Spring Events Digest

In addition to further programming still in the works, CATL invites you to take a look below at some of the workshops, reading groups, and ongoing programs we have planned for the Spring. Click on any of the titles listed below to learn more and stay tuned for updates!

Teaching Enhancement Grant. Open to faculty, lecturers, and teaching academic staff seeking to enhance their teaching skills or develop innovative teaching strategies! Applications due Friday, Apr. 30. UW-Green Bay.

Teaching Enhancement Grant Proposals (Due Friday, Apr. 30, 2021)

The Instructional Development Council (IDC) is accepting applications for Teaching Enhancement Grants (TEG), through support from the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. The Teaching Enhancement Grant program is designed to support professional development activities that will enhance a faculty member’s teaching skills or result in the development of innovative teaching strategies.

All full-time faculty, lecturers and teaching academic staff whose primary responsibility is teaching for the current academic year are strongly encouraged to apply! Click the button below for full details.

TEG applications are due Friday, April 30, 2021

Application Info

Organizing Canvas to Improve the Student Experience

Article by Sam Mahoney

We’ve all been there: someone told you to finish that thing, and you remember seeing the file somewhere a few weeks ago, but you just can’t remember where you saved it. Or when it’s due. Or maybe even what it was called. Maybe it was this file titled “download_040521”? No wait… maybe download_064053?

Now imagine yourself in that same situation, but you’re a student. Between unclear file names, multiple methods of communication, and so many places information can be posted, it can be frustrating to keep track of all the details in an online class. That’s where organization and consistency in how you use Canvas can save your students a lot of headache and you from the burden of answering a dozen emails a day from confused students. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by UW-La Crosse, students cited clear organization in Canvas as one of the most important things their instructors did that helped them during their Fall 2020 classes. Read on for some suggestions on getting more organized in Canvas so you can help your students be more successful in your classes.

Organizing Course Content

When teaching online, an important consideration is how to arrange and present your content. For maximum clarity and visibility, we recommend organizing your content in modules on the home page. Students are generally used to working through online content sequentially, so arranging modules chronologically with the first week/unit at the top is ideal. You could also arrange your course’s modules in reverse chronological order, publishing the most recent one at the start of each unit/week, so the current module is always at the top of the page. If arranging your content chronologically doesn’t seem like a good fit for your class, you could also try grouping content in modules by project instead.

GIF of reordering modules on the course home page
Modules can be rearranged by clicking and dragging the stacked dots in the top left corner.

Once you have decided how you would like to set up your modules, consider the order in which the content within the modules appears. The first item in a module is nearly always a page. This page should provide students with the context they need to successfully read/watch the necessary materials and complete the necessary activities for the week or unit. You can also use this page to provide an introductory paragraph with other necessary contextual information, as well as the learning objectives or goals for the unit/week. Depending on the depth of the material, you may also consider breaking this information down into multiple pages.

For example, your overview page in each module might include:

Briefly introduce the materials and concepts covered in the module.

Provide any necessary background information students may need to know before engaging with the "meat" of the content. 

You can also link to relevant, optional "pre-reading" materials that might be useful for some students to review before diving into the new content. 

Concretely describe what you would like students to know or be able to do by the end of the week/unit's activities.

For more on crafting objectives, see this guide.

Link to online articles or documents uploaded in the files area in Canvas.

Make sure all readings are accessible—PDF scans of physical textbooks, for example, are not usually readable by e-readers unless they have been OCR-scanned.

A quick way to check: can you copy and paste the text? 

Embed your pre-recorded lectures for the module in sequential order. 

Try to break down lectures into shorter, more digestible videos. Studies have shown that 6—9 minutes may be the sweet spot, and a conversational tone is equally important (Brame, 2016).

Link directly to Canvas activities that students are to complete for the week/unit (assignments, discussions, etc.). 

Include both graded and non-graded activities. 

After the overview page, add any relevant Canvas activities to the module, such as discussions, assignments, and quizzes, all with appropriate, descriptive and consistent namesIf you are using a weekly or unit-based module system, only add the activities that will be due that week/unit. In general, all Canvas assignments, discussions, and quizzes should also have due dates assigned to them in Canvas, as this will add the item to students’ to-do list and calendar in Canvas. These due dates, combined with adding those activities to the appropriate module, will let students see at a glance what is due by the end of the week or unit. Keep the content in the modules simple and high-level in terms of information—save the specifics for the assignment, discussion, or quiz details. 

Linking Related Materials 

It may be tempting to link all your readings, resources or other materials for a unit in the modules on the home page, but the more content students see in the module, the more overwhelmed they will feel. Instead, it is a good idea to keep materials related to each project, assignment, or other activity in the activity description itself. 

With Canvas’s Rich Content Editor, which is what you use to edit the descriptions of assignments, quizzes, and discussions, you can add links to files (documents that you have uploaded to the files area), content within Canvas (published pages, discussions, assignments, etc.) and external URLs (online articles or other websites that have content or activities you would like students to engage with). You can also embed videos that you have created (Kaltura/My Media videos) or videos from other sources that support embed codes (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.). Use this to your advantage by linking all relevant materials needed for completing an activity in the description for said activity. After you’re finished, it’s a good idea to check over the links in your course with Canvas’s link validator tool to make sure you don’t have any broken links.

How to link a file with the New RCE menu bar
Demonstration of how to link a file with the Rich Content Editor.

It’s not enough to just add links, however. Any materials that you would like students to engage with also require clear, concise instructions for what you would like students to do with the content that you’ve linked. 

Here are some questions to consider when you are adding materials to your assignments, discussions, and other areas of Canvas: 

Use the exact name of the article or video, or a clear, concise description for the inline text when you create a link.

For an article, for example, is your intention for students to skim it? Do a close read? Annotate it? Take detailed notes?

Include page numbers for readings and timestamps for videos, when applicable.

This information also allows students to better gauge the amount of time they will need to complete an activity.

Provide instructions on how you would like students to apply what they have learned/accomplished from the linked material to the activity.

Decide if you want students' use of the material to be open-ended or specific (e.g. for a discussion, do you want students to submit a free-form reflection on the reading, or answer specific discussion questions?).

Consistency is Key

However you decide to organize your course, it’s important to keep things as consistent as possible from week to week or unit to unit. This includes:

  • File naming conventions
  • Assignment/discussion/quiz naming conventions
  • Layouts on pages
  • Layouts in modules
  • When, where, and how students can find the instructions for an assignment/discussion/quiz
  • When, where, and how students are to submit an assignment/discussion post/quiz

You’ll find that students will become quickly habituated to doing things a certain way, so if you change up, for example, the location in which students can find the weekly PowerPoint slides, it will likely disrupt students’ learning and cause unnecessary confusion and frustration. Studies have shown that consistency in course design is one of the keys to student success in an online environment (Swan, et al, 2000).

Other Ideas

Have you found other creative and effective ways to organize your course content in Canvas? Let us know by dropping a comment below! Or perhaps there’s something you read about here that you’d like some help implementing in your own course—consider emailing us at catl@uwgb.edu or filling out our consultation request form to chat with a CATL member.


The content of this post has been adapted from CATL’s Pandemic to Online Teaching course from January 2020.


 

A broken chain

Avoiding Broken Links in Canvas

Has this happened to you? You open an email from one of your students that reads, “I can’t access the required reading file in week 3 of the Canvas course?” Concerned, you open your Canvas course. You check your week 3 module; it’s published and so is your “Required Readings” page. Strange. You open the course page and click on the link to the reading file; it downloads. Even stranger. Your student still insists that they cannot access the file. What is going on???

Instructors working in Canvas can occasionally encounter scenarios like the above where a link, image, or file in their Course works for them but does not work for their students. These errors can be very tricky to diagnose and are often caused by something sneaky going on “under the hood” in Canvas. Thankfully, Canvas has a tool that instructors can use to hunt out bad links in their course. This post introduces Canvas’s course link validator tool and explains how it can be used to proactively detect broken links in your courses. It will also provide a few tips for fixing these issues once they’ve been detected and best practices for avoiding these issues altogether.

Detecting Broken Links

Your secret weapon in this fight against broken links is the course link validator. The course link validator, which can be accessed from the Settings page of your course, scans all content in a course for links that may not work for any of several reasons. It will detect and report links to unpublished content, links to content in another course, and links to external websites that just don’t work. It’s a great idea to run the link validator right before you are ready to publish your course and run it again each time you make a large change or addition.

After running the link validator, Canvas will display a list of each piece of content in your course that contains at least one link that may need your attention. These problematic links are further sorted beneath a description of the cause of the error. In the example screenshot of link validator results below, the validator found five broken links in this course:

The results of a link validation check in Canvas.

  • One embedded image in a quiz question that will not work for students because the embedded image is stored in another course.
  • Three links within a single page that students cannot access because each link points to an object in another course. This page has a link to a page in another course, an embedded image stored in another course, and a link to a file stored in another course.
  • A link in a different page that points to an assignment in this course that has not yet been published.

These results illustrate two of the most common causes for confounding broken links in a course:

  1. Links pointing to unpublished files or other unpublished course content
  2. Links pointing to content that is in a different Canvas course

Both of these issues create links that appear to work fine for the instructor but do not work for students. Without a tool like the course link validator, it would be very difficult to detect these issues!

Defeating Broken Links

Whenever the link validator detects a broken link in your course, it’s time to spring into action and heal those links. Mending links that are broken because they point to unpublished content is straightforward: find that content in your course and publish it! Fixing links that point to content in other courses is trickier.

First, you need to remove the bad link. To do this, find the course content that contains the bad link and edit it. Then remove the bad link or embedded image:

  • For broken links, find the course content that contains the bad link, click edit, click the link in the editor, then click Remove Link.
    The Remove Link option in Canvas
  • For broken embedded images, put your text edit cursor after of the image and backspace to remove it.

Once the bad link is removed, use the Canvas editor’s tools to create a new link that points to the course file or course page, or embed the image from your course images. If that file, page, or image you are linking to doesn’t yet exist within the course, you’ll have to upload it from your computer or import it from the other course. Recreating the link in this fashion will point it at content that is contained within the same course, ensuring your students get to where they need to go!

Why Broken Links Happen

These sneakily broken links are typically the result of a teacher trying to share something with their students that their students are not allowed to access. Naturally, teachers are afforded much wider access to a course than students. The most confusing broken links commonly point to either unpublished content or content in another course. Students can’t see unpublished content or content in the teacher’s other courses, but the teacher can!

One item type in a Canvas course that can unexpectedly cause access problems with its published status is course files. Unlike most other content in a Canvas course, you typically don’t have to manually publish course files; most files you upload to a course will be published upon upload. However, files or even entire file folders can be unpublished in your course Files page. When that happens, students will receive access denied messages after attempting to click a link to that file. To resolve this issue, the course instructor must publish the file or folder in the course’s Files page.

Links to content in another Canvas course can sneak in whenever course content is manually copied from one Canvas course and then pasted into another course. The result of copying and pasting between courses creates links to files, pages, and images that point to an outside course. When students try to follow these links, Canvas sees that they are not enrolled in that course and sends an “access denied” message. To prevent this type of broken link, never copy and paste links or images from one Canvas course into another. Instead, use Canvas’s copy and import tools whenever you need to duplicate content from one course to another.

An Access Denied Error in Canvas

Try it Out!

Whether or not you have been bitten by broken links in the past, we encourage you to run the link validator in your Canvas courses. If the validator finds any issues, take a look at those pages in your course and either remake those links or publish any unpublished link targets. You can check to see if your fixes were successful by rerunning the validator and using student view to try the links as the test student. If you’re ever unsure of how to fix an issue reported by the link validator, please don’t hesitate to contact Canvas 24/7 support via the “Help” button in Canvas, email UWGB’s Canvas support team at dle@uwgb.edu, or request a CATL Consultation for one-on-one training on finding and fixing broken links!

Film: Supporting Our First Nations Students (Friday, April 30. 1-2 p.m.)

Please join us for a showing of a short film, created by UWGB student Kelly House, about how we as a university can improve the ways in which we support our First Nations students. After the film, we will continue the conversation with a facilitated discussion led by a panel of First Nations students, faculty, and staff.

Register Here

Steps Towards Assuring Academic Integrity

Article by Nathan Kraftcheck.

A common initial concern I often hear when meeting with new distance education instructors is how to prevent cheating and plagiarism. How can they ensure the rigor of their assessments? Although there is not a 100% successful strategy that one can adopt, neither is there a 100% successful strategy for eliminating cheating during in-person assessments (Watson & Sottile, 2010). However, we still strive to limit academic dishonesty to the best of our abilities. I’ve provided some practices below that you may find useful in both reducing the opportunity for students to commit academic misconduct, and their motivation to do so in your class.

Quiz and exam building strategies to save time and reduce cheating

One way in which online instructors reduce time spent grading is through online quizzes and exams. Systems like Canvas have allowed for automatic grading of certain question types for many years (open-ended manually graded questions are also available). Depending on an instructor’s goals, course objectives, and discipline, automatically scored online quizzes and exams can be a useful tool.

  • As a formative learning activity in itself—a way for students to check their own learning in low-stakes assessment.
  • As a replacement for other low-stakes work. This can be useful in offloading discussion board fatigue that many students cited over the Fall of 2020.
  • As a method to assess foundational knowledge that is necessary for future work in the major or program.
  • As a manageable way to assess a large number of students.

Decorative icon of a stopwatchWhen including online quizzes and exams in a course, the ability for students to look up the answer is always a concern. Instructors may be tempted to direct students to not use external materials when taking their assessment. Unfortunately, just asking students not to use such material is unlikely to find much success. A more common, practical approach is to design the quiz or exam around the fact that many students will use external resources when possible.

  • Allow multiple attempts.
  • Consider drawing questions from a pool of possible questions. This can allow the students to engage with the same concept, framed differently, helping them work on the underlying concept instead of mastering a specific question’s language.
  • Let students see the correct answer after the quiz or exam is no longer available. This can help if you'd like to allow your students to use their quiz or exam as a study guide.
  • Draw questions from a pool of possible questions—each student will have a randomized experience this way and depending on how large the pool is, some students may not see the exact same version of the questions (assuming different wording across questions that measure the same concept).
  • Shuffle the order of possible answers.
  • Limit how long the quiz or exam is open if you want to mimic a closed-book assessment—don't allow students time to look up all the answers.
  • Let students see the correct answer after the quiz or exam is no longer available. This can help if you'd like to allow your students to use their quiz or exam as a study guide.
  • Only show one question at a time—this can limit a student's ability to look up multiple questions at once and also limit their ability to share the questions with a friend.
  • Set availability and due dates for your quizzes or exams.
  • Modify your questions slightly from semester to semester. Do this for 100% of your publisher-provided questions—assume copies of publisher questions and their answers are available online for students to look up.

For more detailed information on these items, please look at this page for guidance.

Less high-stakes assessment and more low-stakes assessment

It’s fairly common for teaching and learning centers to promote an increase in the use of lower-stakes assessments and a decrease in the higher-stakes assessments. This might seem counterintuitive because more assessments could mean a greater opportunity to cheat, right? It may also seem like additional work since students would be required to take assessments more frequently. However, there is good reason to advocate for more frequent, smaller assessments.

  • Students have a better understanding of how well they grasp discrete topics.
  • Students will know earlier if they’re not doing well, instead of at the first midterm.
  • Students learn from recalling information—a quiz can be more effective than just studying.
  • Students learn more through repeated assessment in comparison to one assessment (Brame & Biel, 2015; Roediger & Butler, 2011).

“Done” / “not done” grading

For low-stakes formative student assignments, consider adopting a done/not done approach. This could take the form of any assignment you could quickly assess for completion, for instance, a brief reflective or open-ended written assignment submission or discussion post. By keeping the activity brief and focused, you’ll be able to quickly assess whether it was done correctly while allowing students to re-engage with class topics by making meaning from what they’ve learned.

From the University of Waterloo:

  • What new insights did I develop as a result of doing this work?
  • How has my perspective changed after doing this assignment?
  • What challenges to my current thinking did this work present?
  • How does work in this course connect with work in another course?
  • What concepts do I still need to study more? Where are the disconnects in my learning?

Working up to larger projects and papers

Decorative icon of an increasing chart.For larger, summative projects that by their nature dictate a large influence on final course grades, consider breaking up the project into smaller steps (Ahmad & Sheikh, 2016).

For a written paper assignment, an instructor could:

  • Start by asking students to select a topic based on a parameter you provide and find source material to support their topic.
  • Students submit their topic description and source material as an assignment. Grade as complete/incomplete and provide guidance if necessary on topic and/or sources.
  • Ask students to create an annotated bibliography.
  • Students submit an annotated bibliography to an assignment. Grade as complete/incomplete.
  • Create a discussion in Canvas where students can talk about their topics (assuming they're all somewhat related). Grade as complete/incomplete.
  • Ask students to create a rough draft. Utilize peer grading in Canvas to off-load grading and include student-to-student communication and collaboration.
  • Students submit a second draft or final draft. Grade with a rubric.

By asking students to select their topic and work through the writing process on a step-by-step basis, the instructor can see the process the student takes through the paper’s development, and students are not able to procrastinate and thus won’t feel pressured to plagiarize someone else’s work (Elias, 2020) as they’re already doing most of the work anyway. This process also discourages plagiarism as there is not as much of an emphasis on the finished product, as the possible score is distributed across multiple activities (Carnegie Mellon University).

Built-in flexibility

Dropping lowest scores

Another way to reduce the appeal of cheating in courses is to offer some flexibility in grading (Ostafichuk, Frank & Jaeger). This can take many forms, of course, but one common to classes using a learning management system like Canvas is to drop the lowest score in a grouping of similar activities. As an example, an online instructor might have a Canvas Assignment Group containing all of their graded quizzes. The instructor can then create a rule for that Assignment Group which will tell Canvas how to calculate scores of the activities inside. For example, the instructor might set the Assignment Group to exclude each student’s lowest score in that group when calculating the final grade. The quiz score that is dropped varies from student to student, but each would have their lowest score dropped.

Student options

Building off the concept of dropping the lowest score students achieve from a group of assignments, you can also use this functionality to build in student choice. For example, if you have more than two discussion activities in your class that meet the same learning objective, consider letting students select the one that they want to participate in and then “drop” the other.

Late work leeway

Another option for flexibility is to set the “due” dates for your graded activities but leave the “available to” date empty or make it the absolute last date and time you would accept submissions. This will allow your students to submit their work beyond the due date and have it flagged as “late”, but also reduce the likelihood of a student cheating on an assignment if they’ve procrastinated or otherwise fallen behind in their coursework. You can also create late work grading policies within Canvas that automatically deduct a percentage of possible points on a daily or weekly basis.

Make use of rubrics

Decorative icon of a rubric.  Research has shown that rubrics are effective tools in shining light on the most important elements of an assignment, setting student expectations for quality and depth of submitted work, and simplifying the grading process for instructors (Kearns). By making a rubric available ahead of time, students have another opportunity to see how their work will be graded and what crucial elements they should include. They can also address equity issues between students, leveling the field between students whose education has prepared them to succeed in college versus those who have not (Stevens & Levi, 2006). Some instructors have found that using rubrics reduces their time spent grading, possibly because of the focused nature of what is being assessed (Cornell University; Duquesne University).

Canvas has built-in rubrics that can be attached to any graded activity. Rubrics are used mostly in Canvas Assignments and Discussions. They can be added to quizzes but aren’t used in the actual grading process for quizzes and would be used as guidance for students only. To learn more about rubrics, take a look at this rubrics guide by Boston College. There’s also a more task-oriented guide from Canvas, available here.

What do you think?

What techniques have you found useful in limiting academic misconduct in your classes? Let us know by dropping a comment below!