Little Lambs Lost in Canvasland

We’re nearing the end of the first week of Heavenly Gardens’s online magazine writing course, which for the first time I mounted on Canvas. Five days into the term, I’m still in the honeymoon phase with Canvas. As for my little lambs? Uhm…it’s hard to have a honeymoon with someone you can’t find.

Nineteen students signed up for the class. Of those, nine replied to the e-mail notice I sent out last weekend, telling them where to find the course’s site and asking them to reply to let me know whether they intend to participate. (Many community college students run into personal and work circumstances that make it difficult or impossible to do coursework they expected they could handle.)

The College is now requiring students to use a G-mail system specific to the District. This wish is mostly honored in the breach. In the first place, younger students hardly use e-mail at all. And in the second, nobody wants the inconvenience of having to ride herd on yet another in-box. So, many students simply ignore this demand.

And that means it’s entirely possible that ten of the maga-writing students never saw that e-mail.

Two, responding to the same notice placed in the first weekly announcement, said they haven’t received it. Since I copied and pasted their e-mail addresses from the District’s records, that seems…well, unlikely. But anything’s possible.

The first two (very mickeymouse) assignments are due by 11:59 tonight. So far seven classmates have turned in one or both of these. Those who have full-time day jobs presumably will send theirs this evening.

So far, I really like the way Canvas is working. It hasn’t gone down even once — at least, not that I’ve noticed. Its ease of integrating assignments with the gradebook and with communication is just awesome.

The student (I finally figured out how to get into the “Student” view) can click on the Assignments link in the navigation bar. There she sees a list of live links to each of the course’s graded assignments.

She clicks on, say, “Market Research,” the first substantive project of the semester, and she gets a detailed description of the assignment, its due date, its point value, and a “Submit Assignment” button. When she clicks on that, she gets an option to attach it as a file or to paste it into a textbox. She also can add comments to the instructor.

The instructor can then see, by at least two avenues, which assignments students have turned in. Within the gradebook, you can see icons flagging submitted papers, and you can instantly access the student’s work simply by clicking on the icon. Once you’ve read the classmate’s paper, you can enter a grade in the page the icon elicited, and that places the grade in the correct place in the gradebook. And you can return the graded paper to the student from the same page.

So: no more clicking and clicking and clicking and clicking on the same function until you’re blue in the face. Navigating the gradebook is easy, with no fussy demands that this, that, or the other bit of ditz be done before you can move off a cell.

The one drawback about it — so far — is that students can’t access an assignment’s “submit” function until close to the due date. That’s a nuisance, especially if you have students who have a good reason to submit papers early. For example, I tell them that if they know they’re going to be out of town on a due date, they should turn the stuff in beforehand. The only way they can do that, then, is by e-mail.

As we scribble, my go-to e-mail has 116 new messages waiting for me to answer or to delete. In a current like that, it’s easy to lose a message from one little student, especially at the start of the semester, when you don’t recognize their names. So it would help a lot if they could submit papers through Canvas at any time, whenever they choose.

Maybe that function is there, though, and I just haven’t found it yet.

 

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