#TechTipThursday: Canvas tools to assist with retention, Part 1

Following up to last week’s post, ASSESStivus 2020: Key Takeaway, our focus today is on two of the six Canvas features assisting with retention. Coinciding perfectly with our series on designing an inclusive syllabus, this post highlights Canvas as a syllabus tool in our discussion of contact information and communication.

Canvas as a Syllabus Tool

The syllabus is an introduction of your course to your learners and can be used to set a tone for the class. As such, it is important that your syllabus sets the tone you intend. There is often a propensity to think of the syllabus as a “contract” between professor and the student and include extensive lists of “thou shalt nots” throughout the lengthy document. Thinking of one’s syllabus in such transactional terms can limit our ability to reach our students from the beginning. However, when we think of the syllabus as a communication tool intended to provide our learners the resources necessary to be successful we can begin to identify means by which Canvas can enhance the likelihood that students not only view the material but engage with it.

Syllabus text

While Geneseo stands by a requirement of a making a printable version of your syllabus readily available within your course shell, Canvas can be used to add nuance to how you highlight the details. One way of ensuring that learners are familiar with the contents of your syllabus is to make its content a living part of your learners’ everyday experience. Canvas provides a number pathways to do this. Additionally, by leveraging Canvas to highlight expectations laid out in the syllabus, you can increase learner agency over their education while reducing the amount of time you spend revisiting material clearly laid out in the syllabus.

What follows is a brief introduction to how one might leverage some of the staple elements of Canvas to break-out and communicate key elements of one’s syllabus:

“Week Zero” or Resource Module

Modules essentially create a linear flow of what students should do within a course. Each module can contain files, discussions, assignments, quizzes, and other learning materials; any material you like. Bundling key syllabus related materials into one module can be very impactful. Furthermore, such a module can be set as a prerequisite for the rest of the course ensuring that students do not proceed until they have interacted with this required information and allowing you to track the progress of students through it.

Pages

One of Canvas’ most powerful tools are “Pages.” Pages are analogous to wiki or webpages and allow for the embedding of all manner of rich media, text, or links. Individual pages usually consist of relatively small amounts of information pertaining to the same topic. Pages (as well as other materials) of similar topics are usually grouped into Modules. The use of such tools to deliver content within one’s field of expertise may come naturally, but, using these pages to clarify the meta of the course itself is often overlooked. Below are two types of Pages one can add to their course to expand upon material found in the syllabus and provide context for the class:

“About this Course” page

This is a great place to include the course description from the College Bulletin with an explanation as to how your course will meet that description in less abstract terms. Include links to the materials and resources the course will be using to create an easy reference for students- and yes, this information should already be in your printable syllabus. This page is also a great place to explain how you will be using such materials and tools (including Canvas!) and explain the expectations you have about how students will communicate both with you and their classmates. By providing transparency into your teaching process you can reduce some of your learners’ anxiety; By highlighting it in a bite sized page, independent of your increasingly mammoth syllabus, you can increase the likelihood of students actually reading it.
Life Pro Tip: this is an opportunity to contextualize in real life terms how a learner will benefit from taking this course.

“About the Professor” page

Presumably you are a human. Let your students know that. A short bit of biography can go a long way in establishing a connection with the other (presumably) humans in the class. By explaining to your learners that you will be grading papers in the early morning/late evening because that is when your three year old is most likely to be sleeping, or that if they require office hours after five PM you’ll need to know in advance so arrangements can be made to feed your puppy/elderly dog they are more likely to understand and value odd grade submission times or your desire to hold office hours earlier in the day. Additionally, providing insight into your educational experience- knowing about hard earned certifications in your field as well as your captaining of the fencing squad not only lends credibility to your instruction but humanity to your lessons.

By sharing small insights into your life, both personally and professionally, you can make a connection with your students that will allow you to more easily guide them through the material you are sharing and reduce friction that may come form conflicts of interest. Furthermore, it helps students to make positive assumptions about your decisions. It makes it easier for students to trust you because of the trust you’ve shown them by sharing yourself with them.
Life Pro Tip: the About the Professor page is an excellent place to provide links to contact information and perhaps your Google Calendar where you can establish office hour appointment slots.

Announcements

Announcements allow instructors to communicate with students about course activities and post interesting course-related topics. Announcements are designed to allow instructors to broadcast information out to all members of a course or to all members of sections within a course. Regular application of announcements can be used to reenforce milestones established in one’s syllabus and can be used to tie information back to learning objectives.
Life Pro Tip: Announcements have a “Delay Posting” option which can be used to schedule posts in advance, allowing you to set reminders and other information well in advance of a time that you might otherwise forget.

Communicate Expectations

Generating all of this communication can (and should!) lead to feedback from learners and the beginning of new conversations. As such, it is important to establish expectations as to both how students are to interact with you (email, text, phone, or other) and when to expect a response. It’s infeasible to expect a professor to be on the clock 24/7, however learners often lead very diverse schedules that likely don’t sync closely with your. By not only clearly informing students as to how you prefer to be contacted, but when you will be responding to such contact you will reduce frustration on their part as well as your own. This management of expectations should be supplemented with some information on the content of communications as well.

Whether communicating with you or their classmates we should always encourage our students to interact with members of the class with respect and the understanding that electronic communications are often limited by their inability to transmit many non-verbal cues. Establishing an understanding in regards to class netiquette should bear in mind a few points that can go along way in keeping communications civil:

  • Approach each conversation with respect. It can sometimes be easy to forget that there is an individual associated with the text we are reading. Be mindful of that individual’s thoughts, feelings, and rights.
  • Assume best intentions. Knowing that electronic communication often lacks subtly it is usually best practice to assume no harm on the part of the author of the communication.
  • Act with best intentions. Keeping in mind said limitations approach your communications without malice. This may require a delay in response while one regains composure.
  • Be clear. Ambiguity in electronic communication with individuals we may not know well can leave area to read into it more or less than was intended.

Between your syllabus, the correct mindset, and the appropriate application of Canvas tools, hopefully your learners will have the appropriate entrance into your course and feel confident in their interaction with you and the course materials.

SoS: Start of Semester FYI for Faculty (Ensuring Learners Can Access Your Class)

Enter key

Some of the most common questions that arise at the beginning of each semester center on the learners’ ability, or rather inability, to access their courses in Canvas . Below are three quick steps you, the teacher, can take to ensure that your courses are accessible to learners.

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#TechTipThursday: How Are You Taking Attendance: Roll Call Attendance Tool

Empty Classroom

So you’ve read our post, “Why Are You Taking Attendance?” and remain unconvinced that a non-policy of attendance is for you. Fine… That’s cool. No, really… Allow me to suggest an integrated third party tool that will allow you to satisfy your attendance urge and provide a suggestion on an alternative means for using it as a participation gauging tool.

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Why Are You Taking Attendance?

Hands up

You have undoubtedly heard the old trope, “Good students come to class.” The less frequently spoken second half of that saying is that, “poor students do not.” In your head you know this (and the research on the correlation between attendance and final grades bears this out) and in your heart you remember all the hours you have spent curating your content and crafting your lectures- Students shouldn’t miss this stuff. So, you decide to take attendance, whether through a paper sign-in system, electronic gadget, or the LMS’s Roll Call Tool. But, are you doing it for the students benefit or your own sense of hubris?

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Going Beyond SoFis, Soliciting Meaningful Feedback

Feed Back pictogram

Meaningful participation in the student feedback process can be difficult for some educators, making SoFis a bitter pill for any number of reasons.  Perhaps students aren’t informed about what meaningful feedback looks like. Often students aren’t vested in the process or in providing serious feedback, sometimes because we don’t take the system seriously enough ourselves. Additionally, given the time of year, even when meaningful issues are raised we do not have the opportunity to course-correct and make impactful changes for those particular students. Given these observations one might think I was building a case for less solicitation of feedback instead of more. However, it is exactly for these reasons that I would suggest offering students an opportunity to provide more informal feedback throughout the semester. Doing so is not only a good, best practice but one of the best, best practices. Consider the added potential to increase the effectiveness of your teaching as well as provide a more positive SoFi experience for you and your students.

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#TechTipThursday: Audacious Audio

As we look for more ways to get our learners engaged with our their own education, we sometimes roam from the beaten track of text and into the realm of media creation. Podcasts, for example, can be an excellent means through which to give learners an opportunity to flex muscles they rarely use in academic pursuits. This can be a challenge that brings them (and us!) to new levels of learning. For some it can also be a source of unnecessary frustration if not guided to easily accessible and reliable tools to successfully complete the project. To help reduce that frustration this post introduces two, free, tools to help our learners craft quality audio.

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#TechTipThursday: Your Canvas Dashboard

The Canvas “Dashboard” is the landing page upon which your “Course Cards” appear. Within this post we will discuss how to manage what content appears on your Dashboard as well as how to organize it to your liking. Simple tricks such as providing your course a nickname or changing your course card’s color can go a long way to making your Canvas experience a more effective one.

Student Dashboard
View of a typical student’s Dashboard.

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Canvas Clues

It’s the time of year where you are starting to get reacquainted with your old friend, Canvas. In this post Your Canvas Support Team provides some of our favorite tips and tricks to help get you rolling and reduce potential problems for you and your learners.

Cleanup Course Navigation

navigation example
Default navigation vs Clean navigation

By default Canvas provides a wide array of links within the navigation section to the left of each course. Within most courses the majority of these links will often go unused causing clutter and confusion on behalf of the learner and often instructor. For this reason we highly recommend hiding any unused links.

Your Canvas support team recommends always leaving Announcements and Grades available. Whether you decide to set your Home to a Content Page or Modules will determine whether Modules should also be left available for student access.

As for Assignments, Quizzes, and Pages (some of the most commonly used items within Canvas) we will use Modules to give access to learners them in the order and context we want them to engage these materials.

How do I manage Course Navigation Links?

Use Modules

Modules are used to organize course content by weeks, units, or a different organizational structure. Modules essentially create a uni-directional linear flow of what students should do in a course.

Instructor view of modules
Example of a Module from the instructor’s view

Each module can contain files, discussions, assignments, quizzes, and other learning materials. Module items can be added to the course from existing content or new content shells within the modules. Course content can be added to multiple modules or iterated several times throughout an individual module. Modules can be easily organized using the drag and drop feature. Elements within the modules can also be reorganized by dragging and dropping.

Module from learner's view
Same Module from learner’s view

How do I add Modules?

Lock and add Prerequisites to Modules

Modules also allow the instructors to “Lock” them so that they open automatically at a particular date and time.  Learners will be able to see the module titles and module item names, but they will not be able to access the module items until after the lock date has passed.

Didn't Read the Syllabus Meme
Help reduce the number of unread syllabi by adding a prerequisite to your “Welcome” Module

When you set up prerequisite modules, students must complete a module before moving to the next module.

Publish Your Course

Course Publish button
Be sure to publish your course

Make sure you publish your course. If you haven’t then students won’t have access to the material within it. In the crush of responsibilities leading up to the start of the semester little things can be easily forgotten. This isn’t a little thing. Our Life Pro Tip to you is to publish your course now. Contents won’t be available to the students until the start date of the course.

How do I change the start and end dates for a course?
How do I publish a Course?

Manage Your Dashboard

Often faculty and learners alike are concerned that a course they are in does not show up on their Dashboard. Courses marked as Favorites will appear on your Dashboard. From the left side navigation bar, select Courses and then click on the “All Courses” link. A list of courses will appear, along with a star next to the title. Grey stars indicate courses that have not been “favorited”. Just click on a grey star to make it a Favorite. When you return to your Dashboard, courses you’ve “favorited” should appear.

A much requested new feature was released in Canvas recently, you can now rearrange course tiles on the Canvas dashboard- and it’s as simple as drag and drop!

How do I view my favorite courses in the Card View Dashboard as an instructor?

Link/Embed Files From Google Drive

Your Canvas course is limited to 1GB in files space. This isn’t a lot. Individually. But, for every course at Geneseo it becomes VERY large. Your Google hosted Geneseo account has MUCH more space and many capabilities. It’s for this reason that we recommend you host much of your teaching material on Google Drive and embed it into Canvas Pages.

Using Google in Canvas
Registering the Google LTI

Stay Tuned for an Up-Coming Post on Gradebook Guidance!

Keep an eye open for an up-coming blog on our tips and tricks for managing your Gradebook!

Sources Stolen From:

The Canvas Community

Let us know if you have any questions at canvas@geneseo.edu