Dutton Institute Blog

Communication Tools in Canvas

Fri, 2016-03-04 08:43 -- mas960

Canvas has many options available for communication. Instructors can personalize their messages by posting audio and video messages in discussions, the SpeedGrader, and Conversations. Here is a list of the communication tools you can take advantage of in Canvas, and a brief description of the uses for each:

  1. Announcements are a great way for instructors to communicate to the class as a whole. The rich text editor allows numerous formatting options and the ability to add images and video. Instructors have the option to delay postings, allow liking, and add attachments.
  2. Conversations is the equivalent of email in Canvas. It's great to use for a quick email to an individual student or teams. Keep in mind that the text editor is very minimal, and does not allow much formatting like the editor does in Announcements.
  3. Discussions allow students to interact with the instructor and other classmates. Threaded discussions allow multiple posts and replies. New posts appear in the Course Activity Stream page, so students will know when something has been posted.
  4. Chat allows individuals in a course to interact in real time. Be aware that messages in the chat cannot be deleted and the chat history can be viewed by anyone in the course.
  5. Conferences allow instructors to host synchronous meetings online. Canvas integrates with BigBlueButton, a conferencing tool similar to Adobe Connect. Recordings made in BigBlueButton are available for a period of only two weeks after creation.

For more information on Canvas’s communication tools, visit the following sites:


What Do You See?

Fri, 2016-02-19 15:58 -- jls164

The probability of encountering a student with color deficiency (color blindness) in your online course is higher than you might think. By following accessibility best practices you can eliminate potential issues with image interpretation from the start. However, what about images from outside sources that you require the student to analyze? Are there strategies that you can employ to assist a student with color deficiency? The answer is “yes.”

Consider a case study from an online Meteorology course. Meteorology uses many different types of images, both color and grey scale. Often color is used to convey differing atmospheric properties and color distinction is key to an accurate analysis. In the image below, the student is asked to place the following radar scans in order from lowest altitude to highest altitude.

Radar Reflectivity

The variable being displayed is called radar reflectivity; you can think of it as rainfall intensity. In this image warm colors represent higher intensities. The key concept being assessed is that radar reflectivity decreases with increasing altitude in the cloud. You can see that the correct answer is (1, 3, 4, 2) because the overall intensity as well as the distribution of the high intensity region decreases when following this order.


But what about a student with a red/green color deficiency (Protanopia/ Deuteranopia)? They will see the above image like the one below. This image was created using the Colblinder Color Blindness Simulator in order to simulate what a student with deuteranopia (red-green color blindness) would see. Using this image, the answer isn’t so clear. The high levels of reflectivity (red) look almost identical to the low reflectivity (green) regions! A student trying to interpret this data would be at a distinct disadvantage. They could ask a friend or spouse to help them interpret the information but that may not always be practical and it doesn’t meeting the accessibility standard of providing perceivable content to all students, including those with color deficiency.

Radar Reflective as seen by a student with Deuteranopia (Red-Green colorblindness)


In this case, providing labels is a good solution. Below you will see the original image with labels and then the image as a color blind student would see it. This solution allows the student to perceive and interact with the content and perform the assessment independently.

Radar Reflective with labels

This is a fairly complex example, but one with a relatively simple solution. The first step to helping the student is to simulate what they are seeing. Then you will know how to proceed. You might use annotation, labels, symbols, an alternate image, or a text description. If you know that you have a student with a color deficiency, make sure you consider (and test) images that are time sensitive (such as those on a quiz) ahead of time in order to prevent issues from arising where the student is at a disadvantage.

Additional Resources

Colblinder Color Blindness Simulator

Orient Yourself!

Fri, 2016-02-05 12:41 -- mrs110
A Compass


The Dutton Institute Canvas Orientation is a primer-style, self-guided, introductory-level orientation to help you navigate and understand all aspects of Canvas. Follow this link and dive into Canvas:  Dutton Institute Canvas Orientation. When you’ve worked your way through the orientation, create a sandbox for yourself and keep exploring, build a course, or follow the instructions for importing an existing course.

The Dutton orientation is aimed at all EMS faculty, whether you teach resident or online courses, or both. Find course set-up information, suggestions for how to organize your class material in Canvas, links to in-depth instructions for all aspects of Canvas, and access to the Dutton learning design team and its training session offerings

Screen shot of the Dutton Tutorial's home page


Canvas Help Has Arrived!

Fri, 2016-01-29 15:17 -- ekb120
life preserver hanging on wall
Credit: life preserver via flickr, CC BY 2.0


Penn State has begun the transition from ANGEL to university-wide adoption of Canvas. No new courses will be started in ANGEL after June 2017, and instructors will be able to access ANGEL online only through the end of December 2017.

Are you breaking out in a cold sweat just thinking about it? Never fear! In order to ease this transition, there is a wide variety of training and support resources available, both virtually and on campus.

To begin with, the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute has created an online Canvas tutorial that is specific to faculty and staff in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. The Dutton Institute Faculty Orientation is a primer-style self-guided learning path with links to additional Canvas resources for in-depth instruction. The Dutton Institute is supplementing this resource with a full docket of Canvas training sessions. You can sign up at http://bit.ly/cookiesandcanvas.

February 9: 11:30 am - 1:00 pm
Orientation - 11:30-12:15
Communication/Notifications - 12:15-1:00

February 25: 11:00 am - 12:30 pm
Orientation - 11:00-11:45
Assignments/Rubrics - 11:45-12:30

March 14: 10:00 am - 11:30 pm
Orientation - 10:00-10:45
Quizzes/Assessments - 10:45-11:30

March 23: 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
Orientation - 2:00-2:45
SpeedGrader/Gradebook - 2:45-3:30

April 12: 11:30 am - 1:00 pm
Orientation - 11:30-12:15
Groups/Teams - 12:15-1:00

April 28: 11:00 am - 12:30 pm
Orientation - 11:00-11:45
Faculty Roundtable - 11:45-12:30

Penn State also has a wide variety of Canvas transition resources available. The Canvas at Penn State website (canvas.psu.edu) is continually updated with Penn State-specific Canvas transition information, including a link to Penn State’s Canvas Learning Center and schedules of upcoming Canvas training sessions.

The University will also be sponsoring a Canvas Day from 1-6 p.m. on Friday, March 18th at the Penn Stater. The event will feature a variety of learning sessions, as well as networking opportunities with those already using Canvas. More information can be found at the event website.

As always, the Dutton Institute is here to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance with your conversion to Canvas!

Maps You Can Hear and Touch

Mon, 2015-10-12 12:40 -- jls164

As I was considering the topic for this month’s accessibility blog, I came across a great article, “Maps That You Can Hear and Touch” by Laura Bliss. Given the College’s emphasis on STEM material and use of all types of maps (GIS maps, Geography maps, weather maps, etc) and the University’s growing interest in 3D printing, I thought this would be the perfect topic.

Please take a minute to read this short article. It is certainly interesting and hopefully inspiring. If you have any questions or thoughts on the topic, please let me know. I am sitting on a University committee to explore the use of 3D printing in online education.  Your insights would be very helpful as we move forward.


Accessibility: Using Headings on Your Webpages

Wed, 2015-09-02 12:42 -- jls164

Please note that using proper headings is one of the MOST IMPORTANT tools for screen reader users.

Credit: Nikki Massaro Kauffman


Content must be “Navigable” by all users. This requires landmarks so screen reader users are able to easily organize and scan a page.

The way to do this is to utilize headings and sub-headings on web pages. Headings are used to organize information into logical pieces and allow screen reader users to scan and navigate to specific parts of a page, just as a sighted user would do. Without proper headings, a screen reader doesn’t differentiate between various topics on a page.

To be in compliance, headings must be created using html code rather than basic formatting. 

Faculty and Learning Design Responsibilities

Use properly formatted headings and sub-headings (rather than simply increasing font size) when working in Drupal. Please review the details of creating properly formatted and compliant headings in Drupal for details.

Making your Videos, Narrated Screen Captures and Audio Files Accessible

Wed, 2015-09-02 11:43 -- jls164

Videos, narrated screen captures, and audio files need three things to be accessible to all students.

  • transcripts
  • notes before the video referencing the topic and length of the video
  • closed captions

If you have NOT created the content yourself and the original author has not included accurate captions, a transcript will suffice. NOTE: You can NOT rely on YouTube automatic captions.

At Dutton, we use a third party vendor to create transcripts and captions and then add them to your course, but we need faculty help to make sure that all videos are in compliance.

Please spend a minute reviewing your part in this process.

For fun, I added the Rhett & Link (2011) YouTube video "CAPTION FAIL: Lady Gaga Putt-Putt Rally" below (3:55 minutes). This demonstrates the problems that occur when automation captions are used.

Course Blueprinting Process

Fri, 2015-08-07 11:43 -- azs2

One of the hardest things that a learning designer must do is figure out how to communicate the learning design process in a way that the faculty members with whom we work will embrace it. Many faculty members use learning design principles and don’t realize that is what they are doing. They are just amazing natural-born teachers. We are lucky to have a lot of them in Dutton! While for these individuals, pedagogy is a natural part of developing a course, for others, it can be a difficult concept to understand and even more difficult to see the value when feeling like it is being imposed upon you. To help bridge the communication gap between learning designers and faculty, we have developed the Course Blueprinting Process. This process uses a simple idea that helps organize the design process in a visual way via a basic spreadsheet that the learning designer and faculty member develop together and share. By using this Course Blueprint to collect all of the information about the course design in one place, we help ensure that all of the learning objectives are covered in the content and all of the content is assessed in the assessments. The faculty member outlines the course, writes measurable objectives and identifies the level of each one on Bloom's Taxonomy with assistance from the learning designer and determines how each objective will be assessed, selects learning materials including readings, activities, exercises and media needs. All of this information is catalogued in the Course Blueprint. At then end, it is very easy to identify missing items just by a quick scan.

Download the downloadable version of the Course Blueprint from here now. Please check out our other Planning Documents in the Plan section of this website.




Visual Recording on the iPad

Thu, 2015-06-04 12:48 -- sxr133

This is a great video that shows different tools that help you to do visual recording on the iPad. Her visual recording style is interesting and engaging, too! If you want to put together a quick and dirty demonstration of a topic, thoughts around an example, or cartoon-like demonstration for your class, this is an excellent place to start.

In the video, Rachel Smith goes over four different applications you might use for visual recording on the iPad: Ideas, Air Sketch, Brushes, and Sketchbook Pro.

While the video is a bit longer than one you might want to do for your class (it’s 12:46), watching the sketchnoting unfold is really helpful and interesting. The updated style of this type of drawing/notetaking/explaining is hot right now, so you should check it out!

The Three Essential Functions of Your Syllabus

Thu, 2015-06-04 11:56 -- sxr133

James Lang has written an excellent two-part article on the essential functions of your course syllabus. He argues for a “learning syllabus,” where the syllabus helps the student to learn rather than merely serving as the course “contract.” He outlines how the syllabus should convey a professor’s “energy and enthusiasm” for the subject, that conveying the value of the content is important. In addition, the syllabus should serve to orient your students to the framework of the course, explaining how the course will unfold over the semester, and to show students the course’s “learning arc.” Finally, the syllabus should make the reasons you do what you do transparent. Why will there be discussions? What’s the purpose of the project? Lang rightly says that, while the rationale for the assignments and assessments might be clear to you, outlining it in the syllabus helps to make it clear for students—something important when they may be struggling with an assignment or task.

In the second part of his article, James Lang discusses how to make your syllabus, however long, a “living document” that will help students and motivate them throughout the semester. Quizzing students on the syllabus, allowing them some control over the crafting of it, and creating detailed learning objectives that connect the assignments and tasks with the overall goals of the course are just some of the ways to accomplish this. I especially liked the “syllabus quiz” where the instructor has the students pull out the syllabus again, the instructor points out a past topic,  and the students write what they remember about the topic, how it connects to the day’s lesson, etc.

Overall, these two articles were an excellent, digestible way to look at the syllabus as a way for instructors to connect to students and to help them learn.