Blueprint Courses Webinar

Watched a webinar recording explaining how the new(ish) Blueprint Courses tool works in Canvas. This is the tool that allows a kind of parent – child relationship between courses which gives you the ability to add and update content in the parent course and push it into any children. Potentially very useful to us here as Sunderland has multiple instances of courses for our various campuses and partner institutes.

Blueprint Courses was released just before we went live with Canvas in June, but not in time for us to test and integrate into our deployment plans. Instead, we created a ‘Master’ occurrence of every module with no student enrolments which gave staff a space to create the generic content which can then be copied into each live occurrence, but it’s a manual process. Blueprint Courses could give us a more elegant solution, or it could be used by us to control and deploy the university module template. Can it be used for both though, a Blueprint course deployed into another Blueprint course? That would allow us to use the tool for both purposes. Something to experiment with.

CMALT Webinar for New Assessors

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Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have experienced the pleasure of my little rant as technology utterly failed me for this webinar, but I was at least able to get the recording working a little while later. (I will not be defeated by Java!) It was a very enlightening session on the process and practicalities of assessing the portfolios of CMALT candidates. I’ve actually already done my first one for a portfolio review a few weeks ago, so this was timely, and I have as a result of this webinar now signed up to become an assessor of regular portfolios too.

Unrelated, but ALT have also recently released digital badges for use in portfolios, email signatures, etc. Not actual accredited digital badges with metadata, just nice image files.

Workplace Safety Plus

Ah, compulsory health and safety training, delivered online! Prompted by our move to new offices on our campus north of the river. Yes, my chair and computer are at the right height; yes, I do solemnly swear to take breaks from the computer for 10 minutes in every hour; no, I am not going to take a laptop riser, external keyboard, and mouse into meetings with me or when I have to work away from my usual desk.

Samanage Training

Training on IT’s new call logging system, Samanage, a very distinct improvement over the old system which did not set a high bar. We’re getting access to this to allow my team to log calls on behalf of students who have issues on Canvas, as it was IT who developed the integration between our student records system and Canvas and thus they are the only ones who can resolve certain problems.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Awareness

The GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation, and nothing at all to do with the former German Democratic Republic, is the new regulations coming in to replace the Data Protection Act of 1998, bringing with it much firmer requirements for organisations to store data safely and appropriately, and harsher penalties for breaches. The GDPR will apply to all organisations holding data on EU citizens so it will apply to the university regardless of Brexit. It was actually a very useful session that has made me think about the types of thing I and my team store, and how most of it isn’t really necessary. I feel purge may be coming.

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.