Friday, June 30, 2017

I hate being the curmudgeon in the room, but...

I was preparing for the summer term, looking up info on our LMS's support site, and a demo on how to use Pinterest and Flickr for curation was being pushed on the top menu with a flashing link. I clicked on it and my initial reaction was "What the hell? I spend hours copying and pasting questions, importing questions into Question Banks, trying to determine which questions are in which bookmarked question bank that I can't edit, all while trying to make sure my students know what they are supposed to. And they spend time on this?" Needless to say I was pretty indignant, this felt like creating climate control features for the people in the front of the car, while the rear passengers don't have seat belts. The LMS was paying attention to bells and whistles (as all edtech does) and not getting to the simple stuff (as all edtech does).

I went off a little half cocked, not realizing that this demo was being put on by an individual through the LMS's site. So yes, I have a little egg on my face and troubled another faculty member who, if they're anything like me, don't need additional stressors on their life. I apologized and cleared things up, hopefully, to resolve any perceived antagonism. The point remains; basic functionality of curating questions in the LMS is clunky, non-intuitive, and time consumptive. Moodle has had this functionality for at least a decade. This new LMS has to build everything from the ground up with the funds they have allocated for development. They choose to focus on making vocal groups happy with bells and whistles, but neglect core functionality of a LMS.

There was a suggestion of using an outside tool, and I can use our online homework system for everything Canvas does (and have), but because other faculty use Canvas, and to ensure there is consistency of the student experience, I need to use Canvas. Would I like my students to be adaptable 21st century students, who can use different online tools? Absolutely. Are some of my community college students food insecure, and can only access the internet from campus or a library? Yes. I have to choose my battles as I live in a system larger than myself.

The person putting on the demo then suggested I use an outside installation of Moodle as a 'LEARNING' tool... What? I need a consistent place to have students answer questions, reflect on their answers, and record their attempt for a grade. I need to have them as part of a grade or students won't do them. Yeah, I'd love it for students to do what I ask of them in the interest of learning, but the maxim of "Students will only do something if it impacts their grade." is one I am burdened with and won't be able to change anytime soon. Sure, maybe I'm feeding into the learning-as-point-scoring approach to grades, but again I live in a system larger than myself. If you want to be the magical unicorn who can move mountains and lead your students to the promised land, great. I can't right now.

This person later wrote a blog post and I'd like to respond to a few points.

  • My complaints are more than just "not getting what I want", it is the claim the the LMS is being irresponsible with its time and money by focusing on bells and whistles that I am sure will help some vocal faculty, but not focusing on basic core functionality that almost all LMSs have. My STEM folks usually aren't vocal about their needs, and won't spend the time in the LMS's social media experience to vote on ideas. While questions and question banks may not be high on the voting ranks, we can't do our job without them. 
  • Get out of my face with this Teachers Throwing Out Grades (#TTOG) stuff. One day, sure let's talk about it, but right now, I can't curate questions in my LMS. You want to talk about a foundational assumption of higher education (awarding grades based on understanding and performance), without providing a strong argument for it and just assuming everyone is on board? Stop. I am not joining your cult. (Yet.)
  • Domain of One's Own is so broad and generic, I don't even get what you are talking about. You haven't defined it, you just assume everyone is on board, and after some research, sounds like a great tool for upper-level undergraduate/graduate level courses, not the courses I teach. Your tools are not my tools. 

I know I am coming off as an imperious curmudgeon, this is not the way I want to be with the larger edtech community, other faculty, and students. I would rather be a positive, uplifting, supportive, and challenging voice that helps to build consensus, foster debate, develop relationships, and find ways of working together. I really do. But when people in edtech pull a 'paradigm shift' while many of us are in institutions that have strong compliance cultures, students that have a multitude of needs, and lack necessary tools in our LMS, it feels like the privileged are asking the unprivileged to meet expectations we have no ability to reach.


  1. I hear what you're saying, absolutely. As I explained in that follow-up post, I was just sharing what I would do when faced with LMS frustration, which I have been faced with for going on 20 years now. I've always been really happy with going outside the system and building my own spaces; if that is not an option for you and you are going to have to wait on the LMS, it could be a seriously long wait. Just speaking for myself, I'm not good at waiting.

    I was at the Canvas Project Khaki thing this year, which IMO is very cool: they invite a group of people from the Community — designers, faculty, admins, K-12, higher ed, a real crosssection — and give us a big chunk of their development budget to spend (and FWIW, I put all my support into Global Search, since it seems to me the lack of search in Canvas is a deal-breaker for any kind of content development, including quizzes)... and at the same time that we were honest-to-goodness making fiscal decisions, we got a crash course in how complex it is to work on a project like Canvas which has a global user base, etc. I knew it was complex since I've spent some time working in IT myself, but it was even more complex than I realized.

    So, I am sure that Canvas is going to be a better product six months from now, a year from now, two years, three years from now. But if you need a solution for the Fall semester, it may need to be DIY, based on whatever that might be for your context. I shared what works for me on the off chance that it would be helpful for you; I don't know what other help I can offer... except, oh wait, maybe this: do you know James Jones at the Community? He has built some amazing add-on features for Canvas using the API. I rely on his date-changer to do global date changes in my course (the one and only feature in D2L that I missed in Canvas). I don't know if any of James's projects will help or not, but he has worked a lot on quiz improvements. Here is his page:
    Canvas Enhancements

  2. Greetings, I don't think anyone will argue with you that Canvas quizzes need some love - especially for math! Yet, Canvas has been working really hard on developing a new quizzing engine (Quizzes.Next) to address many of these (and other) issues. The ultimate goal is to make this the best quizzing engine available and I think they are definitely headed in that direction. I was a beta tester for Quizzes.Next and from what I've seen and heard it's release will be announced during InstructureCon (end of July). For more information see the following page -

    For your problem with questions and question banks you didn't explain what the issue really was so it's hard to help trouble-shoot. I teach statistics online and have all of my quizzes and most of my worksheets (in as quizzes) in Canvas. I also use question groups and have perfected (in my mind and using what's available) the ability to copy quiz questions (so no copying and pasting) -

    If you're interested in seeing if there are better ways of doing things in the current quizzing engine, my recommendation is to post your current process (so what you're doing) as a question in the Find Answers area of the Community and see if anyone can offer recommendations of how to speed things up or do it more efficiently -

    Looking forward, I'd also make sure and follow the Quizzes.Next area of the Community so that way you'll be alerted to new updates and the implementation timeline.

    In addition, I'm not sure if you realized it or not, but your initial post was made to a CanvasLive event. CanvasLIVE is where users can "gather and engage in real-time collaboration while sharing and learning different ways others are leveraging Canvas." Right now about 50% of all sessions are done by users who want to share information, something cool they are doing, or have a conversation about a topic. These sessions are free to anyone who wants to attend and often spur great conversations and the sharing of additional information/knowledge.

    A great example of this, that you might have found more useful, is a session done a couple of weeks ago on "Using Mathematical Formulas in Canvas Quizzes to Improve Formative Assessments" - This was a great session that offered up some helpful information on how to get started and use formula questions in Canvas. It was also a chance to engage with other like-minded people (who were attending the session live online) and ask what's working/not working, etc. Overall, just an excellent chance to learn and share (and commiserate) with others.

    I hope this helps and provides you with additional information by which to view the Canvas Community and it's users. We're a pretty fun group that realizes Canvas isn't perfect, but do our best to try and help users do the most with what is available (and possible using some nifty programming from time to time!). All our welcome and I hope to see you again (virtually of course) soon! :)