Tag Archives: canvas

Christopher dipping toe in water of online education

UPDATE: The course described below has filled and a substantial waiting list has been closed. I will post updates to this blog as plans for future versions of the course become more clear.

This coming March, I am going to be offering an online course.

It will not be Massively Open. It will not be a MOOC.

Here’s the plan:

I want to gather a medium-sized group of middle-school math teachers to study the mathematics that lurks just beneath the surface of quality middle school math curriculum materials.

I’m talking about big ideas. I’m talking about what if? questions.

I’m talking about starting with the familiar and ending up with the strange. We will stretch our minds to consider new corners of the mathematical world.

If you want Common Core implementation help, go pay your $400 to NCTM. This won’t be that.

If you want machine-scored, lecture-based online instruction, go join a Coursera MOOC. This won’t be that, either.

If you want credit towards your Master’s Degree or other contract-based lane change, talk with your nearest graduate institution. Because this won’t be that.

This will be a community of 20 smart teachers learning with and from each other in a structured environment.

This will be a set of semi-synchronous activities and discussions designed to advance our own understandings of the foundational mathematical idea of function. Eventually, the course will expand to other topics, such as inversesymmetrychange and operation. But this first version will just be function.

What you’ll get:

An instructor (me) with over 15 years of professional development experience, 18 years of teaching experience, an open mind, a whole mess of math knowledge, and a deep curiosity about ideas and ways of thinking.

Also, you’ll get:

  1. Smarter than you are now,
  2. More connected to other smart math teachers, and
  3. A beautiful, suitable-for-framing certificate to assist in relicensure in your state/province/district/etc.

The details:

Course title: The Mathematics in School Curriculum.

Dates: I need 20 middle-school math teachers who are interested in spending about an hour a day thinking about functions for the two weeks March 17—30, 2013.

Platform: The course will take place on Canvas, an Instructional Management System (IMS) developed by Instructure. I have used this system in place of my institution’s adopted IMS (Desire2Learn, or D2L) and have been delighted with its design—especially the way it supports discussion and sharing of resources. Your Canvas account will be free of charge.

Content: We will pilot a functions unit—the first of what will eventually be five units embedded in a larger course. The goals of the pilot will be to broaden our knowledge of (a) curricular approaches to function relevant to the middle school, and (b) the ideas behind the formal mathematical function.

Cost: This pilot will be free. Eventually, I will charge a reasonable fee in compensation for my time and effort (each of which I imagine will be substantial).

Commitment: In signing up for the course, I will ask for your commitment to full participation. We will be looking to build community, and that won’t happen if we don’t commit to the effort together.

Full participation will mean agreeing to spend about an hour a day for the duration of the course. The “hour” is an average and is at your convenience. Course activities will include working through mathematics tasks, reading articles, seeking resources and participating in asynchronous online discussions.

But full participation won’t just be about seat time. It will be about committing to learning, and to supporting the learning of your classmates.

How to sign up: By filling out a Google form. I will cap the pilot course at 20 participants. First come, first served. I know that people’s lives are hectic and variable, so I’ll maintain a 10-person waiting list before ending registrations altogether.

Click here to register for the course.

What questions do you have? Send them my way.

I hope to catch up with you online in March. We’re going to have a ton of fun.


Canvas v. D2L, round 2 (Grades)

I never used to post grades on D2L. It drove my students nuts. That’s really all they expected out of an LMS (well, that and being able to find out what they missed in class, or maybe when the next assignment was due). So they found it frustrating that I didn’t use D2L for grades.

But the gradebook in D2L is cumbersome. There is a grading system and a grading scheme (see image below). Those mean different things, but I have no idea what that difference is.

Oh right. There are grade values, grade item values and grade calculations (both adjusted and not).

So one semester, my solution was that I would upload my grade book from my laptop to D2L once a week. I could avoid using the bad grade book on D2L and my students could have their grades online. Win/win, right?

Nope. The import/export features are fussy. Things have to be in just the right format or they won’t import. And D2L won’t tell you that the information didn’t import. It just omits information it finds problematic and tells you it is done with the import.

And integrating Assignments (which, recall, do not exist in D2L) with the grade book? Huge hassle. Lots of non-intuitive clicks.

So I was not at all convinced that Canvas was going to be better on this front. I figured I would use Canvas for discussions, assignments, etc. But not for grades.

And then I decided that I really should give it a shot. Because otherwise, I’ll never know. I shouldn’t assume that Canvas grade books will be as frustrating as D2L.

And you know what? It’s working out great. As so many other things in Canvas, the grade book is integrated throughout. There is a checkbox on the page where you create an assignment. Check that box and it’s entered into the grade book. Don’t check it and it’s not. Rubrics? If you want to use one, hit the “add rubric” button. It’s all there and it all works together.

Here’s what it looks like in action:

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/30329830]

So those are the pros, you say; but what are the cons?

I’ve only found two so far. They are so minor as to be laughable (but both are totally fixable by the good folks at Canvas; I’m sure they have bigger fish to fry than these, but they shouldn’t be hard).

(1) When you create a rubric, you start with two categories for each criterion (e.g. 0 and 1). To create more categories (e.g. 0 to 4), there is an awkward column-splitting interface. It would be nice if you could just type in the number of categories you wanted.

(2) There are no fractional points. My courses always used to be 100 points total for simplicity. That required using decimal numbers of points. My workaround is simple; I multiplied everything by 10. So now there’s 1000 points in the semester and I no longer have decimals.

Like I said, these are really, really minor in comparison to my complaints about D2L’s grade book.

Round 2 goes to Canvas too.

Canvas v D2L round 1: Assignments

This is the first in a series of brief posts documenting my semester-long experiment with a new Instructional Management System (IMS). This IMS is called Canvas. It’s from Instructure. I wrote about it last spring. Individual instructors can use it for free.

D2L (or Desire 2 Learn) is the adopted IMS in our state college and university system. I have hated it for years and have complained loudly to faculty and students about its bad design.

I learned of Canvas and decided I could either complain for another year or do something about it. I am doing something about it.

First, the caveats…

When you go outside of the adopted IMS, please note that you’re on your own w/r/t FERPA. I have alerted my students that if I use Canvas to post their grades, their data will be stored outside of the institution, and that if they are uncomfortable with that, they should let me know and I will not use that feature of Canvas. (In previous semesters, I have not posted grades in D2L, so technically it’s a wash for them.) No student has indicated this to me so far.

Caveats out of the way, it’s time for round 1.

Round 1: Assignments

From a design and usability perspective, let’s think about how students use an IMS. They go there, I imagine, with one of two questions 85% of the time. The most common one (sadly) is probably What is my grade? More on that in a later round. The second most common has got to be What is due next week?

D2L has no Assignments area.

I’ll say that again. D2L has no Assignments area.

There is no choice that answers the question, What is due next week?

Can you read those choices? If you want to know what is due, what do you choose? It turns out you need to choose Content.

When you do, you get a screen that looks like this:

See those due dates, for example the one for Homework 2.1, about halfway down the image?

I typed those due dates into the titles of the links. There is no system for keeping track of due dates in D2L.

Now let’s look at Canvas. Remember that you are a student and you want to know what’s due next week. You see this menu:

You click Assignments. You see this:

See those due dates? They are part of the structure of Canvas. Assignments have a special place, and they have due dates (or not, depending on what the instructor wants to do).

But this isn’t really the best organization of things. You don’t want to have to pan through all of the categories of assignments to find the one thing that is due this week. No you would rather see things laid out in calendar format. Well, my friend, you’re in luck:

Round 1 goes to Canvas for sure.

Meet my new online lover

I have complained about D2L-my college’s online course management system-before. It is based on a mid-90’s file-centric paradigm that has become clunky and awkward in the age of Facebook.

But I recently came across a new system-Canvas. I spent an hour messing around with it yesterday and it seems to do everything I have wanted from D2L, including:

  1. Integration of its various areas. If I start a discussion, that discussion becomes part of the course’s homepage. If I post a new document for students to read, it becomes part of the course’s homepage. Etc.
  2. It has an Assignments section. (Can you believe that D2L has no Assignments section? Really?)

    Canvas's sections

    D2L's sections

  3. Students can choose to integrate each course into the rest of their online world however they like. If they want to receive a tweet each time a new document gets put up, they can. If they want a daily summary email of everything that happened in the course, they can have that. Facebook, texts, any way a student wants to be notified (even if not at all)-they can have it.

    Canvas plays nicely with all of these.

And can we talk about graphic design?

My College Algebra homepage on D2L

A homepage for a sample class in Canvas.

Individual instructors can establish their own free Canvas accounts for use in their courses.

I am signed up for the fall. I’ll report back on how I’m getting along with my new lover.