Working with Canvas: Grades

Canvas is Wayne State’s new learning management system. All classes will be in Canvas by fall 2018. I’m testing out Canvas and sharing my experiences with the campus community. In Canvas, Grades is not a drastic departure from Blackboard’s Grade Center. Making the shift will be a simple transition for anyone who regularly utilized Blackboard’s Grade Center.

The basics

Areas of the Grades center
Figure 1: The areas of Grades

Grades is broken up into three main areas:

  1. The area for controlling the gradebook
  2. Student data
  3. Assignment Data

As you’ll notice, the main grid looks basically the same as it did when you sneaked a peek at your grades over your teachers’ shoulder to see their paper gradebook when you were young. These familiar parts (2 & 3) will react just as you’d expect:

  • Area 2 populates directly from the enrollment of your class with the students’ access code
  • Area 3 will show grades for every assignment, and you’ll be able to horizontally scroll through them

Area 1 is where you really have some control.

  • Click the Individual View (a) button to see either an individual view of students or tests.
  • The Settings (b) dropdown (the button looks like a gear) will offer the most options. There you may choose to hide the students’ names, change the sorting order of your columns and even assign all missing assignments a grade of 0.

As in Blackboard, when you create an assignment of any kind, a column is created in Grades. As demonstrated in Figure 1 (from my sandbox for testing classes) this will look very familiar. You will use the settings button (b) to access the functions that have an overall effect on Grades. This is where you will be able to change the way in which the columns are sorted. You can also mark uncompleted assignments as zero, hide student names and the comments column, as well as view concluded and inactive enrollments.

Bonus Grades Uses for Students

If you are wanting to work with a particular assignment, you will access that from within the grading area by clicking a dropdown that appears once you hover over the assignment name (Figure 2). From this area you can see the details on an assignment (average score, high score, low score), go into the SpeedGrader (read my previous blog post), send a message to students in regards to the assignment, curve their grade or set a default grade for everyone.

This is also where you would Mute an assignment. Canvas is setup to automatically send students a message when you grade an assignment; muting an assignment will allow you to complete grading for the entire class before a message is sent out.

Assignment Details
Figure 2: Assignment Details

I would like to point out two things (Figure 3) that can help you as you use Grades in the picture below.

  1. You will notice   in the Survey Paper column that I have entered grades for all but Student Canvas 03. However, there is an icon that shows that a paper has been submitted; it simply has not been graded.
  2. Another thing to notice is the highlighted cell for the fourth student (blurred). In the upper right hand corner of the cell, there is a small blue triangle that you can click to get more information about the assignment. Clicking this triangle leads you, the instructor, to a very helpful area for further information on that particular grade.
Grade Cells
Figure 3: Grade Cells

Comments

Grade Information
Figure 4: Grade information

This area (Figure 4) allows you to quickly add a comment to the student in regards to this particular assignment grade. It is also allows you to insert/edit the grade or see the original document without going into Canvas’s grading functionality. If you need to do more with the assignment, you can open the SpeedGrader function here.

As you would expect, Canvas has importing and exporting capabilities. Your entire gradebook can easily be exported to a CSV to be opened up in Excel or the spreadsheet software of your choice. If can also walk you through importing information into Grades.

Final thoughts

This may actually be the easiest transition for all of us in our move from Blackboard to Canvas. It is really similar and — if anything — more intuitive than the Blackboard Grade Center. It also takes far less clicking to get something done.

Bonus: As I was preparing this, I was acting as a student to upload a file for an assignment that I had created. When I went to the area to submit the assignment, I noticed a tab at the top of the file upload area that said Office 365. (Figure 5) Happily realizing what this was, I clicked to see what it offered. It allows the student to log in to their Wayne Connect Office 365 account and upload directly from there. This means that as long as your students work in the Office 365 that is provided by the university, you may never hear “I forgot my flash drive,” or “My computer crashed and my homework was lost,” again. 

Office 365 login
Figure 5: Office 365 Login

Working with Canvas: SpeedGrader

Canvas is Wayne State’s new learning management system. All classes will be in Canvas by fall 2018. I’m testing out Canvas and sharing my experiences with the campus community. Let me know if you have any questions or topics of interest! For this journal entry, I’ll discuss the most talked about Canvas feature (and rightfully so): SpeedGrader.

SpeedGrader will get you through your grading faster. With it you can:

  • Track your grading progress and hide assignments while grading.
  • View submissions in moderated assignments.
  • Use rubrics to assign grades.
  • View submission details for each student, including resubmitted assignments.
  • Leave feedback for your students.
  • Sort submissions by student and hide student names for anonymous grading.

SpeedGrader basically is set up to get you through your grading in the most efficient way possible. Quite frankly, this is the Canvas tool you will most enjoy when you are pressed for time at the end of the semester and need to grade papers as quickly as you can.

The Basics

SpeedGrader has five areas on the page when it is opened in a web browser on your computer.

  1. Student Submission: This is where you can see what your student has submitted. The student may include text, websites, media recordings or uploaded files. Here you may add annotations to their assignment by highlighting, adding, or crossing out text, writing a comment, or even drawing.
  2. Assign a Grade: Here you can enter a grade based on your preferred assessment method (percentage, points, or — if you set it up as you made the assignment — a letter grade).
  3. View Rubric: If you created a rubric for grading when you made an assignment, this will bring it up.
  4. Assignment Comments: Read comments from the student or add your own.
  5. Other Comment Area: You may upload a file or record a media (audio or video) comment.

Toolbar

You may have noticed in the last image that there is also a toolbar running across the top of the SpeedGrader window. This is where you will find all the information you need about each assignment.

In the upper right hand corner, you’ll notice a grouping of four icons. These control functions that affect the assignment as a whole.

  1. Grades: This opens your gradebook.
  2. Mute/Unmute: This toggles an assignment between muted or unmuted. When an assignment is muted, the student will not receive notifications regarding the assignment. Unmuting it will inform them of their grade.
  3. Keyboard Shortcuts: This will offer you some options to use keyboard shortcuts to navigate more quickly.
  4. Help: This will present you with a help menu if you are confused in the SpeedGrader.
  5. Settings: Here you can choose various sort methods or hide the students’ names for anonymous grading.

On the upper left side, you will be presented with the student information for the assignment. This is where you can easily navigate through the students for grading.  You can click on the right-pointing arrow to open the next student’s assignment or click the left arrow to go back to the previous student.

This area also includes a dropdown menu of all the students in the course, allowing you to jump from student to student as you are grading.

Finally, the center section of your toolbar gives you full details about the assignment on which you are working.

  1. Assignment: Title of the assignment.
  2. Submission Details: The date and time when the assignment was due.
  3. Course Details: Course number, reference number and section of the class in which this assignment was given (like we’re going to forget… ).
  4. Number graded: How many of this assignment you have graded and how many total are to be graded (after a long night, this is much easier than flipping through and counting how many papers you have left).
  5. Average: The average total number of points and the average percentage.
  6. Student Number: Where in the list of students you are working.

In Conclusion

Every time assignments, graded discussions or quizzes are created in Canvas, a SpeedGrader will be set up to grade them. The SpeedGrader can be accessed directly from the assignment itself or through the gradebook. I really appreciate that I can get to the SpeedGrader with far fewer steps than I could grade an assignment in Blackboard. Also, the fact that I can do all the grading from within Canvas rather than opening Word makes life far easier.

SpeedGrader is also available in the Canvas app. Look for more details on the app in a future Canvas journal.

I think that faculty here at WSU will really appreciate the SpeedGrader tool. I can see it not only helping me complete the work faster, but also saving me money (fewer bottles of wine will be needed to get through a stack of papers).

Working with Canvas: Getting started

Canvas is coming soon to your classroom and I want to address the first few questions you may have as you get started.

  1. Am I going to be overwhelmed by a new interface?

When you sign in to Canvas for the first time, you will notice that it has far less information cluttering the page than Blackboard. You’ll see a navigation bar with seven buttons and the Dashboard which shows your current active courses, a To Do list and things coming up. That’s it.

You can customize your dashboard in two ways.

  1. View: You can switch the Dashboard from the Card view (showing one card for each course, for easy access) to Recent Activity view (which is a feed of recent messages, submissions and more). Make this change using the gear icon in the top right-hand corner of the dashboard. Check them both out and see which you prefer!
  2. Image: You can add an image to the course card which is shared with the students and stands out better than some of the unwieldy course titles.
Canvas Dashboard
Canvas Dashboard Page
  1. How difficult is it to move my class from Blackboard?

In all honesty, importing a course is pretty easy. As a Canvas tester, I had to move my courses myself. Luckily, our LMS administrators are working to bring your courses over from Blackboard right now, so you will have a head start.

If you do have to move a course, the first thing you’ll do is click on the course in your Dashboard. This will take you to your course’s home page, which jumps you right into the tool to import data from an old Blackboard course (this is also where you get started if you’re building a new course from scratch).

Canvas First Homepage for Course
Canvas’s initial home page for a course

If you look at the photo above, you’ll notice Add Existing Content is one of the two choices in the center of the screen. Click this button to easily import the .zip file from a course in Blackboard (you will have to export the course first). On the next page (below) you will choose Blackboard 6/7/8/9 export .zip file from the drop down and follow the instructions. It’s that simple.

  1. How do I get my syllabus uploaded?

This is where Canvas truly shines. Your syllabus is key to helping your students succeed and it is the first thing they want when they get access to a course.

Like most, I previously created my syllabus in Microsoft Word. Then I would take that syllabus, save it as a PDF and upload it to Blackboard. Yes, you can still do this in Canvas, but there is an easier and even more informative way to do it in the new LMS.

As you open the syllabus area, the first thing you’ll do is click the Edit button (NOTE: Canvas uses the term edit even when you are first creating). You’ll immediately be taken to what is known as the Rich Text Editor, an area where you can type that has toolbars similar to any word processor, blogging tool or CMS. Here you can either type in your syllabus (for the daring ones out there) or paste information that you have already written in Word or another word processer.

Canvas's Syllabus Editor
Canvas’s Syllabus Page

 

You’ll notice that there is an area below your syllabus description called Course Summary. This is where the Canvas Course Syllabus tool really outdoes Blackboard. Course Summary shows an outline of all your assignments, topics, tests, etc. This information can be populated in several ways:

  • Every assignment that you make shows up in this summary on its due date.
  • Every quiz will show up on its due date (NOTE: All tests given via Canvas are called quizzes).
  • Any event you add to the calendar will show up.

As someone who teaches studio courses, I chose to go into the calendar and add an event on the first day of every week that shows what we will be studying that week. ­This can be done simply by clicking on the day of the month, which prompts an Edit Event box to create an event (NOTE: When you view the calendar that it is composed of layers for each one of your courses). If you’ve ever used Google Calendars or Outlook calendars online, it will feel really familiar.

Calendar Editor
Create/Edit an Event in Calendar

Calendar List
Canvas’s Calendar List

You’ll need to make certain that the layer is turned on for the course in which you want to place the event. Do this by clicking on the colored box to the left of the course name in the calendar list on the left of your screen (Above).

Adding every assignment, test and event into this calendar has a huge impact on student success rates. Not only will they receive notifications when assignments are added to the calendar, they will receive reminders as due dates approach.

  1. How hard is it going to be to know every step of setting up a course? It took me forever to learn it when I first started using Blackboard.

As with any new tool, it will take time to learn the ins and outs of Canvas. That being said, there are a few tools that can help get your course exactly how you want it.

  • Wayne State’s LMS team has created a Canvas and Blackboard Feature Comparison. This shows all the Blackboard features you’re accustomed to and their equals in Canvas. Check it out at canvasproject.wayne.edu/features.
  • Canvas has its own invaluable tool to help you get setup. Once you have entered a course from your Dashboard, you will notice a Navigation Bar along the left side — this is a constant while working in Canvas. It shows you a To Do area, things that are coming up, and has a few helpful buttons. One of these buttons is the Course Setup Checklist which is all the steps you need to take to get your course up and running, including: importing content, creating assignments, adding students, adding files, selecting the navigation links you want the students to see in the course, adding calendar events, adding TAs, and publishing the course.

Between these two tools, I’m confident you can become a Canvas pro in no time at all.

I hope that I’m giving you a sense of Canvas’s simplified layout that will make things much more accessible— not only for your students, but also for you.

Instructure (the company that built Canvas) says that they build software that makes smarter people. I can honestly say that they are doing their best to achieve that goal. My fellow Canvas testers and I have all noted that this transition has inspired us to examine the way in which we can use the LMS to better serve our students. Rather than holding us to very set functions, Canvas gives us the flexibility to test new ways of teaching our students.

Working with Canvas: A Journal of the Experience – Meet Canvas

At this point, I would guess that basically every Wayne State instructor has learned of the university’s decision to migrate from our current learning management system (LMS), Blackboard (Bb), to a new one called Canvas, which is made by a company called Instructure. This semester I was offered the opportunity — along with about 20 colleagues — to be one of the first instructors to teach classes in Canvas. As I learn about Canvas, I’ll do some journaling about my experiences and share them with the campus community so you have an idea of what to expect.

Knowing that change can be hard for a lot of people, a thoughtful and deliberate process to review and update our LMS has been underway for about one year. I have been involved in this process since the beginning and I am confident that the decision to move to Canvas is the best outcome for the university. You can learn more about the process and the decision at canvasproject.wayne.edu/process.

One huge advantage is that Canvas is a cloud based application—meaning that it is maintained by Instructure an Amazon Web Services hosting. This means that we will never have a moment like the beginning of the last academic year when we experienced several days of downtime. With hundreds of universities dependent on this application Instructure must guarantee reliability. They have the capacity to create backups and redundancies that Wayne State simply cannot create alone.

So, what do I actually think of Canvas?

First of all, I like it very much. Has the move over been without hiccups? No. I didn’t expect it to be. I’ve been using Bb for about 17 years and even though it very frequently drove me insane, I had become accustomed to its user interface and the Bb way of thinking. However, I have already found using Canvas to be more intuitive than Bb ever was. I’ve also found that even though the learning curve slows me down, I can do things more quickly than in Bb. Finally, I have to say that my students are far more receptive to Canvas and are having a far easier time with it than they did Bb.

Next semester, we are on schedule to have five colleges/schools using Canvas. University-wide usage will begin in the fall semester of 2018 with Blackboard being completely shut down in September 2018.

This is my first installment of this series of journals. I know I have not gone into any specifics of using Canvas. Don’t fret, they will come. For this entry, I simply wanted to outline our journey to Canvas.