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Day 3 – Worked 6 hours
Total hours thus far: 18.25

Today I spent a majority of my time learning about the new learning management system (LMS) Canvas that Brown will be starting to phase in during the Fall 2012 semester.

Previous to my work here at Brown I had not heard of Canvas, but from what I have learned I am really impressed with the software.

Canvas is an open-source LMS which takes a more “profile” approach to learning when comparing the software to other learning management systems like Blackboard or Moodle. The open-source version, Canvas CV, is what Brown will be using, but there is also Canvas Cloud which has a few extra features included like a mobile app. There’s a lot more information on Canvas from the Instructure website: http://www.instructure.com/

In theory, Canvas opens up a variety of possibilities for students and professors to have a profile dashboard with course content integrated together organized chronologically. Your Home Page is a one stop destination to see what’s going on in all your courses. Think of it set-up like the News Feed of Facebook. In Facebook you log in and scroll through updates of what’s been going on with your friends – you see recent comments, likes, uploaded pictures, shared links, etc. Now imagine this set-up for courses (as an instructor or a student). You log in and see a “news feed” of all that is going on in your courses – recently graded items, new comments to postings, assignments due soon, new messages, etc for all your courses come up together on one page. This way you can see a snapshot of current activities in all your classes and what’s due soon.

This video provides an in-depth explanation of the home page:

 

What’s really neat about Canvas is that it is highly customizable. You can choose how frequently you would like to receive updates and how you would like to be contacted (e-mail, text message or facebook). Each of the updates is separated as well so you can choose to be notified more frequently about one particular category (newly graded items) vs. another category (like a new comment to the discussion board).

Each course has a tab and you can customize the layout of the each of the course pages. You can choose a chronological layout like the main homepage or others like a module layout (similar to Moodle) or you can even design your own custom layout.

Utah Valley University has this excellent video which gives an overview of some of the main features of the layout and profile which I have discussed:

 

What I find most appealing about Canvas is the flexibility of the interface. The important features of the interface are customizable so users can choose a style that best works for them. If a template style isn’t ideal, the user can then create a highly customized layout of their choosing using a simple and user-friendly text editor. I also suspect that users who are on Facebook will really enjoy the Home Page which is reminiscent of all of the great features of the Facebook “news feed.” As a student I think I would enjoy Canvas because of the linear chronological approach it provides for learning. When trying to organize my academic life I’m not always as concerned about what is due for each course separately as much as I am concerned with what is due next and then what is due after that. I think and organize myself task-by-task and week-by-week so the integrated approach would work well for me.

Although Brown will not be starting to use Canvas until the 2012-2013 school year, it’s important for me to start creating content now which will work on a module/sub-module level. I want to think about information organized into bits of information which be used on its own or in relation to a larger whole. I want to organize the web-based information so it’s customizable and easy to integrate into Canvas.

Today I also started to look at the PRIMO Database at http://www.ala.org/apps/primo/public/search.cfm. PRIMO stands for “Peer-Reviewed Instructional Materials Online.” The database contains selected and high quality information tutorials chosen by the ACRL PRIMO Committee. Sarah had mentioned during our first meeting that she wanted a tutorial that was of PRIMO quality and being familiar with the database and some of the tutorials included I completely agreed with her. I started a document with my observations and notes which is not read to publish on the blog yet, but I am sure it will be ready soon.

One of the tutorials I am intimately familiar with is Syracuse University’s “The Productive Researcher.” I discovered it during a search for an excellent general tutorial as an assignment for one of my LIS courses. I think the tutorial is fabulous because of the design of the modules, breakdown of information, visual aesthetics, easy of usability, user-focused design and also the multi-media content. I love that the tutorial had tree different mediums to convey the same information in each of the modules: text, video and audio (podcast). Sarah and I had talked excitedly about doing podcasts for my modules so I was thrilled to show her this gem of a tutorial which had podcasts. I was surprised when I went to the tutorial again to discover that the podcats were removed from the tutorial. Curious as to why, Sarah recommended I e-mail the creators to see why.

One of the many reasons why I love librarianship is that it is so community oriented and everyone is happy to help each other. I sent off an e-mail and inquired about the podcasts and also noted that more videos were added to each of the modules. I was inclined to think one of the reasons the podcasts were removed could be that they were too difficult a medium to effectively deliver content due to a) the complexity of the information and b) the fact that some sort of visual representation was really needed.

The creators of the tutorial was happy to respond (very promptly as well I might add). The answer was very simple – they weren’t used. The podcasts were the only part of the tutorial series that didn’t show any use after the first couple of weeks. The creators originally wanted to include podcasts for visually impaired users or users that wanted to listen instead of watch a tutorial. What they found was that if people wanted to just listen rather than watch, they still played the videos and just ignored the visuals and users with a visual impairment would find the text-based medium more useful because it would work with a screen reader (and they could zoom in on the screenshots). So based on this new information Sarah and I both agree that we will have a video component with audio and no podcasts.

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