Today we’re introducing a new feature for Focus – interviews with our Canvas Fellows. We joined Dr. Aleda Chen from the School of Pharmacy for our first chat. Check out the recording or read the transcript below.
Lauren Eissler: Today I’m talking with Aleda Chen from the School of Pharmacy and one of our Canvas Fellows. Aleda, thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Aleda Chen: I’m happy to chat with you.
Lauren: So first of all, can you please describe your role here at Cedarville.
Aleda: Yes, so I am the assistant dean in the School of Pharmacy, and within the School of Pharmacy that means I oversee assessment so that our students are learning what they’re actually supposed to learn, and I also oversee research within the School of Pharmacy, and then I teach in the pharmacy program and do research myself.
Lauren: Oh that’s so cool. That sounds like a wide variety of things both practical and theoretical, so that’s really interesting.
Aleda: Yes, it’s nice to be able to plan out something and actually try it out in the classroom.
Lauren: That’s so awesome. So we recently swapped over Canvas. When working with Canvas, what features or tools have you and your colleagues gravitated toward?
Aleda: I think one of the biggest things I’ve heard both my faculty talk about, as well as I really enjoyed and then also my students, is the calendar feature. So we really like the fact that particularly within the pharmacy program since they’re all taking our classes, they’ve got one integrated calendar with all of their due dates, deadlines, when they’re supposed to be in class, and so it really helps them know what they’re supposed to be doing and kind of helps to manage their time well. We use a flipped classroom so our students do a lot of pre-class work, so this makes sure that they’re really on track with everything.
I think that’s been one of our favorite features. I also hear my faculty talk a lot about how they like the clean, kind of modern look to Canvas. They like the to-do list feature where you can see all the work that you need to get done, that’s been really nice, and I think the last thing that that many of us have enjoyed is the SpeedGrader feature, particularly the ability to annotate and make notes on assignments. We do use the Turnitin platform as well, but we really like the ability to annotate and make notes on patient cases or whatever students are doing.
Lauren: That annotation ability is so cool, and I can only imagine how much time it would save instead of pulling papers into an outside platform to do that same kind of commenting and feedback on student work.
Aleda: Yes, it’s much better than downloading into word or if it’s not in Word, pulling up a PDF and commenting in PDF, and yes it’s much better.
Lauren: So what features or capabilities within Canvas have been particularly useful within your discipline, within pharmacy?
Aleda: Yes so one of the features I use quite a lot is the updated quiz feature because we use that flipped classroom. I create a lot of pre-class content that gives students content as well as the opportunity to work through kind of knowledge-based questions in advance because when they come into the classroom, I really want them to move to the upper levels of Bloom’s from the knowledge base to more the application in analyzing, etc. So by having that kind of new quiz feature where they can get content, stimuli, videos, pictures, diagrams, maybe some words, and then have practice questions I’ve already got one level of knowledge done before they come into the classroom. That’s been really helpful in Canvas.
Lauren: So you’re using those quizzes as a way to check their knowledge as they’re working through the content?
Aleda: Yes, formative assessment essentially.
Lauren: That’s so cool. So we touched on this a little bit with SpeedGrader but how has Canvas saved you time throughout the school year?
Aleda: So I think one of the things Canvas has saved my time is I appreciate having the phone app, so well it’s good and bad, right, because then Canvas is on your phone. But you know even the SpeedGrader works on my phone, so if I’m traveling or if I have time in an evening where I don’t necessarily have my laptop with me, I can actually take care of some things in Canvas: post announcements, SpeedGrade, whatever it may be, and that’s been a nice ability to use short amounts of time to help keep my students engaged in the classroom.
Another way that Canvas has saved time, I think, is the templates. So I don’t have to think through each page, how I want it to look; I use the template and then maybe tweak it a little bit for that need. But it’s standardized for my students, which is good for them, and then it’s also standardized for me so that I’m systematically doing all my pages. So it saves me time about thinking of how should I set this up.
Lauren: I know that SpeedGrader has been something that’s been very useful to me because it is on my phone or an iPad, so the little chunks of time that you don’t think about when you’re sitting there for 45 minutes getting your hair bleached before you get it dyed. I’ve sat there and graded papers before just because SpeedGrader does allow you to use those small chunks of time you otherwise wouldn’t have accessible with a laptop or other devices.
Aleda: I’ve also really enjoyed the video feature for giving feedback so I’ve started using that for my students so typing comments sometimes that is faster but sometimes some are giving that annotated feedback and then doing a video summary of what they did well and areas that they could improve has been really nice and actually more efficient because then I’m just kind of talking through it versus typing and thinking and all those things so that’s also been a nice feature.
Lauren: And it adds that personal connection of them actually getting to see you and hear your voice which they see you in class anyways but it’s always a nice touch to have that personal kind of connection with an instructor.
Aleda: Absolutely and we do have a few online classes within the school pharmacy so for those students that don’t get to see me that’s nice too.
Lauren: Mm-hmm they still get to see you. So what advice would you give to a faculty member who’s hesitant about diving deeper into using Canvas, they’re staying maybe at surface level or just with some of the basics at the moment but…
Aleda: So I think it’s about trying to push yourself further each time. So if I tried the first time I used Canvas to use every feature, I would have been completely overwhelmed. So I started with the Canvas demo last spring and so I used, I started using the features, playing around with it, and as I’ve done each semester of using Canvas, I’ve added on another layer of things. And I think if you take small steps it really helps, so find the next thing that might really help engage your students or save you time. It may take a little bit of time to learn it upfront but thankfully you know there’s a lot of help pages with Canvas tutorials, Canvas chat, all those things, or one of your other colleagues to help you figure it out. And I think taking those little steps will really help you in the long run to make it easier. I mean the gradebook is great, there are so many features of Canvas that once you get used to them, they really do save you time.
Lauren: And baby steps seem to be the best thing with most technology but especially with a service like Canvas that has so many features if … I know that I jumped in and tried to use everything at once it would have been terrifying, so even from my side, learning Canvas bit by bit as I need to know new pieces or as people have questions, it’s been very helpful and instrumental to what I’m able to now do in Canvas.
Aleda: Yes, I mean a good, you know after you do the basics of Canvas, a good first step is having students turn in assignments and using SpeedGrader. I think that’s, you know, a nice feature that once you get used to how it approaches, it’s really gonna save you time, and it’s good for your students – they get faster feedback instead of waiting for papers to be returned to them.
Lauren: Exactly, so with how you’ve been using Canvas how has it helped your students learn efficiently and effectively?
Aleda: Well I think there’s there’s a couple ways that that they can use it efficiently and effectively. So when you use Canvas, students have one place for all their learning resources. They may have supplemental resources that they need to pull, but the key information for the course is located in one place electronically, they can access it from anywhere. I think they also appreciate having the app because then they get notified on their phone when there’s an announcement or different things due for the course, so that’s been helpful for them to stay on top of their work. And I think having some of the features, whether it’s feedback with SpeedGrader so they can see their comments in perpetuity or they can access past assignments or look at different resources has been really helpful for them. And also just just the ability to do those advanced quizzes with them so we have resources to keep checking their knowledge and keep making sure that they’re progressing for it and what they know.
I think those have all been really good things, at least that’s the feedback I’ve gotten from them. I think another thing they really like is the integration with Google, so now I can have students turn in Google Docs in class, and I love that. That has been actually amazing for me because that also adds another layer of just ease in the classroom. I post Google Docs for them to do an in-class activity, they make a copy of it do their work, put the link in, and it’s faster for all of us. And then if I need to change a line item on us, I mean, I’m not re-uploading another word doc or PDF or anything like that – I can just make the change in Google Doc.
Lauren: That’s so easy for everybody on all sides.
Aleda: Yes, so it saves us all time.
Lauren: That’s so awesome. So thank you so much for chatting with me today, Aleda, I really appreciate it.
Aleda: Oh, sure, happy to.