An Idea for a Learner-Centric LMS transition

Teaching Effectively in CanvasA certain university I know is transitioning thousands of courses from D2L to Canvas in the next couple of years. It’s a big task. Some might argue that simply getting them transferred will be a great accomplishment, but I argue that said stakeholders will miss a great opportunity if they don’t also use the move to transform the courses to the significantly more learner-centered types that Canvas can support, rather than focus on getting the new LMS to look and feel like the often-terrible course designs in the previous LMS.

So, I’ve designed a few variations of a transition course: 1) a four-day, 24-hour course; 2) a three-day, 9-hour course (below); 3) a two-day, semester bookends course, and 4) a semester-long (13 one-hour sessions) course.

Pilot Proposal: TEiC (Teaching Effectively in Canvas)

TEiC is a 9-hour course for Instructional support staff at UW-Madison that integrates Learning Science and Universal Design principles into Canvas. Building on lessons learned in across campus teaching programs, it will distill best lessons to quickly get participants to:

  1. understand and apply in various Canvas tools key evidence-based principles of learning
  2. understand and apply in various Canvas tools key principles of Universal Design in Learning
  3. create resource materials that others can use and refine into richer training materials.

Schedule (DRAFT)

Class 1:
Learning Science Principles (In Canvas)
Class 2:
Universal Design Principles (In Canvas)
Week for
Project work:
Create Walkthrough
Class 3:
Sharing Findings
9–10:30: overview some of the strongest principles from Learning Science (LS) research 9–10:30: overview some of the strongest principles from Universal Design (UD) research For Class 3 — after one week to work on this:
1) Develop a 15-20 minute walkthrough of an assigned Canvas tool that explores examples of how Canvas can be used to promote and reinforce effective learning principles, and Universal Design.
2) Create a 1-2 page guide on how to implement these principles in your tool, to accompany your walkthrough.
9–10:30: presentations from teams on how to integrate LS and UD principles in assorted Canvas tools
10:30–11: create a rubric for identifying LS principles in Canvas 10:30–11: provide a rubric for identifying UD principles in Canvas 10:30–11:30: intermix teams and design unified, holistic strategies across tools.
11–12: provide group practice in identifying LS principles in one Canvas tool 11–12: provide group practice in identifying UD principles in one

Canvas tool

11:30–12: share results from teams on how to integrate LS and UD principles across assorted Canvas tools
Readings: Curated summaries of the LS principles covered in class. Readings: Curated summaries of UD principles covered in class. Post-course: continue using peers as resources

Google Docs: Embedding Tricks for Canvas (and other systems)

there’s the official way to publish google Docs, and it works with various degrees of success. Depending on the system, it may strip out width and height defaults, or other small details that make the content look good. I’d like to share some alternate methods.

This is Monday’s schedule for a course design bootcamp I help run, and here’s the HTML iframe embed code:

<iframe src="" width="100%" height="1200"></iframe>

Ignoring that, for this post in WordPress, I changed the width from 100%, (Canvas renders: “100%” nicely in a flexible width that looks good on computer and mobile devices. Here in WordPress, not so much; so I set a fixed width of 600).

Also note that it is not editable. I used Google’s “Publish to the Web” command to get this code. You should be able to click the How did I embed this Google document in Canvas? link within the embedded google Doc to see detailed instructions on how to do this.

Here is Tuesday’s schedule, and code:

<p><span>Schedule:&nbsp;</span><a id="" class="" title="Day 1: Empathize and Define (Monday, June 6)" href="/courses/7/pages/day-1-empathize-and-define-monday-june-6" target="" data-api-endpoint="" data-api-returntype="Page">Monday</a><span>, </span><a id="" class="" title="Day 2: Ideate and Design (Tuesday, June 7)" href="/courses/7/pages/day-2-ideate-and-design-tuesday-june-7" target="" data-api-endpoint="" data-api-returntype="Page">Tuesday</a><span>, </span><a id="" class="" title="Day 3: Build (Wednesday, June 8)" href="/courses/7/pages/day-3-build-wednesday-june-8" target="" data-api-endpoint="" data-api-returntype="Page">Wednesday</a><span>,</span><span> </span><a id="" class="" title="Day 4: Refine and Present (Thursday, June 9)" href="/courses/7/pages/day-4-refine-and-present-thursday-june-9" target="" data-api-endpoint="" data-api-returntype="Page">Thursday</a></p>
<p><iframe src="" width="100%" height="1200"></iframe></p>

Note that this one has editing/suggesting/commenting options. Again, the link How did I embed this differently? should give clear instructions on how to do this in Canvas.

There’s a nice post in the Canvas Community on this as well.

Google Forms as a Student Response System

I led a workshop Wednesday, March 30 from 2-4:30 on how to do this and get other types of formative feedback. Details here.

I’ve been figuring out how to use Google Forms as an alternative to costly student response systems (SRS, aka “clickers”). I presented on it at EDUCAUSE Connect in 2014 using Google Sites as a (clumsy) prototype that I had session participants access quickly with their devices at But I haven’t had the time to dig into it since then. Our university has recently chosen TopHat as a supported SRS, but many faculty are hesitant to make students buy another thing, so I challenged myself to create an easy-to-use (for faculty and students) “clicker” system. The goals:

  1. use existing LMS, which now feature easy-to-access mobile versions for students who just bring their mobile devices, but also support laptop and tablet users.
  2. easy enough for any faculty who is willing to use TopHat to use
  3. support a good variety of questions (this does not support the “heat map” style questions)
  4. show a good variety of responses “live” for the class.

I looked to Google Forms, but not Google Sites this time. Whereas Google Sites is still clumsy, Google Forms is as easy (or easier) than TopHat to create quick surveys for formative in-class feedback (for instructor and students), and it looks good on a mobile device or laptop. Desire2Learn and Canvas both work generally well for quick mobile access (students can get in, get to their course, and find a unit or class page quickly), so if I could embed surveys and results there, I figured it should be easy to use in class.

But embedding surveys in an LMS is not new or challenging. Embedding live results is. Google Forms used to allow this (see this video at 0:30 for a view of the now-extinct “Publish Analytics” link), but no longer does.

This is the form embedded as an iframe:

This should be the Google Form’s “Summary of Responses”embedded as an iframe (but does not appear to work):

The workaround is pretty simple, actually — to embed live results as a chart using all-Google products, you simply create a chart in the Google Sheet associated with the Form, and publish the form.This works in Canvas and D2L (and WordPress). Here’s an example of how that looks:

This video explains how to do that (pay attention at ~3:27 on)

If you don’t want such a finished look, or want to convey the data in more than one form, you can also put several on the sheet and embed that sheet, like this: [removed]

AwesomeTable also provided a solution.

This is AwesomeTable’s (free) “Live View”embedded as an iframe:

Communications Strategy — The Active Teaching Lab

Active Teaching Lab bannerWhile image is NOT everything, the presentation of a program is important in conveying what it’s really about. That’s why, in our communication plan, as in our sessions, we aim to be clear, playful, and branded.


We aim to make the language used in communications concise and clear, actively limiting unnecessary sentences and words. Because we understand the power of the visual, we will communicate with graphics as much and often as possible.


We know that learning is more effective when people are slightly, but not overly-stressed, so Active Teaching Lab sessions are designed to be safe and comfortable spaces. We add the stress needed to learn in pressuring participants to actually get hands-on with the tools and techniques presented. To minimize the fear of mistakes, we promote a playful and fearlessly experimental atmosphere (i.e. fearless sifting and winnowing). We model mistake-making in the facilitation of activities, and we’re never afraid to admit that we don’t (currently) know the answers to some of the trickier questions.

We strive to communicate an atmosphere of fearless playful experimentation through our communications. One currently popular archetype that expresses these things is Steampunk — the fearless tinkerer. Often paired and conflated with The Mad Scientist, these offer us many options for eye-catching and playful marketing images.

AT Lab Survey


Branding is important for pointing participants to other events held by the sponsoring organizations (e.g. “This was a great event! What else do you have for me?”) and for general recognition and praise (e.g. “I’ve been hearing great things about these ‘labs’ that AT does…”). Therefore, we use blurbs (with links to the websites of the sponsors when online) and logos when space permits.

We also recognize that branding is important for our speakers. They are working on promotion, on staying recognized in their field and to their peers. Since we cannot offer speakers a stipend, we strive both to make their experience as positive for them as possible, and to promote their expertise via pre-event marketing, and post-event accolades.

Siftr with Cathy Middlecamp

The Active Teaching Lab

I’ve been very lucky to be given the go ahead to turn this pilot into a program! We’re doing fun stuff again this semester!

Active Teaching Lab - Hands-onSponsored by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW Teaching Academy, the Active Teaching Lab provides a safe space and refreshments for structured explorations of the cool teaching tools and techniques that your peers are using to engage students and teach more effectively.

If you missed an event, each session page has a link to a video of the instructor sharing: 1) what they wanted; 2) what they tried; 3) what happened; and 4) what they’d do next time.

Spring 2016 Sessions

  • Feb 05 Canvas, with Catherine Arnott Smith from the School of Library and Information Studies. Session page
  • Feb 12  Online Platforms for Language Learning, with Andrew Irving from French. Session page
  • Feb 19 Design Thinking for Course Activities, with Pamela McGranahan & George Jura from Nursing. RSVP • Session page
  • Feb 26 Piazza with John Gillett from Statistics. RSVP • Session page
  • Mar 04 GoPro Cameras to improve student interviewing skills, with Kristen Pickett from Occupational Therapy. RSVP • Session page
  • Mar 11 Electronic Lab Notebooks, with John Puccinelli from Biomedical Engineering. RSVP • Session page
  • Mar 18 Workflow Visualization Toolkit, with Alan Hackbarth from UW Colleges. RSVP • Session page
  • Apr 01 OpenAuthor for WordPress eTexts, with Steel Wagstaff from Learning Support Services. RSVP • Session page
  • Apr 08 for Student-curated Collections, with Anna Andrzejewski from Art History. RSVP • Session page
  • Apr 15 for Assigning Annotations, with Jeremy Morris from Communication Arts. RSVP • Session page
  • Apr 22 TopHat for Student Learning and feedback, with Laurie Brachman from Marketing. RSVP • Session page
  • Apr 29 Timeline Software, with Bronwen Masemann from Library Science. RSVP • Session page
  • May 06 Google Drive for Course Docs, with Tanya Buckingham from Geography. RSVP • Session page

Past Labs — Fall 2015

  • 12.04.15: Blackboard Collaborate with David Feldstein & Yuyen Chang. Session Page.
  • 12.01.15: MakerSpaces with Catherine Stephens. Session Page.
  • 11:20.15: Skype (VideoConferencing) with Andrew Irving. Session Page.
  • 11.13.15: Flipping Lectures in CSCR with Aurelie Rakotondrafara. Session page.
  • 11.10.15: Course Design in Popplet with Margene Anderson. Session page.
  • 11.06.15: Google Maps with Colin Connors. Session page.
  • 11.03.15: Google Forms with John Martin. Session page.
  • 10.30.15: Flipped Learning Strategies with Lauren Rosen. Session page.
  • 10.27.15: Kaltura MediaSpace with Josh Harder. Session page.
  • 10.23.15: Photo-Mapping in Siftr with Margene Anderson. Session page.
  • 10.20.15: Critical Readers in CSCR with Cid Freitag, Dan LaValley & Emmanuel Contreras. Session page.
  • 10.13.15: Case Scenarios in CSCR with Margene Anderson, Dan LaValley & Emmanuel Contreras. Session page.
  • 10.16.15: Engagement Strategies in Moodle with Shiela Reaves & Jenny Chung. Session page.
  • 10.09.15: eTexts with Colin Connors. Session page.
  • 10.06.15: Adobe Captivate with Dan LaValley and Josh Harder. Session page.
  • 10.02.15: Twitter with Catalina Toma. Session page.
  • 09.29.15: Google Apps in D2L with John Martin. Session page.
  • 09.25.15: Google Docs with Tim Paustian. Session page.
  • 09.22.15: Course Design in D2L with Margene Anderson. Session page.
  • 09.18.15: Diigo with Duncan Carlsmith. Session page.

Past Labs — Spring 2015

The Active Teaching Lab is co-sponsored by the UW Teaching Academy, which hosts this page, and DoIT Academic Technology.

TA:AT logos

Designed [Learning] Experiences


legolandThis article, “Why Schools And Hospitals Should Be More Like Theme Parks” speaks to the call for the design of what Ellsworth calls processual paths through pedagogically charged learning environments (Ellsworth, 2005). While this author focuses on physically-designed space, I recommend reading as if it were describing a semester’s course schedule, or even an hour of class time. For example, this excerpt:


So what does a well-designed environment look like? Varied rhythms are key—you need enough to engage you but not so much you get exhausted or stressed out. Think about what guided one of the original “experience designers,” Frederick Law Olmsted, who created Central Park in New York City and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Olmsted had a knack for arranging natural scenery to create a sense of mystery and discovery, which drew people in and ushered them smoothly through a space. More than a century later, his work influences Disney parks, where the park architects mix “decompression zones” in with the attractions to let people rest before finding something new to explore. A careful observer may notice that the middle sections of many Disney buildings are fairly plain, saving the ornate details for the corners. It creates a kind of visual friction that draws your eye and sparks curiosity. It can be seen as a kind of greeble—the model maker’s trick of adding non-essential surface details—to add a bit of novelty and visual intrigue, and to keep you moving.

The magic of the Magic Kingdom, however is not in the guided experience, but in the mix of guided and self-directed experiences. Self-directed opportunities honor participants’ prior interests and knowledge. It gives them agency in the experience, and lets them set a pace that is right for them. A guided experience is a movie, or a ride that you’re strapped into. In schools we lecture, assign readings and videos, etc. These can be very entertaining, and can be very immersive. But more cognitive effect is realized when there’s greater interactivity.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Disney is starting to do this more in mixing rides and interactivity. As educators, that we allow this, and how we do this in courses is key. Again, while the physical layout and design is important (the main point of the article), I argue that we cannot and should not try to compete with Disney or companies whose business is experience design — we just can’t afford to do it well. What we should do is learn from them and employ the concepts of rhythm, guided learning, self-directed learning, reflection/decompression, etc. A creative mind and a cardboard box can be as educational and engaging as a million-dollar playhouse.

We are embodied beings. We experience the world with our senses. It is important that they be stimulated to learn. We are also independent and interdependent social beings, so that balance must be respected as well.