Category Archives: distance education

Canvas Tips & Tricks – Series 2

To help you maximize the new features in Canvas, the Instructional Consulting office will post a series of Canvas Tips & Tricks. These tips are to help you make use of all the great features of Canvas.

Tip 1: Course Analytics
Course Analytics provides statistics about student activity, assignments, and grades for your course, as well as individual students. As an instructor you can use this information to gain insight into the overall activity and performance of your students. You can also view statistics about how frequently individual student access your course materials in the Access Report area of Canvas.

Course Analytics in Canvas LMS

While Course Analytics offers many different statistics about your course, it can be challenging to interpret what they mean. If you are interested in learning more about the Course Analytics and Access Reports for your course, please stop by the Instructional Consulting Office. We would love to assist you with this aspect of Canvas.

Learn more about Course Analytics in the Canvas Instructor Guide.

Tip 2: Conferences

Conferences is a tool like Skype or Adobe Connect built right into Canvas. It can be used for real-time virtual class sessions, meetings, conferences, guest speakers, and more! You can share presentations or your desktop with your virtual audience of up to 50 people. Conferences can be recorded for later playback.

Learn more about Conferences in the Canvas Instructor Guide.

Conferences tool in Canvas

Tip 3: Pages

Pages in CanvasPages are where you can put content and educational resources that are part of your course but don’t necessarily belong in an assignment, or that you want to refer to in multiple assignments. This is a place where you can include text, video, and links to your files. You can even make links to other pages. Pages can also be used as a collaboration tool where you can create class wikis and set specific user access for each page. Canvas keeps the entire history of the page so you can see how it changes over time.

Learn more about Pages in the Canvas Instructor Guide.

If you have any questions or would like help setting up your Canvas course, feel free to visit Instructional Consulting Office (room 2002) or email us at


Taking to ‘the cloud’ in education

There has been a lot of talk about using “the cloud” for storing and sharing data. In our previous blog post, we already reviewed cloud storage providers such as, SkyDrive, Dropbox, and Recently, Indiana University and came to an agreement to provide cloud-based storage to its faculty staff, and students at IU. In this blog post, we focus on how the use of cloud-based storage  could be used in education.

What is cloud-based storage?

ImageWhen we trying to understand ‘the cloud’, think about how many people use the bank system today. While one’s money is still located in a centralized place (e.g., in the bank’s vault), it is accessible at many different locations (e.g., ATMs). As one interacts with an ATM, one can see the current amount and money can be added to/withdrawn from the account. Immediately, the amount on one’s account is updated to reflect the changes. Similarly, you can access your files from any device with an internet connection, much as you can access your money from an ATM, a website, or a physical bank. It is common to use online banking instead of offline banking. One does not have to go to the bank in person but one can  deposit, transfer, and even make payments all online. Like banking, cloud-based storage provides an account to upload, download, and share data with multiple of devices. Additionally, it offers to opportunity to do all these things through a website similar to online banking. Many individuals and organizations are now using cloud storage for diverse reasons, for example, data storage, data sharing, and collaboration.

Use of cloud-based storage in education

Educational institutions are taking advantage of the cloud as more and more schools are teaching courses that involve using digital media, such as pictures or videos. Cloud-based storage can help students and teachers easily access and share data anywhere and anytime.

Important features for education

Most cloud-based storage providers have common features like data backup, accessibility, and security features. The following aspects of the cloud are especially relevant for education.

1. Synchronization in real-time

ImageOne of useful features of cloud storage is remote backup. Cloud backup works similar way to traditional backup except the fact data are being moved to a server through the Internet rather than carrying it onto physical hard drive, e.g.,  USB drive. In school, any file one saves to cloud-based storages is automatically synchronized to all enabled devices such as a desktop, laptop, tablet , as well as the  webpage of the cloud-based storages (e.g., To automatically sync all of files to one’s devices, all one need to do is to download and install a program from the storage provider.

For example, if I add audio files to a cloud-based storage from my desktop, it is possible to play the file without having to download it, on my iPad, iPhone, and home laptop as it is already saved on my account in cloud-based storage.

2. Collaboration

Imagine you are collaborating on a project with a number of people in different places, and the project involves a set of Word documents. You might want to have a common place to store those files. With cloud-based storage’s synchronization function, your collaborators can independently open the documents, work on them, and save them to the one centralized place. With many different sub-applications available, much cloud-based storage focuses on collaboration function. For example, Agilewords makes it easy to collect group feedback, make online edits, track changes, and get quick reviewers’ approval. Other collaboration applications that are designed for specific fields are AutoCAD WS, for opening CAD files, AppFusions’ Box in Atlassian JIRA, DICOM Viewer for medical images, and eSurvey Mobile Forms for mobile survey.

3. Editing

Some cloud storage providers such as Google Drive and CloudOn provide users with an editing feature for documents. Google Drive, for example, enables users to create, share, and edit files and collaborate with others. However, they do not have offline support to create, share, and edit.

Some things to consider:

Before jumping on the ‘cloud’ bandwagon, there are several things to consider.



  • Low cost is used for operation compared to electronic data storage devices.
  • It has automatic backup and recovery systems so no one worries about data loss.
  • Data server is safely secured by the provider.
  • Service costs may by rising as the amount of data increases.
  • High internet speed is required to make connections and backup a large scale file.
  • If the provider server is hacked, security for data in cloud storage is not guaranteed.

Additional resources: Cloud storage comparison chart

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“Flipping the Class” in Higher Education

Lately, there has been a lot of interest in the topic of “flipping the classroom” in  the field of higher education, particularly due to the popularity and success of the Khan Academy (e.g., read CBS 60 Minutes – Khan Academy: The Future of Education). In addition, advances in technology, especially making video production more user-friendly and less expensive, allow instructors to quickly record narrated and annotated videos (i.e. screencast) which

can then be shared with students through various video-streaming websites. According to proponents, “flipped classrooms” engage students with content more deeply, provide opportunities to personalize learning, and can result in overall higher learning outcomes.

What is “flipping the class”?

The Flipped Classroom Infographic

The Flipped Classroom Infographic
– click on image

Compared to traditional classrooms, where an instructor exposes students to new content during class time while students then apply the newly-learned material in their homework, so-called “flipped classrooms” rotate this sequence. Here, the instructor prepares short lectures of the to-be-learned material, often in the form of online videos, and makes them available to students before class. Then during class, students complete activities or projects that require them to apply the material from the lectures. The idea behind this method is that more of the actual class time is spent on higher order thinking (Bloom’s Taxonomy: Application, Analysis, etc.) while more basic tasks (Bloom’s Taxonomy: Recognition, Understanding) are completed independently before class.

What is the advantage?

Posting a brief online lecture in video format offers several advantages. First, the video is available 24/7 allowing students to review material at a convenient time and location (e.g., local coffee shop). Furthermore, students can stop the video anytime, replay important parts, or watch the complete video multiple times. This is especially useful when using the “mastery learning” approach where students can only move to the next activities if he or she has mastered the previous step(s).

With students exploring new content outside of class, the actual class time can now be used to further engage students with the material applying higher-order thinking skills. Depending on topics and subjects, students can now conduct experiments, solve complex math problems, or work on projects with the instructor being present and providing guidance. In addition, class time can also be used for students to work on activities that match individual interests or academic needs; thus, offering the possibility to provide more personalized learning.

Wait, aren’t we doing this already?

Taking a close look at the concepts behind and the principles of a “flipped class”, one might wonder whether the idea is really that new or whether it has been around and is just becoming popular. At least since the turn of the century, faculty and instructors in higher education have been exploring blended learning that combines traditional face-to-face classes with additional Internet-based activities or resources. Similarly, in online education, it is often necessary, if not unavoidable, for individual students to learn content on their own “outside the class” and then apply this content in another form (e.g., discussion forum, individual paper).

While the practice of incorporating Internet-based resources into education might not be new, the benefit of using those rests within the opportunity to gain valuable class time for other educational purposes. For example, by shifting some activities outside the regular class period, the actual class might be used for students to complete projects where they need to apply newly learned material and higher- order learning skills. Nevertheless to ensure student learning, any “flipping of classes” or use of Internet-based resources should be done in pedagogically sound ways. Too easily, one could fall back to the “sage on the stage” model where instead of having a person providing content by standing in front of the class, it is now done through online videos. Thus, it takes a delicate effort by the teacher/facilitator, even in a student-centered classroom, to guide students and make learning meaningful.

For more information developing successful “flipped classes”, see recommendations by Jon Bergmann, Jerry Overmyer and Brett Wilie.


Additional Resources

Key strategies on how to engage students in online discussion

It is often said that students who actively participate in the learning process tend to learn more than those who do not. This principle of involvement is applied both inside and outside the classroom, as well as in an online environment. In addition, active participation might enable critical thinking that possibly leads to higher achievement.

In many online courses, discussion forums are often used as one of the major means to support student learning. Online discussion differs from traditional classroom discussion in some ways. First of all, online discussion ensures that everyone has the opportunity to contribute by requiring every student to post their thoughts and comments on certain topic(s). Secondly, online asynchronous discussion also allows more time to give and internalize feedback with a greater depth of reflection. These benefits are emphasized in this following list of key strategies and tips that will encourage active student involvement.

  1. Set clear guidelines: To successfully encourage students to reach an acceptable quality and quantity of participation, instructors should provide clear guidelines in detail. By having clear guidelines, students will be more aware of  expectations about when to post and  how much they should support their opinions with reference to readings, research, or other course materials. An additional benefit of having students follow clear expectations is that it can help students focus on specific goals and often produce more organized and high quality outputs. Posting the guidelines in the course syllabus or as an attachment to the opening message of the first online discussion would be one way to utilize this strategy.
  2. Student-led discussion: While the presence of instructor is important to keep the discussion on track, one can foster autonomous student-led discussion by assigning student roles or focusing on topics relevant to their lives. For example, the instructor could introduce debatable topics intentionally and assign some students the role of devil’s advocate, hence encouraging critical thinking by examining opposing viewpoints through asking and answering questions. This also offers the opportunity for students to practice online netiquette by respecting each other’s opinions. Furthermore, students could be assigned the role of moderator thus allows meaningful and balanced peer participation. By doing so, students could develop facilitation, summarizing, and critical thinking skills.
  3. Ask thought-provoking open-ended questions: Students tend to contribute more when they find the dialogue thoughtful and meaningful. With a variety of perspectives, students are more intrigued and interested in expanding their ideas. Students want to go somewhere based on the discussion and do not like to re-word what others already said. A common way to encourage participation is to have course material being applied to one’s own situation. Instructors should be clear about the rule that simply agreeing and disagreeing are insufficient without explaining a rationale.
  4. Make discussion an important part of your class: Students often overlook the importance of online discussion. To better encourage student participation, include a rationale in the syllabus why discussion is important and, therefore, is worth so many points. Also, if instructors incorporate ideas and knowledge generated in discussion on exams, it reinforces the importance of student contribution and requires active participation to internalize the content. Offering an opportunity for students to synthesize, integrate, and apply what has been discussed is another option to make discussion a central ingredient of the course.
  5. Form Small Groups or Teams: Learning groups have been shown to be effective in online discussion by encouraging student participation and critical engagement. To effectively form a small group, one suggestion is to ask students to write down the names of three or four students with whom they would most like to collaborate based on students’ preference, interests, or past experiences. Similar to the face-to-face setting, group learning provides the learner with peer-review and a responsibility to the group to keep up with discussion. Small groups allow having a more focused discussion that is especially helpful for large classes. Please read Collaborative Learning: Group Work and Study Teams” from Barbara Davis at University of California at Berkeley for more information.
  6. Create a supportive and caring environment: A supportive environment is another important feature of online discussion. Typed messages can be often misinterpreted and, one is less likely to participate when feeling uncomfortable. As we have seen, students like to feel safe in class discussion and this is perhaps one of the most challenging missions within online environment. Since students report they need honest, open, and respectful environment, it is important for the instructor to set this atmosphere from the beginning. To foster a supportive environment, instructors could launch the class with an individual introduction posting so that students better get to know each other. Providing a set of guidelines, such as family/friends background, personal experiences, or sharing a photograph could potentially draw something in common. Last but not least, encouraging your students to use a general open student forum to post and ask help from each other via student-to-student interaction tools such as discussions or chatting is also useful.

Utilizing online discussion is now very common, even in onsite courses as a supplementary tool. Fortunately, effective strategies for managing online teaching and learning are being designed and tested continuously by those in the field. For additional resources on designing and managing effective discussion forums, please see below. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at

Additional resources

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Concurrent Hybrid Courses: Teaching face-to-face and remote students simultaneously

Hybrid classIn distance education, hybrid or blended courses are those in which some sessions are held face-to-face and some others are held online.  “Concurrent hybrid courses”, on the other hand, are those in which a class is taught in real time having both face-to-face and remote students concurrently.

Advances of video-conferencing technology and software make it possible to have one or more students joining a live face-to-face class from different distant geographical locations. However, teaching face-to-face and remote student simultaneously offers a new set of challenges to the instructor that need to be considered in advance. For example, depending on technology capability remote students might feel isolated or might miss important visual information that might hinder their understanding of the topic.

Here are a few tips based on the experience of several instructors who have taught under this setting:

Including non-concurrent online activities. Even though students have already been engaged in real time during class, online activities have the potential to reinforce their understanding. Common online activities include brainstorming and exchanging ideas in a discussion forum or reflecting upon a topic using a blog and then commenting on each other’s’ blog entries.

Implementing an onsite-online pair buddy system. Under this approach, a student on campus is paired up with a remote student using a laptop and video-conferencing software. This way, students on campus can facilitate the interaction between remote students and the instructor by asking any questions or making any comments that remote students might have. Of course, for this approach to work properly it is critical that buddy students on campus have the technological skills and be willing to collaborate with the remote students.

Including interactive group activities in real time. By having remote students being part of groups, they tend to feel more motivated and integrated with the rest of the class instead of being mere spectators. It is helpful to implement group dynamics such as ensuring that each student (including the remote ones) have equal amount of time and opportunity to participate. However, implementing two-way verbal communication in groups of three or more students in which various groups have remote participants might bring audio issues, especially when the discussion a group is so loud that interferes or distracts other groups. This problem could be mitigated it by using the appropriate classroom size, the right videoconferencing technology per group or by having groups using just text-based communication.

Planning and testing the most appropriate technology configuration. The content to be delivered and the type of interaction needed to achieve the course learning objectives should guide the selection of the video-conferencing application as well as the location of the local video-camera(s) and microphone(s). It is really important to test all the equipment in advance with a technology consultant and also with the remote students prior each class starts to ensure that they are able to see you and hear you and vice versa. Moreover, if you are using a PowerPoint presentation, consider sharing your computer screen so your remote students can see and read the content of your presentation too. If you are planning to write something on the whiteboard, you might consider having someone zooming the camera in or using a digital overhead projector to show everything you are writing on the fly so both your face-to-face and remote students can see it.

Recording the class. Since we all know that technology can fail at any time, it is highly recommended to record the class so remote students can watch it again in case their connectivity drops for any reason.

We’d love to hear from you regarding any other issues you have come across with when teaching concurrently face-to-face and remote students in real time and the ways you have solved them!

Cloud Computing in Higher Education: Launch of IU SharePoint

IU SharePoint is a web application platform originally developed by Microsoft in 2001. During the summer of 2011, University Information Technology Services (UITS) at Indiana University integrated SharePoint into the Indiana University environment. SharePoint provides a set of key features for team collaboration and content management. IU faculty, staff and graduate students are provided with 20 GB space to store files in MySites (think about it as the current o-drive). While some features require some time to learn, many aspects that IU SharePoint offers seems to be promising. Here are the some of the main functions:

1. Collaboration and Project Management

When you are involved in a team project, you might have realized that even group e-mails are a cumbersome method of sharing information. At present, rapid advancement of information technology such as mobile devices allows for collaboration anywhere at any time. SharePoint allows users within organizations to collaborate and share work within a commonly accessed Web-site framework. Graduate student, faculty, and staff can create personal sites as private work places where a number of individuals come together to engage in a group work. Group members are not only able to share their documents and files but also have an active collaboration through group discussion forums. For example, instructors, who supervise a course with sections taught by graduate assistants, could repeatedly use the same resources stored on MySite. Therefore, archiving resources on MySite enables to save a large amount of time in communicating with graduate assistant and locating course-related files from a hard drive. In addition, built-in features such as calendar and announcement tools are also useful tools to update and remind necessary information in a timely manner. In the case of Twynham School, a comprehensive school in   England, students have developed increasing sophistication in how they interact and share information via forum collaboration. Although teachers initiate the discussions, the vast majority of discussions are taking place between students and this form of collaboration is growing through SharePoint forums. (For more information

2. Social Networking and Individual Space for Education

One of the biggest aspects in today’s computing environment is the influence of social networking, and its influences for educational uses. With that said, IU SharePoint is also current with the cyber social movement and networking. SharePoint MySites is quite straightforward and self-explanatory.

In Overview, a quick snapshot of one’s social contents is shown along with basic profile data, one’s picture and presence information linking back to Microsoft Lync (formerly MS Office Communicator).

  • Under the Organization, a bigger organization chart is displayed with more detailed information than in the Overview. It also shows an organizational hierarchy including your peers in parallel and your superiors above you. Colleagues and tagged notes are shown in the other categories as well as a distribution lists for to which one belongs.
  • Creating Blogs is also beneficial to keep others informed. SharePoint provides rich blogging functionality for both internal and external purposes. This blogging functionality provides all the features you’d expect, with blog creation and management, blog posting, support for multiple authors, and more.  Instructors could benefit from blogging activity, for example, one might create a course-specific blog and encourage students to use it for reflective journaling. By articulating students’ thoughts and opinions without strong restrictions, students could reflect on what they learned during a class activity or project which would lead to sharing ideas based on one’s own practice.
  • Furthermore, SharePoint provides users traditional wikis along with wiki-specific web parts for customizing the experience. Wiki allows collaborating with a specific group of peers and, therefore, is more private than blogs.

In conclusion, SharePoint provides users with plenty of options for social networking, web-portal function as it collects information from diverse sources on a central page, and content management tool for collaboration. Even though some features might not be intuitive for those new to SharePoint, anyone who is familiar with the current services such as Oncourse (IU’s Course Management System), Facebook, or Microsoft Outlook should feel comfortable with using these tools. As we are moving towards the Cloud Computing Age, we see some great potential in SharePoint for educational use. (For more information about IU SharePoint: IU authentication required)

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New Possibilities with Google+ for Education

Google+ is a newly launched social network service with several promising features in an attempt to compete with Facebook. Early impressions are that Google+ and Facebook share many similar features and one can easily get going. Overall, looks are compelling and captivating but what about Google+’s potential as an educational tool? Early reviews are positive and indicate that Google + holds a lot of promises for educators. Noteworthy facets include “Circle” with better control over sharing information, “Sparks” for sorting interesting stories and articles by specific topics, as well as possibility for in-depth discussion with a new way for videoconferencing through “Hangout” feature.

Below are the four features that might be used for education:

1. Circle: Limit sharing and grouping

We have seen many stories about inappropriate online sharing, particularly for teachers, in the news. States like Virginia and Rhode Island even banned teacher-student interaction via social media. Even without outright bans, many teachers are reluctant to friend students on Facebook for such reasons. However, Circle feature in Google+ might be a solution for privacy issue. By grouping students into particular circles, a teacher can limit the information that is shared with a particular set of circles.

2. Hangouts: Engage your students with videoconferencing

Google + offers numerous ways to communicate within a Circle. For example, one can quickly initiates a video conference with other users by creating a so-called “hangout’. Even though it seems there already are many videoconferencing tools available, some will find many of them are rather difficult to get the interface work seamlessly.
Google+ Hangouts, on the other hand, has so far been impressive with its user-friendly interface. This might be helpful for instructors who are trying to remotely manage office hours (e.g., virtual office hours) to assist students with work. One teacher might announce that she/he will be available in Google+ at 7-8pm for questions. Students will be able to drop in and out and interact with their instructors in a more personalized and effective way. Providing a place where students easily get instant feedback, without spending much time for setup, seems to be prominent to develop social presence and close relationship between teacher and students at any level of institutions.

3. Sparks: Share specific interests

Sparks is a new feature on Google+ that automatically loads such information as videos and articles found on the Internet to your profile. From an educator’s perspective, it has great potential for helping instructors and students research and stay updated with current events. As a similar concept to the “like” button in Facebook, where users can express their agreement, “Sparks” is essentially a way to gather news, blogs, and information about topics that interest you, as well as immediately share that information with others. For example, instructors can provide helpful learning materials to students by suggesting resources for certain topics.

4. Huddles: Keep in touch with your students!

“Huddles” might be interesting to use as a way to keep in regular touch with students at times when they are working on their own in various places throughout a campus. This feature is similar to group texting function that allows sending a text message to particular groups. But this is only accessible by downloading Google+ Android app on your Android phone.

As of now, Google+ is still in infant stage with much potential remained. For its educational use, it probably won’t be long until the developers start plugging in additional Google services and apps making Google+ a yet more powerful platform. Being optimistic, it could be used as an innovative approach that combines social media and a Learning Management System. Considering Google’s past misstep in the social media before, as lessons learned from Wave and Buzz, this neat and simple social media seems to be in right direction so far. But, it might be taking some time to realize true potential.

Additional resources for more info:

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