Video Code Easter Eggs

Jul 9, 2012 by

I have this sneaky trick I use to tell which students watch online videos and which don’t.  I hide “secret codes” in the videos (like the programmer’s Easter Eggs).  When a student finds one of my “Easter Egg codes” they can submit it for 1 point towards participation.  Sometimes the codes are numbers I generate at random (Ex: 40234) and sometimes it’s a word, phrase, or story (my cat is chasing a fly in front of my computer).

I don’t tell the students where the codes are. I don’t tell them HOW I’ve shared the code or what kind of code it is.  Some videos have codes, and many don’t.  Because of the random distribution of codes in videos, and my “loose” way of collecting them for points, I can always add or remove videos with codes, and it won’t affect the overall point system.

Here's an example of a video code inserted as a callout bubble. Click on image to enlarge.

Let me explain. Students are not required to watch particular videos and there are two other ways to earn participation points.  Participation for each unit is counted out of 10 points, but 5 extra credit points may also be earned.  Thus, there is a cap on the total number of points I will count.

Participation points can be earned by:

  1. Participating in a live online chat. (2 points)
  2. Posting something substantive in a Discussion. (1 point)
  3. Turning in a video code. (1 point)

Here are various ways that I hide the codes in videos:

  • In callout bubbles I add post-recording and pre-production
  • On calculator screens (sneaky, huh?)
  • In something I say out loud
  • In something I write on the journaling screen
  • In something I say and write on the journaling screen
  • In the text of a math equation
  • Underlining a particular word or phrase on the screen from a lesson
  • An action to take (call my office phone and sing the quotient rule to me)

Collecting the codes is the real trick.  Some years I’ve used a Google Spreadsheet or Doc for the collection.  This year, I’m using the comment field of the Canvas Graded Discussions.  I set up one Discussion for each unit, worth 10 points.  When a student participates in an online chat, I go to the gradebook for this Discussion and add a comment “Chat 7/9/12 = 2 points” for that student.  When the student submits a video code, I go to the gradebook for this Discussion and add the comment “Video Code 40234 = 1 point”.  Then when I go to grade the assignment, I see not only all the students’ discussion posts, but also all their collected codes and chat points (see image).

Canvas Discussions grading screen with comments. Click on image to enlarge.

It’s really interesting to see which students find and submit the codes and which students never submit a single code. This helps me to track the progression of students through a particular unit.  Pessimistically, it helps me to “catch” those students who claim they are watching videos when, in fact they aren’t.  But optimistically, I can also tell who consistently watches all the videos by seeing their collected codes pile up.  While I haven’t always enjoyed keeping lists of students and codes, the “Easter Egg” method has worked well over the years to keep track of video-watching as a way to participate in online courses.

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Online Office Hours in Instructure Canvas

Jun 25, 2012 by

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the video chat service provided in Canvas was turned off in Fall 2012. It has now been replaced with a Text Chat that is built in to Canvas, but no video.

I have been incredibly happy with the online office hours that I’ve been holding in Canvas this semester (see previous post on SAVI tools in Canvas here).  Day after day, students are showing up for office hours to ask their own questions, hear other students’ questions, and just kind of hang out while they work on problems.  It’s lovely to SEE my online students regularly and I feel a much greater connection to this summer’s students than from any prior semester.

I’m quite sure that the difference is the ease of use of the Canvas Chat tool.  There are no logins, no scheduled sessions, and there is no separate software to install.  To get into the online office hour, the student (and the instructor) simply has to click on Chat.  To share camera and/or audio, they click “Start Broadcasting” and follow the prompts.  It really does not get much easier than that.

Images of Instructor and Student Guides for Online Office Hours in Canvas. Click on image to enlarge. Follow links in blog post for actual documents.

To make it easier for other instructors to implement the practice of online office hours, I wrote two guides:

The instructor guide contains tips on:

  • Webcams: Should you require or not?
  • Scheduling sessions: When and how?
  • Syllabus considerations
  • User Limit to Chat
  • Sharing a YouTube video, with an interactive whiteboard, or a screenshot
  • Sharing a document through the link to a Canvas page
  • Taking attendance
  • Students with low bandwidth
  • Troubleshooting technical problems
  • Reducing the “echo” effect that commonly plagues SAVI tools

If you’re going to share these with colleagues or students (which is fine), please share through the hyperlink so that if I update the documents in the future, you’ll always have the current version.  Hope these are helpful to you!

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Aligning Inline Equations Vertically in Instructure Canvas

Jun 5, 2012 by

When you use the Canvas equation editor to insert an equation surrounded by text, you may be wishing there was some way to align the equations in the middle vertically, instead of on the bottom (the default setting for inline equations).  Well, there is, but you’re going to have to be just a little brave and do a tiny edit to the HTML to fix it.

Before "middle" alignment and after. NOTE: Click on image to enlarge it.

The basic fix is to grab a small bit of HTML code and paste it

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Collecting Learning Notebooks in an Online Course

Jun 4, 2012 by

In a prior post, I discussed how I’m using Learning Notebooks to encourage students to carefully think through the mathematical steps and notation for solving problems.

I promised that I would explain how students complete this assignment in an online course, so today I’ve made a video, Collecting Learning Notebooks in an Online Course to show you the process I’m using inside of Instructure Canvas.  The process should be similar for other Learning Management Systems (though it may not be quite this easy).

Here’s the process.  Students still complete their Learning Notebook exactly how they do in a traditional class. I encourage them to keep a Table of Contents so that they can quickly find their assignments and make sure they are complete. Again, this was discussed in a prior post. The turning in part is a bit different for an online course.

I want to collect ten random problems from the students. So first, I create a Question Bank (or test bank) of 18-20 problems.  The problems look something like this:

Example problem from the Question Bank. [click on image to enlarge]

In the actual assignment, I tell the Quiz to pull ten problems at random from the Question Bank.  This is a timed assignment, and I figure that 45 minutes should be plenty of time to take 10 photos or scans and upload them, even on cruddy Internet like mine.

How do students take their photos?

  • Digital cameras
  • Webcams (I required them for this course)
  • Scanners
  • Multi-function printer/scanners
  • Cell phone cameras

How do they get the image to the quiz?  They have to get the image to their computer screen and then use Jing to create a URL for the page they want to share.

Here are a few examples [click on the images to enlarge]:

Handwritten student work shared with a camera.


Handwritten student work scanned and shared with Jing.


Handwritten work shared with a webcam and Jing. (permission granted by student to share photo)

Then I grade the quizzes. Done!

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Escaping Blackboard and Redesigning for Instructure Canvas

May 31, 2012 by

I’ve been in the process of redesigning my Online Calculus course for Instructure Canvas, and I thought I’d share a bit about the design of the new course. In the redesign video, I will compare the same content as it existed in Blackboard, how it transfered “raw” to Canvas upon import, and then how I’ve re-styled it to design for “Pages” instead of “Folders.”

You’ll find that it helps to settle on a consistent look and feel for your new Canvas pages. Find a relatively complicated page and spend some time thinking about page design. What elements do you consistently want to highlight on these pages? Videos to watch? Pages to be printed? Required elements? You may want to play with several different styles and layouts before making your final choice (remember you can always resurrect old styles by going to the Page History and restoring to a previous version of the page).

My Canvas Page Design (click on image to enlarge)

Here’s a little guide to my redesign:

  • Topic in Header 2 style
  • Body of text in Paragraph style
  • Learning objectives listed by bullet point below Topic
  • Light Green highlighting = printed material
  • Image “snapshot” of printed material uploaded using “Images” panel
  • Light Yellow highlighting = video lecture
  • Light Blue highlighting = link to outside webpage
  • Horizontal line = break between topic areas (has to be manually inserted in the HTML)


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Analysis of Online Whiteboard Tools

May 30, 2012 by

NOTE: This post was revised considerably on 5/31/12 after a followup use with Dabbleboard proved to be awful.  Given this new development, I have to recommend Scribblar and I will plan to have a “backup” whiteboard handy in case the chosen system is “having a bad day.”

When I meet students online for office hours, it’s vitally important that we have an shared online whiteboard to use as a space to do problems.  These online whiteboard tools tend to come and go, so don’t shoot the messenger when one of the tools in the list below disappears. The good news is that these types of tools seem to pop up on the Internet all the time, so where one disappears, three others take its place.

Solving a problem in DabbleBoard

Solving a problem in Scribblar

I’ve been on a search for my “perfect” online whiteboard this week, so I thought I would run through several of the available options, and do my “math teacher analysis” for each.  I use the Chat interface in Canvas to see and hear my students, so I’m really only concerned with finding the “perfect” drawing space.  I paste the URL for the whiteboard in the text chat window, and we can all view the drawing screen from that link.

Here are some of the features I find important in an interactive whiteboard:

  • Large writing space
  • Ability to quickly clear the screen
  • Ability to add more space to the whiteboard or go quickly to a 2nd screen
  • Responsiveness of the pen with freehand drawing
  • Colored ink
  • Highlighting tools
  • Easy ability to share the board with students (ex: by pasting a URL into a chat window)
  • Ability to add a graphing grid or image

This morning I took a look at the following online whiteboard tools:

For the record, none of these tools will work on an iPad.  They all run using Flash and/or Java plugins.  The native Canvas Chat is actually Tinychat, and there is a whiteboard plugin included. However, it’s Flockdraw, and of all the tools I tested this morning, it is in the bottom two in terms of performance (toss up between Flockdraw and Google Draw for worst tool).  Here’s my detailed analysis of the six online whiteboard tools.

Analysis of Online Interactive Whiteboards (click on image to enlarge)

In the “War of the Online Whiteboards” I was torn between Dabbleboard and Scribblar.  I listed Dabbleboard as my top choice on Wednesday, but then its performance on Thursday was so horrid I’ve reversed my decision.  Scribblar has a couple of advantages: highlighter pens (the only tool I looked at that included this option for drawing) and if you do splurge for a Pro account there is a built-in WolframAlpha button which pastes the output of a WolframAlpha search directly to your screen.  The only downside of Scribblar is that students are prompted to “login” when they follow the URL to the whiteboard.  They don’t really have to login, they just have to provide a username for the board, but you will probably have to explain this to every single student that follows the link (sigh).

Guide to Dabbleboard (click on image to enlarge)


Guide to Scribblar (click on image to enlarge)

My recommendation for math teachers using the Instructure Canvas Chat: Ditch the Flockdraw whiteboard and create a “permanent space” in Scribblar or Dabbleboard (both will require you to create a free account for a permanent room) where you can keep a collection of all the pages you’ve used for a given class.  Create a different space for each class.  Then paste (or re-paste) the URL to the room URL  into the text chat whenever a new student arrives in Canvas Chat (since they don’t see the past history of the chat).

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