Working with Canvas: Setting up for Journaling

By now I’m sure that you are adjusting to Canvas, Wayne State’s new learning management system (LMS)—but you have likely discovered that the new LMS is very different than Blackboard, which inherited many functions from purchased competitors. Canvas strives to have a streamlined user interface with more options rather than functions.

A number of faculty have voiced concern that there is no journal function, but the truth is that Canvas offers several options for you to set up student journals. I’ve outlined three ways to set up a journal, arranged in order of difficulty:  assignment group, discussion group, and a OneNote class notebook.

 

Assignment Group

Set up one assignment group that you define as Journal–this is by far the simplest way. You then create individual assignments for each journal for students to submit, which can later be given a percentage value in your Grades function.

Go into your desired course and follow the instructions below.

  1. Click on Assignments in the sub-menu on the left side and then click on the +Group button. You will then be offered a box to name the Group and designate a percentage of the final grade.

    Figure 1: Assignment Group: Create Group
    Figure 1: Assignment Group: Create group.
  2. Click on the button in your journal category to add the individual assignments to your journal.
  3. Figure 2: Assignment Group - Create Journal Assignment
    Figure 2: Assignment Group – Create Journal Assignment
  4. You will then be presented with a box where you will create the assignment. Give the journal a name, choose a due date, and assign the number of points for the journal. Clicking More Options will allow you to write a description for the assignment, change grade display options, how the assignment is submitted, allow peer reviews, and change the dates of availability.
Figure 3: Assignment Group - Create Assignment
Figure 3: Assignment Group – Create Assignment

Discussion Group

I’ve found that using a discussion group to have students journal works very well too. Essentially, you create a discussion group of one person for each student in your class. This allows students to see all their journal entries in one place.

    1. Click People on the course menu.
    2. Click + Group Set.

      Figure 4: Discussion Group - Create a Group
      Figure 4: Discussion Group – Create a Group
    3. Enter the name for the Group Set (e.g. reflective journals).
    4. Select the Split students into groups option and set the number to be equal to the number of students enrolled in your course.
    5. Click Save.

      Figure 5: Discussion Group - Setting up individual groups
      Figure 5: Discussion Group – Setting up individual groups
    6. Click Discussions on the course menu.
    7. Click the +Discussion button.

      Figure 6: Discussion Group - Set up the Discussion
      Figure 6: Discussion Group – Set up the Discussion
    8. Give the discussion a topic title and enter your instructions or message in the text editor.
    9. If you wish to make this a graded journal activity, select the Graded checkbox in the Options list.
    10. Select the This is a Group Discussion checkbox.
    11. Select the correct Group set from the dropdown menu.

      Figure 7: Discussion Group - Final Setup
      Figure 7: Discussion Group – Final Setup
    12. Click Save.

OneNote Class Notebook

This final method may require a bit more work, but I highly recommend it. OneNote is a Microsoft  Office365 tool that—once installed on your mobile device(s) and computer—allows you to keep notes that can be accessed anywhere.  It has a nice filing system that is organized with notebooks, folders, and pages. I use this all the time; it took the idea that Evernote began and made it even better.

Office 365’s integration with Canvas allows you to utilize the Class Notebook capabilities of the OneNote application. Via OneNote you can share materials, collaborate, or distribute assignments or quizzes. For the students, a notebook is made for each class with sections for each grouping (collaboration space, quizzes, journals). As a teacher, you will have the folders for each student, sections for each grouping, and then pages will be made for each journal entry. As a bonus, both the online version of OneNote and OneNote 2016 for Windows allow you to directly enter grades into Canvas from OneNote (unfortunately this feature does not work in the macOS version or the Windows app).

Though setup takes a bit of time, it is actually quite simple to follow and most of the settings are default.

  1. Once in your Canvas Class, Click Class Notebook.

    Figure 8: Getting Started
    Figure 8: Getting Started
  2. You’ll be presented with steps to sign into Office 365 and set up your Class Notebook. Click Sign into OneNote and you will be taken to the Office 365 sign-in screen for WSU.
  3. Click Create a class notebook.

    Figure 9: Create a Class Notebook
    Figure 9: Create a Class Notebook
  4. You’ll be asked to give the class a name–I suggest leaving the auto-completed name that is pulled from Canvas. Click Next.

    Figure 10: Name the Class
    Figure 10: Name the Class
  5. Again, Click Next as it shows what will be included in your Notebook.

    Figure 11: Notebook Sections
    Figure 11: Notebook Sections
  6. You’ll be asked to add any other people you would like to be included as a teacher. This is handy if you have TAs. The names will be self populated from WSU’s LDAP directory so you can simply begin typing the name. If you have a problem, use their AccessID.  If you have no one to add, just click Next.

    Figure 12: Teacher Permissions
    Figure 12: Teacher Permissions
  7. Click Next as the students’ names are imported from Canvas.

    Figure 13: Student Names
    Figure 13: Student Names
  8. Finally, you are able to add a sections for each of the students. This is where I added a section titled Journals. Next.

    Figure 14: Notebook Sections
    Figure 14: Notebook Sections
  9. Finally, you can view the setup for both the students and yourself. To see each, simply click the name of the views at the top part of the window. You’re done! Click Create.
Figure 15: Preview Contents
Figure 15: Preview Contents

The Notebook is now good to go. I suggest that you enable the teacher only section to get the most out of the tool. This is an area that allows you to keep materials that only you can view.

  1. In Canvas, go into your Class Notebook section. In the screen that opens, choose Manage Notebooks.

    Figure 15: Manage Notebook area.
    Figure 15: Manage Notebook area.

Scroll to the settings for the notebook you are using and click the text: Enable Teacher-Only section group.

Figure 15: Enable Teacher's Section
Figure 15: Enable Teacher’s Section

Now that OneNote is set up, you can not only use it to distribute guided reflective journals (or let the students simply create their own topics), you can use it to distribute notes, quizzes, or have an area for student collaboration. You will have a folder for each of the students and be able to see into any sections that have been created for them. All the while, a special toolbar helps you manage everything (for the Office 2016 version of OneNote, you will have to download and  install the toolbar add-on). Below are examples of the toolbars in the various versions of OneNote.  If you are a Mac user, you may sometimes want to use the online version, as it has more functionality.

Figure 16: OneNote 2016 Toolbar
Figure 16: Class Notebook Toolbar in OneNote 2016

 

Figure 17: OneNote Online Toolbar
Figure 17: Class Notebook Toolbar in OneNote Online
Figure 18: Class Notebook Toolbar in the OneNote Windows App
Figure 18: Class Notebook Toolbar in the OneNote Windows App

 

Figure 19: Class Notebook Toolbar in OneNote for OS X
Figure 19: Class Notebook Toolbar in OneNote for OS X

Which do I prefer?  Honestly, each works best for different situations–that is what is so ideal.

  • Last semester, I was giving my students topics to reflect on, so a Discussion Group was the best choice.
  • This semester I assigned videos for the students to watch and respond to—I used an Assignment Group for this.
  • OneNote is great students who need to keep an ongoing journal for their student teaching or internship.

Just choose what works best for you and your students!

If you need assistance with any of these options, contact the Learning Management System Support team at lmsadmin@wayne.edu. All Wayne State faculty have an Office365 account and may download apps like OneNote–if you have questions about this tool or others in the software, contact the C&IT Help Desk at 313-577-4357 or helpdesk@wayne.edu.

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.