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Upgrading My Canvas Use

As I start looking forward to the 2015-16 school year, it's time to start upgrading.

The first tool I’ll be gearing up is Canvas. Canvas is the powerful learning management system created by Instructure that my district has been using for the past two school years. I am very happy with the abilities and functionality it provides.  I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in what the system has to offer.

The first year I used Canvas, it was part of a pilot program in the district. The district rolled it out to a number of different teachers and hosted its own version at the district level. I spent that summer learning all about it via YouTube tutorials and was ready to use some of the basic elements.  That year, I used it only in one class. I set up each unit as a module, created online quizzes for problem sets, created assignments students could submit online, and also had students create ePortfolios.

Last school year, Canvas was rolled out district wide.  This time it was hosted by Instructure so we were able to access the full capabilities of Canvas.  This included the mobile app which made access on smartphones and tablets much easier.  In year two, I deployed Canvas across all of my classes. I experimented with some new functionalities as well.  I embedding Google Docs into pages on Canvas for easy updates.  I increasing the variety of questions in quizzes and imported questions from question banks.  I also created rubrics for assignments and used Speedgrader to grade online submissions.  I also incorporated LTI apps such as Khan Academy to provide students with resources outside of the textbook to learn content.

Not everything I tried last year worked. That’s where I’m focusing my efforts on for this year.

Last year, I was able to fully deploy rubrics for assignments.  But, when I tried to do the same with outcomes I failed.  This year, I’ve taken my learning objectives and entered them into Canvas as outcomes.  I’ve grouped outcomes by unit.  Each unit has 3 to 4 objectives.  I’ve created a 5 point rubric for each one (a scale of 0-4).  

In addition to content learning objectives, I’ve also created competency objectives related to science process.  To create these, I looked at both science practices identified by the College Board for AP Science Curriculum and those measured by the ACT Test.  I’ve created 4 different outcomes.  The first is Models and Theories which assesses a student's ability to explain, compare, and apply scientific models and theories.  The second is Mathematics which measures a student’s ability to apply formulas and complete to computations.  The third is Experimental Design which assesses a student’s ability to design a procedure to test a hypothesis.  Finally, Data Analysis measures a student's ability to evaluate data and come to conclusions.

Align Question Banks
Now that these outcome rubrics have been created, they can be applied to student tasks.  The first being quizzes.  To keep things organized, Canvas allows for assigning outcomes to question banks. 

This aligns specific questions with a specific outcome.  So, I’ve started designing question banks to contain questions addressing a single objective.  I’ve then started building multiple quizzes for each objective using these banks.  

With multiple quizzes, students can monitor their progress towards the mastery of a specific objective.  They can do this thanks to the Learning Mastery Gradebook in Canvas.

Align Assignments
In addition to aligning outcomes to questions banks, outcomes can be aligned to assignments.  This means that in addition to the scoring rubric I’ve already created, I can assign outcomes as well.  For example, a lab could cover both content and science practice skills.  In this case, I can align multiple outcomes to that assignment.  Canvas will keep track of all of this in the Learning Mastery Gradebook.

Student Wiki Resources
As I stated, last year I included content resources such as Khan Academy.  This year I’d like to have students do a little bit more sharing of resources.  I’ll still provide Khan Academy links.  I want to try something else in addition.  I will create a wiki pages that students can edit.  I’m going to ask that students submit additional resources to this page.


Last year another failure was trying to award badges.  I tried to use Canvabadges LTI app to award badges to students based on completion of assignments and scoring at a specific level. I was able to keep up with it for the first couple of units.  I did a very poor job of explaining the process, and interest fell off.  This year, I will try it again. Last year, I tried to do a badge for each module.  This year, I will assign badges for each of the four science practices.  Students will gain these badges at the end of the course if they have scored advanced level in the outcome.

The creation of the questions banks aligned to a specific objective will probably take the most time, but the ability to get that objective specific feedback will prove worthwhile. I look forward to talking more about it once school actually starts in about 5 weeks.

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