Monday, November 16, 2015

Work in Progress

Now that we are into the second half of the first semester of this school year, I am in the process of reviewing my e-courses on Canvas and evaluating those sections that had a rough initial start of of some elements of this new (to me) LMS.

There are 3 goals for major change of my courses I want tackle before the beginning of the Spring
  1.  First contact email sent to students at the time of their enrollment with the first directions for the access to the course and link to the introduction of the course video. Although it is not  specific component of the course, this email is very critical since I can send it to students and their parents/guardians, allowing all of them to have a first taste and feel for the course. Parents/guardians are not yet able to access to my Canvas courses with an observer account - this might change next year - so this first video will allow parents/guardians to have an understanding of what the course is about right away.
    I think that this piece of information will allow parents more understanding of the learning environment of their kids and will empower them in asking the right question to the students whenever they want to know more about their progress.
    I am also considering the option of creating a video specific for parents/guardian for guiding them through the course and show them how and where they can monitor the progress, activity and score of their kids in the course, as well as seeing my feedback to their work. This idea is becoming more relevant due to a feature present in Canvas: the "what if..." option in the grade book. Students indeed can use this feature for changing their grades (not on the actual grade-book) and see what they would need to score in a particular assignment for changing their final grade. Great feature, right? Well, recently I was told of a parent who was completely blown way when she realized that he son was lying to her and showing her the "what if" grades instead of the actual scores of his work. The discrepancy between the reports shown by he student and the concerned emails from a teacher moved the parent to call our office for figuring out what was going on. It was just then, when the parent was able to access to the course and go to the grade-book that realized that something was very wrong and that what she was seeing at that moment was far different from what she was shown regularly by her child.
    Now, this episode is pretty iconic of how great tools can be used in the wrong way and you never know what to expect!
  2. Redesign the first section of the course for being more user friendly and making sure that all the important information are provided to students. This process will include the remake of the navigation video and the use of Google Docs as repository of content shared by multiple courses, such as the students tools.
    This goal is very important to me especially considering the major failure to launch I had with the Fall semester. I have made a list of all the possible things that could go wrong - not that I can be 100% positive that nothing else will pop-up, but at least I can beat the odds! I have been researching various Canvas sites for gaining more ideas of functional and well designed courses to use as models.
    Something that I would like to keep on target is the accessibility of the site especially to hearing and vision impaired students. This is certainly a great challenge because often it conflict with my creativity drive. Finding the right balance between functionality, accessibility, and aesthetic is definitely challenging, but it is something I want and need to address since I would like to have my courses being accessible to all our students. Last year for the first time I have seen the tool used by a blind student for navigating the Internet, and that experience was a wake-up call for the code barriers we create in our e-courses when we start paying with fonts, colors, and all the very cool visual effects.
    I am planning to have one of our district vision specialist to test my courses for accessibility, and I would like to have a few students testing my spring courses for user-friendliness during the Christmas break.
  3. Review my assessment program. This will benefit my students and also myself in the way that at this time I have a graded task with need or re-grading almost every day, which times 120 students makes my life a nightmare! I am sure that there must be a better way to assess my students. I really want to look into how to streamline my assessment program for making it more relevant to students and less grading-intensive.


  1. Emanuela!

    How was the conference? I hope you had an amazing experience. Did you break away and lay in the sun or were you all work and no play?

    I just read your post and decided to respond. I love your idea of focusing on the 'Welcome Letter' and the first part of your course. There is a lot to say for strong first impressions. My welcome letter prompted a lot of questions at the stat up of the school year. Students were confused on how to begin so, revising it is probably a great idea for me too. I find that students don't carefully read directions. So, I need to make it less wordy, and use bullet points to lay out steps.

    1. Crystal,

      the conference was amazing! I need to start looking for grants for going back next year! :)
      For the first time I actually met 3 other online foreign language teachers! YAY!

      I agree with you , kids do NOT READ directions not emails.
      I have shrunk my welcoming email to the bare-bone with big red bold font for the important info. I am going back and forth on having or not the navigation video there. I used to, but I removed it this year. I would like to have instead a short video introducing myself and ONLY the step one in the course.
      Something that I learn from a session I went to about self branding was that the human connection is the most effective to establish a bridge in the communication with other people, so it should work with our students. Theoretically it is the first step toward engaging the student sin a personal connection with the instructor and with the course itself.

      I will be happy to troubleshoot with you the initial email and videos... sharing ideas usually brings awesome results :)

  2. Hi Emanuela,

    I like your idea of a welcome email that includes course access information and access for parents. Not all parents have email, but I can see how that would be very beneficial. I recently had an issue with some of my students feeling like they were not getting the help they needed. I had left notes for students and sent emails urging them to set up help sessions whenever they could (I only teach one period a day, so this is not difficult for me to schedule). One student's grandmother went to the school and yelled at the Principal about it. He looked into the situation and realized that I had indeed offered help. Since then, sessions have been set up almost daily for me to work with the few struggling students to help them catch up. It would have been much more effective if the grandmother (especially) could have seen my notes and encouragement to students who needed help.

    1. Lee you have a great point: we have online students but their families are not necessary tech literate! I have the same situation especially with some of the smaller and most rural villages. I think that probably it would be a good idea to have a letter sent home for those families. I did it years ago, but I have to admit that I have not done recently, while I should! Thinking about it, it could be also a simply phone call, however at the beginning of the semester we are quite swamped... still I recognize the importance of reaching out for everyone.
      You inspired me in getting back on the good old habit of using our post office as an alternative for some parents. :)