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.

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