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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Abandon the Red Pen

I have a new Teaching with Tech column published in MAA FOCUS about digital grading. In particular…

  • Why would you want to grade papers digitally?
  • What kind of hardware/software would you need?
  • How do you manage the files and workflow?
  • How to use custom stamps to give more detailed feedback (more details on that one on an older blog post)

Abandon the Red Pen, MAA FOCUS, October/November 2011

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Shifting Assessment in a World with WolframAlpha

I let my students use Wolfram Alpha when they are in class and when they are doing their homework (um, how would I stop them?).  Because of this, I’ve had to shift how I assess on more formal assignments.  For the record, it’s the same adjustment you might make if you were using ANY kind of Computer Algebra System (CAS).

The simplest shift is to stop asking for the answers to problems, and just give the students the answers.  After all, they live in a world where they CAN easily get the answers, so why pretend that it’s the answers that are important?  It’s the mathematical thinking that’s important, right?  Giving the students the answers turns problems into “proofs” where the evaluation (grade) is based on the thought-process to get from start to finish. It also eliminates the debate about whether to award points for a correct answer with no correct process.

Here are two examples of problems from a recent Calculus exam (old and new wording).

I wish I had thought to do this years ago, because students who insist on just doing the “shortcut” (and not learning what limits are all about) now have nothing to show for themselves (the answer, after all, is right THERE).

Again, a student that knows the derivative rules might get the right answer, but the right answer is now worth zero points.  The assessment is now clearly focused on the mathematical thinking using limits.

Another reason that I really like this is that it allows students to find mistakes that they are capable of finding “in the real world” where they can quickly use technology to get an answer.  They are now graded solely on their ability to explain, mathematically, the insides of a mathematical process.

Wolfram Alpha also allows me to pull real-world data into my tests much faster.  Here’s a question about curve shape (the graph is just a copy/paste from W|A):

If you haven’t begun to think about how assessment should change in a world with ubiquitous and free CAS, you should.  You don’t have to change all your problems, but I think some of them should change.  Otherwise, we’re just testing students on the same thing that a computer does, and that doesn’t sit well with me.  If you can be replaced by a computer, you’re likely to be replaced by a computer.  Let’s make sure we’re teaching students how to think mathematically, not how to compute mathematically.

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Before You Give That Exam

Students lose SO many exam points because they just don’t read the directions and pay attention to details.  On the first exam, they usually discover this … but they don’t REMEMBER it for the other exams.

This is a very simple exercise that takes about 1 minute at the beginning of the test.

Just have the students repeat after you:

I promise … to read all the directions … for all the problems on the exam …

And if I finish early, … I promise … to RE-read all the directions … to make sure I haven’t missed some detail … or forgotten to come back to some question I skipped.

I understand that … it is not important to finish quickly … it IS important to demonstrate what I know … and once the points have been lost … the points cannot be regained.

Believe it or not, this results in a remarkable number of students that stay until the bitter end, making sure that they have been careful and answered every question completely.

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How to Grade a Student Blog

tlda_blog_buttonLast semester I began using learning blogs as one of the assignments for Math for Elementary Teachers.  It was the first time I have ever used blogs as a graded student learning assessment, and I didn’t really know what to expect out of the students.  Would they all have created blogs before? [no]  Would they understand intuitively how to make hyperlinks, load in images, and embed videos? [no, no, and no] Would they write naturally in a conversational tone (in the style of most blogs)? [yes]  Would they make their blog posts two or three times a week (as directed) or would they cram them all in during the last couple days? [some of both]

Overall, I was thrilled with the results.  The students reflected on their learning, both in class and out of class.  They found and shared games, videos, articles, and vocabulary sites that they found on the web.  Some of them acted as a class reporter, summarizing what was covered in class each day (with their own personalities coming through).  Before you read the rest of this post, you might want to browse a few of their blogs to get an idea of the variety or writing and styles.

So let’s just say that this first time using blogs was a learning experience for both my students and for me.  I drafted a rubric for grading the blogs, and stuck to it all semester.  However, I realized that both the clarity of the assignment and the specificity of the rubric needed to be improved for “Round Two” (starting next week).

During the last round of blog grading, I revised my old rubric to try and tighten up the quality of the results.  Here are the specifics of the assignment now.

Set up a blog using Blogger or WordPress.  You should make at least six blog posts of at least two paragraphs each, using appropriate spelling and grammar.  The mathematics in your posts should be correct.  Blog posts should focus on what you have learned, what you’ve struggled with, or what you’ve found to help you learn.  Posts can discuss learning in class or out of class, but must relate to the current topics we are covering in the unit.  You should not refer to specific chapter or section numbers in your blog posts, and if you mention an activity from class, please use enough detail that a 3rd party reader would understand it.  Here are some specific details:

  • Blog posts should be spaced apart (not all at the last minute).
  • Your blog should include an appropriate  title (not just Maria’s Blog)
  • Your blog should include a profile (picture and brief bio). This can be fictional if need be.
  • Your blog should contain a “blogroll” with five of your favorite educational blogs.
  • Your blog should contain a list of tagged topics or categories.
  • Your blog should contain four images (or embedded videos) and should contain at least six links to web resources that you’ve found yourself.
  • Links to web resources should be properly “clickable” within the text of the post (not just a pasted URL).
  • Each post should be tagged with appropriate keywords.
  • You should make at least six comments on the blog posts of other students.

I think that the nature of the blog (what to write about) needs to stay as open as possible, but the fine detail of the assignments is difficult to assess if the quality of blogs varies wildly.   If you choose to try an assignment like this, I highly recommend a table-style rubric (like the one below) to keep track of where you are assigning points.

learn_via_blog_rubricI also found it helpful to use a screen-capture program (I used Jing and SnagIt) to make grading comments about specific blog posts (because, of course, you should not comment those in on a public blog site).

One last tip:  About halfway to the deadline, I give every student feedback on how they are doing so far.  I gently remind them about details that they might have forgotten so that they have time to correct or regroup.  I’ve found this results in immediate improvement in the blogs and is well worth the effort.  I use quick 1-3 minute Jing videos to give the feedback most of the time.

Note: You can see the rest of the learning projects and a “big picture” idea of how I fit all this in (timewise) by reading Transforming Math for Elementary Ed.

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