(Finally) Finishing That Post

I just published a blog post that was started back in June 2016. Originally I was writing a long, detailed guide about how to integrate websites into Canvas after I’d used this tool in a training course I facilitated back in May 2016.

But my writing during the summer stopped when I attended a conference and my grandmother passed away during my travels. It was hard to motivate myself to continue writing this post because Grandmommy had just started reading my blog and learned how to comment on my blog. In other words, all the posts I was working on at that time were not visited again.

Until now.

I’ve started combing through the content I was writing last summer to see if there’s anything that needs to be resurrected. The post I just finished has been hanging over my head for a long time and I’m happy to have it (finally) published. I hope my words can do some good and provide instructors with more tools and valuable use cases for technologies in the classroom.

Really that’s all I wanted to share. It took a while, but in finishing that post I’ve made it over that writing block.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Jake Thacker via Unsplash.

Stories from Paying the Price – Ch 1 Reflection

“The democratic community cannot tolerate  a society based upon education for the well-to-do alone. If college opportunities are restricted to those in the higher income brackets, the way is open to the creation and perpetuation of a class society which has no place in the American way of life.” – The Truman Commission (1)

The reason I’m studying the rising cost of college costs is because, at the core, I want a classless society. By understanding and pursuing how to democratize higher education I hope to further this cause. But let’s start with something a bit lighter. 🙂

My favorite part of Chapter 1 was reading the introductions of Chloe, Ian, Tyler, Nima, Norbert, and Sophie (CINNTS). Their stories will likely be the most significant point of engagement for me while reading. Especially since I’m the same age and understand the value of need-based financial aid firsthand. I’m already a bit anxious about CINNTS stories because I want each of them to succeed, but knowing the book’s topics, I anticipate this will not be the case.

Since the stories of CINNTS are already rather compelling to me, I was thinking about ways to make their journeys more accessible to others. My initial thought would be to build a small choose-your-own-adventure Twine game where people would follow each of CINNTS stories and make choices that would impact their lives. To me, this could be a valuable resource in situations where time and the other topics from Paying the Price are inaccessible to the readers. For example, if you wanted to engage students in the rising cost of college through the stories from Paying the Price without diving into the specifics of Pell Grants. I haven’t committed to producing such a resource because it may be too large an undertaking for me to take on at the moment.

Some of the hard-hitting information from chapter 1 was a bit jarring to me. The current purchasing power of the Pell Grant, in particular, only covers about 35% of the price for a public 4-year college (2). I understand that is a significant amount of money, but it is clearly not enough to fund a student’s collegiate career. Being a product of state and university based aid, I’m dishearten by how many financial aid programs must be received in triplicate to actually cover the cost of college. In other words, only the students who acquire several types of financial aid can cover the full cost of college instead of being able to rely on the Pell Grant alone.

Thinking about higher education as a point of socioeconomic mobility has been engrained in me for as long as I can remember. To me, a college degree yields access to more stable jobs and higher wages to reduce inequality but as Sara points out climbing the social ladder does not occur at an equivalent rate:

There is no guarantee, in other words, that college-educated people from low-income families will not be left behind. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (2)

Alternatively:

People who grow up in economically fragile circumstances often continue to live in economically fragile communities, even after they attend college. – Sara Goldrick-Rab (3)

This challenges what I “known” and expands how I need to be thinking about the benefits of college degrees, the price of college, and how to bear real, lasting change in the world. Since this is only the first chapter of Paying the Price, I’m rather excited to continue reading, reflecting, and writing these next several weeks!

The featured image is provided CC0 by Alex Read via Unsplash.


  1. President’s Commission on Higher Education, Higher Education for American Democracy, 2:23 (as cited in Paying the Price).
  2. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, Figure 6.
  3. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 20.
  4. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price, p. 20.

Paying the Price – A Pre-Reading Reflection

In addition to facilitating another round of GOBLIN with John Stewart over the next several weeks, I’m planning on reading Paying the Price by Sara Goldrick-Rab as part of a reading circle. Before I crack the (digital) spine of this book about the rising cost of college and its impacts, I wanted to take a moment and reflect.

While reading Paying the Price, I will be actively thinking about actions I can take to help students with the rising costs of college degrees. Not only do I anticipate Sara Goldrick-Rab’s recommendations, but I want to spend some time brainstorming what I can do to assist students in both the short-term and long-term. In particular, I want to focus on how I can help inform and educate others about these issues in order to propagate aid beyond what I can provide alone. Initially, I’m thinking this may manifest itself in my current projects as I think about how to engage faculty members in curriculum development. For example, continuing to work with instructors on ways to reduce the monetary overhead for students to succeed in their courses. However, I also want to keep an open mind for Sara Goldrick-Rab’s propositions in Paying the Price as well as what arises from the weekly discussion of the reading group.

To promote public reflection, I took a moment on Friday to setup a FeedWordPress website to syndicate any and all online reflections from this reading group. If you are interested in such musings check out payingtheprice.oucreate.com.

Here’s to working towards a better future for our students!

The featured image is provided CC0 by Jimi Filipovski via Unsplash.

Why I March

“Wake up America!  Wake up!”  For we cannot stop, and we will not and cannot be patient. – John Lewis, 28 August 1963

It’s been a day of reading, reflecting, writing, and vlogging:

Women’s March Oklahoma – Photo Story

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Women’s March Oklahoma – Video Story

Our Most Important Canvas Training

Last week was the 19th Canvas Camp hosted at the University of Oklahoma. Looking back on its evolution from May 2016 to today, the dozens of courses developed by participating instructors, and the feedback I’ve received, Canvas Camp is an ongoing success.

Background

Canvas Camp is intended to teach instructors how to use Canvas while they are producing their first Canvas course. Most of our time is spent exploring notable features, developing courses, and problem solving how to design courses in Canvas. All levels of expertise are welcome because Canvas Camp is flexible enough to scale and adapt to suit everyone’s needs—there’s always something to learn in our open-ended sessions! That being said, although this training is meant to teach several components of Canvas, there are many more pieces beyond what we introduce.

Canvas Camp occurs face-to-face in 2-hour sessions over 4 consecutive days. Demonstrations of Canvas, exploration of features, and discussions of course design all take place during this training, however the main focus is the development and completion of participants’ courses!

Before I jump into the design of this training, be aware that my curriculum for Canvas Camp is openly shared using a Creative Commons license and you are welcome to take, adapt, use, repurpose, etc. all of the materials without permission as long as you abide by the license. Additionally, feel free to reach out to me on twitter or via email—I’m always up for a video chat.

Canvas Camp website annotated Gif of home page

Canvas Camp Design

Canvas Camp was built around five main components:

  1. Teaching the technical skills to use Canvas
  2. Engaging faculty in course development
  3. Producing Canvas courses
  4. Reflecting on why the University switched to Canvas
  5. Learning Canvas as part of a community

1. Technical Skills

As with any new tool or software, there are varying degrees of digital literacy and technical expertise of the Canvas Campers. For individuals who possess high technical skills, the Canvas Camp website aims to empower them to progress through the Canvas Camp curriculum at their own pace. For participants who have just started to learn Canvas, the face-to-face sessions provide them with a safe space to ask questions, learn, and experiment on their own or in community with others (including the facilitator).

Canvas Camp is intentionally flexible in design to serve the needs of a wide range of technical expertise.

2. Course Development

Working with instructors over several days offers the opportunity to engage them in course design and discuss the pedagogical implications of their Canvas course decisions. This aspect of instructional design is intertwined with learning the technical skills of Canvas as the camp facilitators explain and discuss the ramifications of decisions made while developing courses. Depending on the feature or design in question these interactions might occur on a one-on-one basis, however there also opportunities to draw on the collective expertise of the instructors present—this often yields rich discussion.

As an example of how course development takes place, a significant shift in organizing course materials has occurred, in part, due to the popularity of Canvas Camp. I see many more instructors organize their course materials chronologically than topically like they did in the previous learning management system (LMS). Granted, both types of organization offer their own benefits and shortcomings. However, now faculty are being more intentional in this design decision. They are engaging with each other and the camp facilitators to pursue what is best for their students. For example, most of the faculty that participate in Canvas Camp opt to use the Modules feature of Canvas to arrange their content by week, unit, chapter, etc. This chronological presentation of material is intended to give their students greater levels of context for the materials they are studying during the semester.

3. Producing A Course

The notable draw to Canvas Camp is the promise to come away with a course, built and finalized. In most cases, we see faculty members complete 75-100% of their course. Sometimes instructors have completed more than one course during this professional development. Regardless, this is heavily marketed to bring people into Canvas Camp.

4. Why Switch To Canvas?

Arguably the most important aspect of Canvas Camp is engaging in discussion with the participants throughout the week. For example, after faculty members have wrestled with Canvas—learned and experienced its strengths and shortcomings—we ask them to tell us why they think the University decided to switch to Canvas. Inevitably, someone always brings up the monetary aspect, but after several minutes of discussion, faculty often suggest the change was made because “Canvas is better for the students,” “easier to use,” and/or “nicer to look at.” All of these reasons are recorded on the whiteboard at the front of the room to highlight positive aspects of Canvas. This reflection is crucial. If you hope to change perspectives about Canvas, give instructors meaningful experiences with the tool and follow up with reflection and discussion. In other words, Canvas Camp also functions a primer (and potentially a model) to tackle larger digital literacy questions related to educational technology and learning management systems.

5. Learning Canvas Together

Training is always more fun together! Canvas Camp benefits from diversity of disciplines, types of teachers, and the people present. The community aspect of this training is integral since participants must turn to one another when they have questions or need recommendations. In particular, this occurs when the facilitators are assisting other attendees. Overall, Canvas Camp is a wonderful learning environment to engage faculty in technological and pedagogical practices of Canvas, but this training shines when it empowers faculty to become both students and teachers to one another.

Reflection

The reason Canvas Camp is our most important training at the University of Oklahoma is not only because it’s our most comprehensive, face-to-face training, but because it’s our most fun.

I know that sounds weird. I realize building courses can be tedious and far from fun. There’s just something special about Canvas Camp that I hope to bring into every other training program I build/facilitate. The comradely of learning Canvas in community paired with the feelings of accomplishment from completing courses is fun. The energetic discussion and informal instructional design that occurred during each session is fun. The creative challenge that coincides with building engaging courses is fun. There’s a lively spirit present with each cohort of instructors at Canvas Camp, and yes you guessed it, that makes it fun!

Beyond the fun of Canvas Camp, this professional development strives to do more than teach software. Canvas Camp aims to shift the culture of the University. Yes, there are many more components to such a process than a single training, but as of January 12th, 143 instructors now have greater confidence to build courses in Canvas (and you have to start somewhere)!

The discussion that happens on the final day of Canvas Camp is crucial for shifting culture. During every Canvas Camp, participants openly express their apprehension and frustrations with switching learning management systems. Giving instructors time to interact with Canvas and see how their courses look and behave in the system affords them the opportunity to naturally grow knowledgeable and comfortable with the change. Highlighting this perspective change during discussion while reflecting on the week of Canvas Camp, emphasizes and reinforces the cultural shift.

There are plenty more aspects of Canvas Camp I could touch on, but this is enough from me for now (feel free to reach out with questions). Instead, here’s a few testimonies from the participants of Canvas Camp:

Testimony

What was the most valuable/useful aspect of this session?

gaining familiarity through doing.

Overall, the camp was terrific. I enjoyed engaging with faculty from other departments.

Very hands on and practical–lots of time to work directly on courses.

The balance of some delivered content, and some ‘free time’ for us to explore Canvas and explore our own content in it. But the free time had the facilitator present to answer questions. That was very helpful.

The most valuable aspect for me was learning the basic mechanics of Canvas. It is overwhelming for anyone trying to self-teach. I also like that the canvas instructors gave specific recommendations for how to optimize course use (ex: enter rubrics directly to use Speed Grader instead of uploading files, etc.)

No doubt: it was the instructor. A truly exceptional educator. He took his time, making sure everyone was able to keep up, yet kept things moving along. Very nice, articulate delivery, good organization.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Carsten Thomsen via Pixabay.