Canvas Likes and Less-Than-Likes


By in Musings on Technology on .

In Fall 2014, Purdue started a pilot of the Canvas LMS to assess the usability of Canvas at Purdue University. With Purdue’s contract with Blackboard expiring in September of 2017, it is important to look at alternatives to see if Purdue is best served by Blackboard, or if a different learning management system would be better for faculty and students.

When it comes to Canvas, I’ve considered the things I like, and the things I’m not quite a fan of. Let’s start off with the three things I really like about Canvas:

  • Customizable Notifications
    One of the terrific options in Canvas is that users can customize how they are notified of course changes, announcements, and other alerts. By default, all users have their Purdue email address listed for notifications. Canvas allows for users to add additional email accounts, as well as their cell phone numbers for SMS messages. Notifications can also be sent to a user’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.Additionally, when users are notified of alerts can be changed. A user can be alerted to a change when it happens, once daily, or even weekly. Notifications can be turned off, too. By allowing faculty and students to customize how and when they are notified of course changes, in-course communication can become more effective.
  • Uploading Files
    Adding files to a Canvas course is simple – click on a file on your computer, and drag it into Canvas. Need three files? Highlight all three files on your computer, and drag them all into Canvas. Canvas features a file manager that can also allow for the creation of folders for better organization of files. Instructors may also lock files to limit access to them and course TA’s, which is useful if the course must include private files (such as homework solutions).
  • Canvas Mobile Application
    For me, this is a big deal. First, the Canvas Mobile Application while still developing, has a number of features that I think users will find very useful immediately. The mobile application allows for sending messages to instructors and students, as well as checking grades and viewing all course notifications sorted by date. Also, the mobile application is free and is available for iOS and Android. Plus, students can submit assignments through the mobile app!

So, I’ve listed the things I like. Here’s the three things that I’ve found that I’m not thrilled about just yet…

  • Test and Quiz Creation
    This is something where Canvas does not necessarily have an advantage over Blackboard, unless you’re creating equations (where Canvas does have an advantage). Creating a test or a quiz in Canvas is just as complicated as it is in Blackboard. Also, one must be careful to not scramble answer options if answers such as “all of the above” or “A and B only” are used in questions. However, adding images and multimedia to question answer options is fairly simple in comparison to Blackboard. Overall, it’s still a time-consuming process to build a quiz in Canvas.
  • Limited Course Menu Alteration Options
    Canvas has designed its course menu to where there is not a lot of customization that can be done with the menu itself. Sure, menu items can be removed or made unavailable to students, but for arranging content, instructors cannot add new content areas like Blackboard. Canvas provides a Modules area, where content can be arranged by week, unit, chapter, and more. But there can only be one Modules area, not more, and the names of the links cannot be altered. For instructors who like to place a link to individual content areas set up by week or objective, this could be a concern.
  • Automatic Updates
    Instructure updates Canvas usually once every three weeks with anything from bug fixes to the addition of new options. While for bug fixes this is welcome, when it comes to look and feel alterations, should things really change during a semester? If look, feel, and feature updates could be delayed on an institution-by-institution basis this wouldn’t be a concern.

So, that are some of my likes and concerns about Canvas. If you would like more information about the Canvas pilot, visit our Canvas Pilot Site at Faculty members who would like to try out Canvas are invited to request a test account by emailing

Brett Creech
Educational Technologist

Captioning for Clarity: YouTube Videos


By and in Accessibility on .

Have you ever missed dialogue in a movie because the background noise was too loud? Perhaps the actor had a heavy accent. Maybe you were watching a movie presented in a language that is not your primary language.

Even though my hearing is fine and English is my primary language, I use closed captioning every time it is available. As a visual learner, closed captioning helps me to process what I’m hearing and retain information better. While this is helpful for watching television shows and movies, it is vital for educational videos for many reasons.  (For further information about general accessibility issues and why they need to be addressed, watch this great video: Accessibility Issues and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).) Although accessibility encompasses a good deal more than captioning video, today’s blog will focus solely on captioning YouTube videos.

There are two types of captioning: open and closed. Open captioning contains text that is always on, whereas closed captioning includes text that can be turned off or on. Either way, the text should always be synchronized with the video and should include information about additional sounds included in the original video (e.g. laughing, singing, door slamming, etc.).

Some people prefer to read video text as a document. While this may be convenient for some, it is important to note that the visual cues are lost when the text is separated from video. This is why it is vital to synchronize captioning with video. I’ve taken several courses in Coursera, and each of them has offered both synchronized closed captioning along with a text document containing the transcript. I would watch the closed captioned video, and I would use the transcript to scan for specific information later so I did not have to watch the entire video again. I appreciated having multiple options for accessing the information.

There are several ways to add captioning to your YouTube videos. If the audio is very clear, you could try transcribing the video using YouTube’s speech recognition technology; however, be warned that this is often so far off it’s not worth the time. For short videos or videos with minimal dialog, I prefer to simply type in the text myself.



How to add closed captioning to your YouTube video:


  1. After uploading your video, click the edit button.


edit button


  1. Click on “Subtitles and CC.”



  1. Click “English automatic” if you’d like to use the speech recognition system, but be warned that it may be so far off it won’t be of much help. Watch your video to ensure that the text is synchronized with the video. Revise the text within the text boxes on the right as needed. Click “Publish.”


If “English automatic” is not available, or you want to start from scratch…


  1. Click on “Add new subtitles or CC” and choose English.



  1. Choose “Transcribe and set timings.”



  1. Click to enable the “Pause video while typing.” The video will stop when you type and continue when you stop typing.



  1. Click the start button on the video to review the audio, and start typing. Don’t forget to add text describing sounds, like [applause] or [thunder].


  1. After you hit enter, click on “set timings” then “English” to see the text you just typed. Watch your video to ensure that the text is synchronized with the video.  Revise the text within the text boxes on the right as needed. Click “Publish.”


  1. Click on the arrow to get back to Video Manager and edit your next video.




For additional information on captioning your YouTube video:

For additional information on creating instructional videos:


Providing a transcript


I mentioned earlier that some people prefer to have a transcript available to read while watching an instructional video.  Averting the eyes from video to transcript is not recommended by learning specialists because switching from task to task results in lower productivity1 and some evidence suggests that task switching may weaken cognitive ability.2  Closed captioning is a better option because the text is embedded in the video and is synchronized with the video to reinforce video cues. However, if you are already going to go through the trouble of creating the text for your educational YouTube video, it might be worthwhile to save the text as a document, remove the timing information, and create a searchable document in addition to the closed captioning.


  1. Click on the actions button.



  1. Save the file as .srt. This is the most common file extension for closed captioning and can be opened in Wordpad. (Note: .vtt and .sbv can also be opened in Wordpad)


  1. Provide the transcript in a separate file or as part of the comments section under your YouTube video.




1 Multitasking: Switching costs.

2 Multitasking: The Cognitive Costs of Multitasking.       

Laptops and Lectures: Mismatch or Opportunity?

By in Classroom on .

Recently, while browsing through my Twitter feed, (@HuckAtPurdue ), I saw an article linked called “Why you should take notes by hand — not on a laptop”. The article was from June 2014, written by Joseph Stromberg.   The article was referencing research published by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, entitled “The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard – Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking.”

Since I work as an Educational Technologist, and I see lecture halls filled with laptops, this was an alarming finding to read.  However, after reading both the article and the research, I think while I do not disagree with the findings, I do see it as an opportunity to guide more effective use of the technology.

The research summary states: “even when laptops are used solely to take notes, they may still be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing. In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. We show that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”

The article used that research to state: “When done with pen and paper, that act involves active listening, trying to figure out what information is most important, and putting it down. When done on a laptop, it generally involves robotically taking in spoken words and converting them into typed text.”

I do not dispute either statement, but I do feel that the flaw does not lie in using technology, but in the lack of effective use of technology. Both documents dismiss or ignore the possibility that you could alter the methodology of note-taking with the laptops, and achieve similar results to the hand-written notes. The lack of performance seems more tightly linked to the notes being more verbatim and less constructed by the learner.

We need to use this data to do a better job instructing students on the effective use of the technology. If they are made aware of the impact of verbatim note-taking, they can make a conscious effort to make their notes more meaningful to them.  In fact, they could potentially use the audio recording capabilities of the laptop to handle any need they may feel for verbatim notes, and instead listen more intently and make notes only on important concepts and thoughts they fabricate themselves about the content.

All of this ignores the fact that research has shown that lectures themselves are a less effective method of instruction. But that is a whole topic in itself……

IMPACT FLCs: What are they all about?

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By in Course Redesign, IMPACT, Professional Development on .

Recently, as a presenter at the 2014 AECT International Convention: Learning, Design, and Technology, I shared information about being a support staff member for the IMPACT (Instruction Matters Purdue Academic Course Transformation) program in the presentation: Designing Instruction to Create Systematic Change: A Designer’s Perspective1. IMPACT is a Purdue Provost’s initiative facilitated through the collaborative efforts of the Center of Instructional Excellence (CIE), Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP), University Libraries, Discovery Learning Resource Center (DLRC), and Purdue Extended Campus (PEC). Using research findings on sound student-centered teaching and learning practices, over 100 faculty have redesigned their courses enhancing student learning, competence, and confidence. After 4 years, IMPACT has transformed over 90 courses changing the learning environment for over 25,000 students. Attendees were quite interested and impressed with the emerging results of Purdue University’s IMPACT program.2

One of the goals of IMPACT is to: form Faculty Learning Communities (FLC) as instruments for faculty exploration, collaboration, learning, development and contributions to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.3 FLCs began to emerge in higher education the late 1970’s and ‘80s as groups of faculty and professional staff explored strategies to improve instruction and student performance. In 2001 Miami University was awarded a FIPSE (Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education) grant, Developing Faculty Learning Communities to Transform Campus Culture for Learning. Working with several other partner universities, the results of this FIPSE grant showed the structure of the FLC to be one that led to successful change.

The FIPSE project identified 30 components of an FLCP (Faculty Learning Community Programs). Evidence collected shows that FLCs encourage and support faculty investigation, implementation, assessment, and adoption of new (to them) approaches such as involving appropriate technology, active learning, inclusive classrooms, and revised curricula. In addition, FLCs provide for the developmental needs of important cohorts of faculty who have been affected by change, isolation, fragmentation, and stress. Evidence shows FLCPs enhance undergraduate learning by increasing faculty interest, practice, and expertise in teaching by providing safe, supportive, multidisciplinary communities in which faculty can investigate and take risks. Another project goal was to foster scholarly teaching and SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning). This was achieved by involving FLC participants in a sequence of developmental steps, starting with investigating the literature and culminating in a refereed presentation or publication.4

My experiences as support team member of IMPACT FLCs mirror the results of this FIPSE grant. Over the past four years the actual structure of the Support Team has taken several forms. In the current structure, the Support Team works with a small group of faculty, usually two to four. The Support Team is made up of members from the various units and consists of a “Primary” support team member, who acts as the main contact for the faculty member, and one or more “Secondary” support team members. All support team members participate with faculty in the semester long FLC sessions which serve as the foundation for the faculty development phase of the program. The support team members frequently assist in guiding the small group discussions that takes place during the weekly FLC sessions. These structured FLC sessions are designed to introduce faculty to research-based teaching and learning practices. Some of the topics covered during the FLC sessions include:

  • models utilized in the redesigned courses that include: blended learning models, supplemental approaches in which face-to-face courses are supplemented with online components, flipped models, and fully online models
  • pedagogies and principles, such as, strategies for incorporating group work, team based learning, problem-based learning, informed learning, Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (1987), the principles of backward course design,
  • and, exploration of possible topics for SoTL projects, including the development of a research question.

In the actual redesign process, the support team members provide a variety of roles dependent upon their area of expertise, for example: pedagogy, technology, information literacy, research and many other areas. Most groups of faculty and support team members also meet weekly or biweekly during this semester. Typically this semester is followed by a more individualized phase of the program, again usually taking place over a semester. This is frequently when faculty actually redesign their courses. The support team members remain engaged with the faculty members during the subsequent pilot phase, and often several semesters later while the course is continuing to evolve. In some cases, support team members become involved in SoTL projects with the faculty members.

This course redesign program is a true commitment for support team members and faculty alike. Many institutions have course redesign programs; however, Purdue University’s IMPACT program is a cross-disciplinary effort that touches courses in all academic colleges and schools throughout the university. This unique collaboration of support team members from a variety of units and small groups of faculty in the FLC contributes to the positive systematic changes in the learning environments that are occurring on the Purdue University campus.


1Designing Instruction to Create Systematic Change: A Designer’s Perspective

2IMPACT Report 2014

3IMPACT website

4Miami University FIPSE Grant