Managing Your Online Course in Canvas

The following material represents Dutton's expectations for managing an online class beginning the first day of class.

First Week of the Semester

Most courses begin by asking students to post a self-introduction to a class discussion forum (typically in Canvas) as a way to break the ice and begin to build a sense of community. This is also a great way for the instructor to get a feel for who the students are and what experiences they bring to the class.

  1. Make your own "personal introduction" post to the class to get the ball rolling. In your post, tell students what information you would like them to include in their own introductions.
  2. Review the personal introductions that your students post to the class discussion forum and respond to each student, or to the entire class in a single note, as a way of welcome.
  3. Summarize the postings for your class by posting a note to the appropriate discussion forum or sending an e-mail to all students to share what you've learned about the class make-up and addressing their class expectations (e.g., "Several of you stated that you hoped to learn more about XYZ in this class. While we won't be covering XYZ specifically, we will address the more general issue of...")
  4. Contact students who have not yet accessed your Canvas site. In Canvas, you can easily see who has, and has not, accessed your class via Analytics. If a student hasn't accessed the class yet, there may be a problem that needs your attention.

NOTE: When using Canvas to send an e-mail to students who haven't accessed your class yet, you will want to send a copy to their Internet (non-Canvas) e-mail address using LionPath!

3rd Week of the Semester

  1. Undergraduate Courses - Submit Week 3 Early Progress Reports. Early Progress Reports are formal e-mail alerts sent by instructors early in the semester to all students. Instructors typically use a tool called Starfish to initiate these reports. You will receive an email from Starfish when it is time to complete the reports. Please note that the email does not come from Penn State, so it might look like spam but it really isn't. 
  2. Graduate Courses - Send an e-mail notice to low-performing students. It is an important retention strategy to notify students who are off to a bad start in your class! Send them a private e-mail through Canvas Conversations notifying them of their current grades and offering them strategies for improvement. Be sure to send your note to a student's non-Canvas e-mail address using LionPath because if they haven't logged into your class yet, they won't see your note!

7th Week of the Semester

  1. Undergraduate Courses - Submit Week 7 Progress Reports. These progress reports are similar to the ones you completed during week 3. See Starfish for more details. You will receive an email from Starfish when it is time to complete the reports. Please note that the email does not come from Penn State, so it might look like spam but it really isn't.
  2. Graduate Courses - Send an e-mail notice to low-performing students It is an important retention strategy to notify students who are off to a bad start in your class! Send them a private e-mail through Canvas Conversations notifying them of their current grades and offering them strategies for improvement. Be sure to send your note to a student's non-Canvas e-mail address using LionPath because if they haven't logged into your class yet, they won't see your note!

Daily

How often you check the class is an individual decision, but you should let your students know up front how often they can expect to hear from you. Checking in at least once each business day and once over the weekend is a good rule of thumb. Many faculty strive to read and respond to all e-mail conversations and discussion forums within 24 hours! To expedite your communications with students, make sure that your Canvas notifications are set up properly. Please refer to Preparing Your Online Class for a list of our recommendations.

  1. Monitor the Class Discussions. You can have all discussions forwarded to your email by "Subscribing to a Discussion." We recommend that you do this for each discussion.
  2. Monitor and respond to all email conversations.

Weekly

Once a week (preferably on the same day each week) we recommend that you:

  1. Post an Announcement telling students what you will be covering in that week and reminding them of any due dates.

    Example 1: Check out these great weekly announcement examples:

  2. Update your class Calendar with any new or revised due dates.
  3. Grade all assignments. Students appreciate timely feedback on their assignments and will let you know if they feel they are waiting too long! How long it takes to grade assignments and send meaningful feedback to students depends, of course, on the nature of the assignment. However, students may not be able to proceed in your course until they get your feedback on how they are doing. Most faculty strive to grade their assignments within one week of an assignment due date. If you anticipate that it will take longer than a week to return student work, it is best to inform them in advance when their grades and feedback will be available. Doing so will forestall a lot of questions from students and calls to the main office! It is also best to grade assignments in sequence (i.e., assignment 1, then assignment 2, and so on) so students can apply the feedback from one assignment to the subsequent assignments.
  4. Summarize discussion forum conversations, since it can be hard for students to wrap up a discussion and/or cull out the important points before moving on to other discussions!

    Example: Instructor Kay Shattuck provided this great summary of one of her class discussions (PDF) (Word document).

  5. Consider holding online office hours.
    Giving your students a chance to communicate with you in real-time can help build strong relationships and motivate students to fully engage in the class. A few popular options for conducting live office hours with geographically dispersed students are Adobe Connect (web conferencing), Zoom and Big Blue Button in Canvas. Just let your students know when and how to join your office hours!
    • To use Adobe Connect:
    • To use Zoom visit Penn State's Zoom Pilot Page or register for a free Zoom account.
    • To set up a session using Big Blue Button:
      • Click on the Conferences tab while logged in to your course section
      • Click on the New Conference Button in the upper right-hand corner
      • Fill in the appropriate information for the session (Name, Type, Duration, Options, and Description)
      • Click the Update button
      • For more information, read What are Conferences for Instructors

Mid-Semester

Gather mid-semester feedback from your students. Administering a mid-semester evaluation is a great way to see how your class is going from a student perspective. There are several options for gathering this information.

About Two Weeks Before the Semester Ends

Encourage your students to complete the online SRTE.
Research has shown that the biggest influence on whether a student completes an end-of-class survey is the instructor! So a note from you encouraging your students to complete the survey and assuring them that the information will be kept confidential and used to improve the class is essential for a high response rate. See Student Rating of Teaching Effectiveness for more information.

Example 1:

"I hope that you will be able to find about 15 minutes to complete the SRTE, our class evaluation survey. We rely upon your anonymous feedback to guide our continuing efforts to make this class worth the time and money you (and in many cases, your employers) invest. Whether your feelings about the class are positive, negative, or mixed, please take a few minutes to let us know. A link to the SRTE can be found on your Canvas module page."

Example 2:

"One sure sign that the end of the semester is upon us is that the SRTE opens tomorrow (Student Rating of Teacher's Effectiveness). I realize that given this is a 400-level course, most of you should be familiar with the process, but in case this is news to anyone, I'll share:

The SRTE is anonymous, so you should feel confident in voicing your honest opinions about this class (good, bad and indifferent!). Yes, you link to it from Canvas, but it's stored on a different server.

We really don't get the results for a long time after the class is over. Many students seem apprehensive (usually only in the case of an impending negative review) that it could somehow influence their grade in the course. This is impossible because your grades will be long-since submitted before I ever see the results. And, those results are aggregated into one big report for the entire class.

They matter! Really they do! We try very hard to make sure our students are having meaningful and pleasant experiences in each course they take. This feedback mechanism is your way to let us know what we're doing right and what we could be doing better. I've often tweaked the structure of assignments or presentation of material based on feedback I've gotten in SRTEs. I hope you'll take some time to give thoughtful and specific answers to the open-ended questions, especially. The SRTE will be open April 20-May 3 for this course." - Brandi Robinson

Last Day of the Class (and soon after)

  1. Post an end-of-class announcement to wrap-up to the class. Include a final request to complete the SRTE!

  2. Handle any deferred grade requests (see Senate Policy 48-40)

  3. Remind students to download/print their work, if they desire. If the class utilizes an e-portfolio, recommend that students download a copy of their e-portfolio, especially if this is their last class in the program.

  4. Post final grades on LionPATH within 2 days of the end of the class, per University policy.

  5. Review and revise your course materials while everything is still fresh in your mind. Will there be a different instructor next time the course is offered? If so, it is a good to meet with that individual now while thoughts are fresh.