

 

We all know that in any system, there are things that go wrong or are difficult to use. We all know people who love their previous LMS, and will hate whatever they’re forced to change to. We all know that learning curves are something we need to ride, trying not to fall off. We journey on…

But occasionally a system begets monsters.

Here are some of the early monsters of Canvas, and the brutality committed to your hard work:

Code Stripping Beast – If Canvas doesn’t like your code, your Javascript or your HTML commenting, it strips it. Other LMSs do that too. But Canvas is monstrous in that it eats everything within your naive HTML commenting, deleting the content between the tags. There is no warning that it will do this.

Quiz Question Ogre  – If you change a question in a Question Bank, it does not change the questions in any quizzes you’ve created. You might not know this, and go blithely along thinking it has.

Disappearance Dragon – Things other than code mysteriously disappear. If you’ve created a page and linked it on other pages, and you change the page’s name, Canvas can no longer find the file. After a few minutes, neither can you.

Structural Cyclops – Canvas is myopic about its own structure. If you page through a Module using “Next”, which is clearly intended as the default navigation, Canvas does not understand when the Module is done. It just continues into the next Module with no warning, necessitating that you design some form of “Start of Week x” and “End of Week x” pages to alert students so they know they’re done.

Transport Troll – You cannot move select items from one Canvas course into another, like the rubric you just spent three hours developing, or those “End of Week x” pages you made for each week. You have to remake rubrics for each course until you have it set to be saved for just that course. (Update: if both courses are within the same Canvas install, you can import particular content from another course – just don’t every use Export unless you want the whole course, and beware of the Set-Up Siren!)

Set-up Siren – Canvas seduces you with the idea that it can import. But it cannot import individual items you need, like that quiz set you backed up from another LMS.  Without any warning (something like “if you import, everything you’ve done will be erased”), it wipes out everything except its own content when you import, despite the deceptive list of imports implying you can do it more than once.

I’m sure I will find more of these in my Odyssey, a journey in a ship with sails made of Canvas.

Grade work, not students

It seems like a technology thing, but it isn’t. Of Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas, only Moodle lets you grade posts, not students.

Bb and Canvas both let you use rubrics/ratings to grade discussions, but both want to grade by student rather than post. Canvas even forces you into one grade per student, regardless of how often they posted.

This is a perfect example of bad pedagogy embedded in the technology. It’s based on the idea of grading students, because students get the grades.

But I don’t grade students — I grade work. In forums for posting primary sources, I rate each source, using qualitative scales — primary source fulfilled, live link needed, full citation needed, etc. These correspond to number grades that go to the Gradebook, but what the student sees is the comment, indicating which corrections they need to make.

And in Moodle I can grade them all with drop downs, because a single, simple forum is all on one page. Super quick.

Bb and Canvas’ insistence on grading per student means several clicks per student, per class, every week, for every source posted. Bad pedagogy, bad workflow.

Perhaps if these LMSs considered that we were grading work rather than students, it wouldn’t be designed like this. When a student asks “did you grade me down?” or “when you grade me, remember I have four classes”, I always point out that I never grade them, only their work.

How did we get to a place where the default is to grade students? Is it our educational culture, associating a person’s work with who they are? Surely that’s a bad idea. When we conflate a person with their work, we imply that their work is not only a product of themselves, it is their self. Every critique become a critique of the self.

We mustn’t embed bad ideas into immutable systems. Really.

 

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 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.