Staying in Touch with Your Students – Communicating Through the Gradebook

By John Hawes, Educational Developer and Jonathan Wade, Senior Educational Technologist

There are nearly countless ways to stay in touch with your students. Zoom, emails, text messages, announcements, digital syllabi, and dynamic course schedules make it possible for instructors to reach out to students with a few strokes of the keyboard or taps on the screen. An often overlooked means to communicate with students is the Canvas Gradebook. Student surveys have shown that students seek feedback through the grading mechanism of the LMS. Pushing information to students through email or announcements from you is a wonderful way to communicate with them but using the grading function of the LMS can allow you to connect with them at a moment when they are seeking to connect with you. Consider that grading need not always be a permanent summative judgment but can also be an opportunity to help the student understand how to better understand the material. Dr. John Orlando writing for Faculty Focus observed that giving students an opportunity to revise and resubmit their work helps with student motivation because “… students who know that they have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and fix their problems will not be demotivated by their failures.” Resubmitting their works allows students a chance to better demonstrate their mastery to obtain a better final grade.


SpeedGrader is the portal that gives you access to the communication functions in the Gradebook like rubrics, comments, and the document viewer.


Rubrics in Canvas serve two basic communication functions. First, rubrics let the students know what the criteria are that will be used to evaluate their submission. Second, rubrics provide a means for instructors to let students know why they received the score they did. There’s a lot to consider when creating a good rubric. When designing a rubric, instructors should keep in mind what the learning outcomes are for the assessment. If it is to demonstrate understanding of a topic, use Demonstrated Understanding as the criterion rather than page or word count. When creating the text for each rating level use language that clearly differentiates how a submission met or failed to meet a standard. Check out the link below for more information. And of course, rubrics also make it easier to grade many submissions while still providing feedback students can use to improve future work.

Assignment Comments 

No matter how well you’ve designed your rubric, you may want to add some specific comments for a student. In SpeedGrader the Assignment Comment text box gives you the option of adding additional comments in multiple ways. You can type in your comments, attach a document, record audio or video comments or use voice recognition to add text comments. See the SpeedGrader link below for specific guidance.

DocViewer 

Depending on the type of submission, you can also add comments directly to the document in the preview window. See the DocViewer link below for specific guidance.

Messages from the Gradebook

You can send messages to students using filters based on specific assignment categories:

  • Haven’t submitted yet – students who haven’t submitted the assignment, even if they have been manually awarded a grade.
  • Haven’t been graded – students whose assignments have not yet been graded (submitted or unsubmitted).
  • Scored less than [point value] – students who earned a grade on their assignment less than X number of points.
  • Scored more than [point value] -students who earned a grade on their assignment more than X number of points.

More than one student may receive the Gradebook Message, but each student will receive an individual (not group) message.

To chat with a member of the faculty partner team about communicating through the Gradebook click on this link to schedule a consultation https://affiliate.wcu.edu/cfc/consultations/.

Resources

SpeedGrader
https://community.canvaslms.com/t5/Instructor-Guide/How-do-I-use-SpeedGrader/ta-p/757

Rubrics
https://community.canvaslms.com/t5/Canvas-Basics-Guide/What-are-Rubrics/ta-p/35

Designing Grading Rubrics
https://www.brown.edu/sheridan/teaching-learning-resources/teaching-resources/course-design/classroom-assessment/grading-criteria/designing-rubrics

Using DocViewer in SpeedGrader
https://community.canvaslms.com/t5/Instructor-Guide/How-do-I-add-annotated-comments-in-student-submissions-using/ta-p/694

Sending messages to students from the Gradebook
https://community.canvaslms.com/t5/Instructor-Guide/How-do-I-send-a-message-to-students-from-the-Gradebook/ta-p/741

Orlando, J. (2021, July 28). Use Revise and Resubmit Instead of Extra Credit [Higher Education]. Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/educational-assessment/use-revise-and-resubmit-instead-of-extra-credit/

To Flip or Not to Flip? That is the Question.

Whether you call it inverted instruction, classroom flipping, or some other term, the concept behind this kind of instruction is basic. Students get the foundational knowledge they need outside the classroom and class time is spent on higher-level learning. Properly executed, this instructional methodology changes the instructor’s role from one of a “sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side.” (Bergmann & Sams, 2007)

How do the students get that foundational knowledge?

  • Video
    • If you record your own videos:
      • Keep them short (7 minutes max)
      • Topic focused
      • Provide captions and transcript
    • If you don’t want to make your own, there are plenty of sources:
      • Khan Academy, YouTube, Ted Talks
    • Assign specific time ranges as appropriate
  • Texts
    • A history, account, narrative, or case study
    • From the course texts, assign specific pages if the students don’t need the whole chapter – they are more likely to do the reading
    • Consider developing a reading guide to target their attention on particular concepts or ideas 
  • Websites
    • Again, assign specific pages or parts of the website as appropriate
  • Research
    • Give your students a list of questions and let them find answers

How can I know they have attained the foundational knowledge?

Barkley and Major, in their text Learning Assessment Techniques, offer concrete ways to assess students’ foundational knowledge, and they fit the “blending” teaching paradigm:

  • If asking them to recognize – consider an online quiz that focuses on verification, matching, or forced choice, to be taken prior to coming to class.
  • If asking them to recall – consider online quiz questions that focus on low cues or high cues.
  • If asking them to interpret or exemplify – consider an online quiz that focuses on constructed responses or selected responses.
  • If asking them to infer – consider questions that focus on verification, matching, or forced choice.
  • If asking them to explain – consider questions where students must reason, troubleshoot, redesign, or predict.

What are some effective classroom strategies to engage students in higher-level learning?

  • Muddiest point
    • Have your students bring a list of points they’d like to have clarified to class
      • Alternatively, have them post them to a discussion board
    • Address these points first before moving on to other learning activity
  • Group discussions
    • Students discuss/clarify muddiest points in groups
  • Group presentations
    • Have students teach what they learned
  • Knowledge Demonstration
    • Let the students demonstrate what they have learned

Is flipping right for me?
The real question is whether or not flipping is right for your students. One of the big advantages of flipping is that it gives students more control over their learning as they guide the classroom activity with their questions. Another is the opportunity it provides instructors to review their teaching methods. After considering your options, you may decide that flipped instruction does not provide any advantages. However, keep in mind that this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You may determine that some material in your course is suitable for flipping, while some still require more of a hands-on approach. In either case, you’ll have reflected on how you are teaching and that is always a good thing. (Trach, 2020)

If you’d like to talk about group work with a member of the Coulter Faculty Common, click here to schedule a consultation.

Sources

Barkley, Elizabeth F., and Claire H. Major. Learning Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/hunter-ebooks/detail.action?docID=4205832.

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2007). Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. International Society for Tech in Ed. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/hunter-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3317690

Hertz, M. B. (2012, July 10). The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Con. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/flipped-classroom-pro-and-con-mary-beth-hertz

Trach, E. (2020, January 1). A Beginner’s Guide to Flipped Classroom. https://www.schoology.com/blog/flipped-classroom

Classroom Discussion – Planning Tips for Online, On-Ground, and New Faculty

group of college students gathered about a table talking to each otherLooking for some new ideas for classroom discussion?

Seeking an idea for an online discussion?

What about a guide for setting norms/expectations related to discussion practices?

We have identified some resources to help you think through these questions.

 


Tips for the new teacher

Are you unsure of the role that discussion should play in your class? This guide by the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, Guidelines for Classroom Interactions, frames the discussion, first and foremost, as an exercise in knowing how your course goals align to the discussion as a lens for knowing and learning.

Classroom teachers looking for a quick, digital resource, the IDEA paper Effective Classroom Discussions covers expectation-setting, teacher roles, and student roles, in an attractive and chunked layout. Useful when planning for a future course.

Tips for the online teacher

If you teach online and are looking for ideas on how to maximize engagement in online discussions, Kreiger, Lee, and Zolkover, instructional designers at Penn State, recently presented on this topic at the 2021 CanvasCon conference. In their presentation Change the Prompt, Not the Tool: Developing Effective Discussions, they share information for new online teachers. They suggest that faculty write out their responses to these 5 steps, prior to posting them to the LMS:

  1. What is the context? Why are you asking them to respond?
  2. How does it fit? Write an explanation for how the assignment fits into the course.
  3. How should they proceed? Write out, 1-2-3, what they are to do. Since online students typically have to wait longer for a response, they advise that you “build in” the help. See the course from their eyes.
  4. Clarify grading. Provide some clarity on how they are graded, and remember that in Canvas, discussions can be high-stakes (with a point value or rubric) or low-stakes (with a complete/incomplete checkmark).
  5. Scaffold the responses. Let them know how the response “flow” should work. Are you wanting them to respond to others? (remember that this can require students to log in frequently, just to see if a response has been posted). Or do you want a rotating moderator to collect all responses, and summarize and present those to the class?

All of this information, now typed and on-screen, is tidy and structured for copy-paste into the Canvas LMS discussion rich content editor – so students will then know the big picture, and all the details, associated with the discussion.

Another helpful resource is the book Engaging the Online Learner by Rita-Marie Conrad and J. Ana Donaldson. The book frames the discussion as a small component of online engagement. Faculty will enjoy the foundational frame and theory the authors provide (constructivist and problem-based). You will not only see online classes in a new light but you will also be provided dozens of discussion-based activities and icebreakers that stem from the theory. Grab and use! One of our favorite texts!. The library has a copy; you can search for the call numbers here.

Tips for facilitating challenging classroom conversations

Many university teaching and learning centers provide guidance for handling challenging or controversial subjects. One of our favorites is the tips provided by Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching, Difficult Dialogues, as they don’t just discuss procedures for handling the challenging topic (helpful as that is). Rather, following a discussion they integrate activities for gauging student understanding that is writing- and reflection-based.

In summary, there are a lot of resources to help inspire new and innovative ideas and thinking for both the new and experienced instructor, whether teaching face-to-face or online.

Further Reading/Viewing:
Conrad, R. M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Vol. 38). John Wiley & Sons.
Lee, L., Krieger, J. M., and Adam D. Zolkover. (2021). L. Change the Prompt, Not the Tool: Developing Effective Discussions. [Video]. InstructureCon. https://www.instructure.com/canvas/resources/instructurecon-2021/change-the-prompt-not-the-tool-developing-effective-discussions#main-content

Group Assignments – Are they worth the hassle?

Having students work in groups is an effective teaching strategy. It gives students the opportunity to practice formulating and expressing ideas, evaluating the ideas of others, building consensus, and other collaborative skills applicable to both the classroom and the workplace. It gives instructors the opportunity to challenge students with more complex and authentic assessments that more accurately gauge their achievement of course learning objectives. It also reduces the number of submissions an instructor must grade and ideally, they are of higher quality than individual work. On the downside, group assignments take more planning and time to properly design and deploy in Canvas. Let’s review some of the best practices to consider for group assignments in Canvas.

Why make an assignment a group activity?
  Reduce Number of Student Submission to Grade: If you are just looking to reduce the number of submissions you must grade that’s fine, but there are upfront costs. First and foremost, you will need to ensure your students have the skills required to make groupwork a positive learning activity and not an exercise in frustration for all concerned.
  Develop Student Collaboration Skills: If developing collaboration skills is a course objective, then so much the better. If not, you’ll need to evaluate whether committing learning time and effort away from the core of your course is worth the benefits of group work. For a major course assignment like a capstone project, developing group work skills in your students may be time well spent.

How will you grade the group submission?
  All Group Members Receive the Same Grade: This is fastest, but not always equitable.
  Group Members Graded Individually: If you do this, you’ll need to determine how well each student contributed to the group submission. This can be accomplished simply by having each group member identify their portion of the submission.  Alternately, you can have group members rate their peers.
    Peer Evaluation: This will require that you ensure your students can do a fair and accurate peer evaluation and how much weight that evaluation will count towards a student’s assessment. You’ll need to decide how often students evaluate their group peers. If it is only when the final product is submitted, students are denied the chance to respond to the feedback they receive. Periodic peer assessment will benefit your students more than a single review, but it will complicate your grading. You may even want to consider the quality of the peer evaluations a student does in their performance assessment.  Check out this Self and Peer Evaluation Tool for Group Work

How will handle group enrollment?
Canvas Random Enrollment: Having Canvas create the group membership is easiest and fastest but can create less than optimum groups.
  Student Self-Enrollment: Letting the students self-enroll can create problems with peer assessment if friends enroll in the same group.
  Manual Enrollment: When instructors manually create group membership, they can create groups with complementary skills and experience. Of course, instructors need to get to know their students first with something like a skills survey or an introduction forum.
Fixed or static groups? If you’ve got multiple group assignments in your course, you can have the same groups of students work together on all of them. This has the advantage of students getting to know each other well and build effective working relationships. On the other hand, changing the members in the group gives students the opportunity to get to know more of their classmates well and experience more diversity in their learning. The Group Set feature in Canvas makes mixing up your groups easier to manage.

Group work is not something to be ventured into lightly. Just because “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t mean group work is right for your course. There are definite advantages to using group work, but there are always challenges associated with higher-level learning opportunities. You should consider whether the time investment associated with developing group assignments, preparing your students for group work, and setting up the groups in Canvas will pay dividends in improved student learning. You may decide that your subject matter is not well suited for group work or that your students will not benefit sufficiently to make group work worthwhile.

If you’d like to talk about group work with a member of the Coulter Faculty Common, click here to schedule a consultation.

Canvas Group Work and Collaboration 02.2020. (n.d.). Google Docs. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sAlBPafDCYN6SOSVz-3PUQFt5VkrtNskUd63m2mmT8A/edit?usp=sharing&usp=embed_facebook
Collaborative Learning. (n.d.). [Higher Education]. Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation. Retrieved June 21, 2021, from https://teaching.cornell.edu/teaching-resources/engaging-students/collaborative-learning
Forslund Frykedal, K., & Hammar Chiriac, E. (2018). Student Collaboration in Group Work: Inclusion as Participation. International Journal of Disability, Development & Education, 65(2), 183–198. https://doi.org/10.1080/1034912X.2017.1363381
Why work in Groups? (n.d.). University of Birmingham. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/metallurgy-materials/about/cases/group-work/why.aspx

OLC Webinar – Keeping Student Engaged in a Transition to Online Learning

The Online Learning Consortium is offering a webinar on Friday that may be helpful.  Click on the date to register.

Webinar: Keeping Students Engaged in a Transition to Online Learning

March 20 | 1:00pm ET

As educators across the country and at all levels rush to shift their teaching to a virtual environment, their first focus is content and delivery—rightly so. Faculty also need to know how to identify online at-risk student behaviors that, if mitigated, can lead to better course outcomes and satisfaction for faculty and students, alike. This session will help you identify ways to proactively keep your students engaged in an online environment (course) and understand what data you can use to help mitigate attrition.