Month: February 2013

Using Video In Your Course: Expand Your Options

The use of video in online and blended courses can provide many new options for you and your students. Replacing the traditional live lecture with strategically-chunked video segments is one popular use for video. This approach, often referred to as the flipped or inverted classroom model, can open class time for more active or collaborative activities. Video can also used to provide a concise worked example or other scaffolding to support just-in-time learning. Lab demonstrations, procedural “how-to” videos, and video prompts and feedback (for assignments and projects) are other ways video can enhance instruction.

Video can also increase the personal connection for participants of an online or blended course through short video introductions by the instructor and students. Students can also be encouraged to review and discuss homework problems or other topics on video within a discussion board. These techniques establish and support a community of learning in your course.

Canvas offers built-in video recording capability, allowing direct recording through the use of webcams and microphones on most modern laptop and desktop computers. Other university supported video resources such as Echo360 personal lecture capture software, and Adobe Connect web conferencing software provide record capabilities to produce presentations for asynchronous playback.

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) offers periodic workshops on the use of video and other instructional topics of interest. Our next Video Tools for Teaching and Learning workshop is scheduled for Thurs. Feb 28, from 10-11AM. Check the CTL website to sign up or contact or 487-2046 to schedule an individual consultation!

Instructure Releases Canvas for Android

Students can now access Canvas courses from their Android devices

Instructure has released a new Canvas Android app, “Canvas for Android,” which enables mobile access to the Canvas learning platform from Android devices. Faculty and students can download the app for free from the Google Play store.

“The Canvas for Android app is designed to make it easy for faculty and students to stay connected to their courses, including courses from their institution or the Canvas Network,” said Brian Whitmer, co-founder and chief product officer at Instructure. “We’ve always pushed information to Android devices through our email and text messaging notification feature, but now users can participate in their courses through a native app designed specifically for learning.”

Canvas for Android provides an elegant way for students to access their Canvas To-Do list, Assignments, Calendar, Grades and more. It also enables them to read and compose messages using Canvas Conversations, a secure, built-in messaging system that connects participants in a course.

Since the initial launch of Canvas, Instructure has demonstrated its commitment to native apps for mobile devices. In 2011, the company released SpeedGrader for iPad, a powerful mobile grading app, and Canvas for iOS, an iPhone and iPad app with course functionality for students and instructors. With the release of Canvas for Android, Instructure is taking the first of many steps to bring a native Canvas experience to Android users.

“We recognize that the modern learner is mobile, and we believe a native mobile experience is critical to the learning experience,” said Devlin Daley, co-founder and chief technology officer at Instructure. “We didn’t decide after the fact to build mobile apps because it was a hip thing to do. We made an intentional decision to include mobile apps from the start – at no extra charge.”

To learn more, visit the Canvas for Android page in the Google Play store.

Discussion Boards: More Impact with Less E-mail!

Instructors traditionally use online Discussion Boards (DBs) to help determine student understanding, support peer learning, and encourage participation, particularly among students who are least likely to contribute to classroom discussion.

While DBs are well suited for use in classes heavy in debate and explorative topics, instructors can also use DBs to manage student questions, potentially reducing instructional time dedicated to answering email. If students are encouraged to post questions to a course question and answer DB, the whole class can benefit from both the posted question and the instructor’s response.  This is especially helpful for issues like course navigation, technical support, or peer feedback on projects.  With the right incentives, you may even find students in your class willing to answer questions and direct others to online resources.  Research has shown that this question articulation and peer interaction benefits both the questioner and the responder!  As a DB’s content grows, students gain access to resources and help 24 hours per day, and the instructor gains insight into typical student struggles and outside resources that students are using to address them.

Students may need small incentives like a single redeemed homework point for each post or a minimum posting requirement during the term to motivate them to use a DB.  An instructor may also copy early e-mails anonymously to the DB and respond there – then reply to the students’ e-mail directing the student to the DB for his/her response (and for future use!).   Once students start posting, many will find it so useful they’ll need no incentives!

Canvas contains a built-in threaded discussion tool in every course, which includes the ability to post images, equations, audio clips, and even video.  Instructors teaching problem-based courses may find that the free, seamlessly embeddable Piazza discussion tool, which features a non-threaded answer format and a robust LaTeX equation editor, works even better.

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) offers periodic workshops on discussion boards and other instructional topics of interest.  Our next DB workshop is scheduled for Wed. Feb 20, from 2-3 PM.  Check the CTL website to sign up or contact or 487-2046 to schedule an individual consultation!

The Evolution of Clickers: It’s about interaction

Electronic clicker response systems have been in Michigan Tech classes as a pedagogical tool for more than ten years.  These systems collect and tally student responses  to multiple choice questions in real time.  More recently, some instructors have experimented with “low-tech” paper clickers, where students respond to questions by revealing one of four colored letters, and higher tech systems including cell-phone and tablet apps that can gather text, numerical, and other responses.  But, HOW any response system is used in class is very important!  Research on clickers indicates that just “quizzing” students by clicker can actually diminish learning.  The key to using response systems successfully is to focus on two things:

  • Systems should be used to promote interactions between students as they discuss and defend their responses. Richer student responses may mean LESS discussion. There’s debate about whether higher-tech response systems take student attention and time away from “mainstream” class activities, and whether student “multitasking” results in better learning.
  • The instructor should use responses to direct and inform class activities in real time. Based on student feedback, instructors can add or eliminate examples, speed up or slow down, or address common misconceptions.  Several instructors on campus have tried enhanced response systems (including “iclicker 2”), but found it difficult to absorb and parse rich information coming from classes quickly enough to make instructional decisions in real time.

The CTL continues to test and explore a variety of classroom response systems as they rapidly evolve.  We welcome input on these new tools!  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss how a response system might be used in your classroom, consider signing up for one of CTL’s periodically offered clicker workshops or contact the CTL at or 487-2046 for an individual consultation!