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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Phone Cameras Handle Information in a Snap!

Jun 23, 2012 by

This “Teaching with Tech” column was originally published for MAA Focus but is no longer available on the MAA website. This is a republish of the original column.

Recently, I found myself writing a College Algebra test in an airport lounge. Ideally, I write tests from the comfort of my office, with many alternative textbooks within an arm’s reach to use as a reference to find good test problems. But there I was in an airport, and although I didn’t have a shelf full of alternative texts with me (talk about an overweight suitcase), I did have the problems from those books. That’s when I realized I realized that I should share how I use my phone camera to make my professional life easier.  In this instance, before I left my office, I had taken a few minutes to use my phone camera to photograph a few pages of the problem sections of textbooks I typically use as reference.  I was carrying all those candidate test problems with me on my phone. [NOTE: While I could also use something like Coursesmart to access alternative texts, I could not rely on finding dependable or free Internet access in airports.]

Procrastinating now, I began scrolling through the 1000+ photos on my phone and I realized that at least half of those photos were related to my job responsibilities.  The camera on my phone has become almost as valuable to me as my computer, and I think it can be for you too.  Here are some suggestions for how you might get better use of that camera-phone you’re carrying around (or perhaps decide that it’s time to buy one of those smartphones after all).

Transfer an application problem from a text to the classroom projector:  If you’re in a classroom that has no document camera OR if you want to make sure that the application problem you’re about to go over is visible to a recorded screencast on the computer, you can transfer the problem to the computer in about 60 seconds (do it while the students are working on another problem).  Take a photo of the problem, email it to yourself, and bring it up on the screen (or as an alternative to email, use Bluetooth to do the transfer).

Carry the problem sections of many different textbooks with you for test/assignment creation:  Take 5-10 minutes and page through the problem sections of several older textbooks.  Take photos of the problems that you might consider putting on the assignment.  Now when you go home, or leave on that trip, the texts that were in your office can come along without all the extra weight.

Share your lecture notes from class: If you’re in a low-tech classroom, you can easily share the lecture notes with the class digitally (or keep a copy to remind yourself what you covered).  Simply take a photo of every board before you erase.  The photos can be shared in the online course shell – most everyone can open a jpg image or they could be pasted into a document, but that’s more work!  I should note that my students also use their phones to take photos of the problems that they work on the boards (so that they can later print them if they want to see the steps).

Keep a copy of the notes from a research or planning meeting: When our department is planning a schedule for a new semester or I get together with others to plan a big research project, we often take over several whiteboards as we try to make sense of the big picture.  At the end of the meeting, I always take photos of all the boards and share the photos with everyone at the meeting.  If you meet with graduate students about their research and you write down suggestions for research paths, photograph these notes before sending the student off with them.

Get a copy of that agenda/handout from a meeting:  If you’re in a meeting where there are too many participants and not enough handouts, just ask to borrow a handout from someone else and take a photo.  Now you have a copy to refer to as well.

Share students’ work for discussion about good critical thinking or nuse of notation: When you’re grading papers, you sometimes see an outstanding example of student work or alternately, you see the same error over and over.  Rather than talk about generalities in class, take out that phone and snap a picture of the student work before you begin to mark it up (without the students’ name of course).  Now you can share that work in the next class period to talk about why it is particularly excellent, or why the error is so egregious.  It is particularly powerful to take several photos of the same error made by different students in slightly different ways, or several great examples of student work so that you can discuss the good points of many different approaches.  I think this could be particularly powerful in a class involving lots of proofs, as students find it difficult to understand what makes up a good proof.  Seeing many student proofs side-by-side could help students to begin distinguishing the good from the bad.

Share a hint about a mathematical solution: If a student or colleague emails about a particular mathematical question, consider writing out a few steps on paper, taking a photo, and then emailing the photo for a prompt on what to do next.  This can often be faster than trying to formulate a response in an email program, especially since you can include annotation easily (arrows, circles, highlighting, etc).

Tips for Conferences

  • Slides: If you’re at a talk on unpublished work and the slides are flying by too fast to take notes, try snapping pictures of each slide instead. Try to sit off to the side so that you’re not too distracting, and don’t use a flash.

  • Receipts: If you go out to eat in a group and the restaurant will not give you individual receipts, just take a photo of the group receipt for your records. For that matter, you can take a photo of all your receipts for your own records before you submit them.
  • Name Badges: If you meet someone you want to remember and they don’t have a business card, photograph their name badge instead. I usually take a photo of my own name badge too, in case I show up for a session and have forgotten my badge in my hotel room.
  • Buy it later: If you find a book you want, but don’t want to carry it in your luggage, take a photo of it instead of writing it down. This works for articles you mean to read later too (capture the title & authors with a picture).
  • As a copier: Remember that your phone can act as a copier (of sorts) on the road. If you need to share a handwritten document with others, you don’t need a copy machine.  For example, I needed to share the handwritten exam solutions I wrote on the plane with the exam proctor.  I photographed the solutions and emailed them to her.

  • Logistics: When you park in the airport parking before the event, take a picture of where your car is (then when you arrive home tired and jet-lagged, you’ll be able to find your car again). Take a photo of your luggage tag from the airlines before your luggage is sent off to the cargo hold.  Now if your luggage is lost, you have all the information that was on that original tag AND a photo of the luggage.  If you rent a car, take a photo of the license plate to make it easier to register the car at the hotel.

Most of us did not grow up with an ever-present phone in our pockets and It involves a paradigm shift to stop treating photos as an expensive resource. Challenge yourself to take more photos to streamline your workflow, improve your teaching, and help your students learn more.  It’s a snap!

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Web Tools to Enhance Learning

Jun 1, 2012 by

Here’s a new mindmap containing my recently organized collection of great sites and tools for learning and teaching.  The collections are:

  • Google Sites and Apps
  • Video Collections
  • Synchronous Communication Tools
  • Asynchronous Communication Tools
  • Mindmapping Tools
  • Data Visualization
  • Scheduling, Appointments, and Information Collecting

Mindmap: Web Tools to Enhance Learning

To see more digital mindmaps, go to Resources: Mindmaps.

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Mar 13, 2010 by

Whether you’re interested in using Twitter as a teaching tool or not, I think you’ll enjoy this very unique presentation, all built out of an illustration.

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How to give a (good) webinar

Jan 21, 2010 by


If you’ve been to two webinars, chances are you’ve seen at least one that was not very engaging.  I don’t mean to pick just on webinars – chances are if you’ve been to two conference presentations, you’ve seen one there too.  However, most people won’t walk out of a boring conference presentation.  In a webinar, participants can remain “in the virtual room” without actually being anywhere near the computer or presentation.  As a webinar presenter, how do you ensure you don’t end up speaking to a ghost crowd?

If you’re going to give a good webinar, you first need to make sure that you actually design your presentation for the webinar format (don’t plan to just do the same presentation that you normally run in person).  You need to know what kinds of tools are usually available in the webinar platforms, and how to keep the audience engaged when you’re missing those facial cues you normally get from a live in-person audience.

Presentation design is a whole other topic in itself (I taught a 9-hour course in digital presentation design last fall), but I can help a bit with the details of how to redesign for a webinar format and how to be prepared for all the details.

I wrote an article for eLearn Magazine (just published today) called Tips for Effective Webinars.  In it I go through a “Before, During, and After” set of tips for giving a good, effective, and engaging webinar.


Here’s topics list for the tips that appear in the article:

  • Recording and distribution
  • Presentation design
  • Engage often
  • Animation
  • Hyperlinks
  • Video clips
  • Trial run
  • Arrive early
  • Clear directions
  • Desktop sharing
  • Webcam sharing
  • The echo
  • After the Webinar

Head over to the full-text of the article Tips for Effective Webinars at eLearn Magazine.  When I gave my first webinar, the folks at the UW Extension office were nice enough to give me some training and advice, but not every new webinar presenter gets that.  So please, forward the article to anyone you know that could use a little training on how to give an effective webinar.

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Notesharing in the Digital Age

Sep 14, 2009 by

What do you see when you look out at your students?  Do you see them writing down everything you write and everything you say?  How does it make you feel?  Honored, proud, powerful?

What if those same students then put those notes online and share them with the rest of the class, or the world?  What if they sold those notes to a note-selling business like Einstein’s Notes, for profit?  Would you be okay with that?

Michael Moulton, a University of Florida professor felt violated when it happened to him.  So much so, that he filed a lawsuit in 2008.  An article in The Chronicle of Higher Ed shows Moulton’s frustration with students who participate in these activities.

A more recent altercation took place at San Jose State University.  Here, it was determined that the student does have the right to display homework results online.

Many professors invite the use of shared notes amongst classmates.  They see it as an opportunity for collaborative study.  A research paper by DeZure, Kaplan & Deerman indicates that  students (in general) fail to record 40% of the important points in a typical lecture.  First-year students, on average, do considerably worse.

Whatever your take on this, there are several note taking and sharing sites available today.

Here are some links to other blog posts / articles on this topic in case you are, like us, morbidly fascinated with this industry that is emerging around the economy of notes:

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