Encourage Reflection, Improve Involvement, and Sharpen Writing Skills with Student Blogging (in Canvas)

By Tyler Isbell 

Are you looking for different ways to incorporate more student writing in your classroom? Consider student blogs.

Students blogs can provide:

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  • A way to have your students write frequently in your classroom without having to assign (and grade) more term papers or essays.
  • A creative means to have your students reflect upon their thoughts, experiences, and course content in a space they can design.
  • A platform for students share their ideas on a course topic, work with their peers, and connect with an authentic audience.

If you are unsure what a blog is, check out this four minute YouTube video.  Essentially, we understand that a blog is a collection of one’s “thoughts, ideas, experiences, and more” presented in one place online (WPMU DEV, 2013).  The creation of this collection will allow students to practice writing and improve their communication skills, while also sharpening their brain’s performance and boosting their confidence.

All of this is in a space that students can design to be their own and be shared with more than an audience of one instructor (Thomson, 2018). Furthermore, students work with and learn from both their instructors and peers virtually. Blogs provide chances for students to see others’ perspectives and to explore other resources included in posts.  These opportunities promote active learning, student ownership, and reflective practices, provided that the purpose of and expectations for blogging in the classroom is clearly defined to the students (Chawinga, 2017).

How Do I Create Student Blogs (in Canvas)?

A quick search of the Canvas Guides for student blogs will turn up no results.  Although I did find three interesting videos from previous InstructureCons (the Canvas annual conference – See the list at the bottom) regarding the benefits of student blogging, Canvas currently does not have a native blog feature or tool.  However, instructors have developed a few options that others may adopt in order to include student blog posts within their Canvas courses.  I will highlight two main solutions in the table below:

Solution 1:
Native Tool Substitution – Discussions
Solution 2:
Third-Party Tools – Blog + Aggregator
Individual discussion boards are set up for each student as a ‘blog.’ Students use a third-party tools such as WordPress, Blogspot, or Tumblr to create their own blog.  Another third-party tool knowns as an aggregator is then embedded into Canvas in order to present student blog posts within a Canvas page.
Example Examples
Canvas Discussion Example Blogspot/Inoreader Feed (Gibb’s Example)Tumblr/Inoreader Feed
PRO
Benefits of using the Canvas discussion tool
PRO
Benefits of using third party tools
  • Easier setup for faculty.
  • No third party app to learn, use, and teach to students.
  • Administrative rights over blog content — Faculty will retain owner access to student work.
  • Speedgrader integration
  • Students control content and design; picking colors, style, etc.
  • Lives after course — Students can reference their work and/or continue to contribute to their blog even after the course is over.  This could make it more authentic and meaningful to the students.
  • Unique – Blogging will be less confusing because it won’t look like a Canvas discussion board.
CON –
Setbacks for using the Canvas discussion tool
CON –
Setbacks for using third party tools
  • Less customization and features — It’s a discussion board, so it looks like a discussion board.
  • Students lose access when the course is over (unless they save the content externally).
  • Could be confusing to students when trying to use the same platform for blogs and/or journals and/or discussions.
  • Learning curve for faculty and students.  Integrating third party tools — training and supporting students in the creation of their blogs goes BEYOND Canvas support.
  • Faculty does not retain owner access of the student work.  Faculty can remove posts from course feed, but cannot directly edit/remove a student post from the web.
  • Speedgrader integration is NOT automatic (but there is a work around!)

Solution 1 GuideCanvas menu

  1. Go to ‘Discussions’ on your Course navigation.
  2. To create a student blog, click the +Discussion button.
  3. Input the name of the blog.
  4. Use the Rich Content Editor box to add a description of the blog.You may also include instructions for the author and/or guidelines for replying to a post.
  5. Choose ‘Options’ – Allow Threaded replies should be checked.
  6. Click the ‘Save’ or ‘Save and Publish’ buttons.

Screenshot 2019-11-21 15.01.54

 

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*In your course ‘Settings’, it is recommended that you uncheck ‘Let students create discussion topics’ and check ‘Let students attach files to discussions’ and ‘Let students edit or delete their own discussion posts.’

courses setting

Solution 2 Guide

DIY Instructions

Step 1: Student creating blogs and aggregating their feeds into Inoreader
Instructions on collecting student blog posts into Inoreader for easy instructor access.

Step 2: Embedding Inoreader feed into Canvas
Instructions on embedding Inoreader feed in Canvas in order to share/publish student blogs in Canvas.

Tested Third-Party Tools

Here are a few tools tested to work well for student blogging and Canvas integration.

Learn more on our ‘Exploring Student Blogs’ Canvas Page: https://cbu.instructure.com/courses/3988/pages/blogs-in-canvas

Note:  Whether you wish to use solution 1 or 2, feel free to contact our team if you have any questions, concerns, or difficulties setting up or facilitating an activity in your course!

OLET@cbu.edu             (901) 321-4004

Extra Canvas Resources:

References:

Chawinga, W. D. (2017). Taking social media to a university classroom: teaching and learning using Twitter and blogs. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 14(1). doi: 10.1186/s41239-017-0041-6 https://educationaltechnologyjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41239-017-0041-6

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Tyler Isbell is an Instructional Designer and Trainer for the Center for Digital Instruction at Christian Brothers University. He holds an Educational Technology Master’s Degree from Boise State University and masters-level certification in Technology Integration and Online Teaching. Before coming to CBU, Tyler was a trainer and instructional specialist in secondary education. 
 

Learning to Swim (Online!) with OLET

Screenshot 2019-09-17 09.25.00

By Dale Hale

It has been said that some people learn to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool. I don’t know if that’s true, but I can tell you that having good lessons can go a long way toward helping a person learn to swim properly.

Some people have been “thrown into the deep end” of software and been expected to learn on their own. Humans are resilient and can educate themselves. Although, it can be similar to self-medicating — it is rarely best practices and sometimes does more harm than good! It never fails that when someone who really knows the software comes along and shows the self-taught person how to properly use the application, things “click” (no pun intended) and they get it.

I am happy to tell you that we (OLET) never want anyone to miss an opportunity to learn. We do not believe in throwing people into the deep end to fend for themselves. That’s why we have offered approximately 30 sessions of Canvas Basic training since March and are still offering them this month.

We believe so much in online teaching that we have created an Online Faculty Training course that will help faculty learn to make the switch from the traditional classroom to the online classroom. This training course will give you the very basics of teaching in the online environment. It is a short, four-week, asynchronous class designed to fit the busy faculty’s schedule. The next one is beginning very soon. If you’re interested, just click here to go to our website and enroll in Online Faculty Training. Oh, and by the way, successfully completing the training and then deploying that training in an online course will gain you a stipend!

We have another opportunity that will take you beyond Online Faculty Training. We call this multi-day event, “Course Design for Today’s Student.” It will equip you to build an online course that is immediately ready to deploy online. Because this is an actual course development, it comes with a sizable stipend for the successful completion of the course, including designing and building the complete course. This opportunity is open to twelve faculty who have completed the Online Faculty Training and are interested in developing a fully online course with the expectation that this course will be used online in the very near future. You can register for the workshop here.

Friends, we want to help you do your life’s work – to enlighten, inspire and enrich the students who enroll in your course. We truly believe you can do all of this as well in an online course (or maybe even better!) than in a physical classroom. Be on the lookout for even more training opportunities. In mid-October, we will be rolling out offerings for both WebEx and Canvas Studio (both video platforms). Beyond that, watch for trainings in online grading, taking attendance, and more advanced features of our Learning Management System, Canvas.

We’re here to help. Let’s work together.

To register for all course offerings by the Center for Digital Instruction visit our website: https://www.cbu.edu/cdi-training

Dale Hale is the Director of Online Learning & Educational Technology.

Autumn: A Time for Renewal

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By Dale Hale

Last weekend, my wife and I did what we do to relax – we went for a jeep ride, top down, cares in the wind. Sometimes you need those kinds of drives. It’s the equivalent of a few minutes you may take to get away from your desk and take a saunter around, just to clear the cobwebs. For me, I can feel the tension ease from my chest and perspective comes back.

As we were driving, I was thinking about what comes next, sort of like what I wrote in the last newsletter. I landed immediately on the most important thing – football! I grew up in Oklahoma where the main sport is football. Other sports abound, but football is the king of the state. I enjoy it. I’ll watch teams that I have no interest in just for the pleasure of watching football. That’s the first thought I had.

The next thought was about the season. I love the fall. I love the briskness, the beauty of the trees, the warmth of being inside, knowing that the outside is getting cold. I love the fall because it leads me into the celebratory time of the calendar – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. I love the fall. It’s a time of expectations.

Fall is also the time when there are new beginnings. Try as hard as we might, we know that the calendar begins in August/September with the start of the school year. Institutions have tried to spread the “start” times out, but even the students instinctively recognize fall as the time to start fresh. There is an air of excitement over the start of an academic year. Around the CBU campus, the parking lots are full and students are everywhere. Just a few weeks ago, it was quiet and there was no problem finding a parking spot. Now, you have to look for a spot. It’s a great time of the year!

This year, we’re starting the fall with the move to our new LMS, Canvas. I hope you’re all discovering that it’s an accessible, yet powerful tool. It offers options that we never had before. Obviously, it’s a little (or a lot) different than what you’ve experienced before. It may even throw you for a loop. Don’t worry, that’s normal. Change is difficult but can be easily managed by giving yourself a break and realizing there is help readily available.

While we can’t stop the trees from shedding their leaves, the OLET team can help eliminate your frustrations from growing. Just call or email us. We are here on this campus to assist you with Canvas and other educational technology that can improve your online or classroom experience.

I also want to challenge you to find out what Canvas can do. Explore a little. Try something new. This is the time. If you have an idea and can’t seem to find a way to do it, grab one of the OLET team members and let us know. We’ll be happy to hear from you and work with you to get to where you’re dreaming.

So, with the excitement of the cheers of the crowds in the stadiums, the crisp feel of the air, the beauty of the changing trees, and the opportunity to learn and to teach, there’s every reason to love the fall. Of course, as we approach every season, I’ll probably say the same thing about it.

Welcome back to CBU. We look forward to partnering with you in this time of renewal and change.

Dale Hale is the Director of Online Learning & Educational Technology

‘Small Teaching Online’: Small Changes, Big Impact

small teaching online

By Tyler Isbell

‘Small teaching’ is an approach to improving instruction based on the belief that “minor modifications to our teaching can have a major impact on student learning” (Lederman, 2019).  Essentially, effective improvement is made when faculty make small changes to their teaching based on research.  This small change approach allows instructors to avoid the overwhelming pressure of complete overhauls or time-consuming restarts.

Based on James Lang’s approach from Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, Flower Darby presents the micro-actions you can take to design, facilitate, and motivate so that your online class is a huge success.  The name of her recently released book is Small Teaching Online: Applying Learning Science in Online Classes.  Her book is divided into three sections: Designing for Learning, Teaching Humans, and Motivating Online Students (and Instructors).

Today’s Small Teaching Online Tip: “Online Classes are Not Slow-Cookers.” 

Your new online course should NOT resemble your favorite slow-cooker recipe (Darby & Lang, 2019).  Students need more than a quick set up and then a few days to cook the material by themselves.  Most students will not thrive in such an environment – They did not sign up to take an electronic correspondence course.  Students need to feel a connection with their instructors (and with their peers) in order to feel supported in their learning and avoid being discouraged from finishing the online course.  Here are some ways to build your teacher presence in the online classroom:

  • Show Up for Class – Schedule time several times each week to visit your course as if you were attending in person.  Make announcements (this can even be scheduled to help you be present when you cannot be present), answer questions, respond to discussion boards, and give feedback.  With Canvas, your responses may be text, audio, and/or video – more on students hearing and seeing you in the next point.
  • Reveal Your Personality – Students want YOU.  They want to know that you are there and that you are a real person.  Use the ‘About Your Instructor’ page in the template to share more about you, including a picture and a welcome video.  With Canvas Studio within the LMS, you do not need any third-party software to shoot, edit, and share a webcam or screencast video.  CBU faculty members who participated in the Online Faculty Training (OFT) course this summer had the opportunity to create their own welcome videos within Canvas.
  • Design and Teach for Cultural Inclusion – Create a safe learning environment for ALL students.  Make your expectations known and demonstrate how students should interact with you and with other students in the online classroom.  Consider how ethnic or cultural contexts might shape your students’ experiences in your course.
  • Convey Caring and Support – In the same way you want your student to know you are a real person, remember that your students are real people, too.  There are many obligations and commitments that each student must meet.  Consider offering every student an opportunity to receive a deadline extension or an opportunity to revise an assignment if something unexpected occurs.  Think of ways you can “checkup” on each of your students individually.  One faculty member requires her students to meet with her individually at least once during the term.  She prefers a face to face meeting, but offers a web conferencing option for students that cannot meet in the same physical space.

References 

Darby, F. (2019, April 17). How to Be a Better Online Teacher. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from: https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/advice-online-teaching

Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lederman, D. (2019, June 26). Small Teaching Online. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2019/06/26/bringing-small-teaching-online-classroom

Tyler Isbell is an Instructional Designer & Trainer for OLET