Category Archives: Social Media

Canva Convert

When I first started using Canva a few years ago, I was, well, rather meh about the whole experience. I wanted to make YouTube channel art for my professional writing course, and I muddled through with a series of free icons in complementary colors.

This semester, however, I’m making new graphics every week! I change out the header for my online freshman writing class with important reminders:

Exercise deadline reminder

Midterm Exam reminder

Week 10 topic announcement with activity reminder

Week 11 topic

I also have turned to Canva to create graphics for Kahoot! review quizzes for my capstone English majors and minors. Students need to recognize specific passages from major works of American and British literature, and it’s easy to paste in the text I need with some labeled-for-reuse images:

quote from Waiting for Godot

Who wrote it? Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

first four lines of The Negro Speaks of Rivers

Who wrote it? Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”


Frequency of Contact for Online Courses?

At the start of a new academic term, I always wonder how often I should e-mail / tweet / message students in my online courses.

How much e-contact do students expect (or even want) from their instructors?

close up of someone checking a smartphone

morgueFile photo from

Typically, at the start of each new week, I post a description of the activities, assignments, and deadlines to the news forum in each class and automatically broadcast that message to all enrolled students’ campus e-mail addresses. I will admit, too, that I have taught certain courses so many times that I have standard messages (some of them several paragraphs long with embedded images) ready to go out for week 5 or week 10.

It’s easy for a student to delete and/or ignore these messages, however, and some might not even check their University accounts regularly. If this were a traditional, face-to-face class, students who attended would see and hear from me two to three times each week. I would probably remind them Monday, Wednesday, and Friday about a Saturday deadline.

I don’t want to be too annoying, either. Am I going overboard with an e-mail, a tweet, and a text 24-48 hours before a deadline? Or is such redundancy key to reach as many students as possible and to make them feel connected? It’s so easy to feel alone and isolated when you’re sitting in front of a screen typing up discussion replies!

Of course, these aren’t new questions. Research goes back well over a decade regarding e-mail contacts, but I have to wonder if different avenues, particularly ones that easily reach students’ cell phones, make a difference.

TypeForm Review

I currently use Google forms for multiple work tasks, especially gathering student feedback and quickly assessing writing samples. Most of my students will encounter at least one, if not a dozen, Google forms over the course of a semester, like the one below from a freshman-level technical writing class.

screen capture of a google form for a group evaluation

I like being able to export the resulting data as an Excel spreadsheet, not to mention sharing any particular form results with another Google user. But I always like to try out other free online form sites, so today, I’m taking a look at Typeform.

I signed up for a free account and then skipped the overview video (I always do this, to get a sense for how intuitive the user interface is). Creating a new form is as simple as clicking on the box with the big + sign and then choosing a template or “from scratch.” I counted about 37 different templates, with themes like student satisfaction, teacher evaluation, sports sign-up, party RSVP, self-evaluation, and so on. I selected the Demographic Survey and got this:

choosing a demographic survey

It was pretty easy to figure out that the next step would be “Customize this template” in the bottom right corner, and as you might expect with a template, it’s pre-populated with several questions. Hover over a question bar with the mouse, and you get a menu on the far right that lets you modify and/or delete that specific item. Click on the question bar, and you enter the editing menu, which allows you to set whether or not the answer choices are randomized or required.


Adding a new question type is as basic as drag-n-drop. With the opinion scale, I could add an image or even video, as long as the file size was relatively small — great for creating student quizzes.

dragging a new question type into the form

Once the form is ready to go, you click “Distribute” to get the stable URL and scripts / codes to add the form to a web page.

Overall, I think that the results that the end user sees would be far more visually impressive than a Google form, especially since it’s so easy to render answer choices with graphics. As someone who creates forms on a computer with a keyboard, however, sometimes I really appreciate the bare-bones options. I suspect that tablet users will enjoy the drag-n-drop functionality of TypeForm.

Interested in learning more? Check out their samples gallery.

Different Deadlines, Different Grades?

picture of a calendar counting down to a deadlines


In college lingo, DFW isn’t an airport in Texas. Instead, it refers to the number of students who earn a “D” or “F” in a course or who withdraw (“W”) from the class in the middle of the term. At my university, courses like College Algebra, Freshman Composition, and Elementary Spanish have high D/F/W rates. These classes are tracked carefully not only by administrators but also by faculty, because everyone wants students to move towards graduation. Not too surprisingly, many courses with D/F/W issues are online.

As an online course instructor, I have control over how many assignments I give, how much supplementary materials I provide, and how much gentle pushing I give to students. I always keep in mind the accepted definition of a college credit hour — 1 hour in class, 2 hours outside of class — which means that a course like mine, which is worth 3 credit hours, should have around 9 hours of work each week or a total of 130 hours for the semester.

Currently I ask my students to do one major project and one minor one by midterms, which happen in week 8 of the semester. Everything else can be submitted by a deadline during the first part of finals week. Time management, personal responsibility, all that good stuff, right? They can spread out the 130 hours as they see fit.

Yet if students have 100 hours of work to do in the last week of the semester, that isn’t pretty for anyone. I contact students periodically throughout the course, particularly those who haven’t logged in for several days and those who haven’t made much progress, to pester them about the work. Many start the assignments but then give up in the face of such a mountain.

How can I get more students to do the work in a timely fashion, ideally bringing down the D/F/W rate, without drastically increasing my efforts in grading, coaching, and cajoling? Here is what I have tried for my online class:

  • Having hard weekly due dates for small chunks of the work. Problem: too many students missed the deadlines and got zeros.
  • Having softer weekly due dates with full credit available, but late submissions accepted for partial credit. Problem: I had to check the date on 40 different tweets per student for 32 different students. Multiply this by a dozen other projects, and you might see where I started to lose sleep.
  • Having “early review” deadlines, where students who submit the assignments by a specific date get my feedback and an “as-is” grade but can redo everything for a higher score. Problem: very few took advantage of the opportunity.

I haven’t gone to multiple-choice exams, which would be far easier on me but pretty useless for students learning to USE social media professionally. I could cut down on the projects, but then I’d fall short of the 130-hour mark, and I don’t think it’s right to give students just 50 hours of work for a 3-credit-hour course.

Here is my brilliant plan for the spring!

  • For one project, allow students to choose 3 of 4 options rather than asking them to complete all 4. The 4th will be replaced with an intensive self-reflection survey about social media use, procrastination, and online courses. “Survey” is much less threatening than “critique” or “project.”
  • Reinstate the soft review deadline for the major online portfolio. Students who submit complete projects will get a full rubric review, with comments, and the chance to revise and resubmit for a final score.
  • Create two deadlines at the end of the semester. The first will be for those students who want the chance to earn an “A” or a “B” in the class. All work must be submitted by then. Everyone else will have an additional week, but the highest possible grade will be a “C” regardless of the quality and completeness of the assignments (almost all students in the class in question must make a “C” for it to count towards their degree).

I am hoping that the dual deadline system will encourage students to push for the first “A”/”B” date but allow them the fallback of an additional seven days and a passing grade.

Tweeting about Cheating

On occasion, I see tweets where students offer to pay someone to write a paper or promise answers to an online course lab (for a fee).

I don’t get it.

Yes, I went to a college with a strict Honor Code. If you cheated, you ran the risk of being expelled (or separated from the campus community, which is the same thing in nicer phrasing).

But more than that, I wanted to learn and master my course material. Physical chemistry was HARD, but I worked through pages and pages of triple integrals to learn that my system was at equilibrium and the answer was, in fact, zero. I wrote papers about difficult literary theories and boring poems because it was a challenge and I felt up to it. Besides, I wasn’t paying thousands of dollars to take shortcuts. I wanted an education, not just a worthless degree.

I might note that when I tell my students that no, I never cheated in school, they don’t believe me. Apparently “everyone cheats.”

Again, I don’t get it. If you’re going to cheat, which is a violation of academic policy at pretty much any university, why broadcast it on Twitter? Why use a school-related hashtag so administrators and the world can see?

“But it’s a stupid class and a stupid assignment,” one might argue. So don’t do the assignment, I would respond. Take the “F” that you deserve for not doing the work, or, better yet, do the darn work. There’s a reason that not that many people have a college degree. It’s supposed to take some effort.

Get off of Twitter and write your paper. Even a bad paper is better than a zero or a conduct violation mark on your record. Take the $20 you would have spent buying lab answers on brain food, caffeine, and whatever else you need before you plant yourself at a computer and start on your assignments.

/ off minor rant

Moving Discussions Out of the LMS

I don’t know why I haven’t done it before — holding discussions for an online class outside of the institutional CMS / LMS.

It’s probably partly because I know the importance of interactive discussions and that my classes are checked for discussion activities. It’s partly habit, that I’ve been doing discussions in the CMS for a while now. It’s partly that I want students to have some reason to click into the course site once a week!

So here’s what I’m doing this summer. Every Sunday for 10 weeks, students will be greeted by discussion directions at the top of the online course home page. We’ll be spending 2 weeks working in 5 different platforms: blogs, GoogleDocs, wikis, Nearpod, and Edmodo. The first two help introduce some of the projects that students will be doing (namely, a blog project and a Google Docs project) but also, I hope, show them some of the possibilities of these tools.

Our Week 1 discussion was held in a WordPress blog created specifically for the purposes of discussion. The first entry gives a list of sample blogs which students were supposed to browse; they responded with ideas about blog uses in their future careers. The second entry goes over the importance of LinkedIn, with a how-to video, and students responded with the public URL to their new profile.

The Week 2 discussion encourages students to start their Twitter project and surreptitiously shows them how they might leverage the email-to-blog feature in their own careers, by asking them to send a Twitter review to the secret address for a WordPress blog.

screen shot of discussion blog

What do I hope will happen, with discussions moved into the public web-o-sphere?

  • students will be more careful and thoughtful with their responses, since their real names are attached
  • the social media tools we’re discussing will seem more real and relevant as they work with them directly
  • students will be exposed to more tools than the class ever has covered before — this is the first time I’m including Nearpod and Edmodo, so there will be blog posts about those experiences later in the summer!

Cheating 2.0

It’s easier than ever to cheat via cell phone–text a friend, take a photo of the exam sheet, do a quick under-the-desk Google search.

Stats on cell phone cheating from Wikimedia Commons

Stats on cell phone cheating from Wikimedia Commons

I hear time and time again from my current students that anyone who graduated at the top of his or her high school class was a professional cheater. People rationalize that “there’s other people getting better grades than me and they’re cheating. Why am I not going to cheat? It’s kind of almost stupid if you don’t.”

That’s the bottom line: getting an “A” in everything. As the Center for Academic Integrity notes, “Grades, rather than education, have become the major focus of many students.”

How do you know that everyone else is cheating? Sure, depending on the study, anywhere from 30% to 98% of high school and college students have cheated on an assignment, but let’s be clear…

AN assignment. In the previous YEAR.

Not everyone is cheating on everything, all the time. Most students are doing their own work, and it’s unfair to those who are trying that a few choose to take a shortcut.

You’ve heard that before…cheating just hurts you because you aren’t learning…cheating impacts the rest of the class…but do you really understand? Teddi Fishman, with the Center for Academic Integrity, recently gave a presentation to the university faculty where she shared a very effective example:

Your teacher walks in and says she doesn’t know the best way to do an assignment. Therefore, all students in the first row will write a 1000-word paper, all students in the second row will write 2000 words, and all students in the back will be required to submit a 3000-word essay. No worries, though — the paper is worth 20% of everyone’s grade regardless of the word count.

How would you feel? Wouldn’t you be furious that you had to write 3 times as much as another student for the same credit?

Yet that’s what cheating does, Dr. Fishman explained. Cheaters expect the same credit for far less work.

And seriously? Quit stressing over your GPA unless you want to go to a top 10 graduate program, law school, or medical school. Many employers don’t care. Some quotes for thought…

Besides, if “everyone knows” that only cheaters get a 4.0, who would hire someone with that unethical GPA anyway?