Tag: Professional Development Page 1 of 2

Time Management Tips

Kate Sheppard is my idol for all things related to time management as an academic. Kate is still the model that we hold up in the History of Science department at OU for finishing on time as a grad student, and she’s even more impressive as a faculty member. She’s already published a monograph and a volume of edited correspondence along with numerous articles and was fast-tracked at Missouri S&T for tenure. She edits & contributes to LadyScience.com, and she’s on several committees for national organizations. She runs marathons. She has an adorable kid and husband. She’s just an all around bad-ass.

Here’s her advice for carving up time. I’m mostly writing this so I can have it as a note to remind myself how to be productive:

I’ve always like the Pomodoro technique, but I’m pretty bad at actually implementing it. The key, I think, is to plan out your day ahead of time and use the timer as a limit to how much time you have for each task. If you don’t get all of a task done in 30 minutes, that’s too bad, you need to move on to the next thing. This shifts the focus from, “I’ll work on this thing for a couple of hours,” to “I’ve got 30 minutes to add a couple of paragraphs to this document.” Brevity is the key to wit and production apparently.

After I read Kate’s tweets, I went ahead and mapped out my days for the rest of the week. I’m still using AirTables to keep track of my To-Do list and projects, but then I map those to-do items to 30 or 60 minute windows in my day. We’ll see how well this works over the relatively unstructured and chaotic summer. Hopefully, I’ll build a good enough routine that it’ll carry into the fall, and I can test it out within the chaos of faculty and student support.

Gamifying Courses: Notes from Session 4 of #PaintCanvasOU

Today, we are kicking off a new mini-conference called Paint Canvas. Prepare All Instruction, Now Teach (PAINT) is a half-day Canvas training that showcases the best of Canvas in the classroom to inform and inspire educators. PAINT is organized into 45 minute rotating stations that focus on various Canvas features including pedagogical approaches and technical examples. In this series of blog posts, I’ll share my notes on the talks I attend in each session.

In the fourth session, we had five presenters:

1:00PM – 1:45PM – Purple Track: Gamification

Topic Presenter Room
Gamified Courses Heather Ketchum, Grant Loney LL 118
3D Game Lab John Stewart LL 118
Peer Review In Canvas Megan Elwood MaddenJennifer Shaiman LL 123
Canvas Badges Jennifer MayesJohn Boekenoogen LL 123
Collaborative Mind Maps Andy Vaughn LL 123

I was supposed to present on 3D Game Lab, but I subverted the plan by joining up with Dr. Heather Ketchum and Grant Loney into a mega-presentation. Immediately, I knew that I’d made the right decision in that I was being thanked on the opening slide of Dr. Ketchum’s deck.


Dr. Ketchum started off by talking about the principles of gamification that we had discussed in GOBLIN. She then transitioned into how she applied these principles into her own course on parasitology.

One of the most exciting elements for me is that in gamifying her course, it encouraged her to move away from a lecture format and into an active learning class format. Noting the problems of the “Tyranny of Content,” Dr. Ketchum advocated for refocusing on the process of learning. There are still structured course objectives, but they include things like “Accept failure and learn from your failures” and conducting experiments to learn experientially. This has vaulted the course up Bloom’s taxonomy into more analysis and creative activity. The feedback has been so positive, that she’s moving from lecturing towards ALC in other courses as well.

To make this shift, gamification elements were introduced around the idea of team work. Students role play as parasitological researchers, starting off as low level grad students and moving up to the director of the CDC. Students level up by earning experience points through their course work. As the reach different levels in their career, they gain benefits. These benefits include expert help in explaining or simplifying difficult concepts and a budget to buy resources and diagnostic tests for their “lab.” Students then use this lab work as the basis for reflective and analytical writing.

This design is so brilliant in that it professionalizes the students into this field of study. It clarifies the grading system making it easier for students to understand and at the same time pulls that grading system out of the normal, painful school paradigm. It integrates the course content, assignments, growth model for learning, and assessment into a well thought out system that is both educational and fun. It makes the teamwork for the course an important, authentic part of the course and necessitates teamwork without the common extrinsic motivators imposed arbitrarily by an instructor frustrated that students are doing what they’re supposed to.

Ketchum and Grant’s presentation was so much fun for me in that it demonstrated how the concepts Keegan and I developed for GOBLIN were translated into a real course. Even better, the course looks so great that I wish I could take it. Building a course so good, that it makes a squeamish person like me want to study parasitic worms and epidemiology, is a huge testament to the power of fun and gamification.

I talked about 3D Game Lab and Canvas. While 3D Game Lab is great, and I’ll write more about it in the coming weeks, the LTI for Canvas integration is currently completely broken. I was very happy to not have to talk for more than 5 minutes.

Reflections from #InstCon

This year, Instructure held their annual Canvas conference, #InstCon 16. The consciously kitschy summer camp theme drew from and heightened the stunning beauty of the host town, Keystone, Colorado. I attended with my colleague Keegan Long-Wheeler, and, over the course of the week, the two of us walked something like 35 miles along stream-side paths going from one conference site to the next—I nearly ran out of eggs in Pokemon Go.

As a PR event, the conference was clearly designed to build brand loyalty. The food, housing, and surroundings were fantastic, and both Keegan and I quoted Jurassic Park’s John Hammond repeatedly:

Spared No Expense meme from Jurassic Park

Along with the luxurious summer camp, the Panda, the unofficial icon of the Canvas brand, was omnipresent and further promoted the branding purpose of the conference:

While the setting and the branding will be the most memorable aspects of the trip, the conference itself was also very successful. I met a broad range of educators including everyone from Australian boarding schools, to large American K-12 systems, to Canadian techs working on self-hosted LMS solutions, to Big 10 edTech types. The talks were generally good (more on that below) and I got a lay of the land in terms of what people are doing with Canvas, what the key challenges are, and how both programmers and instructors are expanding the boundaries of what Canvas can do as an LMS.

I blogged about most of the presentations I attended. Most of these are simple summaries of the presentation with a few connecting thoughts or reflections:

The talks were a bit uneven. About 70% of the talks I attended at InstCon were well done, which puts it inline with almost every other conference I’ve attended. Sage-on-a-stage is never my favorite presentation format, and the 50 minute talks were too long for my attention span. Part of the reason I blogged so much was create a note-taking challenge to force myself to stay engaged.

As the Atlantic continually reminds us, lecture is an art-form and some of the presenters were more gifted than others. Terence Priester’s gave an excellent presentation on reflective student blogging at Newington College, Sydney, and he held the audience’s attention throughout. The presentations on Design Thinking and Role-Play, two subjects that I’m extremely interested in, failed because they failed to connect to Canvas in the first case and failed to identify a broader impact/application in the second.

For me, the most interesting talks were those that focused on Canvas’s API and LTI integrations. The ability to pull basic information about student activity through the Canvas API and use that to trigger notifications to the teacher and/or students is really exciting. For example, you could pull the data for a course to see which students had logged in over the last week or accessed the various pages related to a specific lesson. You could then use code to trigger an email to any students who hadn’t logged in for a few days or weeks to remind them about the importance of consistent activity. Alternatively, you could create a dashboard to visualize activity, grades, textual analysis, etc. from a course. The talk on Google Scripts demonstrated how to do this data analysis with lightweight apps while user groups for Tableau showed how to do this on a larger scale.

Going into the conference, I wanted to know more about what people were doing to help students transition into Canvas. Here at OU, we had already built a Canvas module with introductory material that can be added to any class. We are also planning open office hours, tutorials, class visits, and walk up support. At the conference, I was hoping to hear about more creative answers that offered insight into making something as mundane as LMS migration interesting to students. However, I couldn’t find anything outside the box. I talked to several people about complications and solutions, but almost everyone is following the same set of best practices that we were already developing. I would like to continue to think about how we could use fun topics (pop culture, sports, trivia, University History/Culture) and interesting mechanics (gamification, BuzzFeed style quizzes, etc) to familiarize students with Canvas.

The conference on the whole was memorable and fun and served as a great orientation into the Canvas ecosystem. I hope that next year, they will offer or I will find more in-depth discussions of some aspects of Canvas. I think they did a great job with the Code Hacking night to let programmers get their hands dirty, and I would like to see that applied in other places in the program. A few more seminar style discussions of the role of the LMS in broader pedagogy, its varying uses based on whether classes are traditional face-to-face, flipped, hybrid, or online would be useful. More discussion of the role of the LMS in an increasingly open and online information environment would be great. More participatory and hands on technical discussions (rather than sage-on-a-stage) would be useful. Ultimately all of these are normal complaints for any conference. As I get embedded in this affinity group, I can make InstCon 2017 more successful by simply arranging meetings with the people I want to talk to and having the targeted discussions and explorations that I want to have. Hopefully, I’ll still stumble into some good talks, and I’m sure I’ll still enjoy the festivities.

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