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.

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!

POTLuck Cookbook is here!

The POTLuck Cookbook, full of great ideas for online teaching, is available in print from the PDP Office.

Or you can download it here.

Last year’s publication of Pedagogy First!, our blog post collection of even more great ideas, can be downloaded here. There are still some copies left in the PDP office if you grab them!

Videos on pedagogy

Some of our favorite pedagogy videos from POT:



Student readiness multimedia

The following multimedia units for students can be linked from online classes. For more information, see the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Online Education Initiative Student Readiness website, which also includes some mini-quizzes.

01-Introduction to Online Learning View
02-Getting Tech Ready View
03-Organizing for Online Success View
04-Online Study Skills and Managing Time View
05-Communication Skills for Online Learning View
06-Online Reading Strategies View
07-Accessing Your Online Courses View

Looking to get an online teaching certificate this year?

We’ve added these to the Cool Tools List page:

Focus on teaching

Welcome to the POT website (we have moved to If you’ve been here before, you might be looking for our resources. They are still here, under the “Resources” and “Tutorials” menus above. 

From March-June 2015, this website hosted Pedagogy First!, featuring a number of authors writing posts about teaching using technology. We featured posts by experienced online instructors, those using technology in their classrooms, and leaders in the field. You can read all the posts here

Beginning July 2015, we will continue to publish posts focused on online pedagogy.

Subscribing to our site will bring these posts directly to your email.

Encouraging Community Online

Rachèle DeMéo, MiraCosta College (French)

As an online student, it can be challenging to feel part of the “classroom”. I can identify as a student–one of my two Master degrees was completely online. But I can also identify as an instructor. So what are some ways to keep our students feeling a part of a community in our online classes?

Here are some ways I believe we can help our students to create a community online.

As a student

Something I make my students do the first week of our semester together is to pair up with another student to practice weeklyCapture d’écran 2015-04-08 à 15.50.24 I teach French (I’m originally from the South of France) and practicing a language is essential in learning it. So based on their usual weekly schedule, students pick a time/day that usually works for them and they can either meet in person or via Skype to practice.  Weekly, I provide them with a prompt so they can know what they need to practice (which correlates to our lesson).

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They also have to jot down the time/day they practiced and provide me with other details.

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The Discussion Board on Blackboard is a great way to keep our students feeling involved in our online community. I’ve seen instructors use the Discussion Board in a variety of ways to keep students plugged in (pun intended) to their classrooms. Here are some of the ways I personally use Blackboard.

At the beginning of the semester, I ask students to introduce themselves and include a picture or avatar. I ask a few more things based on their level, modeling it by introducing myself first.

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Throughout the semester I’ll create different posts (not an overload, but a few) such as asking them what their hobbies are. By seeing their classmates’ hobbies, they can connect outside the classroom (and hopefully speak/text/email in French together!).

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Mid-Terms are another way to get the entire classroom to get to know one another. I assign them with a Group project and then they have to comment on one another’s presentations.

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Throughout the semester I encourage them to do activities with their classmates, outside of the classroom setting. I inform them about upcoming local events (relating to the French language) they might want to attend.

I also recommend they form study groups (based on their location) so they can study together.


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As an instructor

Something I saw demonstrated so well by my (absolutely amazing) grad Professor (Dr. Beth Ackerman) was to personally reach out to students. I believe it’s important we show we genuinely care about their success but also about them as a person. Writing a short email asking how they are doing, can help create that community we are looking for.  I will also email them if they are missing assignments or have been “absent” online for a while (they might have something going on at home that I should be aware of). Since we can’t always sense the “tone” (or see any facial expressions) in an email I always try my best to sound understanding, professional and personal. I make it a point to respond to emails as soon as I can (usually 2-3 business days). It helps me create a relationship with each individual student.

I encourage them to sign-up for my office hours. I use SignUpGenius to schedule my office hours. I give them the option to meet in person (on campus) or via Skype. I tell my online students that I’d love to meet them in person.

Half-way through the semester, I have them take an oral exam with me (instead of with a classmate). This gives me an opportunity to “meet” them (online or in person). It also makes it less intimidating for them when we have our final oral exam together.

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Weekly, I create short videos to give them announcements and introduce the new week ahead.

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I send out announcements (sent directly to their email inbox) several times a week. I’ll keep them updated on what I have graded (I try to grade any submitted work within 1-2 weeks), let them know of any important assignments coming up and give them additional resources, tools, etc.

To me those are small ways to keep students in our online class feeling part of the community of our classroom.


Finally, I’d like to take a moment to thank two wonderful Professors who have helped me in my journey in online teaching: Pilar Hernandez and David Detwiler.

I hope this post was useful to you. Thank you for reading.

Rachele-Web4-Rachèle DeMéo


Snippets, tweets and other desserts

Lisa M Lane

I promise this post will be short.

Perhaps my discontent began with a perfectly innocent study, claiming student satisfaction with short video lectures. Or perhaps it was when I was cruising through Netvibes reading bits of things. Or maybe it was the student in the corner before class, starting the videos of a guy playing guitar, but only listening to the first 30 seconds of each song.

We live in a world of snippets, soundbytes and little pieces. To me, these are dessert, or spice. I like tweets and status updates sprinkled on my daily knowledge. But, to raise the 1980s cliche, where’s the beef?

I had a student last semester get angry at me because she was failing the class, and didn’t seem to know about it until week 12 of 16. I had been giving everyone feedback every week on every little thing. For her, she had failed almost every quiz, I think because she didn’t understand what she was reading. She only answered a question correctly when it was derived from a short snippet of text.

Yes, we know people don’t read full-length articles as much, that movies are getting shorter, that society is either engendering or catering to what they used to call a “short attention span”. We have studies showing multitasking doesn’t work, but those aren’t the ones that worry me. The ones that worry me show that students love snippets, and that the conclusion is we should provide more snippets.

I think it’s bad for anyone’s diet to have all dessert.

More importantly, we are losing the idea of how to put the snippets together into something with meaning. This makes some practice in digital storytelling an essential skill – we must learn to create narrative if nothing else.

But I digress. Or perhaps I’m just done.

The POT Network

Google Sites for Educators: Thursday, 30 October, 2:00 pm – 3:20 pm (OC 4607) – POT Flex Workshop

Google Sites can be useful for instructors in face-to-face and online courses.  If you are interested in learning more about Google Sites and trying them out, please register for and attend the following flex workshop:

Google Sites for Educators: Thursday, 30 October, 2:00 pm – 3:20 pm (OC 4607) – A Program for Online Teaching Workshop
Google Sites is free a free tool that can be helpful for educators in many ways. Come to this workshop to explore how to crea​te a Google Site, add content to the site, customize it to fit your needs, add in other Google applications, and share it with students and others. Creative uses for Google Sites for educators will be explored. Student uses for Google sites will also be explored. This workshop can assist faculty in improving instruction when Google Sites are used to enhance classroom activities. Attendees should have a Google account before arriving at the workshop. To set up a Google account, visit:
You may register for the workshop at our college’s flex website: Go to “My Flex- Manage Your Transcript” to register.  We hope to see you at the workshop!