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This is the seventh entry in my Preparing Your Canvas series, documenting NKU's transition from Blackboard to Canvas. If you want to start from the beginning, here's the rest in chronological order:



Fall 2017 is here! In the week leading up to our first day of classes emails flew, meetings were had, phone calls were panicked, and the campus network temporarily became a frenzied beehive of preparation for the incoming students. This year is the voluntary year for NKU; faculty have the option of switching at any point, up to the end of May. At the end of May, Blackboard goes away (it rhymes — try it out). However, about 1/4 of all our Fall courses look to be delivered in Canvas, which is great for our first semester. And all of that is really important. But you know what's more important? Buttons.


Its hard to over-emphasize just how much people got excited about making graphics, placing them on Content Pages, and then making them links to other parts of their course. Part of the strong response stems from the relative inability of Blackboard to handle this kind of functionality. This left the design team with a question: how much do we focus on what the participating instructors are excited about, and should we pull time from what they are "supposed" to be learning right now? Do we let participants steer the class, or do we keep them on rails to reach our pre-ordained destination? The temptation, especially when you only have about 20 hours of delivery time at most to work with, is to clamp down. Despotism can be so easy. Without veering too much myself, a lot of my personal growth this past year has been in meditating on the difference between contradiction and contrariety. Contradiction sets up an opposition with no middle:


"We can either learn what you want to learn, or what I have planned for you to learn." 


Only one of us gets to be right. Contrariety takes a different approach; it frames the problem not as an either/or, but as a question of allocation or intensity.


"How are we using our time currently? What ways could we use our available time?"


For me, it was reframing the question in this way that made building a separate course, Canvas-201 make sense. I also think the enthusiasm towards making buttons speaks to the fundamentally creative nature of the instructor. The definition of creativity that I have found the most useful is the ability to connect concepts. We could also say that part of the function of an instructor is to help learners connect concepts. Providing instructors the means to functionally express their creativity was an easy decision to make, then. So, let's (finally) take a look at Canvas-201:


  • Module 1 goes over the kinds of functions graphics can serve in your course: Interactive, Informative, Organizational, Decorative.
  • Module 2 lays out some guidelines for things you should and should not do when making your graphics.
  • Module 3 walks through the process of actually building a graphic and deploying it to a Canvas course. 


In building Canvas-201, we chose to do everything in Powerpoint. We can guarantee all our faculty have access to the program, and they probably have some familiarity with it already through making presentations. In addition to talking about how to make graphics, it was a design goal to have the course model its principles. So every graphic inside the course was also created using Powerpoint. For similar reasons we also chose to pull all the photography from one website — pixabay. Module 3 is what most faculty were interested in, as it contains the actual tutorials for how to make images in Powerpoint. The tutorials try to cover a range of styles, and some of them are... basic. However, each tutorial builds upon the previous, and each provides a critical skill or strategy that can be employed in a variety of ways.


And guess what? If you're interested, you can go through the course, too. Just go to the course homepage and enroll. You will need an account with, but that's free.


Next: Preparing Your Canvas: Signs and Wonders

This is the sixth entry in my Preparing Your Canvas series, documenting NKU's transition from Blackboard to Canvas. If you want to start from the beginning, here's the rest in chronological order:



I started writing this post over the weekend, intending to finish it before the final SFI started. Oops. In general there's this palpable sense of acceleration as the beginning of the fall semester looms on the horizon. Although interacting with faculty in the intimate setting of the workshops is rewarding, its only one part of our responsibilities. This applies equally to the participating instructors as well; the rest of our duties do not patiently wait while we all set aside this time to dig into building great classes. Part of navigating this transition successfully will involve faculty and staff alike negotiating a balance of their time and resources. 


We spend part of the workshop time thinking about cognitive load in different contexts. For example, how much information is being presented to a viewer at once? Humans can be visually overwhelmed easily. We also expand cognitive load to encompass what students are being asked to do overall. Just like faculty and staff, their behavior as students is a constant negotiation of time, resources, and competing responsibilities. Looking back at our Summer Faculty Institutes, we connected these points with participants while learning about Canvas:


  1. Students attend a class to learn content, skills, and meet objectives.
  2. The more students think about the structure of a class, the less they will think about the content.
  3. Canvas helps improve course design so that students think about course structure less.


These last two SFI's have also offered us new perspectives on the problem of engagement and disenfranchisement. In earlier posts we brought up involving other staff in learning Canvas. Many people besides instructors need to know about Canvas. We also have to respect the needs of instructors who aren't on campus. Online-only instructors, remote faculty working out of other states or other countries — they are equally important in the adoption of a new LMS. To that end, we recorded our WebEx sessions, which I covered more in depth in a previous post. This dips into a larger problem that many institutions face, which is how to provide equity and empowerment to remote faculty and students. Working with online-only organizations previously, I'm familiar with the communication problems that arise for individuals working remotely. Communicating at a distance requires a higher degree of intentionality and follow-through from everyone. You can't just "drop-by" their office or cubicle right when you remember something. The dematerialization of the physical office into emails, WebEx sessions, and phone calls can easily create a feeling of disconnect from the larger system.


Besides holding virtual sessions, sharing the recordings of those sessions, and having the independent Canvas 101 course, what are other ways to support remote faculty and students? I'm curious to see how other institutions have tackled similar issues.


There's still one final group we haven't talked about: the students! The students need to buy into the new LMS just like anyone else. Good things can be ruined by bad introductions. Part of our adoption strategy needs to account for setting a clear narrative for students about what is happening and why. In the past week we've reached out to our Marketing & Communications group to establish a plan of attack for getting the word out. Currently our plan involves 4 stages of advertising, using a combination of digital signage, campus-wide email newsletter, and social media. The advertising strategy performs a couple duties for faculty and students. For students, it makes them aware of the transition, and sets clear expectations for how their education will be changing. For faculty, it will help encourage more voluntary transitions before the end of Spring '18, when everyone must transition. Part of our overall strategy relies on distributing when faculty make the move as evenly as possible.


The summer institutes, and summer in general, are behind us. Canvas is in front of us. In my next post, we'll get to everyone's favorite: buttons!


Next: Preparing Your Canvas: Buttons!

This will be my first year utilizing Canvas. In the past I had been apprehensive about switching from Google Classroom to Canvas because I teach a lot of EC students. I had felt that Google Classroom was more mainstream and user friendly. What I have found is that it does not offer as much to the student and teacher. I will be interested to see how the transition goes. 

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