How Canvas supports student control and ownership of learning

This is the sixth post in a series about how you can use Canvas to integrate the eight Learning Technology Ecosystem Principles. You can find more about these principles here, but in this post, we’ll be looking at the fifth principle.

5. Designed for student control and ownership of learning: Learners create and control spaces for learning, understanding and retaining ownership, and purposefully choosing how and when they share.

Student Control and Ownership of Learning

Practices that facilitate student choice can have a positive impact on their participation and motivation, and thus, academic performance. Students with choices can engage in higher-level learning for many reasons; feeling more engaged, intrinsically motivated, and joyful in their learning can lead to deeper learning, better processing and more effective long-range memory storage. Choice supports the enhancement of creativity, leading to other positive habits like self-initiated revision and editing (Jensen & McConchie, 2020).

Students doing different work allows for richer and more diverse discussions and in-turn, the learning environment can become less competitive, more collaborative and supportive of higher order knowledge creation and application. (Smyth et al., 2011). When students have choice in their learning, enhancing their sense of autonomy, power and control, social and emotional learning can also increase, elements which are significant in adult learning. Student choice around assessment also lends to more independent decision-making. All of this contributes to few problems around academic integrity as well.

How Canvas supports student control and ownership of learning

Canvas has multiple ways students can design opportunities to develop and demonstrate their knowledge and skills, fostering their independence as learners.

The Rich Content Editor, available in most areas in Canvas, provides space for students to choose to create and respond:

  • in text, audio or video created inside Canvas,
  • attach files, links to external URLs and/or
  • embed YouTube videos or upload their own videos

Canvas also allows for student empowerment as content creators, through

  • editable pages set-up by the instructor
  • student created discussion boards, collaborative documents, pages, files, and announcements within student groups, accessed through group home pages, and
  • if instructors permit, self-sign-up in groups, as well as creation of announcements, discussions, and collaborations within the wider course environment.

Additionally, student-controlled spaces give opportunity for students to support their own learning and that of their peers through collaborative knowledge creation and peer review on assignments and in discussions. For more on the benefits of using peer review, see the blog Utilizing Peer Feedback in Canvas.

With the What-If Grades feature, students can view their grades and input scores to see how grades may be affected, and then make decisions around submitting or resubmitting assignments.

The Folio link for USask users, accessed on the Account menu, links to an ePortfolio site and provides a space for students and faculty to create a profile, upload a CV or resume, feature top skills and best work (uploaded from Canvas or other sources) and connect with others. This feature affords a convenient way to create, store, and update a portfolio over time, giving students access and control of their work across classes, as they advance through studies.

New Analytics displays grade averages, online activity by week and participation in communication tools, allowing students to view their individual progress and use the up-to-date information to assess their progress and improve or shift their activities.


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Anderson, M. (2016). Learning to choose, choosing to learn. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Jensen, E., & McConchie, L. (2020). Brain-based teaching: Teaching the way students really learn. 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Smyth, K., Bruce, S., Fortheringham, J., & Mainka, C. (2011). Benchmark for the use of technology in modules. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh Napier University.

How Canvas supports students remixing and / or creating

This is the fifth post in a series about how you can use Canvas to integrate the eight Learning Technology Ecosystem Principles. You can find more about these principles here, but in this post, we’ll be looking at the fourth principle.

4. Designed for students who are remixing and/or creating: Learning is most effective when systems are designed to help learners find, create, and/or repurpose significant content for the value of themselves and others. 

Remixing and/or Creating

Bloom developed a classification of thinking skills, which he ranked in order of complexity – remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating. These six skills are used to design learning objectives that describe the skills and abilities instructors want their students to master and demonstrate. When students have to reorganize their learning and create something new, they are performing the most difficult mental function, which leads to a deeper level of learning.

How Canvas supports students remixing and/ or creating

Canvas leverages collaborative technology to allow multiple users to work together on the same project at the same time. Canvas allows you to create Group Sets that can house a number of student groups. Student groups can share files, create Canvas pages, send announcements, and have access to their own calendar, discussion board and collaboration tools, allowing them to work together more effectively.

Office 365 is integrated within Canvas allowing collaborations in Excel, PowerPoint and Microsoft Word files. Other collaborative tools approved for Canvas integration include Perusall and Padlet. Students can also create individual presentations using PowerPoint and videos using Panopto that can easily be shared in Canvas.

Canvas Commons allows for student created (and instructor created) materials to also be shared with other instructors and learners.



Active and social learning in Canvas

This is the third post in a series about how you can use Canvas to integrate the eight Learning Technology Ecosystem Principles. You can find more about these principles here, but in this post, we’ll be looking at the second principle.

2. Active and Social: Learning is a process of meaning making, constructed through learning with others, and as part of an intentional, deliberate system within a course and across experiences.

Active and Social learning enhances student engagement and promotes comprehension and memory. These types of learning are important elements in a learner-centered approach to knowledge. In order for learning to be considered active, a student must be processing, discovering and applying information, not just passively listening or reading. Offering students the opportunity to actively participate in their learning in a social learning space has been shown to enhance student engagement and promote both comprehension and memory.  

Active and Social Learning in Canvas 

Canvas has several features that can be used to facilitate active and social learning. This may be more important in a remote setting as it can help mitigate feelings of isolation in students and promote the connectivity and social aspect that face-to-face classes intrinsically offer.  

Canvas has a discussions feature that can be used to promote active and social learning. Discussions can be focused or threaded and can be used to analyze or solve problems and offer opinions. It is an asynchronous communication tool allowing posts to be read or replied to at any time within the discussion availability window. 

Groups and group sets can be set up in Canvas to allow students to work collaboratively and build learning communities. When students are part of a group they have their own workspace where they can work on group assignments, share filescreate pages and start their own discussions; in this way you can encourage social learning.   

Student collaborations allow students to work together on the same document. Only students in each group can see collaborations for their group but instructors can view them all. The University of Saskatchewan supports Microsoft Office 365 as its collaborative tool. This means that Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint can be used for collaboration. 


The “What if…?”s of live WebEx sessions

While we do recommend designing your course for mostly asynchronous learning, and we definitely recommend being explicit and overt about netiquette from the start of the semester, we understand that some of your course will be conducted over live, synchronous video conferencing tools such as WebEx. So here are some basic ‘what-ifs’ we wanted to address.

What if a student refuses to mute themselves? 

To start, tell students that you will have specific times during your live session where they will be able to speak and that they should wait to be prompted, or for other cues, to unmute themselves. Set the tone from the beginning of the course (check out our netiquette guide) that there are appropriate times to share and other times to not.

If this is repeatedly a concern, you can try using the advanced versions of Webex (Events or Training – both those versions allow muting all participants permanently. Contact for more help with these).

You can also expel participants from your room and lock the room so that others cannot enter or re-enter.

What if a student posts inappropriate content or comments?

Set the tone from the beginning of the course (sounds familiar? Check out the netiquette guide again). Remind students of their academic identity and integrity from the get-go. If you are recording all your live-sessions to share with students later, remind students that the chat will also be recorded. This is usually a good deterrent.

However, if it does come to the point where a student is inappropriate, reach out to the student directly via email or phone after the live session. Kindly ask them, with open curiosity, to explain their actions. What is underneath their action? Is their purpose really to disturb or offend? Make sure to document the inappropriate actions and any further interactions you have with them. You can consider taking the matter to your academic head if you deem necessary.

If this is a recurring issue you can also turn off the chat feature under participant privileges and set it to allow students to only chat with you, or not at all.

What if a student tries to share their screen or is inappropriate on video?

Explain from the start of the term what your expectations are, and revisit these in the early weeks of the term to reinforce the message. When and why do you want students to be on camera? Ask students to consider the academic image they are showing with their background (sounds familiar? Check out the netiquette guide, one more time). If you require students to share their screen, remind them to close unnecessary windows and that all content displayed should align with copyright rules for higher education.

If a student tries to share their screen unasked, you, as the presenter, will be given the option to decline the action by WebEx. If you would like to make it so that participants can never share their screen you can change this under participant privileges, just like chat.

There is more technical information on dealing with disruptive participants, including screenshots and how-tos in the USask Knowledge Base.

There is policy and procedures related to disruptive behaviour and other forms of non-academic misconduct, and you should contact your academic head for advice.


Remote Breakout Rooms – Facilitating Small Group Discussions and Interactions with WebEx

The move to remote learning has created challenges for actively engaging students in our classes.  A simple think-pair-share activity now requires an extensive descriptions of who is partnered with who, how will you communicate, and how much time do you have – not to mention how to use the available technology to complete the activity.  The truth is – facilitating learning activities and interactions remotely is different, but with some planning still provides our learners with valuable opportunities to engage, think, create and do – to practice and improve the things you want them to learn.

If you are considering delivering any part of your class synchronously – consider actively engaging your learners by creating smaller groups to complete learning activities in breakout rooms (now available in WebEx).  Facilitating breakout room learning activities builds opportunities for connection and interactions that are easily missed when we aren’t in the classroom together. Learning activities are also a way for you to collect feedback about your students’ progress and learning – when the groups comes back together have a member from each group report or summarize key points or join different breakout rooms during the learning activity (similar to circulating in a real classroom) to check student progress.  Tip: If you plan to join various groups – let your learners know this in advance and explain you are only there to observe discussions and consider keeping your camera off.

If you are wondering what type of learning activities you could use in breakout rooms – check out this blog post: Building Broad Minds: Active learning strategies for large classrooms or this list of active learning strategies for face-to-face teaching that can translate to remote with a bit of imagination (we would love to brainstorm ideas with you) and this post on building community remotely.

Some tips for successful remote breakout activities:

  • Turn on your cameras – distractions are more common when cameras are off. Turning cameras on will increase engagement and minimize distractions in breakout activities.
  • Groupings – there are benefits and challenges to keeping groups the same and changing groups. Consider your purpose in determining if it is best to keep groups the same or change groups.  Generally groupings of 3-5 work best for breakout activities.
  • Provide clear directions – to ensure the best use of time, more is better remotely. Provide clear directions on what should be accomplished during the breakout room activity (eg: each person answers a question in alphabetical order in “x” amount of time).  If possible, also write instructions in the chat box for students to copy into their notes (notes is a function in WebEx that stays with the user as they move from the main room into a breakout room).
  • Broadcasting & Student questions – some ideas for using these breakout room functions: broadcasting is a function in WebEx that allows you as the facilitator to communicate to breakout rooms.  For group learning activities, you could broadcast the next prompt for discussion, remaining time, or provide new details of a case that is being discussed.  Students are able to send you a “help” request if they have a question, or if they have completed a problem together – they could call you in to share their solution or get feedback on work.
  • Consider Group Roles – to foster engagement and ensure time is well utilized, assign roles within the group. Some ideas of roles are:
    • Facilitator: keeps the group on task and focused – ensures everyone engages in the discussion.  This role can also function as the timer – reminding the group of the time remaining.
    • Recorder: keeps a record of the critical points from the group’s discussion (uses a shared document or the NOTES function in WebEx – and shares this with the group)
    • Presenter: presents the group’s ideas to the rest of the class (relies on recorder for notes)
    • Questioner: asks questions to encourage discussion or challenges ideas with questions.


Why Open Educational Practices in Our Context?

In the previous post about open educational practices (OEP) at USask, I explained what they are. In this post, we will explore why so many people are already engaging in OEP, and why you should consider integrating these practices into your own teaching and research.

Our beliefs make us Open supporters

Open allows students to participate in the co-creation and sharing of text on current major issues (BLM / Indigenous lives, the pandemic, climate change, struggling small businesses) in their learning, demonstrating that USask is engaged with addressing major issues shaping the world and giving students relevant career skills they can demonstrate for potential employers.

When students create materials to share with an authentic, public audience, they work harder and care more, increasing student engagement with the course and discipline. Students who understand why a discipline matters take more courses in that subject.

It is principally important to share student work with the world (keeping it locked in the U of S isn’t what the world needs), because it engenders students with a deep understanding of the value of sharing and disseminating knowledge, making them allies of a primary mission of all universities, as described in Our learning Charter. These students become more effective ambassadors while on campus, and could be more inclined to see USask’s work as important when they become alumni.

Why now?

The COVID-19 pandemic has, in many ways, brought people together for a common cause, from neighbours getting groceries for neighbours, to scientists across the planet collaborating to find treatments and a vaccine for the virus. The U of S is playing a significant role in this research, but collaboration for and sharing of knowledge towards solutions to major problems doesn’t need to be limited to graduate students, post-docs, and those who have finished their formal education.

The world needs a place where students can learn about, engage with, and even create knowledge and find solutions to the problems we face, from issues around such problems as COVID-19, climate change, and racial and other forms of inequality. The world also needs such a place to share that knowledge and those solutions outside of the institution’s walls so that others can benefit and build upon the work being done. The U of S is in a position to be that place, to be “the university the world needs”.

Demonstrating our commitment to our students doing meaningful course work that contributes to knowledge

Undergraduate research, including through the FYRE (First Year Research Experience) program is being conducted in a growing number of courses across the U of S, with results being shared through poster sessions, on open websites, and in the open access Undergraduate Research Journal. Undergraduate research shared publicly allows for more than just the student researchers to learn from it, which is why the Undergraduate Research Initiative has begun promoting the open sharing of undergraduate research at the U of S.

The development of knowledge and finding potential solutions to the world’s problems can be embedded throughout the disciplines at the U of S. Providing students with opportunities to see how your discipline can contribute to these solutions not only increases student engagement within your courses, especially if that knowledge and ideas for solutions are shared beyond just your class, but may also encourage them to take additional courses in the program.

Support is available to help you engage in open educational practices

If you have questions about open educational practices (OEP) or need help finding open educational resources (OER) contact:

  • The Gwenna Moss Centre or Heather M. Ross directly
  • The Distance Education Unit if you are working with them on a course(s) where you would like to integrate OER or other OEP
  • The Library as your Library liaison may be able to help you find resources

What Are Open Educational Practices in Our Context?

We have seen significant growth in the use of open educational resources at the U of S in the past six years. As of this fall, more than a dozen open textbooks have been created or adapted at by instructors and students have saved well over $2 million dollars. “Open”, however, is about more than just textbooks and money saved, it’s about a way of thinking about teaching and learning.

This is the first in a serious of posts looking at the integration of open educational practices (OEP) already occurring at the U of S, as well as about the potential for integrating OEP into courses and programs across the institution. To start, what are OEP in the context of teaching and learning at the U of S during this time of COVID-19 where most of our courses are happening remotely.

OEP at the U of S in this context may include:

Materials are accessible

Open educational resources (OER) are freely available and shareable, increasing the access to the materials. Accessible also means that they should be available for those with differing abilities (e.g. use a screen reader) and for those who may not have access to higher-end technology, including high-speed internet.

Anyone can create, collaborate on, and share the materials

The principles of open not only allow, but rely on the ability for anyone to create / modify, collaborate and share materials. Examples of this include instructors collaborating on an adaption of an existing open textbook to better meet the needs of their students, and students engaging in the creation of learning materials to demonstrate their understanding of a concept (open pedagogy).

There are choices for the creator of materials as to what they will create and how they will share Whoever creates the materials may decide on the license they wish to put on their materials, which allows them to dictate how the materials may be used, changed, and shared. In addition, choice means providing creators / adaptors of materials, including students, to determine the format for the materials that they create. For example, for a particular assignment, students may be given the option of writing a paper, updating a Wikipedia article, or creating a poster for presentation

Making research data and publications available for everyone to access, use, and build upon

As most research is publicly funded, the data and results should, ideally, be made freely available to the public. In addition, such sharing of data and results allows for greater collaboration in addressing major issues facing the world such as COVID-19, environmental challenges, inequality, etc. This sharing and collaboration may happen with instructors, graduate, or undergraduate students (undergraduate research).

Reflecting on teaching and learning so that others may learn from our experiences

Reflecting on what has worked and what hasn’t in our teaching and learning allows us to learn from our successes and mistakes. Sharing those reflections with others through publications, blogs, and conversations allows others to learn from our experiences and the opportunity to offer us both support and potential solutions to problems.

Support is available to help you engage in open educational practices

If you have questions about open educational practices (OEP) or need help finding open educational resources (OER) contact:

  • The Gwenna Moss Centre or Heather M. Ross directly
  • The Distance Education Unit if you are working with them on a course(s) where you would like to integrate OER or other OEP
  • The Library as your Library liaison may be able to help you find resources

What Can You Do About Academic Misconduct?

The causes of academic misconduct have been well-studied and the following points explain most of this concerning behavior.  Research shows that very few students  plan on doing things like buying papers or crowd-sourcing exam questions when they enroll in courses.  Students widely report that their decision to “cheat” was almost always instead taken at the last minute, under pressure, based on one or more of these 3 concerns:   

  1. Students placed a low value on what was to be learned
  2. Students had low expectations of success for themselves, whatever success meant to them
  3. Students believed cheating was widespread: “Everybody’s doing it—I’d be dumb not to”

Low value on learning required in this course

Strategies to increase value

  • Content doesn’t seem applicable
  • Assessment method doesn’t seem applicable in real life
  • Relationship with the instructor is not important

  • Convey value of the content for students (and what makes you, as their instructor, so enthusiastic about them learning it)
  • Convey value of the assessment method (similar to what they would do with the knowledge or skills in practice, or in the “real world”)
  • Use higher order questions – not based on memorization or speed; but requiring application and analysis
  • Build a relationship of mutual respect with your students – – not through threats, but through holding yourself and students to a high standard and through educational approaches

Low expectancy of success on this assessment/in this course

Strategies to increase expectancy of success

  • Last minute, poor planning, time crunch
  • Uncertainty about nature of exam, or assignment expectations
  • Instructor seems unapproachable, non-supportive, disinterested
  • “High stakes” grade for the assessment, or the course

  • Structure smaller assessments to build, incorporate staged pieces toward a larger project to be submitted at the end of the term (helps students stay on track and plan)
  • Negotiate or renegotiate due dates so that last-minute panic can be avoided
  • Provide practice and experience with the kind of assessment and questions to be used, avoid tricks or “out of left field” questions
  • Provide choice to students within certain constraints (e.g., either a video presentation or written report on an approved topic; contribute to 6/8 discussion threads over the term)
  • Avoid tying a lot of weight to a single assignment/test – this makes it higher stakes.
  • Note:  improving the expectancy of success is not the same as making the course “easier” – in this case, it is making the expectations and skills and effort needed to succeed transparent.  Students still have to do the work, but they know what the work involves.

Belief “everybody else is cheating”

Strategies to support the belief “Most people are doing their work honestly”

  • Student grape-vine, norms, “ways of doing things” in the student body
  • Advertising and student sharing of cheating sites and services
  • Instructor focus solely on “catching cheaters”

  • Avoid treating all students as though they will cheat when given the opportunity – it is demoralizing and builds a climate of mistrust
  • Students see that the opportunity for academic misconduct is restricted by the design and formats instructors choose for assessment
  • Students see that “cheaters” face consequences (be sure to follow up on suspected academic misconduct)
  • Students feel comfortable to ask questions about the rules for academic integrity in a course without repercussions or negative reactions (the rules can vary from course to course)
  • Students are supported to build their skills for learning and for academic integrity as well as are aware of the definitions of and policies for academic misconduct
  • Note:  there is an online academic tutorial for which students can present you with a certificate of completion.  You can also use the module content in your teaching and refine it to apply to your discipline/field or assessments.


Office Hours, Remotely

When we move to remote teaching, we need to consider how we will continue to provide students with student-instructor interaction. One way of offering this is through office hours. While we used to offer office hours outside of lecture or class time, now we might be able to leverage our scheduled class time to engage with students to discuss problems, specific questions, or examples.  Transmission of content (powerpoints, videos, readings, etc.)  can then be reallocated to asynchronous hours.

Determine if it best suits your course to offer:

  • group discussions,
  • individual consultations
  • drop-in sessions

Be consistent with whichever options you choose. Remind students often via email and course notifications.

Use the flow chart below to help you determine which options work best for your course.

PDF Version Office Hours, Remotely

Click on the image below to enlarge.

Studio-based Remote Teaching

Studio-based courses are about the process of observing, creating, critiquing, and refining over time. Students learn techniques and process, attempt them, compare what they have created to criteria, intent, or other works, and then refine or iterate. 

The 4 key elements for a studio-course include:

  1. Observing a demonstration of a process or the creation of a product
  2. Performing a process or create a product using appropriate materials or space
  3. Comparing, critiquing, or observing drafts and final products
  4. Refining, iterating, and revising to improve skills and observation

Observing and Performing a Process

Would you typically be present to observe students’ create some artifact of their learning and is this process an important part of your assessment? Or, would you typically demonstrate for your students the steps they will need to follow in creating an artifact of their learning? 

Since we are unable to come together in a studio space to demonstrate the process of learning, we will explore here some ideas and remote learning tools you and your students can use to share steps in a process, from beginning to completion. 

Asynchronous Sharing in Your Course

Process in ideal times might be something we think of as more continuous. If we are together in a studio environment, a fuller version of the process of creating a painting or drawing, for example, can be demonstrated and observed. In a remote setting, this process needs to be made a bit more concrete. What steps are essential and how will a student know what differentiates step one from step two? This relates to a concept known as threshold concepts, which is defined in the U of C’s guide as a “core idea that’s conceptually challenging for students, who struggle to grasp it—but once grasped, it radically transforms the students’ perception of the subject.”

If you are demonstrating a concept, you might consider using a tool such as Panotpo to record the whole or clearly differentiated parts of the process and post your video(s) in your course online so students can download and watch the video on their own time. 

Eportfolios for Documenting Process

If students are demonstrating a process, they can similarly record and upload their videos, photos, or other artifacts as they work through the process. You might consider setting a series of staggered deadlines to ensure you are able to provide students with formative feedback as they work through a process that might be new and difficult for them. To keep all of their work together and private, you can use an online portfolio tool (“eportfolio”), in which students post work that you are able to view on a continual basis. 

The advantage to using an eportfolio is, as stated, the artifacts posted are private so students feel more secure in posting artifacts of their learning they perhaps aren’t confident about yet, and you as the instructor are able to observe your students’ learning in progress rather than as a single artifact handed in at the end. A digital point of checkin like an online portfolio also avoids what I call the “sketchbook problem” that results from assigning a task that is meant to engage students in a learning process (keep a sketchbook all semester and add one drawing each week) that ultimately ends in a student spending several hours drawing and trying to layer aged-looking coffee stains in their sketchbook the night before it’s due. or are Usask supported tools students can use to create portfolios of work. Process pictures can be taken of studio art work and posted as in a portfolio. These can be shared with an instructor who is then able to provide feedback as work develops, submitted with final work, or shared for class critique. 

Comparisons, Master Studies, and Critiques

One of the bright spots of what we are experiencing in response to this pandemic is the unprecedented access we all currently have to online content and experiences. Use this to your and your students’ advantage. If you are asking your students to complete Master Studies, you can send them to galleries and museums virtually. Many galleries and museums now have very robust virtual exhibits, including the Virtual Museum, the Metis Museum, and this great list of virtual exhibits collected by The Guardian.

Synchronous Theatre Events

Theatres are also finding ways to perform in safe and relevant ways that can serve as an example of how to create active online events, livestream performances, and drop-in improv jams.

Digital Critiques and Exhibits

If your students have sufficient internet access, you can engage them in creating their own online exhibits. There are many tools that allow users to build their own 3D virtual art galleries. Two examples include Roomful and this list of five free and open source tools. 

If internet access is not so reliable, you can also set us critiques in your discussion forum. Students can post their work and comments on others, following feedback questions you can provide in advance that take “netiquette” into consideration. 

If you are still looking for solutions to the challenges you’ve identified in moving your studio-based course into the remote context, explore the fulsome “Z.O.M.B.I.E. Survival Guide for VCUarts,” which includes tips about expectations, strategies, apps, and even some templates for you to use. 

Online Sharing Circle

Technology is excellent at allowing us to work remotely, but it can be more challenging for building community or keeping a community strong. Technology’s strength is for communication and is not as robust for building connection, especially with larger groups.


The goal is to create the ‘lunchroom’ experience where people share and ground themselves within their respective working group/community. We believe that this type of opportunity will contribute to the art of kiyokiwin, coping with the social isolation, allowing people to raise topics outside of work priorities, better understanding of each other, and so much more. Online sharing circles could be used by instructors to facilitate “courageous curiosity” with “boundless collaboration” for “inspired communities” in their remote instruction.

Kiyokiwin is a Cree word for visiting, but it is also a means of knowledge transfer and sharing. Kiyokiwin is becoming a lost art due to a multitude of factors, one of them being technology, where we think we are connecting with others but it’s usually not at a deep enough level that fulfills our human need for connection.

Process: Four rounds of sharing (following traditional protocols)

  1. On a piece of paper, write down a word that sums up where you are at this morning. When directed, we will all at the same time hold up our words to the camera for all to see.
  2. Going around the circle, in 1-minute or less explain why you chose this word.
  3. What’s going on in your life right now that you want share with everyone? How is remote working going for you? (Or another question that is suitable for your group/meeting)
  4. On a piece of paper, write down another word (or the same one) that sums up where you are at this morning. Now hold it up to your camera for all to see.

Participant Roles and Responsibilities

  • If possible, enter the room with camera on and mic off. Seeing each other is important for the circle and giving our full attention to each other is a way to show respect.
  • Set your view to grid mode (this is on WebEx) so that you can see everyone, just like you would in a circle. This would apply for other meeting apps as well.
  • The facilitator will start the circles. This will likely be the meeting host. Wait for their direction.
  • Please avoid using the chat box. Just like we wouldn’t be texting in a circle, we want to give our attention to the person who is speaking.
  • If you’re having technical issues, please try leaving the room and rejoining.
  • Share what you need – surface level or a deep plunge. Just keep in mind that there is a set time for the meeting, and you want everyone to have the opportunity to share.

Facilitator Roles and Responsibilities

  • Similar to chairing a meeting, your responsibility is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to speak and to share.
  • You keep the momentum going, from one round to the next.
  • Assign a person to be the assistant before the meeting starts. The assistant will set the circle order, share it in the chat, and monitor the chat box for technical issues. The order will vary from week to week. The chat message can be worded like, “Imagine us seated in a circle for real.  At the start is (facilitator’s name), and to her left Person A, then Person B, …”.  The assistant will re-post the list if it gets bumped out of sight. If there is no chat on the app you are using, then it could simply be the names written on a piece of paper and the paper shared via camera to everyone. (with everyone’s audio off, the list of who speaks next will be good for the next person to prepare to turn their mic on.)
  • In an in-person talking circle, the direction of who goes next is to the left of the facilitator (clockwise), thus the comment about “imagine us seated in a circle”, it is a good idea to explain this as part of the talking circle protocols at the beginning.
  • You are not expected to answer questions or console someone, in an in-person talking circle, there would be an item that would be passed on to the next person, in an online format, you will be the one calling on the next person to speak. You can thank the previous person for sharing before calling the next person, but do not get into a back and forth discussion as this will disrupt the flow and power of the circle.
  • After everyone has held up their card in the 4th round, you thank everyone for sharing and explain that the purpose of the talking circle is not intended to be therapeutic (but it can be), rather it is an opportunity to share with others in a way that we may not necessarily be able to now that we are all working remotely.
  • You can end the meeting now if that was the purpose of it, or you can carry on to the next portion. Keep in mind that some people will need time to re-group, so if you have the option, call a break before getting to the next part of the meeting.
  • The first and last circle are nice ways to start and finish that can demonstrate the change in the group resulting from the talking circle. The 2nd and 3rd circles are amendable to different ideas for sharing related to the needs of the group. This can be open and expansive (how is working from home going?) or specific and intentional (describe challenges to ??) depending on the goals for the circle.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License by Rose Roberts with the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching & Learning at the University of Saskatchewan

Offering Seminar Courses Remotely

A good seminar is all about students thinking critically and deeply about ideas, and then building on the ideas of others. Face to face (F2F), that looks like a small group of students in discussion, lead by an instructor, TA, or even by another student or groups of students. In an online environment, seminars will work best if they occur asynchronously in the discussion boards in an LMS (Canvas, Blackboard).  If the group is small enough (think about a dozen students), some type of synchronous tool, like WebEX, can allow students to talk to each other at the same time. 

The 4 key elements for a seminar that need to be replicated during remote instruction include:

  1. A prompt or text(s) that the student considers independently in advance
  2. Guiding questions that require analysis, synthesize and/or evaluation of ideas
  3. The opportunity to share personal thinking with a group
  4. Ideas being developed, rejected, and refined over time based on everyone’s contributions

Giving students a prompt and guiding questions is best done in written form in remote instruction. Like F2F instruction, a rich prompt with lots to think about and some guiding questions that help students consider the prompt are essential.  In a F2F class, student often choose to respond more to certain questions than others as a class discussion progresses.  In a discussion board, you usually provide choice to accomplish the same thing, for example:  “Please select one of four discussion threads for this week.  Post a short initial response of 100 words or less.  Then read the comments of other students and select two to engage with.  Consider building on the ideas of others students, posing questions, or add resources related to the topic as a part of your response to others.”

Sharing Thinking Asynchronously (at different times) in Canvas or Blackboard
While some students are actually more comfortable is responding to online discussion boards, many do better if they have a sense of who they are speaking with and what is appropriate. Students need specific guidance and support for how to develop, reject, and refine ideas appropriately in your course. 

  1. If you want students to share well, consider requiring an initial post where you and students introduce yourselves and share a picture.
  2. Describe your expectations for norms in how everyone will behave online
  3. Provide a lot of initial feedback about the quality of posting.  Consider giving samples of good and bad posts, and remember to clarify your marking criteria. Focus your expectations on the quality of comments, and set maximums for the amount you expect to reduce your marking load and keep the discussions high quality.
  4. Someone will need to moderate the discussion. That includes posting the initial threads, reading what everyone posts all weeks and commenting to keep the discussion flowing.  Likely, the same person (you or a TA) will also be grading and providing private feedback to each student. Consider making the moderation of a discussion an assignment in your course. You can moderate the first few weeks to demonstrate what you want, and groups of students can moderate other weeks. It can increase engagement if done well, and definitely decreases your work load.

Sharing Thinking Synchronously in Web EX
If your class is small, you can still use a synchronous (the class meets at the same time) discussion. You should still start with introductions and need to explain how the sharing process will work. Teach everyone to mute when not speaking, and turn off their cameras if they have bandwidth issues. Use the chat so people can agree and add ideas as other people are speaking, and teach people to raise their hands or add emoticons in the participants window to help you know who wants to speak next.

Student Presentation Within the Seminar

If you usually have or would like to start using student presentations within your seminar, students this can be accomplished in several ways.

  1. Have students use Panopto for student presentations
  2. Have students record their presentation with their cell phones and upload them to Canvas or Blackboard.
  3. If your class is small, have student deliver their presentations asynchronously through WebEx



Making the Most of Synchronous Lectures

Synchronous lectures are likely to seem awkward for the first while, but by following the suggestions below you’ll be making the most of your time together and building a community of learners. 

Synchronous lectures mean that you and students are “together” using an online platform or tool in real time.  When you choose to teach in real time, you are deciding that a schedule will be set, you will teach at that time, and students will attend at that time. Students will need to ensure that their schedules are free and they have the necessary hardware (e.g., computer, mic, webcam) and a fast enough internet connection. The supported tool for synchronous lectures at USask is Webex.

Our suggestion, generally, is that the use of synchronous sessions are limited and are saved for topics and activities that must be done synchronously to be effective. If you identify topics like that in your course and decide that synchronous sessions will be flexible enough for you and your students and want to make the most of them, please consider the following suggestions.

Essential Strategies

  • Set norms for how students should interact with you and others in the virtual environment. For example, typically everyone should keep their microphone turned off unless speaking
  • Record the sessions to ensure that if a student cannot attend, that they are still able to review the class
  • Pause regularly and ask for questions. Direct students as to whether or not they should use the chat or the microphone to ask their questions. Be sure to give enough wait-time for students to think and respond!
  • Focus the synchronous lecture on topics and ideas that the students can’t easily learn another way (e.g., through reading the textbook)

Best Practices

  • If possible, have a second instructor, such as a TA, monitor the chat window. This person can either answer the questions in the chat as you go, or they can summarize and respond to the questions using the microphone during breaks in the flow of the lecture. It can be very hard for one instructor to keep up with a lecture and the questions, especially as the group size increases
    • If you can’t get a second instructor, consider having a different student take on this role each class
  • Do a quick social check-in off the start of class. Rather than wait in silence, take the moments while everyone is entering the session to chat with the students 
  • If the class is small in size, ask students to keep their cameras on. This will create greater sense of community
  • In the days or hours leading up to the synchronous lecture, do some polling to assess prior knowledge. This could be administered as a quiz or survey. Adapt your lecture content and delivery based on the results
  • Polling can also be used during the lecture after a point of expected difficulty. This could be done quite easily using the raise hand feature, the chat box, or even the built-in polling tool in Webex. Web-based polling tools can also work by sharing your screen.
    • Whatever method you choose, get students to pick a side and then ensure that you take the time after the poll closes to describe why the various answers are right and wrong
  • After class, create asynchronous discussions in Blackboard or Canvas to allow students to further engage with one another and the lecture topics
  • Consider using breakout rooms to split students into smaller groups for portions of the lecture. In these smaller groups they can engage in discussions around the topics you just covered.
    • Note: you will need to use Webex Training Center, rather than standard Webex Meetings to use breakout rooms

Simple Strategies to Elevate your Asynchronous Delivery

By now you are probably familiar with the concept of asynchronous remote learning. If not, asynchronous learning means you and students are not limited by timing.  You are deciding that students can engage with the material on their schedule, at times, and places when they may have better bandwidth and other kinds of capacity. 

As you can imagine, asynchronous learning can be of varying quality; therefore, here are some tips and ideas to keep in mind to help make the most of your asynchronous design. One important way to make the most of your asynchronous learning is to finalize the learning materials (e.g., creation of lecture videos, suggested readings, discussion topics) during the term, which allows you to respond to students’ areas of interests or difficulties, and their feedback/suggestions, as you go. 

Post and organize your learning materials within a learning management system (either Blackboard or Canvas)

  • Organize your posted content into short chunks, ideally within learning modules. This holds true for both videos and readings
  • If using videos, make each separate idea its own video
  • When using text, use white space and headings to make text easier to process
  • Name course content and files in a consistent way 
  • Place content in a suggested order with a suggested timeline
  • Use analytics features inside of Blackboard or Canvas to help you know what students are viewing and reading. Check in with students that seem to be falling behind

Include student comprehension checks with feedback

  • Students can easily overestimate how much they are learning while viewing and reading
  • Prior to having students view or read content, ask them to complete an ungraded quiz or a set of self-check questions. This will help prepare them for the new learning
  • If creating videos, pose questions to students throughout your presentation and ask them to pause the video
    • An example of this would be to ask students to make a prediction. It helps focus their learning as the video continues
    • If you are used to using polling, such as Top Hat, this is a simple way to reuse the questions you have already created as part of your teaching
  • Similarly, after students have viewed or read a chunk of content, ask them to complete a quiz (ideally automated with built-in feedback). This should still be ungraded as the students are still learning. You could even give multiple attempts to allow them to continue practicing
  • As the instructor, review the students’ results on the quiz and follow-up with necessary resources or a synchronous session

Opportunities for active and social learning

  • As with above, quizzes can be used to promote active learning as they progress through the chunks of content
  • Structure these active learning opportunities from easy to hard to build confidence and mastery. If using Canvas, you can explore using Mastery Paths
  • Use discussion boards as a way for students to be able to engage with the content in a social manner. Here are a variety of ways to structure discussions
    • If using discussions, share with students examples of good discussion posts to help them meet your expectations
    • If grading discussions, grade based on the quality of the posts

Keeping these tips in mind when designing your asynchronous lectures, will help ensure that your students are better engaged in your learning. The comprehension checks and active learning will also help you see how students are doing and where they need extra assistance. These areas of difficulty are ideal places to intersperse synchronous sessions (e.g., Webex)!

Identifying Placements that work for Remote Learning

Your “placement” may be a practicum course or may be work-place or community-based learning experiences built into a course.  In either the longer or shorter duration, these opportunities are valued by students as a means to improve skills and refine understanding by practicing and receiving feedback in a professional setting.  Also, students appreciate the chance to build their networks and resumes for their future careers.

Availability of placement partners?

In the remote context, we know that our usual partners may find themselves less able to take students on.  Even if they want a student, they may also need to reduce the number of people in their physical settings.  You may help your partners see possibilities by asking them about opportunities for remote-working for that student, or new projects that are entirely suitable and do not require regular or any physical presence by the student.

In addition to working with your usual partners, you could expand your search for partners by leveraging USask’s new partnership with Riipen. Riipen can be used by instructors in any course looking to incorporate work-integrated learning, community-engaged learning, placements, internships, or practica. It can be used to streamline existing partnerships and to find new ones locally, nationally, and internationally. Contact the Student Employment and Career Centre to learn more.

Tapping into student networks for placements?

Student situations may vary and affect options in ways you don’t expect.  Many students may not move to Saskatoon this fall.  But, they may be able to identify new opportunities for placements where they are living that actually work well.  This might even expand options significantly. Consider reaching out to the students in the course to ask them about their locations and ideas for placement options that fit the criteria you set out.  You can make use of the Survey Monkey tool, which is supported by USask.

Structures for success?

Ensure you and your partners can support, supervise, and assess students to an appropriate extent.  The nature of the support, supervision, and assessment will likely be different.  Consider how you can keep to the core principles you use during normal times and find technology enhanced approaches that may work adequately, just as well, or even better.

You may find the following resources useful:

Back up plans?

Create contingency plans in case the experience is interrupted for any reason.  If there was an outbreak in the location of your student, or your student or their worksite needed to take quarantine measures, develop a plan for a reasonable response.  Having a plan for this kind of disruption will help you, your students, and your partners proceed more confidently.  And, it will also make you all feel equipped to make a good decision on the side of safety.

For more on student placements for remote learning see Preparing and Supporting Students in Remote-context Placements.