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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Chiming in with Lisa Lane on Canvas Pedagogy

I really hope people will take a chance to read Lisa Lane's thought-provoking post about just what Canvas does and does not let you do as you build a course in there. So... #BeforeYouLMS it's important to think about your own goals as an instructor, and then see what other tools you might need to make your class really work well. Here's Lisa's post, and below is the (long) comment I left there:
The Pedagogy of Canvas.

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Thanks for this post, Lisa! When I realized that I could not rename things inside the system, I knew this was not going to be an LMS that I would feel comfortable with. Students are already bored to death (just ask them!)... so I really disagree with a strategy that wants to make all classes look EXACTLY the same. The module page is the best example of that (like in your screenshot): every single Canvas course I have looked at is mind-numbing because there is nothing, literally nothing, you can do to a module page to make it your own. Just this week I started working on the module pages I build for my students, a different page for each week. I've redesigned the weekly module to add a randomized image, along with a new way of arranging the assignments to try to make it more streamlined and help students grasp the logic of the workflow in the class. I wrote up a blog post about that.

My goal is something very simple (a value I share with Canvas)... but also CREATIVE (as opposed to the sameness that governs Canvas's basic design and deployment). The whole purpose of my class is to help students to see themselves as writers and to see writing, any kind of writing, as being a creative form of self-expression, with words being one of the tools they can use to "be themselves" in the world. Every semester, there are students who worry about taking the class because, they say, "I am not creative." Or "I hate to write." Or even "I hate to read." Yep. And that is the result of years of schooling in which people have to set aside their creativity, not being allowed to read or write things that matter to them. When they do that long enough, they start to doubt their own creative powers. No wonder they hate to write: why write if you think you have no creative powers? And why read if everything you are told to read is boring?

But even if they have doubts about themselves as writers (at least at first), the students know that they are NOT the same as everybody else, and when they set up their blogs on the first day of class, they immediately start to customize the space: choose the colors, move things around, make their blog look "different" ... and they do that not for a grade or for points; they do it because they want the space to be their space, to reflect who they are. So, the first time I "see" the students in my online class, it is by visiting their very first blog post... and already I can see how they are building their own space online, a space that reflects their choices. Just the opposite of the total sameness that pervades Canvas. I can't imagine how it would be possible for the students to really get to know me or for me to get to know them in this monotonous space.

But then, I don't expect to use the LMS for anything other than the Gradebook. And you already read about my trials and tribulations with the Canvas Gradebook yesterday! Today I will be spending probably about 7 hours manually changing the dates in the 210 declarations that make up one of my courses; thank goodness both courses have identical declarations so I only have to do this once and can then copy the course — and apparently Canvas does understand copying courses even though it seems to be clueless about copying quiz items. I used to have to do this with D2L also, years ago (although they finally came up with a mass edit feature that spared me this torture). Anyway, this is a familiar experience and I know what to do: the whole awful business is mindless enough that I can use my brain for something else while my fingers do the work, so I'll listen to an audiobook (I just started Abbie Farwell Brown's book of Norse myths retold; free at LibriVox!), while I go click click click click to change all those dates for Fall.

And on the subject of click click click, I cannot believe how Canvas makes students go through an extra "fear" click before they go to an outside link from the sidebar navigation. Here's the alert they get (and which I cannot suppress); they ALREADY clicked on a link that I myself chose to put in the sidebar navigation. Why on earth should they have to click again? Awful.


Yesterday I learned there is an even more severe warning they get for clicking to go outside the system. I discovered this one by accident when using the student preview; I didn't get the warning in the faculty view of the same link — only students get this warning. Faculty, apparently, can be trusted to click on a link... but students cannot. That makes me wonder how many extra protection layers are in there for students that we don't even see unless we click on everything in the student preview mode. Yet another reason why I would hesitate to put any content in Canvas myself since I have so little control over the student experience of the space, with them not experiencing the same thing I do:


And about those imgur links [commenting on Lisa's post, I used imgur links since I could not embed images in a comment]: as I learned from a Canvas training last week at my school where I was enrolled a student, students cannot upload an image to the system! I had to use imgur to get images to appear in discussion board posts. I doubt students are going to want to go through that extra step... but if you want students to put images in posts, they either have to hotlink (eeek, not a good web habit) or use a service like imgur. Sigh again. Of course, I made it a point to include images in every discussion board post I wrote for the training course, just to remind people that one of the joys of the web is being able to use images. Screenshot from one of those posts: Growth Mindset Cat says "Make things happen."


Eeek, I didn't even realize how long this comment had grown. I'll go post in my blog. Thanks again for giving me a chance to vent before I plunge into the date maelstrom this morning.

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(I have limited this to Google accounts only, but no word verification; meanwhile, if you want to contact me directly, you can do that too! laura-gibbs@ou.edu.)