Video Code Easter Eggs

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

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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Tears of Joy: Canvas Analytics is ON

For years, instructors all over the world have been coached to begin making more “data-driven decisions” and for years, we just haven’t gotten easy access to our data. I won’t even begin to rant about just how difficult it has been to get usable data out of Blackboard or Datatel.  But on Thursday, that all changed.

Order of data randomly changed to protect student identities. Click on image to enlarge.

On Thursday, Instructure turned ON Canvas Analytics.  And now any instructor who’s been teaching out of Canvas can see ALL the data about their students and courses – not just from this point forwards, but from this point forwards AND backwards.  That is a HUGE leap forward in education.  In one hour, I have now seen more data about my students, their behaviors, and their interactions with the course I teach than I have from using Blackboard for 6 years.

This data is only going to get better and better as Instructure actually does listen to their clients and is constantly pushing for better and better features to help us do what we do best: help students to learn and be successful.

Here are the full images of screenshots of analytics from my Calculus course. I’ll keep adding snapshots as the semester progresses. Enjoy! Oh, and you might want to pull out your hanky first, because there are going to be tears of joy (if you use or are about to use Canvas) or tears of frustration (if you don’t).

Analytics is all about student success.  With data at our fingertips, we can be the best possible learning coaches.  We can perform better research about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. We can make better assessment decisions. We can make better pedagogical choices.  Welcome to the new era of learning.

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Aligning Inline Equations Vertically in Instructure Canvas

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 [Read more...]

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Collecting Learning Notebooks in an Online Course

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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