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The Study Hall

Preparing Your Canvas: Buttons!

This is the seventh entry in my Preparing Your Canvas series, documenting Northern Kentucky University's transition from Blackboard to Canvas. If you want to start from the beginning, here's the rest in chronological order:

Preparing Your Canvas: Starting a new LMS

Preparing Your Canvas: In the Trenches

Preparing Your Canvas: Round Two...Fight!

Preparing Your Canvas: Stand Alone Complex

Preparing Your Canvas: Ekphrasis

Preparing Your Canvas: All Together Now

Fall 2017 is here! In the week leading up to our first day of classes emails flew, meetings were had, phone calls were panicked, and the campus network temporarily became a frenzied beehive of preparation for the incoming students. This year is the voluntary year for NKU; faculty have the option of switching at any point, up to the end of May. At the end of May, Blackboard goes away (it rhymes — try it out). However, about 1/4 of all our Fall courses look to be delivered in Canvas, which is great for our first semester. And all of that is really important. But you know what's more important? Buttons.

It's hard to over-emphasize just how much people got excited about making graphics, placing them on Content Pages, and then making them links to other parts of their course. Part of the strong response stems from the relative inability of Blackboard to handle this kind of functionality. This left the design team with a question: how much do we focus on what the participating instructors are excited about, and should we pull time from what they are "supposed" to be learning right now? Do we let participants steer the class, or do we keep them on rails to reach our pre-ordained destination? The temptation, especially when you only have about 20 hours of delivery time at most to work with, is to clamp down. Despotism can be so easy. Without veering too much myself, a lot of my personal growth this past year has been in meditating on the difference between contradiction and contrariety. Contradiction sets up an opposition with no middle:

"We can either learn what you want to learn, or what I have planned for you to learn."

Only one of us gets to be right. Contrariety takes a different approach; it frames the problem not as an either/or, but as a question of allocation or intensity.

"How are we using our time currently? What ways could we use our available time?"

For me, it was reframing the question in this way that made building a separate course, Canvas-201 make sense. I also think the enthusiasm towards making buttons speaks to the fundamentally creative nature of the instructor. The definition of creativity that I have found the most useful is the ability to connect concepts. We could also say that part of the function of an instructor is to help learners connect concepts. Providing instructors the means to functionally express their creativity was an easy decision to make. So, let's (finally) take a look at Canvas-201:

-Module 1 goes over the kinds of functions graphics can serve in your course: Interactive, Informative, Organizational, Decorative.

-Module 2 lays out some guidelines for things you should and should not do when making your graphics.

-Module 3 walks through the process of actually building a graphic and deploying it to a Canvas course.

In building Canvas-201, we chose to do everything in Powerpoint. We can guarantee all our faculty have access to the program, and they probably have some familiarity with it already through making presentations. In addition to talking about how to make graphics, it was a design goal to have the course model its principles. So every graphic inside the course was also created using Powerpoint. For similar reasons we also chose to pull all the photography from one website — Pixabay. Module 3 is what most faculty were interested in, as it contains the actual tutorials for how to make images in Powerpoint. The tutorials try to cover a range of styles, and some of them are... basic. However, each tutorial builds upon the previous, and each provides a critical skill or strategy that can be employed in a variety of ways.

And guess what? If you're interested, you can go through the course, too. Just go to the course homepage and enroll. You will need an account with, but that's free.

Keep Learning,

Nicholas Jones
Instructional Designer, Northern Kentucky University