Canvas Tip – Why should I use the inbox in Canvas?

Photo by Mark John Raymundo on Unsplash

Perhaps you have noticed the little mail icon labeled Inbox on the blue menu bar on the left hand bar of your screen and though “just what I need – ANOTHER inbox”. This brief post will outline a few ways in which this option (called Conversations in Canvas-speak) might offer you some benefits.

To begin, here’s a video introduction of how Conversations work in Canvas.

Benefits of using the Canvas Inbox:

  • All course related messages are grouped together (not intermingled with other emails)
  • You can filter your messages by course to view conversations only related to that course
  • Students (and faculty) can still set their notifications to receive email messages when they receive messages in their Canvas inbox if they find that helpful

Things to consider: 

  • Using right click (or option+click) functionality you can open the Canvas mailbox in another tab to keep this feature handy while you are doing other work in Canvas
  • Once a course has concluded the messaging function in Canvas can no longer be used for that course.

Office Hours = Connection

Picture of painted wall with the word 'together' on it
Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

Office hours can be a misunderstood and underutilized opportunity for students. They are often a new concept to many first year students and they are not always sure what office hours are for or how they apply to their needs as students. In the article ““Office Hours are Kind of Weird”: Reclaiming a Resource to Foster Student-Faculty Interaction” the authors suggest the following action items to help students more actively utilize office hours:

  • Make the purpose of office hours explicit. What should they be used for? Provide an example scenario to help students identify situations where they might access faculty help.
  • Create nurturing classroom environments to make students feel comfortable and safe asking for help.
  • Promote your office hours. Don’t just mention them once in your syllabus. Bring up office hours frequently along with how students can sign up for time – which leads to…
  • Use digital technologies to keep students updated as to what times are available and how they can book a time (see below for more logistical details) (Smith, Chen, Berndtson, Burson, & Griffin, 2017, p.24 – 25)

Cognitive scientist Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. (founder of www.retrievalpractice.org) highlights the significance of connection in her blog post about 10 quick tips to make office hours powerful learning opportunities. There are some great ideas here that highlight the principles above as well as some additional ideas. A core focus that Professor Agarwal uses in her suggestions is:

Turn your office hours into connection hours, student hours, and learning hours.

Dr. Pooja K. Agarwal

Of course not everyone is sold on the idea of office hours. While digging around the research I found this article in which a professor attempted to replace personalized email communication for in person office hours. This resulted in 8000 emails with students in five sections of one class over the course of ONE semester. 

This article highlights a tension that can exist between the convenience of digital vs. in-person communications. In the article “Office Hours are Kind of Weird…” the authors directly address this complexity:

“To implement office hours in a more connected world, we suggest that the emphasis should be put on enhancing student-faculty interactions regardless of means, either in-person consultation or brief communications via digital tools. How to maintain quality student-faculty interaction in this increasingly connected world is a challenge facing faculty and institutions.”

(Smith, Chen, Berndtson, Burson, & Griffin, 2017, p. 21)

Scheduling Logistics

So if you’ve decided to encourage the use of your office hours you also need to make it easy for students to find a time to meet with you when you are not already meeting with someone else. Below we’ve outlined instructions for two different options that utilize Middlebury systems. You can also set up a consultation with a member of the Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry if you would like to discuss these options in more depth. Also – keep in mind that these meetings could happen virtually via Zoom which can be particularly helpful if a student is away from campus due to travel, illness, emergencies, etc.

Setting up Office Hours using the scheduler in Canvas

You can set up your office hours using the scheduler in Canvas which will allow students to sign up through the Canvas calendar interface. Important tips to keep in mind are that you will need to enter all of your office hours for the semester at once, or add new ones week by week. You can not generate hours via a pattern. However, if your hours are regularly scheduled on a weekly basis this is not a time consuming process.

Below is a video about the calendar in Canvas. Fast forward to 3:00 to see the specific information about the scheduler.

Ask students to request meetings with you during your scheduled office hours using Outlook.

You can also use Outlook either via the application or the web interface (go/mail) to have your students initiate scheduling a meeting during your office hours via the calendar interface. The best way to facilitate this would be to notify your students of your office hours and explain that they should use the instructions linked below to request an appointment with you. An added benefit of this process is that you can respond to requests on an appointment by appointment basis so if your schedule has changed unexpectedly you can adjust and suggest alternate times. Here’s a guide for how to use the Outlook Web App.

Canvas Gradebook

Picture of books and a notebook and a pen.
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

As the semester start date approaches we get more questions about grading and how different grading schemes can be configured in Canvas. Members of the Office of Digital Learning and Inquiry are always happy to schedule consultations to discuss this in more depth, however Canvas also provides several resources that faculty can review at their convenience as well. To get an overview of the gradebook in text form you can visit the article “What are Grades and the Gradebook”. In addition, Canvas has a great gradebook overview video that I’ve embedded below. Please note that although the title says that it is outdated – this functionality will be live until 2020. To view what options will be available in the new gradebook in 2020 please view the video at the bottom of this page.

2020 Gradebook

Kickstart Your Canvas Site!

Picture of a person kicking the air on a beach.
Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

A very popular question this time of year is ‘How do I get started with Canvas?’ a close second (especially from faculty new to Middlebury) – ‘What do I need to put on my syllabus?’ When the Provost’s office shared information about the basic syllabus and expectations for faculty, we took this information and integrated it into our Canvas templates.

What does this mean?

Specifically, we added an “About this Course” page to our Middlebury 12 week Canvas templates that includes all of the text in the syllabus template. In addition, we added the sample syllabus template .doc file to the Canvas templates. This means that you can replace place holder text with specifics for your course, but the structure for your course content is already in place.

What’s included in the Canvas templates?

You can see what the Canvas template looks like by visiting these links: (log in with your Middlebury credentials to view)

Some of the components included in the template are:

Sounds great! How do I use it?

  1. First you’ll need to create your blank Canvas site through the course hub. Follow these instructions to complete this step. Note: Do not edit this site until you’ve completed step 2. Any edits completed before importing the template will be overwritten.
  2. Then follow these instructions to import the Canvas template into your course site. (Select the option to Import into Course when prompted.)

What did we miss?

Our hope is to continually improve these templates as we get feedback from faculty, students and staff about different ideas that would make course sites better for learning. So let us know! If you have an idea or suggestion to make these better please let us know by emailing dlinq@middlebury.edu. We look forward to hearing from you and hope this helps to kickstart your semester on the right foot!

Reusing Canvas Content

At this time of year a lot of faculty are working on creating course sites that reuse previous semester content. There is an easy way to do this using Canvas by following these instructions.

However the dates of assignments, discussions, start and end dates will all need to be updated. Good news! Canvas can help you with this too! Using the adjust events and due dates option you can:

  • Remove all due dates
  • Shift dates
  • Substitute days

Learn more about the details of this function here.

Assessing Participation

Picture of a classroom full of desk

old school by alamosbasement via flickr, cc licensed at https://flic.kr/p/6r26iv

Whenever I discuss grading or assessment with a teacher, participation ultimately comes up in some form. One part of the conversation usually focuses on the goal of assessing participation such as improving verbal explanatory and argumentative skills, and then turns to how that assessment is recorded in a learning management system. Although there is plenty to discuss in terms of the goals of assessing participation, this article will focus on the logistics of recording participation in an LMS and differing ways of configuring this in Canvas.

First, a few things to consider:

  1. Do you want students to see their participation grades as they progress through the course? Are you using this as a barometer that students can use to improve their participation?
  2. Is completion of assignments factored into a part of your participation grade?
  3. Is attendance factored into participation?

Sharing Participation Grades

If you want your students to see their progression in this area you will need to:

  1. Make sure that your gradebook is visible to students on the Canvas menu
  2. Design your gradebook so that a weekly participation grade is entered/calculated

Factoring Attendance into Participation

We suggest calculating a daily amount for attendance and manually awarding points based on the students’ attendance for the week. However, you will want to consider what you will do in the case that a student is absent due to a cause that is not under their control.

Factoring Assignment Completion into Participation

If these assignments are only assessed based on completion this can be set up in Canvas for assignments and discussions. However, if you are also assessing the content of the assignment/discussion forum post, you will need to consider an alternate assessment method that may involve dual scores if you want to be sure to break out the participation component.

Questions of Pedagogy

All of these considerations will provoke additional pedagogical questions. For example:

  • What role does attendance play in the learning process? Is it possible that that role is actually conveyed in another assessment tool that you are using?
  • Similarly, does assessing the completion of assignments demonstrate the achievement of a learning goal?
  • Are you providing multiple means of participation to ensure that you involve all your students?

Assessing participation on a weekly basis can be time consuming so you’ll want to ensure that this time is accomplishing your goals. In many cases there are alternate methods that will result in the same or a similar outcome.

Picture of baseballs with Ted Williams batting averages written on the balls

What’s a grade distribution graph?

Picture of baseballs with Ted Williams batting averages written on the balls

Ted Williams Batting Average Chart – National Baseball Hall of Fame by Dan Gaken via Flickr at https://flic.kr/p/nVoGTJ

Did you know that by default your students are able to view grade distribution graphs in Canvas? This feature allows students to see the high, low and mean scores for the class. However, faculty can disable this feature while still retaining the ability to view this information for themselves.

To disable this feature for students follow these instructions.