Thursday, May 14, 2020

Student Communications and Canvas

We use Canvas as our course management system.  It lets me put up announcements for each course, comment on student documents, and other cool stuff.  It's actually a really workable system, I think.

If only students would read the announcements and such.  I know, it's the age old "students don't read the syllabus" and "students don't read my comments on their papers" thing.  I think Socrates makes the same comments somewhere, maybe in the Theaetetis?

Alas, there's no easy solution.  If there were, we'd all be using it.  (Like with the age old complaint, "I get cold at night," to which someone answered, "Hey, I could throw a hide or cloth over myself!  I shall call it 'blanket!'"  Only in some language more ancient than Socrates' upstart Greek.)

When we switched over to on line, about half way through the semester, I put up an announcement that I wasn't moving my grades over to Canvas, and only new grades would show up there.  I also sent every single student a mail merge email showing exactly where they stood with grades for the semester at that point. 

I give frequent short writing assignments (journals, let's say), at least 15 in each course, of which students need to turn in 10.  So, with 80 or so students this semester, and already about 7 of those done and recorded in my excel grade sheet, plus other assignments in all three courses, I'd have over 400 grades to transfer into Canvas.  So I told students I wasn't doing that.  I also don't know how to make Canvas count only 10 of those journals either.  (I have a similar problem with short papers, where students got to choose which one they wanted to do, out of three choices due at different times.)

So with that email, they should have known exactly how many journals they'd done, and very simple math would give them the answer to how many more they need to do.  (On the paper syllabus, I put spaces labeled to help them keep track.)

And yet, I got panicked student emails:  "Canvas says I've only done [some percentage close to 50%].  Could you tell me what I'm missing?]  So I told them.

After a number of these in one day (it was six, maybe seven), I put up a new announcement about the grades in Canvas.  That cut down the panicked emails slightly.

The other day, though, I got an angry sounding email from a student who'd turned in an 11th journal.  So in Canvas, I gave it a 0, and noted in the comment box that they'd already done ten, that they'd gotten xx/100 (a very good grade) on the journals, and didn't have to do more.  But apparently, the student had seen the 0 and hadn't bothered to read the comment (which, alas, shows up in small pixelation just below the grade: it needs to be BIG and BOLDFACE to catch their attention.)

So I made up a "testing one two three" file, and submitted it as a test student in one of the grades.  Then I graded it, and commented on it in the box and on the "paper" (which you can do in colors on Canvas).  And then I switched to "student view" and sure enough, there was the comment, right under the grade.

Finding the comments on the "paper" was more difficult (I had to ask the wisdom of the interwebs on effbee), but it's do-able.  And I had sent the students the exact same "how to look at grades and comments" page on Canvas at the beginning of this whole fiasco.

And then there's the student who panic emails about how their journal hasn't been graded yet, and why isn't there a grade, even though they turned it in a day ago, late (because I leave the "box" open an extra two days, just to help folks who are having difficulties, and don't grade them until a couple days later).

So, there's nothing new here.  It's just a bit of venting.  I can't vent with colleagues in an office behind a closed door.  When I email with students, I don't berate or belittle them, just try to be polite and answer their question.  Very few bother to even thank me for that. 

But, I did get a couple of very lovely emails from students thanking me for what I'm doing to try to make things good.  And that's been so very nice.

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