Mass producing instructions

One of the most annoying things about teaching many sections using an LMS is that instructions must be repeated in so many places. Partly this is because people forget from one week to the next what the instructions are, so proximity of instructions to a specific task is necessary. And we all know that students do better when instructions are repeated and reminded in at least three places.

But what happens when you want to change instructions for a particular kind of assignment?

For example, I have a set of writing instructions, one each for Writing Assignments I, II, and III. When I want to change instructions for these, I have to go into Canvas and change them one at a time. Well, that’s only three sets of instructions each for five classes, and I can cut and paste.

But I realized I wanted to change instructions for a weekly assignment, my annotation discussion. That’s 16 times for each class. I wanted all of them changed to say:

Let’s add depth to our sources, and help everyone understand them. Some ideas for how to do this:

  • at least one person should highlight the thesis or main point of each document, or speculate on what it might be if it isn’t obvious
  • post a question or two where appropriate in the document (use the question mark on your comment, or use @ to get someone’s attention)
  • answer the questions of others
  • select something you found confusing or fascinating, look it up, and tell us about what you found
  • find aspects of the primary source that seem to connect to the textbook and lecture, and tell us how they connect
  • use the picture tool to add visual sources or illustrate a point

Since this is a discussion, entries which respond, enlighten, or clarify earn more points (the phrase “I agree” is specifically disallowed!).

Comments need not be long – it’s more important to annotate throughout the document (with comments in many different areas throughout the various documents), discuss with colleagues, and make connections.

So I started doing that for 16 weeks of discussion in a course, copying and pasting for each instance. When I was done, I had to do it for the next class, and suddenly I thought, wait a minute. Why not use a web page and embed it? So I made a web page with the instructions in Dreamweaver. Then I pasted this code in the Canvas assignment:

<p><iframe src=”https://lisahistory.net/pages/docdisc.htm” width=”90%” height=”360px”></iframe></p>

I can embed it anywhere, even here:

The reason to do this isn’t just to save pasting something 16 times, since I still have to paste this 16 times. But I only have to change it 16 times once, if you follow me. If my instructions change next semester (or if I decide I forgot to add something now), I just change it on the web page, and it changes everywhere. So I’m doing it for all instructions for all assignments.

*Now, to do this sort of thing exactly as I did, you need to make a web page and serve it. But you could do it in a Google Doc, and have Google serve it for you, by sharing your Doc and using the code I shared in my recent post, which looks the same but with a Google Doc URL, like this:

<iframe src=”https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VPObOkwoBVM5GVXgXCbdKU48Cs_ZRnS-ZJLIpZYMNJE/edit?usp=sharing?embedded=true&rm=minimal&headers=false” width=”99%” height=”360px”></iframe>

I just don’t like it because you can’t really prevent scrolling easily.

Embedding Google Doc in Canvas with extras

Last year I began creating all my syllabuses in Google Docs and embedding them in Canvas.

It was possible then to just take the URL of your Doc, and put it into an iframe, with any extras you like. I liked to remove the ruler and navigation at the top of the Doc (rm=minimal), remove the headers (headers=false) and set the width and height (width 99%, height 1200px). It was working fine, and looked like this:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/165o30E5jiFE2zUBecH6kZL3D3eTs3Dnmal8K80P8bvY/edit?rm=minimal&headers=false" width="99%" height="1200px"></iframe>

Well, now something (Canvas or Google) won’t let that happen, and you must follow the instructions for publishing your Doc to the web. Here are instructions from Tufts. Trouble is, that gives you the set iframe code to paste in, but you don’t have the extras. So here’s how I added them.

What Google publishing gave me was this:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vSpS0g-4SIpMzCvSRpukiKFPX5T5PDh9Xv9uo_8d3bNyBQ5ZodmqnYoRKjTFIaZQpqr8F9yJbnVlaj-/pub?embedded=true"></iframe>

Here are the changes I made:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vSpS0g-4SIpMzCvSRpukiKFPX5T5PDh9Xv9uo_8d3bNyBQ5ZodmqnYoRKjTFIaZQpqr8F9yJbnVlaj-/pub?embedded=true&rm=minimal&headers=false" width="99%" height="1200px"></iframe>

Unfortunately, this wasn’t good because “publishing” a Doc in Google freezes it somehow, and doesn’t always include the images or proper formatting. Also, I couldn’t edit the Doc from inside Canvas, which is nice to be able to do.

The better solution was to use Share rather than Publish. In the Doc, click on Share, and copy the “get shareable link” URL. Then put it into the iframe code:

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MN8nGYzZvXOmOmfAPvfkAzPTm82bz1VFVpUiiI55xlc/edit?usp=sharing?embedded=true&rm=minimal&headers=false" width="99%" height="1200px"></iframe>

 

 

I also provide a link, of course, for easier printing.

 

(Updated post)

 

Standardizing what’s good

Every October, I work on my classes for next term. Partly this is because the spring schedule comes out the third week of the month, and partly because October has always been particularly difficult for morale and motivation (mine as well as the students’). I’m not sure why. Could be the lack of any real holiday except Halloween (Columbus Day is tainted and it was never a day off anyway), or just mid-term blues.

That’s my excuse anyway, since I’m not supposed to be doing this till after my sabbatical is over. But I am still doing my reading and research. Prepping is more like a break, because mostly what I’m doing is changing settings rather than creating things. It turns me into a non-thinking machine, changing hundreds of due dates and adding lots of links (why aren’t we at a place where I can assign this to someone?). Definitely mindless.

I’ve decided I like the sources and readings for my classes, I like my lectures, so no changes are needed. But at the end of last term, I added two elements to my weekly coursework for two of my classes, then tested again for three this summer. These elements are “Check primary source for points” and “Submit lecture notes”.

So once I’m done, the weekly tasks for each class I teach online will be this:

  • Due Wednesday:
    • Read the textbook
    • Read/listen to lecture
    • Research and post primary source
    • Check primary source for points
  • Due Sunday:
    • Read and discuss the documents
    • Submit lecture notes
    • Quiz

In addition, for the first two weeks there are multi-pages quizzed Learning Units about primary sources. And, three times during the semester, there are Learning Units for the next writing assignment followed by the assignment itself. Writing Assignments are based only on the sources that have been posted in the Boards by the class, and have a scaffolded format that I created myself, so they are difficult if not impossible to purchase or plagiarize. The Final Essay, for the full-term sessions, is based on the third writing assignment, and folds into the grading for Writing Assignments.

“Read the textbook” is linked to the actual textbook pages, except for the one class where I’m still using a purchased book.

“Read/listen to lecture” is linked to my online lectures, hosted on my rented server, which contain audio of me reading the lecture, video clips, etc.

“Research and post primary source” is the laboratory type posting, on a discussion board, of visual primary sources students find on the web, with citations and student commentary.

“Check primary source for points” is a one-question quiz checklist of all the things required for full points on a primary source (image, author, title, date, live link, commentary), so it’s a self-evaluation of their own source, instantly graded.

“Read and discuss the documents” is annotating the assigned textual sources using Perusall inside Canvas as an LTI, which assigns points automatically but I do have to check through all of them and make sure they’re right.

“Submit lecture notes” automatically assigns 2 points when they submit them, and they can be in any format, including images of handwritten notes.

“Quiz” is a multiple-choice quiz based on lecture, documents, and textbook readings.

The grading breakdown is:

Read and discuss the documents 20%
Quizzes 20%
Primary Sources 20%
Lecture Notes 10%
Learning Units 10%
Writing Assignments 20%

Right now, the only class that varies from this is the one US History where I have full discussion. In that class, it’s:

Homework 20%
Lecture notes 20%
Writing Assignments 20%
Discussion 20%
Constitution exercise 10%
Final Essay 10%

The pedagogy, briefly, is based on emphasizing task completion, with grading considerations as secondary. Each individual assignment is low stakes, though with only three or four writing assignments, the stakes are higher for putting all the knowledge together. Assignments that can be graded immediately (quizzes, learning unit knowledge checks self-assessed primary source points, lecture notes) are, so that students can get immediate feedback (yes, I reserve the right to change points if there are inaccuracies or instructions aren’t followed). The addition of lecture notes and self-assessed primary source points adds a metacognitive learning aspect. The work of doing history is engaged in multiple ways, including reading, writing, discovery, sharing, and visual analysis.

Student choice is built in, in several ways. Students choose their own primary sources to post, and their own topics for writing assignments. They can choose which days they work, so long as deadlines are met (each unit opens a week in advance). Lecture note format is up to them, to meet their own note-taking style. Since each individual item is low points, they can choose to miss one or two without it doing serious grade damage. Two attempts are given for self-graded items, so they can go back and correct something without penalty.

My role is guide on the side, in the middle, at the front, and in the end. Instead of grading constantly, I spend my time reading their notes, viewing their posted primary sources, answering questions, writing weekly or twice-weekly communications, conversing with students in the Perusall annotations, and yes, grading their writing assignments. I have had no complaints about how much work the courses are, since most of the things I’m requesting (like lecture notes) are common to on-site classes. Some students appreciate the trust, and the autodidactic opportunities. Others appreciate that I’m there for them, and respond quickly to their individual messages. (On this, I’ve decided that students want the individual approach, but not necessarily for class content – rather they want it for their individual problems and issues, most of which have nothing to do with the subject. My method leaves time for that.) And I can grade more generously, because the point is to do the work, be the historian, rather than show me you’re good enough to do history without me.

There is also something interesting about having the courses this structured. The course itself seems to be its own entity, has its own trajectory and completeness. It is almost like it’s me, the students, and the course. The students and I interact with the course together, instead of the course acting as a weapon with which I beat students using grades. This goes along with the LMS (Canvas – blech), which the students and I can work in (and on, when things go wrong) together — it’s them and me against the system.

So although on the one hand I don’t like the idea of standardizing courses, in this case I’m standardizing what’s good, what works, what meets my pedagogical goals. I am free to change readings, lectures, materials, instructions, at any time. After 20 years of building these courses, I think I’m onto something less subject to the vagaries of passing fads (personalized learning, individual learning styles), dangerous web spaces (MOOCs, open education), and changing jargon (student learning outcomes, guided pathways), and more founded in solid pedagogy.

 

 

Getting a list of all my Google Books

Just like the old days, a blog post dedicated to helping me remember how to do something.

I have a lot of research material in Google Books, mostly free books from the 19th century, and some pretty obscure titles. Many I’ve been able to download as pdfs. But I wanted a list of all my books in one category (Google calls them bookshelves), and it would only show me 10 at a time.

Well I don’t want to Next, Next, Next. So I did the old-fashioned thing and looked closely at the URL. And there it was, the number of entries:

 

I changed this from 10 to 100 and got them all.

Voilà.

 

The nostalgia of moving . . . hosts

Yes, it’s finally time to move. No, not my real-world house, but my server. Yes, I know it’s a rental, but…

I’ve been at Lunarpages since 2004. That’s a long time. And in that time, Lunarpages has gone from a groovy startup where you could call and get a person, to a business-centered company where they give you grief about SSL. And yell at you when someone hacks your blog. It got so bad I had to move to WordPress.com, so that tells you something.

In the meantime, my online colleagues Jim Groom and Tim Owens (I think I met them online back in the early CCK08 and first-run ds106 days?) started Reclaim Hosting. Faculty and student focused, Reclaim has provided excellent service to many, but I couldn’t move until I knew for sure that my students wouldn’t need access during the changeover. My sabbatical starts Friday – the time is now.

What do I use rented space on a server for? Well, everything, judging by my account stats. I have 31 MySQL databases, 6 subdomains, 5 FTP accounts. I’ve downloaded dozens of scripts, and many versions of Moodle, and run them. Not to mention the 23 GB of files. But this is exactly what needs mentioning.

You know how people downsize their dwelling as they get older? Time to downsize. The web has matured, not always in ways I approve of. And my college had gone over to Canvas, which I don’t approve of either. As the world cares less about creative ways to do things, I find that most of my files are no longer used. Broadband speeds have increased so much that my zillions of .mov files, painstakingly compressed to make them work on dialup modems, then digitized, then ripped from digital, then compressed more mildly – this has left trails of media files. Do I use any of them? No – everything now streams from YouTube or Vimeo.

Here’s a sample of just one lecture file from just one class of my six classes:

This is a lecture on the High Middle Ages (a great era for technology – come take my class!). The top file is the online lecture. The second one is text for a page that opens with a mouseover image, the manor map .png. Then there are my original audio files of me reading this lecture, recorded long ago as aiff and compressed through some antique application that no longer exists to make them .mov. There’s a poster image for a media file (took hours to make in my old freeware gif program) that now plays on YouTube, and then the most nostalgic item of all: the redplay.mov file. It’s a button that when you press it, the lecture audio file plays. I have red ones for this class, blue ones for others, and I made them myself by stealing a graphic and using code I learned from a book called Quicktime for the Web. (You can also see .mp3 files I made later, but my old Mac was acting up and used the origin dates.)

Good times, man. The old days, when I was up half the night learning media compression and stealing bits of code from various places, including printed books. When my HTML for Dummies book got worn out from use. Before Google, before learning management systems. Back when on the internet no one could tell you were a woman, or a non-coder, or just a historian who never really liked computers but was determined to teach online and do it well, reducing the “distance”. A time when I’d install programs from Fantastico to try polls and self-grading quizzes, when I could learn just enough Javascript to make stuff happen, cobbled together my own web pages with cool embedded stuff, having no idea what the hell I was doing, and later when I hacked Dreamweaver and WordPress. When students said, “wow! this is a cool class! all my others are just text”.

Nowadays, the databases don’t operate anymore because most of them were Moodle and Lunarpages gave me so much grief about Chinese hackers that I disabled them all. I no longer use all the cool apps I can run on the server, because Canvas won’t serve scripts that are inside of html pages. After two years trying to hack Canvas, I know what can be done, and none of it requires programs I run on my own.

So although Reclaim can migrate all my stuff over, for free, I’m saying no thanks. I’ve got only 10 GB on the Reclaim plan, but these days that should be plenty. So I’m spending a few days moving those old files out of the folders, and I’ll get it all under 10 GB (8 really) or bust. It’s an opportunity to pack up the stuff and put it in storage on a hard drive, upload everything and check it, decide whether I want to start up databases to run old stuff or just let my work (POT certificate classes, Moodle classes, old web pages) just fall off the Internet. It’s all backed up. I think I’ll let it stay that way.

The ed tech dream is dead

As if regular old political news weren’t bad enough, we must make connections between the behemoths of technology and the decline of enthusiasm for web-based educational technology and online learning in general. The conclusions are not inspiring.

As you know if you read my blog, I essentially gave up on web-based apps for my students a couple of years ago, and have moved all my class activity to the Canvas system or a Canvas-based LTI within that system (with the exception of one Honors blog).

As the author of Insidious Pedagogy, this has been a painful, soul-searching path leading to closing my classes. Since the beginnings (I started teaching online in 1998), I have encouraged faculty to put their pedagogy first, to find ways to force the technologies to do what you want. As an early fan of pedagogies that emphasize constructivism and connectivism, I have experimented with many formats (contract grading, connectivist learning, open blogging). If you’ve heard of Ning, Glogster, Dellicious, Blip,tv, Blabberize, Elgg, Eyejot, GoAnimate, Lingr, Mind42, MyPlick, Overstream, Plotagon, Plupper, Screenr, Slideshare, Trialmeme, and Posterous, you have some idea of what I’ve tried.

My college went over to Canvas in the wave of California Community Colleges who’d been made an offer we couldn’t refuse. As California began to standardize its online college education, mass media began to cover the concerns I’d had all along about student privacy and exposure in online environments. I no longer had any arguments to answer those who objected to students working on the open web, even as the web was closing.

So whatever else Facebook and Google have done (and none of it struck me as exceptional or unusual), they have underlined my concerns about students working openly, and undermined public confidence in living portions of our lives on the web. We were so concerned about not being sold by Learning Management Systems that we were sold by the very providers who gave us freedom.

Educators who persist in using social media for the classes are not just outliers in ed tech anymore – they are now collaborators in the dissemination and sale of student information and data. Stalwarts who object to online teaching and web-based learning can now say, “see? it isn’t safe!” Anything not in a protected, encrypted, controlled system is rightly suspect.

We’ve lost, and to me that has meant not only abandoning my own open classwork and my own research in educational trends but a return to subversion inside the system.

My pedagogical focus now is creating encouraging environments and meaningful tasks for students that take advantage of system-based automation while allowing for freedom of pursuits. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in ed tech — Canvas forces me to take my place as a nobody functionary, a foot soldier following orders, with limited creativity and continual frustration. It’s one of the worst LMSs ever created, with a “community” deluded into thinking we help improve it. When my head is flat from pounding it against Canvas walls, I try to remind myself it’s like making a movie during the Hays Code.

But doing anything else isn’t moving forward.

Research/writing workflow

Yet another post recording a workflow so that I don’t forget what I decided to do!

This time I’ve had serious help from my brilliant friend and colleague Jenny Mackness, who generously shared with me the tools she uses (and how she uses them) in writing research articles, including PBworks, Word, Mendeley, and Evernote.

It was only as I investigated and tried these, thinking about her workflow and constantly reminding myself what task(s) I was trying to accomplish, that I realized something about doing research in the information age (or whatever the hell we’ll call this).

What we used to need to write research papers was:

1. bibliography cards for recording references (3 x 5)
2. note cards for recording one idea/note/quotation each (4 x 6)
3. notepads for outlining and brainstorming
4. more notepads for composition
5. typewriter/electronic typewriter/word processor/word-processing program on computer for formatting and final copy

Turns out the process hasn’t changed, just the technology. I think I’m going with:

1. Paperpile for bibliography
I’ve actually paid for this, and I rarely pay for anything. It’s a database where you either enter the bibliographic information or it figures it out from an uploaded PDF (which it actually uploads to Google Drive, not itself). You can annotate the PDF files and add notes to them, but I’ve found this only works well for recent articles. I’m using a lot of stuff from the 1880s, and those PDFs don’t do so well because the program does not OCR. The annotations and notes export, but not in a usable way. So I have quite a few articles where I likely won’t use the notes, but the highlighting is helpful. The best thing is that it integrates for footnoes in Google Docs. The other best thing is that it outputs bibliographies with multiple citation formats.

2. Google Keep for notecards
I’ve gone round and round on this, looking for something that tiles notecards on the screen, and makes them searchable. I tried Evernote again, and still don’t get how to see all the info at once. The main issue is integration between the notes and whatever program I use for composition. I looked at several other programs also, desperate to not go with Google. I know it’s likely Google Keep will disappear, since it’s “below the fold” on the Google menu, so this decision was influenced by #4, below.

3. PBworks for outlining
Jenny taught me that the old Peanut Butter Wiki is still around and handy. Here I can put research notes (not content, but process), library holdings lists, plans for articles, basic outlines, links to all the Google Docs (including the pdfs being used by Paperpile) and other stuff online that I might need.

4. Google Docs for composition
It’s the equivalent of those legal pads (I actually used letter-sized lined glued pads, and still do). Because of its integration with Paperpile, and the ease of writing from any of my four (!) computers, it’s the logical choice.

5. Word for formatting
It seems so bizarre that computing hasn’t saved a single step in the old research process, but it hasn’t. Word is crap at all the other processes here except composition, but I’d have to go all Microsoft to get another suite together, and, frankly, they wanted my cell phone number to give me that with OneNote and OneDrive (no). Several journals and conferences want submissions in .docx, and I’ve been using Word since before version 5.1a for Mac (the best version ever). Now if I could just get those citations from Paperpile to come through Google Docs in black instead of gray….

The biggest challenge will be backup (for the work, not for me, although that would be nice). PBworks is best at this – you can back up (export) the whole wiki in html with two clicks. Google, of course, does not want you backing up to your hard drive – it wants you cloud-dependent. So remembering to back up composition Docs as I go is a thing, but I managed it on my recent presentation so I think I can do it. Google Keep backup is awkward at best – you basically have to put them in a Doc and export to get anything usable. But at least a Doc can be exported as plain text.

So, now to work…

The electronic frontier is closed

With the death of John Perry Barlow, it is time to start writing the history of the open web.

Usually, historians are poor analysts of current events, and poor predictors of the future. Just look at Woodrow Wilson, idealistically trying to build a world of peace after the Great War. One of the problems is that we cannot write the history until something ends*. It is too soon, for example, to write the history of school shootings in America, or of post-rational politics. We are in the middle of these things.

In 1893 at an American Historical Association conference, Frederick Jackson Turner announced the end of the frontier. In his view, the “wild west” was over. The western frontier had served as an escape valve throughout American history, providing a place for dreamers and those who just didn’t fit in to start a new life, take their chances. But gradually the frontier was contained, mapped by geographers, fenced by ranchers, crossed by railroads. And while imperialists might use Turner’s proclamation to support their own internationally expansionist goals, the point was that the wild west was done, and therefore it was time to write its history.

So now it is time to write the history of the open internet, the electronic frontier, as Barlow called it. As in the wild west, the freedom that marked the early web would be contained, civilized, and gradually controlled by commercial and government interests. As it closed, the shift in the nature of the space gave birth to new threats. Where on the open web bad disruptors were restrained by the community, commercial spaces made possible abuses never seen before, and controlled by no one. From trolls to cyberhacking to international meddling in elections, the enclosed spaces themselves gave rise to horrors.

In its obituary of Barlow, The Economist quoted from his 1996 “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” :

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather…I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us.

Sometimes historians get to experience historical change themselves. While never a computer expert, I learned in the 1980s the mysteries of ProDOS and the Apple IIe. To me, computers were only sophisticated word processors, each generation enabling me to correct errors and write faster. Using Netscape in the late 1990s, I began teaching history on the wild web, grading assignments by email and posting lectures in HTML that I learned from a book.

In education, the wild west began to diminish with the advent of the learning management system, and I spent the next dozen years or so fighting to keep online college classes free of the imposed pedagogy inherent in these systems, even as I learned to use them myself. I also dreamed that the artisan way of doing things would survive the growth of mechanized online teaching. Blackboard and now Canvas are the educational equivalents of Facebook and Google – entities that began with a worthy goal but now manage information in controlled commercial spaces. And, as with the web in general, this control paradoxically encourages the worst elements to emerge. College courses, for so many students the opportunity to think freely, now feature a level of standardization and accountability that Henry Ford would have envied.

I still believe, like Barlow, that the freer the space, the less opportunity there is for abusing our fellow human beings. But all that has passed. It is time now to write the history of the web that was open to all, when everything was possible, where the disembodied voice spoke to a world that wanted to listen and learn. Historians take dreams and wrap them up, explaining events in a way that gives meaning and context. So this is a wrap: the electronic frontier is closed.

*Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France may be the one exception to this rule.

Roll call in Canvas

For the first week in every online class, I have an introductory discussion forum. I’ve done many things here (asked for students to talk about themselves, respond to a news story, or discuss videos on being a college student) but the point is for me to know they are actively in the class, that I don’t need to drop them as “no show”s.

The law says that signing in to an online class is not “attendance” – they need to do something. So this is what they do.

rollcall

Since it’s not something I grade, I have had it set up as a forum, and I left unchecked the Graded box. Then this morning, I realized that to contact the students who haven’t posted (it’s due yesterday, the first day of the 8-week term), I’d need to print my roster and mark it manually, or write down the names of the students who hadn’t posted.

Instead, I went back in to the forum, checked “Graded”, made it 0 points, had it graded as Complete/Incomplete, and set the deadline for last night. Then I could go to the dropdown in the Gradebook and message the students who hadn’t done it, all at once.

messagestudentswho

Of course, I also then need to use Speedgrader to mark each one Complete, since Canvas doesn’t really understand what Complete/Incomplete means, or it would mark it automatically. But still, it’s better than manually tracking students!

Canvas and the Impossible Journal

Canvas, of course, does not have x.  In this case, x is a blog or journaling or portfolio function.

Yes, I know you can LTI this, but those never work like they’re supposed to.

Now, if Canvas had real threads, I could use a threaded discussion, with each student controlling their own topic. But Canvas doesn’t have this x either. To do everyone’s journaling on one discussion would thus mean scrolling for days and days…

So, instead, I tried creating a forum for each student, to act as their own space (it’s for an Honors class, so 25 students – not too bad). Then I realized to grade them in Speed(!)Grader would mean opening them one at a time. Every week or so. Ugh.

Second attempt. Create one big forum and but have groups. Put one student per group, and have all the other students peer grade. That way, each student can post on their own, but everyone can still see the posts and comment.

The wonderful Laura Paciorek helped me test it. We became students. Posting to our own forums as our own group went fine. But when we tried to peer grade, we got “unauthorized” warnings when we clicked on anything to see it. And after this humiliation, we were returned to the “group” site, which had its own Home (and everything else) links on the menu — students would be completely lost and unable to get back to the main course page.

I considered peer grading as assignments, but assignments are one-shot deals – you can’t keep going back and adding more, making a portfolio.

I considered each student having their own Page, but you can’t grade Pages, and it’s incredibly easy to wipe out everything on a Page accidentally (been there, done that).

So reluctantly, I checked out Google (OK Google, fix Canvas). Canvas is supposed to be Google-friendly: the Canvas’ “Collaborate” function is a Google Doc, intended to be a single Doc that all students can edit. But I’ve done my research and I know that multiple students working on the same Doc can easily erase each others’ work, because Canvas isn’t Google and can’t actually enable multiple editors at once. Great idea – get a bunch of people already tentative about collaborative editing to engage that little problem!

The Collaboration difficulty was confirmed by the post that gave me my final idea (so far), from Chris Long over at the K-12 Canvas forum: use Google Docs as URL assignments.

So the plan is:

  • Have each student set up their own Google Doc as their journal. It’s one page but if they mess up, they can use the revision history to go back.
  • Assign “journal checks” (I think I’ll make the dates random) where they submit the URL as an assignment. I can use SpeedGrader to see, comment, and grade them all quickly. Laura and I tested and the worst thing that can happen is you have to open a new tab.

Now, the community/peer part. Two options here.

1) I can have these journal check assignments peer reviewed. We tried that, and it’s nice because I can see all the peer review comments in Speed Grader. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to track the peers doing the reviewing.

2) Second option is to have them just comment on each others’ Google Docs. I won’t see this in SpeedGrader, but I could manually grade them a few times during the semester as some kind of participation grade, or use a quiz and have them submit the top five comments they felt were most useful to others (Laura’s using this trick for collaborative note-sharing on a Doc, so I stole it from here).

I’ll keep working on this, but, as Laura pointed out, it’s bizarre to go to all this trouble. Canvas should have a blogging/journaling feature. Canvas should have an option for real threaded discussion. Canvas should have . . .oh, never mind.

UPDATE: 

Laura discovered ePortfolios, which I hadn’t seen because it isn’t in the Canvas course – it resides in the user’s Profile, in the level above the course (like the Inbox). While not as simple as Google, it has its own URL and doesn’t need a separate login.

My use of it would be similar, except that students cannot comment inside each others’ ePortfolio. So I would use a Discussion to ask for a report, and each student would need to post the URL for their portfolio for each check. It would then be an extra click in Speedgrader to grade each one, and I would have to grade students’ own portfolio and their comments on others’ portfolios together, instead of separately.

Tutorials like this one would be needed. And, as with all things Canvas, very specific instructions would need to be given, to dumb down everything as effectively as possible. But ePortfolio allows images and (some) embeddings, and despite its hierarchy (Portfolio – Section – Page) might still work. Thanks, Laura!