Canvas UK User Group

Attended the Canvas UK User Group in Birmingham representing the University of Sunderland for the first time. I’m told that when this group started a few years ago it was half a dozen people around a table, now it’s a room of 30 from institutions all of the country. Very useful for networking and getting tips and tricks from established users – little things like the fact that you can open up content pages to allow anyone to edit them, effectively turning them into wikis, and learning about the kinds of problems other users have had, for example that notifications can’t be customised on a per course basis. An institution that migrated to Canvas a couple of years ago had a lot of complaints about that from staff, but I don’t think it will be an issue for us as we’re moving from a VLE that had no notifications system at all, so it’s an enhancement request for us rather than a loss of functionality.

By far the most useful part of the day was the access we had to technical people from Instructure and the roadmap and plans they shared with us. I knew that Crocodoc was due for replacement for example, but I didn’t realise it was happening quite so soon (next week!) and I saw the replacement tool for the first time. Looking forward to Quizzes 2, Blueprint courses and the changing functionality around muting assignments. A little disappointed to learn that the quick marks functionality from Turnitin’s Grademark isn’t going to be implemented in Speedgrader, as we’ve already had academics raising that with us. Also noted an interesting looking screenshot in the roadmap which showed Mahara loading within Canvas, similar to how the Turnitin LTI displays. We would love to have that kind of deep integration, but there were mixed messages about Mahara, with some people reporting that the latest version of the integration was still broken. The slide was in the roadmap though, so hopefully something that we can look forward.

Canvas Network Training Course

In preparation for the Participatory Arts MOOC which I am helping to develop, and which is being hosted on Canvas Network, Instructure asked us to complete this training and preparatory MOOC which, as always happens with MOOCs, I started enthusiastically in early March but was quickly lost amongst the sea of deadlines and urgent jobs.

As the university has chosen Canvas for our new VLE also, this should have given me a head start, but as things panned out I’ve ended up completing all of my onsite Canvas training first. Nevertheless, completing the MOOC was still a valuable exercise as there are some differences with Canvas Network and it did cover pedagogic issues which are specific to MOOCs, such as the types of assessment used and how to stimulate student engagement week on week.

I also earned a couple of badges, Canvas Network Groupie and Canvas Network Rock Star. These were issued through Badgr, another open badge platform which doesn’t link or share my badges to my Mozilla Backpack. I really want to like open badges, I love the concept, but the different platforms need to work with each other; I want to be able to display and collate all of my badges in one place, but the only way I am able to do that is by posting them all on my own website, here, under the Badge tag. The situation screams of the XKCD cartoon Standards.

Medial Version 5 Demonstration

Following on from the webinar preview of Medial version 5 we had back in January, this morning we had a visit from our new account manager who came to introduce themselves and give us some more information about version 5, and Medial’s plans for the future.

Following our recent decision to adopt Canvas, we were pleased to get a demonstration of the Canvas integration which is functionally identical to the Moodle and Blackboard integrations. This works in a similar manner to the YouTube integration for Canvas which adds an icon to the textbox editor toolbar, but instead of embedding the video it returns a link to the selected file in Medial. There is an update for the integration due to improve this behaviour, inserting a thumbnail icon instead.

In addition to all of the work we have to do on the rollout of Canvas, we do have one eye open towards updating our version of Medial too. With this in mind our account manager discussed the available options which are to update our hosted instance, switch to a SAAS model, or utilise a middle way option which is SAAS for Medial itself, but then links into our own cloud platform, e.g. Azure or AWS, for content storage. Either of the SAAS models bring the benefit of scaling to meet demand, whereas our current hosted version of Medial can only transcode one video at a time.

I wrote about their live streaming tool, MEDIALive, before, but today we got a demonstration of it in action using the iOS app. MEDIALive can cast the stream out to YouTube and Facebook Live as well as Medial itself, and makes it easy to add in pre and post roll event videos.

Finally we were privy to some plans for version 6, which includes the ability to push videos added to Medial out to a YouTube channel also, and a new closed captioning solution which will give you the option for automated speech to text captioning, or human transcription which offers better results but is more expensive.

NERAC Training Day

NERAC, the North East Regional Assessment Centre, is based within the University’s Disability Support Service and provides study needs assessments for students at the University and from other universities and colleges in the North East. This training day was to provide an overview of the latest versions of software and hardware which can be made available to assist students with specific needs, and was very helpful in raising my awareness of what is available and which I will cascade to my team.

For literacy support two software packages were discussed, Read&Write and ClaroRead Pro. Both have functionality for converting text to speech, highlighting, conversation to other formats including MP3, and scanning tools. Read&Write tends to be the preferred software with students, partly for its better spell checker which can check as you type and pick up on phonetical spelling errors, e.g. suggesting ‘enough’ for ‘anuf’.

There was an excellent presentation on hearing impairment which discussed the different types of hearing aids which are available and how these can be complimented by technology such as induction loops and the Roger Pen. Two software packages for audio note taking were introduced, Sonocent Audio Notetaker and Notetalker. Both packages allow students to annotate presentations, e.g. PowerPoint files, with audio recorded notes, and have text to speech functionality for the conversation of recorded presentations, though it was noted that these rarely work as well as intended in real world scenarios due to background noise.

Next, two tools for mind mapping were discussed, MindView and Inspiration. MindView was noted as being the generally preferred package at this time, as it has a familiar Office style ribbon toolbar and some nice features such as being able to add multiple notes and attachments to each branch, collaborative working, a citation tool, and a Gantt chart tool. Inspiration offers a word guide which can suggest synonyms and definitions, a presentation tool, and mobile apps, though it was noted that these were fairly basic.

Finally, software for screen reading and magnification were presented – Supernova and ZoomText. Both tools can do screen magnification, and ZoomText is able to apply different colour schemes to open windows and applications, as well as to the mouse cursor and pointer. It also has a feature called AppReader which can convert text to speech and can reflow the text in a magnified window as it is reading it out. Also demonstrated was Readit which can scan images and convert to text using optical character recognition. This also works with PDF files in which the pages are image files rather than text, useful for older journals which have only had simple scans. Readit can export to various formats, including Word and MP3.

Canvas On-Site Training

Following on from the on-boarding webinars, this was the big one – four days of intense on-site training on every aspect of Canvas. Everything. Notable items from day 1 included rubrics, discussion boards, quizzes, Big Blue Button, and the Redirect app which can be used to add items into the navigation menu. Day 2 focused on mobile, both the apps which are available and advice on how to design content with mobile consumption in mind. Day 3 was all about admin, Canvas Commons, and the LTI apps which are available from within Canvas and through Edu App Centre. Finally, on day 4 we went through many of the settings together and discussed which to enable and disable based on our needs and the advice of our trainer.

Canvas On-Boarding Webinars

Participated in a series of webinars delivered over three days which covered everything we needed to know to get started with our shiny new Canvas VLE.

The webinars were divided into three topics, admin, support and fundamentals. The admin session was an introduction to the administration of Canvas, something we haven’t really seen before, while the fundamentals sessions, the bulk of the training, covered pretty much every other aspect of the system. Together these sessions have given us a good grounding to get started with the deployment of Canvas, and will be followed up with more comprehensive onsite training in a few weeks.

Our contract with Instructure includes their Tier 1 support package which means that they will be taking all of the customer support queries from our staff and students. The support webinar was an introduction to this, covering how their systems and processes work, and how we will access their call logging system to pick up anything that can’t be resolved directly. Happily they are using JIRA, a system I know well.

ArtWorks Scotland Forum for Practice Development

artworks_scotland_definitions

Following on from the Interface Symposium held here at Sunderland last September, I was asked to attend the ArtWorks Scotland Forum for Practice Development at the National Theatre of Scotland to raise awareness of the pending launch of our MOOC, by networking and delivering a session on the MOOC, showing the development that has been made to date.

With the materials still being built out on the MOOC platform itself, Canvas Network, I ran my demonstration from the SunSpace development site again, after updating it with some of the latest materials, and devising an interactive activity for the attendees of the forum. Lacking time and resources to have people complete an activity within the sample MOOC itself, I embedded an automatically updating word cloud using Tagul and then, during the networking lunch before my session, I interviewed all of the participants asking them to define what participatory arts means to them in three words – this mimicked the assessment we ran at the Interface Symposium. As they gave me their answers I was inputting them into Tagul on my tablet, then during my demonstration, when I came to this page the word cloud was complete with their responses which you can see in the image above. I’m pleased to be able to note that this all went without a hitch, and there was a lot of interest in the MOOC in terms of both providing content (which was one of the aims of attending the forum), and in participating when it goes live later this year.

The rest of the forum was, for me, an opportunity to learn more about the field of participatory arts which, as someone made a point of in their presentation, is possibly the majority of art produced, in contrast to the perception of art as something produced by talented individuals for the enjoyment or consumption of others. Particularly interesting was Simon Sharkey of the National Theatre of Scotland’s presentation about their involvement with the Gulbenkian Foundation to produce Sharing the Stage and Home Away.

Medial Version 5 Preview

Caught up with the recording of Medial’s preview of version 5 of their product from November on YouTube. It will bring improvements to the quality of video playback, which now defaults to the highest your internet connection and device can handle, and the player has switched to HTML5 by default, though Flash remains available to support the live streaming function and for users stuck on older devices.

A new feature is the ability to watch videos at 2x speed, a feature Rob was skeptical about but which people do want and will find useful. Teachers and admins now get more detailed stats on what people have been watching, the ability to set chapters to private or public, improvements to the live streaming and screen recording functions, and integration with Canvas. Live streaming is also now available to all users, not just system admins anymore, and can be done via an app for iOS and Android.

Managing Redeployment

Following the university’s restructure of support staff, a number of people are now in a redeployment position and all managers were asked to attend this HR training session on how to help those staff fit into their new roles. This was principally about the procedures to be followed and paperwork required during a six week trial period beginning in January, but also covered how to set reasonable objectives and on how best to provide feedback.

When to Refer – Safeguarding and Prevent

Training on the university’s policies and procedures on how and when to refer staff and students to the various support services which are available, e.g. when people are affected by issues such as bullying, discrimination, disability, health problems, etc. Bundled into this was the university’s obligations with regards to the government’s Prevent Agenda on radicalisation which applies to all far right groups – in the North East the principle group of concern is the EDL. Included in our discussion was how the process of radicalisation typically works, how to spot the signs of potential radicalisation, and most importantly want to do about it, which for myself, and indeed most staff, is simply to refer to the relevant Safeguarding and Prevent Officer for the service.