#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 FYIs for Students

Happy first week of classes, SUNY Geneseo! To help our learners start the fall semester off on the right foot, this blog post walks Geneseo learners through the essential items to address at the start of a semester. This post will be particularly useful for users who are new to Canvas.

Have the Right Tools

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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: Accessibility and assessments of learning

Earlier this week, Leah authored a guest blog post discussing growth mindset through the lens of her interim role as the Coordinator of Disability Services. As she differentiates growth mindset from a fixed mindset, Leah reminds us of the importance of “adjusting our paradigm about student growth and development” particularly as we support students with differing abilities. One area for opportunity specific to the teaching and learning environment is the language we use in our syllabi and other course documentation describing accommodations. The Provost’s Office simplifies this process for us with language on the Student Success Resources page (also available in the Canvas Commons, search term “Geneseo”). Similarly, this post is intended to simplify the process surrounding Canvas-based accommodations specific to quizzes and exams.

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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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#TechTipThursday: Managing A Learner’s “I” Grade

Incomplete grade

As we approach the end of a semester in higher education, the teaching and learning environment frequently experiences renewed focus on academic achievement. Conversations revolve around the availability of extra credit, final exams or seminar presentations, and the seemingly never-ending hours spent studying or grading in far greater frequency in the latter half of a semester than the former. While these topics may play a role in the lives of many within the teaching and learning environment, there are countless influences on a learner’s ability to complete course requirements. “A temporary grade of ‘I’ (incomplete) may be awarded when a student has been unable to complete a course due to circumstances beyond his, her, or their control” (2018-2019 Undergraduate Bulletin, SUNY Geneseo). Prior to awarding an incomplete, learners and faculty should be aware of institutional policies surrounding the grade and are encouraged to consult SUNY Geneseo’s 2018-2019 Undergraduate Bulletin for more information; this post highlights Canvas-based considerations for faculty when awarding an “I” (incomplete) grade.

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#TechTipThursday: Locating and Interpreting the Similarity Score for a Turnitin assignment

Turnitin is one of many digital tools available to enhance the teaching and learning environment at SUNY Geneseo. Commonly thought of as a plagiarism-detection utility, Turnitin compares a learner’s submission against documents in its database. Settings for comparison are determined by the professor and can be adjusted for each assignment. Faculty are not required to use this tool but those that opt-in have guidelines governing its implementation in a course.

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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: March and midterm grades

As the old adage suggests, March rolled into 2019 like a lion. Wintry weather can complicate plans at any number of levels, certainly, but it does not factor into our ability to celebrate academic success. Within the higher education environment, March celebrates the mid-point of a semester: midterm assessments of learning (e.g., exams, papers, projects) often followed immediately by spring break. What better time than March to offer learners comprehensive feedback about their progress?

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