Discover more from The Canvas Insider
The Canvas Insider - December 2022
Information, skills, and perspectives to improve your relationship with Instructure’s Canvas LMS.
My Journey as a Canvas Insider
I recorded the final episode of my Canvas Insider podcast this weekend. Click here to listen to Episode 71.
After almost three years, I felt it was time to put a bow on this content-creation project started in 2020, and move forward with my current project…. The Canvas Insider on Substack!
Here is the transcript of my final episode with weblinks to my mentioned content:
On this final episode, I wanted to share the journey I've been on as a Canvas Insider, and some of the technology tools I have used to effectively accomplish my work.
Fun fact: before I began my role as Canvas Admin for Western, I had zero, repeat zero, experience with an LMS. But as I mentioned in Episode 65, I had a colleague who was in Western's Canvas Admin role, and saw my potential to successfully step into his role as he ascended in the ranks at Western Washington. He lobbied hard with a hiring committee and management, hesitant to employ someone who had no experience with the actual product they were tasked with supporting, to fill his shoes. Check out episode 65 to learn more. But in October 2016, my career highway path took an offramp onto the Educational Technology superhighway, and for the first time ever, I was an administrator for a Learning Management System. Instructure's Canvas!
I had a three-month apprenticeship, immersion, whatever you want to call it, that spent the rest of 2016 getting to a level of competency in my then-new role as Western's Canvas Admin. And let me just pause here to share something with you, dear listener: If you are thinking about becoming a Canvas Admin, which I definitely recommend for lots of reasons, you need to allow yourself an entire three-month semester or quarter to learn all the complexities and intricacies of an academic term. You will discover that needs for specific support at each start of the term, middle of term, and the end of the term. Also, if you are stepping into a new role as Canvas Admin for an institution, even if you've had experience with Canvas as a teacher of a course, or as a student in a course, you can't expect to have Canvas all figured out after the first couple of weeks on the job. It takes time, and hopefully your management will acknowledge the learning curve that exists for gaining the skillset to support your clients. It takes time. Be patient with yourself, you'll get there like I have.
…you can't expect to have Canvas all figured out after the first couple of weeks on the job. It takes time…
In the early stages of my Canvas Admin work, I observed that a lot of the emails I sent contained similar material. Instead of callously replying with "Done" in my email response to a client's request, I chose to provide a receipt of the work I did, along with a pleasant greeting and closing to my client. Instead of typing the same content over and over again, I discovered a technology tool which has become ubiquitous in my work as Canvas Admin. TextExpander from Smile Software allows me to create snippets of content, with customizable fields, to deploy in an email with a few keyboard characters. For example, ;clist would pop-up:
Hi [Customizable first name of client], I cross-listed your request below, primary course is [Another customizable field for the primary course]. Let me know if there is anything else I can do to help with your Canvas courses?
Have a good day,
and then my signature is auto-filled below. Quickly pound ;clist out on my keyboard and POOF, formatted email response, spelled correctly, with customizable fields for specific response needs. With TextExpander it takes me seconds to provide an email receipt versus minutes. And THAT proved incredibly valuable in 2020... more on that coming up.
As I discovered the nuances of Canvas Admin support, I was subject to an extensive number of interruption vectors. While working on an issue for a professor's course, I would receive:
New email requests plopping into my inbox
Phone calls from faculty needing help
In-person drop-ins from faculty clients who came in on their own after learning where my office was located
In-person drop-ins from faculty clients who went to my University's help desk and were "escorted" by help desk staff to my office
Co-worker drop-ins to discuss an issue or just hang out
Management drop-ins requesting status on an issue or needs for information about something Canvas-related that came to their attention
Slack notifications, soon to be replaced by Microsoft Teams (heaven help me)
Clients stopping me to talk about an issue while I was in transit to another faculty client's office to fix their course issue.
All those interruptions require Context Switching, and as Cal Newport wrote, "Context Switches gunk up your brain."
While “some” management would consider these interruption vectors necessary to always provide outstanding customer service, I disagree with that viewpoint. The clients I support appreciate receiving support from me when I am fully focused on their issue. So I discovered another tech tool that became ubiquitous in my Canvas Admin life which helped prevent the aforementioned hyperactive vectors of interruption. Calendly.com is an online scheduling service that synchronizes with your work email calendar to provide your clients with a list of available time slots to meet with you in whatever type of meeting you choose, in person, phone call, or even zoom/teams remote. I used Calendly to reclaim control of my workday and provided four reservable hours during each workday for clients to meet with me, first come first served. In my emails, I used ;sched to autofill:
Feel free to click on the Schedule an appointment link below in my signature to find a time to reserve a time that fits with your calendar.
With Calendly, I am prepared to meet with a client in-person or remotely, and based on my intake questions, I will learn what they want to discuss or receive help with ahead of time.
Pro tip, Canvas Insiders: If you are able to resolve your client's issue in less than the time needed, Ask them the following question: "What else is bugging you about your Canvas courses?" and watch your client's satisfaction increase where you not only helped fix their current issue, but helped solve other issues as well. To the management folks I mentioned previously, THIS is an example of outstanding customer service.
Ask [your client] the following question: "What else is bugging you about your Canvas courses?" and watch your client's satisfaction increase where you not only helped fix their current issue, but helped solve other issues as well.
At the start of 2020, I had over 6,000 hours of work as a Canvas Admin, and the thought occurred to me: If a number of my faculty clients are encountering the same issues with their Canvas courses, maybe there are other professors out there in the world who are in the same boat. So I tried something. I created this Canvas Insider podcast, complete with a heavy hard rock intro (which I still have fondness for) because I wanted to share information with not just my Western Washington faculty clients, but with everyone in the Instructure world. There were other Canvas-related podcasts out there at the start of this "Roaring 20's" decade, but I was more about sharing information, skills, and perspectives that would improve listeners relationship with Canvas... I wasn't looking to just interview people in the EdTech realm to chat about how they use Canvas. To quote Shania Twain, "That don't impress me much." Yeah, I just quoted Shania Twain. Cuz I'm cool.....
After three-plus years trucking along as Canvas Admin, with a new podcast project riding shotgun, I drove headfirst into Spring 2020... the COVID remote era. I usually don't like revisiting the PTSD associated with that season, but as I look in the rearview mirror, the overwhelming demand for help from a thousand-plus faculty at my University helped me adopt a couple of new tech tools in my Canvas Admin arsenal. As the avalanche of email requests for support came in, I observed that simply emailing faculty a web link to Instructure's extensive online documentation collection that relates to their fixing their course issue, well... didn't seem to have optimal effectiveness. It could be that the faculty's course, or the technology they were using, was a little more customized that Instructure's extensive, but generalized, documentation...or it could be that the faculty didn't want to read through documentation procedures to fix their problems.
But what DID result in positive feedback from my clients were annotated screenshots, while masquerading as the client, with bold arrows and bold text showing what specifically to click on instead of lame squiggly red line arrows poorly drawn with a mouse... Plus I was able to use the pixelated/blurred feature to hide sensitive data in my screenshot. At the time CloudApp was my annotation tool of choice. Quick customized screen area capture, quick arrow pointing, box encompassing, text guiding, and sensitive information blurring... that was the bees knees, y'all!
...and then a funny thing happened at the height of COVID remote learning. But first, let me take us back to 2018.
Back four years ago, I purchased a software bundle from a website called StackSocial. It's one of those tech nerd sites. One of the items included in a list of software applications was a lifetime pro license to Droplr, a screenshot software tool...which also creates HD videos for narrated screencasts. One workday in the nightmare that was the Spring 2020 term, I stumbled into trying out a narrated screencast to explain a multi-step process for a professor client whom I hold in high regard, and I discovered that my narrated screencast was auto-uploaded to Droplr's storage space online, so I was able to send the professor a small weblink URL to click on to view my support video. They responded with high praise for my video... as did hundreds of other faculty after I started to replace annotated screenSHOTS with narrated screenCASTS.
Asynchronous support, customized with their specific course, with in only the web browser window in view ~and not my full desktop which could provide distractions to my instruction~, narrated with my verbal explanation just like I would if we were on the phone or in person. They could view this video on any web browser of their choice... at any time they wanted to. This my dear Canvas Insiders, was my game-changer. Links to my videos were met with MUCH positive feedback from my faculty clients. To this day, I use ;screencast to auto-fill the text snippet:
I created a quick screencast to [fill in the custom video topic here]:
…paste the link to my two-and-a-half minute video explaining the exact resolution to a client's issue, and hit send. SO much quicker than typing out a long bulletpoint-addled email with links to generalized content.
So at the start of 2022, I added another content-creation project to my journey down the EdTech highway. I created the Canvas Insider newsletter hosted on Substack. Four Canvas tips a month to help improve your relationship with Instructure's Learning Management System. While I had a few Western faculty subscribe to my newsletter, it wasn't a huge response despite having a link for my podcast and my newsletter in my email signature. Side-note: does anyone actually read people's email signatures anymore? Anyway, I was surprised to discover that posting links to my newsletters on LinkedIn provided a noticeable increase in subscribers. My theory was right! Some of the issues I help my clients resolve at my institution were similar to what other teachers were experiencing around the world...
Then this summer, in late August, I stumbled upon another idea. My faculty clients raved about my narrated screencasts in my support emails, what if I made narrated screencasts to include in my Canvas Insider newsletter? So I gave it a try, and boy howdy was THAT a chocolate chip cookie. Folks on LinkedIn started to follow me and like my videos much more than my other content-creation projects.
So as I record this final Canvas Insider podcast, 2023 looms in the near distance. For my professional work, I continue to leverage TextExpander, Calendly, Zoom, and Droplr for my Canvas Admin support, but I replaced CloudApp with Shottr for my annotated screenshots since the folks at CloudApp made a change to their software that created too much friction to my workflow. If you have any interest in learning more details of how I use these software applications, shoot me an email at CanvasInsider [at] Protonmail [dot] com.
As for my content-creation projects, I'm tying a bow on this podcast because after almost three years of creating audio advice for your Canvas learning enjoyment, I realized that verbally sharing tips about Canvas may not have been the best communication vehicle. Also, I'm going to pivot my monthly Canvas Insider newsletters on Substack to be more video-based instead of text, weblinks, and bulletpoints. I'm wagering there are more visual learners out there than I estimated. Depending on how things go in 2023, there might be a digital ePUB book creation on the horizon, increased efforts in developing connections with the worldwide Canvas community to provide information and tips that go beyond Instructure's extensive documentation portal, or even maybe Patreon possibilities. Hmmmmm.... If you want to keep up to date on my content, check out canvasinsider.substack.com.
So there ya have it. I appreciate you listening to any of the past 70 episodes of the Canvas Insider I made over the past three years. Should you have any questions about your Canvas courses, or just want to say hi, you can email me at CanvasInsider [at] Protonmail [dot] com.
For the final time for the forseeable future, always invest in yourself, you are worth it! Thank you for listening.