A Learning Management System with a Future?

I recently attended a demonstration of Canvas and wanted to give some of my thoughts on this educational tool. Already, Canvas possesses the baseline features of a Learning Management System (LMS) such as content distribution, grade management, discussion forums, etc., but beyond these fundamental ingredients, there are several parts of Canvas that I found interesting when thinking about education.

Phenomenal Features

Some of my favorite features of Canvas included (1) the option to have students engage in peer grading, (2) giving students the ability to create their own courses within the Canvas system, and (3) being able to produce content and interact with Canvas on mobile devices.

(1) Integrated Peer Grading

In Canvas, peer grading is a streamlined process where instructors can easily assign their students to give feedback to their peers. This feedback process can take place within the bounds of a rubric that is managed by Canvas to seamlessly give and receive feedback on assignments. Instructors can create custom rubrics for assignments or use any that have been standardized by their institution.

In addition to increasing the frequency of feedback on assignments, creating a culture of peer critique and academic interaction is an important step for training the employees and scholars of tomorrow.

(2) Students Create Courses

One of the best ways students gain mastery and transference over content is by educating each other since the challenge of teaching is also the perfect opportunity for learning. Fortunately, Canvas is flexible enough that students can be granted the capability of producing their own courses within the system. Not only would this be valuable practice for pre-service teachers, but this could capitalize on the perspectives of content and learning from our students’ points of view.

For example, imagine a course that is prepared by students as a prerequisite to General Chemistry. In this potential course, students could outline the study materials and explanations that they believed were valuable to their own learning in this course. The act of producing such a course would be an excellent learning exercise for students, and generating more resources for future pupils can aid in their understanding of course materials.

(3) Producing Mobile

I want to build courses using only my phone! Why? Because with that level of flexibility, I can use any device at any location to be productive. As mobile devices are the most prevalent personal computing devices in the world, we shouldn’t be constrained to a computer when interacting with students online. Fortunately, the option to produce and consume content in Canvas from a mobile device is possible via iOS or Android apps. And there is a complete guide on what can be done on mobile devices in Canvas. Imagine being productive using a computing device that was under $50 and breaking down socioeconomic barriers related to technology access and education!

Altogether, these are some of the features that I see being most important for the future of this LMS. Even if these features are underutilized at first, granting these capabilities to users will expand their opportunities for use to engage students.

Everything Else

It was wonderful to see all the external tools that now integrate into Canvas. Due to their excellent API, other companies and communities can integrate their tools into Canvas, adding even more features to this LMS. (Even Minecraft has a Canvas integration!) A byproduct of this openness is the integration of search engines for creative commons materials. For example, pulling open content from Flickr can be done in seconds without leaving the content editing interface of Canvas.

Additionally, it is easy to produce an open course and engage the public in scholarship using this LMS. Being able to showcase the instructional work of teachers and educate individuals beyond the classroom makes me excited for the possibility of this tool at a University.

Finally, beyond all the functionality I saw demonstrated, Canvas sports a clean, modern design. The user interface is nice and I prefer its navigational setup to other LMSs I have used. In fact, it is possible to hide unused components of Canvas from view to minimize confusion when students access a course.

Try Canvas Now!

If you want to try out Canvas for one of your courses, you are able to do so right now! Just sign up for one of their Free-for-Teacher accounts. You won’t have access to your institution’s Student Information System (SIS) within the Canvas system, but you can still use all of the basic features with your students.

I just started exploring Canvas myself and am excited to try some of those features I mentioned—especially interacting with courses using my phone! Up until this moment, I have never been excited for an LMS. But now, I believe this LMS may have a future in my collection of instructional tools.

How to Blog, Develop Curriculum, Microblog, & Discuss in 50 Minutes

Last Friday I had the pleasure to present at OU’s 5th annual Academic Technology Expo with John Stewart. Since our “presentation” was more of a hands-on workshop, titled Mobile Blogging, Scholarship, and Cultivating Student Success, we had participants blog, develop curriculum, microblog and discuss applications of mobile blogging in their classrooms. It was phenomenal, and here’s how we accomplished everything in 50 minutes:

Minutes 0-10

First, John and I started with a Paper Tweet microblogging exercise, asking participants to name and describe their favorite classroom activity in 140 characters or less. Individuals shared some of their examples before we engaged them in a followup discussion.

“Why blog?” and “Why blog using a mobile device?” were the initial questions we posed to the group. And with each inquiry, John and I wanted to establish reasons why instructors might employ blogging and mobile blogging in their classrooms.

Minutes 10-30

Next, John and I asked participants to take their favorite classroom activity—the one from their Paper Tweet—and modify this activity to include a blogging component. We requested participants record these responses as a blog post to let them experience the nuances of writing a post. In other words, we were asking participants to develop curriculum while simultaneously documenting this content as blog posts.

This exercise was the primary logistical challenge of our workshop. For individuals that had their own blog, we encouraged them to use their own digital space to publish responses. For other, John and I brought several tablets to be used to accomplish this task. Following several minutes of collaborative and individual curriculum development, we heard many excellent classroom activities that now included new blogging components.

For example, some responses included having students blog about articles they had to research for assignments. Other examples included having students respond to photographs as blog posts or “live tweeting” during classroom presentations. All that too say, there were several, viable new pieces of curriculum that were outlined and shared in this short period of time.

Minutes 30-45

At this point, John and I led more discussion about mobile blogging. We wanted to know what participants had to say about “how the nature of an assignment is changed when blogging is introduced?” and “how could student success be determined as a blog?” These are a few of the questions that we used to develop the concept of how mobile blogging could be applied in a classroom.

Minutes 45-50

Lastly, John and I spent a few minutes presenting our thoughts on Mobile Blogging. Some of which included:

Reflection

Overall, this experience was excellent. Many participants where introduced to mobile blogging and experiencing it for the first time, while others had attended related training.  During our workshop, John and I wanted to make sure everyone got to discuss mobile blogging applications in the classroom and generate a piece of curriculum that could be used in their courses. We designed this workshop to be hands-on and give participants an opportunity to produce something valuable—and to accomplish all this in 50 minutes was an exciting challenge!

What’s In Store for Spring 2016?

I am really looking forward to the trainings and presentations for the upcoming semester. In particular, I am excited about hosting GOBLIN for the first time (more details below). In addition to GOBLIN, here’s a list of trainings I am offering this semester through CTE (descriptions, schedules, and sign-up links provided where available):

Mobile Blogging & Scholarship

MBS Blog Image

Mobile Blogging & Scholarship (MBS) is about teaching the nature of blogging from a mobile device. Starting with tablet fundamentals and progressing through blogging elements including text, video, and graphics, participants will experience and demonstrate their understanding of each of these topics. In particular, attention will be given to instructional and professional use-cases of mobile blogging to provide participants with content that will be immediately applicable.

A couple days ago, I finished facilitating Mobile Blogging & Scholarship for the 3rd time! I had an awesome group of faculty who where fun to work with and gave me some great feedback on this professional development.

Schedule: January 11 & 12

Academic Technology Expo

Blog Image Banner 3

Academic Technology Expo (ATE) is tomorrow! This year, John Stewart and myself will be presenting over Mobile Blogging, Scholarship, & Cultivating Student Success. Our presentation will be hands-on and center around discussion and interaction. So, come prepared to participate! 🙂

Schedule: January 15 @ 10:00AM

OU Create Training

OU Create Blog Image

OU Create Training, like previous semesters, will take place multiple times during the semester. Each session will be dedicated to getting participants setup within create.ou.edu and on their way to producing their own website. Specifically, users will be introduced to domains, cPanel, and installing and using WordPress on their OU Create space. Each of these trainings is identical and I suggest attending only one.

Schedule:
January 20 @ 9:00AM
January 27 @ 1:00PM
February 5 @ 9:00AM
March 23 @ 1:00PM (Online)

GOBLIN

GOBLIN

Games Offer Bold Learning Insights Nowadays (GOBLIN) is an interactive adventure game that is, first and foremost, a vehicle to experientially teach pedagogical concepts. GOBLIN aims to synergistically combine professional development, storytelling, and a role-playing game into a memorable, engaging learning experience for instructors. Over the course of GOBLIN, topics ranging from scaffolding and overcoming failure to team-based learning, game-based learning, and gamification will be discussed and experienced firsthand.

The remainder of GOBLIN is under wraps for a little while longer. John Stewart and I have been working on this training since last semester and plan to release more details soon!

Schedule: TBD (February - March)

Professional, Instructional, & Advanced Series

This semester, I will offer several series of trainings from various perspectives: professional uses, instructional uses, and advanced uses. Instructors may participate in one session from each topic or all three as desired. Each training will cover different information that is connected but not prerequisite. The following topics will be part of these three perspectives:

WordPress Training will be offered to supplement OU Create training. The Professional Use session will focus on e-portfolios and professional blogs. The Instructional Use session will cover engaging students with blogging. And the Advanced Use session will emphasize plugins and WordPress functionality.

Schedule:
January 20 @ 10:30AM (Professional Use)
January 27 @ 2:30PM (Instructional Use)
February 5 @ 10:30AM (Advanced Use)

Google Hangouts on Air Training, like the WordPress training, will be offered in three flavors. The Professional Use session will aim to provide participants with the knowledge to participate and host a Google Hangouts on Air. The Instructional Use session intends to teach participants how to utilize Google Hangouts on Air in the classroom, potentially as a solution to conduct online office hours, etc. Finally, the Advanced Use session will cover using some of the built in features of Google Hangouts on Air (Cameraman, Control Room, etc.) to demonstrate the full potential of this broadcasting tool.

Schedule: TBD (February - March)

Twitter Training will also benefit from three perspectives. The Professional Use session will focus on Twitter as a networking and communication tool. The Instructional Use session will emphasize how to incorporate Twitter into the classroom. And the Advanced Use session will introduce Twitter visualization like TAGSExplorer.

Schedule:
March 21 @ 1:00PM (Professional Use)
March 30 @ 9:00AM (Instructional Use)
April 8 @ 9:00AM (Advanced Use)

Summer Planning

After all of these trainings take place, I will shift my focus to summer (and likely fall) professional development planning. At the moment, I am considering a Faculty Learning Community that focuses on the skill required to participate in a professional development MOOC (such as CLMOOC), but nothing is finalized yet.

Regardless, 2016 is poised to be a very promising year and I am excited for everything to come!

Teaching Digital Scholarship with WordPress on Mobile Devices

Yesterday concluded the first section of my Mobile Blogging & Scholarship Training. This is a professional development workshop series for instructors at the University of Oklahoma, which I created in my role as Educational Technologist at the Center for Teaching Excellence.
The Course

Over the course of nine hours, six sessions, and two weeks, professors came together to learn both technical skills and what it means to be a digital scholar. The main goal of this course was to equip participants with the ability to manage and run their own blog from a tablet, while justifying the value of doing so. This dynamic of learning both how and why to blog stimulated the success of this course.

First, we spent time setting up and learning the basics of operating an iPad. Then we turned our attention to the essentials of WordPress. Once participants had foundational knowledge of both iPad and WordPress, we dove into producing their first blog posts. The remainder of this training focused on creating pages, posts, and comments. Other topics, like including videos in posts, were taught in tandem with each writing assignment to give participants the opportunity to apply new skills with each of their posts.

On an educational sidenote, the pedagogies employed in this training stem from constructivism, social learning, active learning strategies and much more. Together, these teaching practices manifested into an interactive social learning environment where participants explored what it means to blog. In other words, time was spent actively blogging, commenting, and exploring the use of photos and videos during class while instructor assistance was available.

By the end of this section, participants had completed sixteen blog posts totaling 2,713 words, in addition to including photos and videos in their WordPress sites and exchanging comments on each other’s submissions.

My Experience

I had a phenomenal experience getting to work with these professors! Learning about iPads, WordPress, and what it means to blog are exciting topics in our digital world of education. Sessions were filled with rich discussion, individual instruction, and diverse perspectives that made teaching this course extremely rewarding.

Now, I am looking forward to my next section of Mobile Blogging & Scholarship in July, during which I am expecting fifteen participants!

Additionally, I was excited by the perspective my training offered in terms of mobile blogging, since blogging is often thought to occur using a traditional computer. There are specific characteristics of mobile devices, like integrated cameras and physical mobility, that lead to entirely different forms of blogging. It was exciting to see participants take advantage of these features, and use their iPads to capture images to include in their posts. I hope combining blogging and mobile devices will inspire individuals to create and use new forms of digital scholarship.

Feedback

I am excited to report that I received positive feedback at the conclusion of this professional development. Instructors wrote that they had learned how versatile the WordPress platform was for both blogging and establishing a web presence. Not to mention, one of the participants stated that she/he believes everyone who is interested in digital scholarship should go through this training. I even had one instructor tell me I didn’t assign enough homework! In other words, I received confirmation that this training was both essential and impactful.

Suggestions

Having finished teaching the first section of this training, I want to suggest something for anyone looking to bring blogging into the classroom or your professional life. Effective blog prompts were some of the most meaningful aspects of each session. Not only did they provide relevant topics to blog about, but they also functioned as scaffolding for the learning process of writing a post. Over the duration of the training, I decreased the amount of information provided with each prompt to wean instructors off of this support mechanism and prepare them for blogging unassisted. Additionally, I made it a point to encourage participants to write about any topic they could think of, as my prompts were only a starting place.

I believe blog prompts were so important in this training that I plan on sending more prompts to participants after they have completed this workshop series to continue stimulating ideas for blogging.

Looking Forward

So what is next for this course? Even before my first session started, I had big plans for this training. I see potential for transitioning more and more of the content online until the course could be taken independent of an instructor. Using plugins like BuddyPress and BadgeOS, I would love this website to evolve into a self-sustaining learning environment devoted to self-paced, open, and community-driven instruction centered around mobile blogging and scholarship.

Additionally, I would like to alter Mobile Blogging & Scholarship to incorporate instruction for more types of mobile devices like Android tablets and/or a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model of participation. I also see an opportunity to develop a ninety-minute version of this training that focuses on the core components of this training to introduce professors to this form of digital scholarship.

For the record, this entire post (like my previous post) was created exclusively on my iPad! Shout-out to my fellow mobile blogging pioneers!

Not Another Reason to Update Your Operating System!

It is easier to learn incremental changes in an Operating System (OS) than wait 12 years and be overwhelmed by drastic differences.

Let me put some context to this thought: Last weekend I was talking with an extended family member, who was describing his update from Windows XP to Windows 8.1 and being disappointed with how slowly he was learning the new OS. Rightfully so—a lot had changed in 12 years. And when I thought about it, coming from Windows XP, he had never experienced my favorite feature of Windows.

The Windows Search functionality was introduced in Windows Vista (following Windows XP) in 2007. I remember this feature was a game changer in terms of how I accessed my files since I could reach them directly from the desktop through the Start Menu. And with each iteration of the OS, Windows Search became even more integral into my digital workflow.

And this is only one example—without the knowledge of Windows Vista and Windows 7, the transition from Windows XP to Windows 8.1 was all the more painful for my relative.

To ease this transition processes for yourself, I suggest updating your OS more frequently, so that the variations from version to version are not quite as extreme. Yes, this does mean you will struggle through the learning process for each OS release, but in so doing, you will gain a better awareness of the constantly evolving landscape of technology and be better prepared for the future of computer interfaces and productivity workflows.

This year, there will be many opportunities to update your operating system(s). We will see the release of Windows 10 (for free!) in addition to the usual Mac OS X, Android, and iOS updates. And I encourage you to consider updating to current versions of these operating systems. If not for security improvements, additional features, or device compatibility (etc.), then to stay current on ever evolving digital workflows that come with each new update.

Preferably, there’s not another reason to update your operating system!

Featured image by Craig Garner, no copyright.