Strategies for Teaching Very Large Course in Canvas

Strategies for Teaching Very Large Course in Canvas

November 18, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


John Johnston: I am John Johnston
of the University of Michigan, and one of the things I do there is I help with our canvas
implementation. We’re in our third year of a pilot there. We’re here to talk about
strategies for teaching in very large courses. Keeping in the theme with the musical, this
is my rock star bio here. One of the things I really like about Instructurecon is it’s
sort of a celebration of the profession, right? We get to be the rock stars. You guys are
the rock stars. So, turn to your neighbor and say “You are a rock star,” and if
you really want to do it right, go “Dude, you are a rock star.” Audience: [chatter] Alright, don’t get carried away. [cough]
Our group, our IT group, actually has a band. This is a picture from last week. We played
at our annual picnic. So, I actually can play this thing, somewhat. What should you know when you leave these
doors? Hopefully, at least three things. Some techniques for engaging students in very large
courses, and we’re going to talk about what large is. Challenges you might encounter,
and you will encounter some challenges. Then, most importantly, techniques for overcoming
those challenges. What are we talking about “large courses”?
How many of you in here either teach or support a large course? How many of you are involved
with a course over 300? Over 500? Over 1000? Over 1500? Over 2000? We got these two—over
2500? Oh my goodness, over 3000? Okay, what’s Audience Member 1: So we have one course that’s
for all incoming freshmen that’s about 5000. John: [incredulous] Five thousand. Audience Member 1: That’s super of exceptional. John: That’s not in canvas [phonetic]natter? Audience Member 1: Not yet. John: Okay, and yours? Audience Member 2: We have a series of courses,
one for each grade level, seven through 12, as a graduating [inaudible] core, that range
between 5500 and 6500. John: Okay. Here’s the rock star of the
room. He wins the prize. Audience: [excited chatter and applause] John: You had seven? Audience Member 1: I’m just kidding. John: Oh. [audience laughter] I have to warn you, I’m an IT professional,
so, the last time I did this I actually hit the person in front. She was on her cell phone.
[audience laughter] That’s what I call engaged learning. Okay, we’ll see what I do. Look
at that. I got it close. Alright, so the largest course we teach at
the University of Michigan is 2200. When we were developing the pilot and thinking about
who should be involved with it, we really wanted to find courses that would test the
boundaries of canvas. Find the sharp edges. So we wanted to have some really large courses
in there. So we have a STATS 250 course that has 2200 students, 69 sections, 39 GSIs, and
we have this wonderful woman that coordinates this program, Brenda Gunderson, who teaches
this introductory stats course. So, I’d like to introduce her to you now. Brenda Gunderson: I’m Brenda Gunderson,
from the University of Michigan [crosstalk] and I teach that large introductory statistics
course that everyone has to take. Brenda: We have about 2000 plus students taking
this course every semester. The course is run, though, coordinated. So, every student
is in this course enrolled even though they might attend a different lecture section or
a different lab sections than their fellow students. We have six different lectures with
two to four hundred students in each, and 60 plus lab sections that meet on a smaller
scale, 25 to 35 students, taught by our GSIs, or our TAs running that section. As an instructor
I need all the students to be in one canvas site. I need all the students to be able to
be accessed, to look at their grades, to be able to have them go to one site to find the
resources they need. If they were split into smaller sites it would be very difficult for
one instructor to be able to go and look up how a student is doing, and performing, and
talk to that student as they come into office hours. The overall site allows us to be very
consistent on what all students have access to. Every item that we have up there for resources
is available to every student across all the different lectures and labs. John: So, you heard some reasons why we wanted
to teach this course, 69 sections, in one place. We love the Instructure folks. When
we first told them that we wanted to do this, they’re like “why in the world would you
want to teach 69 sections in one course, can’t you split them up?” Well, some of the reasons
is they’re sharing the same resources. It doesn’t make sense to have 69 different
areas where they go for resources. Reducing redundant efforts. Can you imagine yourself
in Brenda’s position having to coordinate 69 different instruction sites? Being able
to manage communications, having sort of one communicating channel that you can reach that
large group. The consistency of the experience, having it all in one place supports that.
Then, reporting on performance, so you can report across your various sections that much
easier than you normally would. So, everything was going along just swimmingly—
there’s a question already, yes? Audience Member 3: Quick question. Is this
an online course, or an enhanced or hybrid? John: So, is this an online, a hybrid… It’s
hybrid, so they actually meet. This course is actually taught six different times throughout
the week, and then they’ve got various lab sections. So, these activities sort of supplement
what they do in the classroom. So everything was going along swimmingly,
but then a few weeks into the course we had some issues communicating with students. So
we had a GSI that needed to go ahead and communicate to just their section “Hey, we’re changing
the time to their lab meeting.” So they sent that out, and it went out to all 2200
students, so it created some confusion. The files are not section aware, so in some cases
there are lab sets that they just need to have just for that particular section, and
instead of them having to go through 69 different folders it would be convenient for them to
just see the ones that they have available to them. So we decided hey, we’re going
to go ahead and try out groups. Groups has its own files, and own announcement areas.
One of the challenges with that is that there’s not an automatic way to create groups based
on sections. So what we did was we created a little tool with the APIs that automatically
does that for us. The problem is when there are adds or drops, then you have to sort of
deal with those. The biggest challenge with groups was that we couldn’t take a GSI and
put them in just one group. So, that was a little bit of an organizational challenge
for us. So, I’ll let you hear from Brenda about some of the creative solutions we had
for overcoming some of these issues. Brenda: One of the challenges that we came
up with in canvas was that we wanted the GSIs to be able to communicate directly with their
own students, and not be sending out messages that would go to the 2000 plus students all
together. We needed them to be able to provide resources to their own students, and not every
aspect of canvas, the different tools and things that are available, were section aware.
So we ended up having to be kind of creative in coming up with a way that they could communicate
directly to their students, through the inbox instead of through an announcement. To also
be able to provide a resource for them. The files section wasn’t specifically section
aware, but assignments became section aware so we were able to set up an assignment as
a page in canvas, and have the links to resources for students, and they would be sending them
to a link that was actually hidden in the file system, but any student who was in that
section was able to see that assignment and access that material. [background cough] John: So, we came up with some fairly creative
solutions. So, one, we used the inbox’s ability to communicate with an individual
section. That ended up working fantastic for us, so that was a good solution there. Then,
for the files, this actually came from one of the GSIs, the teaching assistants. They
said “Hey, we noticed that assignments now support differentiated assignments. So, what
we can do is go ahead and create an assignment for section 15, put all the resources we want
for them, it’s going to be worth no points, and we’re going to go ahead and create a
assignment group so they can easily find it. It’s not going to be graded, and we’re
just going to make it available to just that particular section. Then, we can go ahead
and update that, it doesn’t have an end date or a start date, so we can go ahead and
add resources as we need to.” So, that was a nice creative workaround for that problem. So, we easily got through those initial challenges,
we’re feeling good. About mid-way during the term we hit another snag with the gradebook.
So, as we’re going along the term, of course we started adding more and more assignments.
It ended up we had 69 assignments, so if you do the math, 2200 students you end up with
over 158000 cells in your gradebook. So that was sort of the first challenge that started
to fail in some cases on us. We’re going to talk a little about the workarounds for
that. The next thing we dealt with is, we have a
lot of external tools to engage the students in this course, and one of them is lecture
books. So, they go through some homework assignments and then we import their grades. That was
working fine initially, but once the gradebook got to a certain size it started to just fail,
it would time out on us. Then grade exports. Brenda being a statistics professor, she wanted
to use some analysis on her grades every week. She started to notice she was having some
difficulties exporting the gradebook. We were able to come up with solutions and fixes for
all these problems. I’m gonna let Brenda go ahead and talk about how we came together,
our local support, the fantastic support we got from Instructure and her TAs, to come
and workaround these issues. Brenda: Another issue came up with the gradebook.
We have 2000 students in this class. By the end of the semester we ended up having 60
to 70 assignments of different types. Weekly assignments, times 12 weeks in a semester.
That’s a lot of columns in our spreadsheet. So we had to have GSIs make sure that they
toggled themselves off from being a super GSI and seeing all records to only being able
to grade just the students in their sections. That allowed the speed grader to be efficient
for them. We also ran into issues when we were trying to upload a set of scores from
an outside homework tool. It would time out and not sufficiently upload all the scores.
So we ended up creating a team with some canvas support, local support, and on a regular schedule
were able to get our scores uploaded, and any time we needed some scores to be downloaded
so that I could work with my student’s grades and do some analysis with them. So working
together as a team allowed us to overcome this issue that I couldn’t personally upload
or download scores for my large class, but they were able to be done and some checks
to make sure they were done accurately. I’m happy to report now, though, that I will in
the fall be able to do this myself as an instructor, and upload all the scores for outside sources
and download scores to be able to work out grades in the end. John: So Brenda was really a trooper. She
has a very calm personality. I was panicking, but she was calm. We were able to work through
all these issues. The first one, just simply using that option to limit the GSIs to grade
jus the sections that they needed to have access to, that really improved the performance
of the gradeb— yes? Audience Member 4: How did you do that? John: So, when you go to the people tool,
and you look at your GSIs, there’s a little checkbox that’s kind of in small print down
there, but you can go ahead and click on the option to allow them to only have access to
their sections. Audience Member 4: [inaudible] In roles, did
you set that up in your roles? John: That’s just a standard thing that’s
in the people’s tool, if you go to a course site. Audience Member 5: I think she means your
GSIs, how are they set up? What kind of omission folder do they get? Did you create custom
rolls or [crosstalk] [inaudible] John: We used to standard TA role for our
GSIs, yep. So we didn’t modify that one at all. As much as possible we tried not to
modify the existing roles. We certainly added some others. So we were able to get through that particular
issue. Then also our CSN came to the rescue Barret, he’s a rock star back there, he
really went to bat for us. We worked with their tier one support to go ahead and schedule
these exports for us. Sometimes even on Sunday nights they were doing them. So I’d just
like to really thank Barret and the Instructure folks for the support they gave us in making
Brenda and her class successful. That was fantastic. So we had to schedule the imports and exports.
We also worked with this group of peer institutions, large research institutions, to sort of bump
this up on the radar for Instructure, that really helped get it some visibility. I’m
happy to say now that imports and exports are now an asynchronous task, so they don’t
time out. So Brenda can go in there now and happily do this herself, so that was a huge
success for us. So now that you heard some of the challenges,
let’s talk about some of the things that really worked well for us. So, third party
integrations. One of the things that really resonated with us about canvas is its commitment
to supporting open standards for integration. We really took advantage of that in this course.
There are a number of integrations which we’re going to go ahead and take a brief look at.
Customizable pages. Brenda just loved this, the ability to go in there and make the pages
look the way that she wanted to, and provide a home page that had, basically, a view of
everything the students needed to have access to at a glance. Then the grading and assignment
workflows were just so much improved over what they were used to dealing with on our
legacy system. It really saved them an incredible amount of time managing the students. So let
Brenda talk a little bit about some of her favorite aspects. Brenda: My favorite thing about canvas is
the ability to customize your homepage, and to make it look the way you want for your
course. We had so many resources that our students needed to go to and access, and now
it’s seamless. It’s right on the homepage. They can come to the canvas homepage for their
course and they can go to any other place that they need to without clicking side links
or figuring out where to go. John: Alright, so this is a section of Brenda’s
homepage here. She’s got a number of different types of activities for the students to engage
in. With this many students, they’ve got lots of different learning styles, so you
want to make sure to provide lots of different opportunities for them to interact with the
materials in lots of different ways. She created pre-lab tutorials using the pages tool. She’s
got a Problem Roulette tool that was developed within the University of Michigan, that we’re
going to take a brief look at. Lecture books, which is a LTI integration. He used open academic
resources. So just all kinds of different resources for her students. So let her talk
a little bit about some of these integrations. Brenda: We have a lot of tools that we’ve
brought into STATS 250. We have an e-coach. It’s an electronic coaching platform that
allows us to personalize messages that are sent to our students. Now that is done on
an outside tool, but canvas allowed us to have a front page that let us list all these
tools, have an icon for them, and so it seems seamless to the students to be able to access
these different resources that allowed them to be engaged with our content, even though
it wasn’t directly through the canvas site. Another tool we built was Name That Scenario,
and Problem Roulette is a online tool for practicing problems. Again, most of these
the students go out to the site, but it’s part of our canvas site. We connect students
to that, we can bring them to those points through announcements, but it seemed to be
integrated well to give them other places to access resources to keep them engaged in
their learning. John: So this is Name That Scenario. It allows
the students to go in and chose from different concepts they’re learning that they may
be struggling with. Then what it’ll do is it’ll go ahead and present them with a scenario,
and then they can choose what statistical method that’s appropriate for that. So that
was one technique that she used. Here she used the pages tool to create some simulations
that include some interactivities, some videos, some interactive applets, and so forth. Then
she has these problem solution sets that she actually recorded on video, so the students
can go ahead and actually see her or the TA going through them. They can fast forward
and see them as many times as they need to to sort of get that engrained in their thinking. We also made heavy use of assignments tool
for many different course-related activities. Pre-lab assignments. They used iClickers for
interaction during their lecture sections, that were corded into the assignments tools,
so we had integration there. They used it for attendance, lab tickets, of course homework,
sharing resources. I showed you that little work around with differentiated resource so
they can present just resources that that section needed. She even did some learning
research using the assignments tool, which I’ll let her talk about briefly here. Brenda: This past winter term we had an intervention
that we wanted to bring to the course. It was about writing. We had two different versions
of a writing pre-lab assignment. We wanted to send one version of this assignment to
some of the students, and the other similar but different version of the assignment to
the other students. We were able to set that up in the assignments, and have one assignment
view for the student, but yet there were two assignments in canvas. Using the grouping
feature, we were able to assign one version of that writing pre-lab to the students that
were in certain labs, and then the other version to those in the other lab. So that allows
us to conduct some educational research within the canvas site. John: So, we’ve learned a lot of things
over the past three terms, but there’s much further we want to go. We were approached
from Brenda and said “Hey, we’d like to use the quizzing tool.” We started thinking
about it… “Hum, do we know of anyone that’s using the quizzing tool at that scale?”
So we started having communications with other folks within the community and how they’ve
been using it at that scale. So we’re starting to get some confidence doing that. There’s
also some ways that we’d like to use the modules more effectively, and Brenda has some
ideas on those [crosstalk] topics. Brenda: One of the tools in canvas that we
plan on using in the future, more, is the quizzes option. We plan on using this for
giving students some practice quizzes throughout the term. These can go to all students across
all labs and lectures, and be able to give them the practice they need before an exam
coming up. We also will use that tool to allow us to do some make-up lab opportunities, for
students to be able to still turn in work should they be traveling or away during their
lab time. One thing I do wish, though, that canvas would be able to bring in is the ability
to have a few more things be section aware, in particular announcements, so we can have
our GSIs communicate directly through the announcement tool rather than through the
inbox. John: We think having more of the tools being
consistently section aware will really help us, and we think it’ll help you too, so
let your CSN’s know that [audience laughter] that is important to you [chuckle]. One of the other challenges we have with large
courses, and really in medium size courses, is combining multiple sections. You can certainly
do that through the UI, but we actually created a little tool that we call the section-management
utility, which I’m just going to show briefly here. So, I can go ahead and log in as any user,
or a user can log in here. It’ll show them all their courses for a given term. I can
go ahead and view the sections, so I’m going to view the sections for this demo training
course here. There’s the sections. I might want to go ahead and see what the enrollments
are for that, so I can go ahead and see the name—it’s kind of displaying a little
bit scrunched on this screen here, but normally you would see three columns here, with a name,
roll section, and when they were last active. Then what we can do is we can actually just
combine sections. So let’s say I wanted to go to this BIOTECH 100 course, and take
and combine these sections together, I can simply go ahead and drag and drop this in
here. It’ll go ahead and say “Do you want to update this course?” I can go ahead and
do that, and it’ll show me what the cross listing are going to be. I can click cross
listing… If I want to go ahead and confirm that it’s there I can click on this link,
it’ll actually pop me out to the site, and I can see that the cross listings are indeed
in place. Let’s see… Audience: [chatter] John: There we go. We can see that the sections
have been, indeed, combined. We’re finished here. If I want to at any point, I get this
little icon here that tells me that this was cross listed, so I can just click on here,
it’ll go ahead and un-cross list it. If I want to act on behalf of another instructor,
I can go ahead and use the option here. Oops, I’m sorry, clicked the wrong button. Clicked
this I could go ahead and put in another instructor’s name, and I could find their courses. Then
I could go ahead and connect those sections. So it provides a nice streamlined interface
for us to go ahead and deal with that issue. So, this is a slick little utility that we
built. It’s available for you folks to use, it’s in a GitHub repository there, so hopefully
you have fun with that. Audience Member 6: Can I ask you a question
real quick? John: Go ahead. Audience Member 6: Is it something that the
administrator uses, or do you allow the instructors to manage [crosstalk][inaudible] John: In our case we allow just the administrators
to do it. Actually, the way that we handle it is instructors that want to have combined
sections, they just go to our centralized support desk and they have access to this
tool and they just go ahead and do it for them. Audience Member 7: Can you go back to the
URL for a second? John: Sure, absolutely. So, Sections Utility Tool is what you’re
looking for. Got it? Audience: [negative murmur] John: Alright, once you get it. So, I take
it from the number of devices up that you guys might be interested in this kind of tool?
Take note back there. Audience Member 8: Is it possible to add that
link to your [crosstalk][inaudible] John: I will absolutely do that, right after
this session. Alright, so with all these challenges we were
able to overcome, we can now fairly confidently say that we can support any and all U of M
courses regardless of their size. So, the things that you should walk out of
this room with, as I promised: techniques for engaging students in large courses, understanding
the types of challenges you might overcome, techniques for overcoming those challenges.
If you don’t feel that you’ve gotten that out of this session, just contact one of those
people in the black shirt and they will give you your money back. [audience laughter] Are there any questions? [loud rock music] This is my rock star… [rock music ends] [audience laughter] Yes? Audience Member 9: Sorry, do you guys use
the groups to divide up the students? John: So, as I mentioned, we did try using
groups in this course. We used it in the first term to overcome the issue with communication
to individual sections, and also providing section specific files. So, we had some challenges
with that, in particular the inability to go ahead and have a GSI only be a member of
certain groups, because we didn’t tell them they have access. So using these other techniques,
we were able to get away from having to necessitate using the groups. Does that answer your question? Audience Member 9: Yea, because we have a
course of a thousand students, and 500 [inaudible] or how the grades were rendered. John: Yea, in this case, as I said, we’ve
gotten away from using groups. We use them in other courses very effectively, but we
don’t use them in this course. Any other questions? And I’ll try to repeat the questions
this time. Audience Member 10: So you mentioned [inaudible] John: I think it’s mostly to pick up on
the recording. Audience Member 10: Thanks. So you mentioned
the rendering issue with all the data points [crosstalk] in the classes. John: Yea, in the gradebook. Audience Member 10: I think you mentioned
that you limited access to the gradebook for the TAs for all those data points. Have you
found any other way to alleviate some of that, or is that still an issue? Because we have
some courses where that’s not going to be an option. There’s one person managing the
course. John: So, we have found, over the past term,
that the gradebook is performing much better. So, through the work that’s been done, I
suspect there’s been some optimization of that tool, so we haven’t run into that problem
as much. So we have what we call super GSIs that have access to all of the sections, and
they’re able to get to the gradebook now fairly easily, and it seems to load fairly
well for them. Yes, question? Audience Member 11: So, I have a quick comment
and then a question. At UCF we do a lot of cross listing, so there may be an opportunity
to collaborate, because we have an automated process we set up where faculty can just go
online and check which sections they want to cross list. John: Okay, excellent. Audience Member 11: So we could possibly work
together. John: Yea, [crosstalk] absolutely. Audience Member 11: My question is, in an
earlier video she mentioned a tool called e coach. Could you talk a little bit more
about what that is and how she used it? John: Sure, yea. That’s an electronic coach,
and it provides the students some guidance in how they’re doing in the course, and
gives them some tips on how they might succeed. So, it goes sort of down the lines of providing
some personalized experience for the students. It requires a lot of work up front to put
those experiences in the e coach, so there’s a lot of instructional design. It’s not
sort of a silver bullet turnkey solution. So, I think that’s all the time that we
have for questions, am I correct? I think I c—okay, yes, we’ll take, way back there… Audience Member 12: Hey there, I enjoyed your
presentation. Does canvas forewarn you now if you have over 2000 users or 5000 users,
what might blow up, is that built into it? John: I’m sorry, can you ask that again? Audience Member 12: Does canvas alert you
if you have so many students in a section that certain tools may not function well? John: It does not. No. Audience Member 12: So, just a side note to
the canvas folks watching. Can you all do that? [chuckle] John: So, our assumption is that canvas is
going to support however large classes that we end up having, so they won’t need that
feature, I don’t think. They’ve done a fantastic job at meeting our expectations
and our needs. Audience Member 13: I’ll just throw in on
top of that, since I’m your next question [chuckle]. They don’t always know what the
limits are. They’ve helped us explore some of those limits this year with some of our
large course stuff. John: So that’s the job of many of us in
this room, right Audience Member 13: [crosstalk] Yea. John: Push the boundaries, find the sharp
edges. Audience: [inaudible] I appreciate you all attending the session.
Go out there and be rock stars.