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Moving to Canvas: Nicky Didicher, English – Part 2

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Nicky Didicher

In November 2012 we spoke with Nicky Didicher, a senior lecturer in the Department of English, about her plan to teach a pilot course in Canvas in January 2013. Recently we checked back to see how she was finding the new learning management system (LMS).

Perhaps not surprisingly for someone who has used and felt at home in WebCT for a number of years, she admits to a certain amount of ambivalence. For now, she’s prepared to say that Canvas is “slightly better” than WebCT. “It just has different pluses and minuses.”

What she likes about Canvas

The “pluses” Didicher lists reflect Canvas’s simplicity and ease of use. Among her likes:

- The clean look of the user interface
- The ability to open and work in multiple courses simultaneously
- The ease of linking to files and external resources

Her students have also commented positively on the look of Canvas and the ability it gives them to view all courses in one place and to see their marks as a cumulative percentage.

The challenges she is facing

The “minuses,” for Didicher, tend to be connected to cases in which Canvas requires her to modify practices that she developed and used in WebCT. For example, unlike WebCT, Canvas provides only a single discussion board. That restricts Didicher’s ability to create multiple discussion groups as she has in the past. Another example is the peer review function in Canvas. Didicher likes the function, which allows students to give feedback on one another’s assignments. However, the tool works only with completed assignments, and she would like her students to be able to comment on draft versions.

For SFU’s Canvas implementation team, the feedback from Didicher and other instructors involved in the pilot project has been valuable in determining priorities for system development. The team recently identified options that will allow instructors and students to organize their discussions in more sophisticated ways, and other capabilities are being added on a regular basis.

The conversion process

What about the process of moving her course content from WebCT to Canvas? Didicher’s PowerPoint files transferred smoothly, but a glitch caused the apostrophes in her HTML content to disappear. More significantly, a glossary she created in WebCT to provide definitions of highlighted words in her course material couldn’t be converted. Fortunately, she says she has received excellent support from the learning technology specialists in the Teaching and Learning Centre.

The implementation team will be hiring additional support staff during the summer semester to help instructors who plan to use Canvas for their courses in fall 2013.

Final thoughts

Given the adjustments that she has had to make, Didicher is glad that she had the chance to test Canvas in a class of 11 students before moving her large courses of 250+ students over in the fall semester.

“I’m by no means technology-friendly,” says Didicher, despite her experience with learning management systems. “I use technology for pedagogical reasons, not personal reasons. [But] if I have to do a slight amount of learning in order to make the classroom experience better, that’s okay.”

Related links

One-on-one Canvas help for instructors: Contact Learn Tech in the Teaching and Learning Centre

Canvas support website for instructors and students: www.sfu.ca/canvas

Moving to Canvas: Nicky Didicher, English – Part 1

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

SFU will begin large-scale migration of courses from WebCT to the Canvas learning management system in May 2013. A number of instructors will pilot Canvas-based courses in January 2013. The “Moving to Canvas” series tracks their progress.

Nicky Didicher

Instructor: Nicky Didicher, Senior Lecturer, Department of English

Course: ENGL 420 Topics in Eighteenth-Century Literature

The challenges

  • Move course from WebCT to Canvas without sacrificing capabilities and content
  • Recreate existing glossary feature
  • Set up multiple discussion boards
  • Enable feature for group work, peer feedback, and group discussions

The plan

Nicky Didicher teaches English courses at various levels and makes extensive use of WebCT. She first tried Canvas as a faculty volunteer this past summer. Her assessment: “I like the way it looks … but I’m worried it won’t have the [required] functionality.” Her needs will be a good test for the implementation team.

Didicher will teach three courses in January. She chose ENGL 420 for her pilot project “partly because it uses wikis, partly because it has only 18 students, and partly because I have taught it four times already.” If the process goes well with this small, familiar course, she will convert her other courses, some of which have more than 100 students.

ENGL 420 employs a wiki for work sharing and peer feedback by student groups, multiple discussion boards (for example, a “missed lecture notes” board and an anonymous feedback board) for communication, and a hyper-linked glossary, created by Didicher, to explain course-related terms and concepts.

At present, she says Canvas seems to permit only a single discussion board, and the wiki option seems to restrict posting privileges to instructors only. As for her laboriously developed glossary, Didicher hasn’t yet found a mechanism in Canvas that would allow her to transfer or recreate that feature. She will be working with Robyn Schell, a learning technology specialist in the Teaching and Learning Centre, to overcome these apparent shortcomings.

Will Schell find answers to Didicher’s challenges? Will Didicher be able to maintain her course structure without restrictions? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series.

Next steps for Didicher

  • On December 1, instructors will gain access to SFU’s Canvas implementation
  • IT Services will submit the WebCT version of ENGL 420 to an automated “laundering service” offered by the developers of Canvas to move courses from WebCT to Canvas
  • Robyn Schell will work with Didicher to clean up the “laundered” version of the course and to find ways to implement the desired capabilities

Hot off the press: Two English professors tackle the definition of literature in the age of Twitter

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Are comic books literature? Can tweets be treated as poetry? And if so, how do you teach them? Those are the sorts of questions that led Paul Budra and Clint Burnham to write and co-edit From Text to Txting: New Media in the Classroom, a just-released compilation of essays published by Indiana University Press.

Budra is an associate dean in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Burnham is director of the Master of Arts for Teachers of English program. Both are faculty members in the Department of English. They have a solid background in traditional literary scholarship – Budra, for example, is a Shakespeare specialist – but in recent years they have observed that the narratives and stories that engage their students often come from video games, social media, and music rather than books.

Their new book is an attempt to extend the practices of literary criticism, such as considerations of genre and narrative form, to the content of new media. To that end, they invited academics whose work they knew and admired – “cool young literary scholars,” explains Budra with a grin – to contribute essays on particular media ranging from graphic novels to Facebook. Budra and Burnham co-wrote the introduction and contributed chapters.

The theoretical treatments are interesting and provocative, but what gives the book an added dimension is its consideration of pedagogy – the question of how to integrate this new content in the classroom. Each contributor was asked to address that question explicitly. After all, says Budra, “When push comes to shove, you want to be able to teach the stuff.”

To demonstrate the pedagogical emphasis, Burnham cites a chapter titled “ ‘Let the Rhythm Hit ’Em’: Hip-Hop, Prosody, and Meaning” by Alessandro Porco, in which the author compares the beat structure of hip-hop lyrics to traditional poetic forms such as the iambic pentameter that Shakespeare frequently employed. For students, this analysis establishes a bridge to other forms of poetry and provides them with a familiar context for understanding rhyme, metrics, and prosody.

Ultimately, the goal is to understand – and to help students understand – the way new media work. Burnham recalls the growing insight he observed in students during a course in which they considered Facebook posts as a form of memoir. And Budra cites a course in which he challenged students to come up with a definition of literature by presenting them with “a bunch of weird stuff” that challenged the boundaries they set. “The students loved it,” he says emphatically.

“This is the world that our students are living in,” says Burnham. “There’s something going on there. Let’s think about it critically.”

Related links:

Book description and reviews (Indiana University Press) >>

Paul Budra’s website >>

Paul Budra on Twitter >>

Clint Burnham on Twitter >>

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences 2010 Dean’s Medals

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

The Dean’s Medal recognizes excellence in academic research, teaching, and service.

The FASS@SFU e-Newsletter announces this year’s recipients: 

Learn more about this prestigious award and the three recipients here.


2010 Lesley B. Cormack FASS Teaching Awards

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2010 Lesley B. Cormack FASS Teaching Awards, which recognize exemplary teaching in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences:

The award citations praise these faculty members for their innovative course designs and learner-centred approaches to teaching.

Paul St. Pierre

Saturday, January 1st, 2005

Dr. Paul St. PierreDr. Paul St. Pierre received the 2005 SFU Excellence in Teaching Award.

Knowing he wanted not only to educate but to entertain, he modelled his technique on favourite professors from his own undergraduate years who engaged his intellect and interest by weaving relevant pop culture references and personal anecdotes into otherwise serious lectures.

The result, according to one nominator, was a method of teaching that added “a degree of humanity to every topic” and quite often made “the entire lecture hall smile.”

Email: stpierr@sfu.ca

Department of English
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Link: http://pmstpierre.com/


Paul Budra

Thursday, January 1st, 2004

Dr. Paul BudraDr. Paul Budra received the 2004 SFU Excellence in Teaching Award.

For Budra two principles provide the secret to teaching success. The first is to try to make lectures as clear as possible.   “It is so easy when you know a subject well to forget what students need to know,” he explains. “I try to take things step by step, keeping in mind what students need to take the next step and never assuming anything.”

The second principle stems from his belief that “you can’t teach someone who is unconscious. We tend to forget that we are teaching something that we have spent a lifetime on and we tend to drone on. So if a student falls asleep, we say it is his fault,” he laughs.

Email: paul_budra@sfu.ca

Department of English
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Link: http://www.sfu.ca/personal/budra/


Janet Giltrow

Wednesday, January 1st, 1997

Dr. Janet GiltrowDr. Janet Giltrow received the 1997 SFU Excellence in Teaching Award. In 1995, Dr. Giltrow’s teaching excellence was further recognized when she was awarded the 3M National Teaching Fellowship.

Janet Giltrow enjoys very high regard among her students and close colleagues as a teacher, innovator and educational leader. First, she is clearly an exceptional teacher. The remarkably consistent strong student ratings and highly positive student comments validate her reputation as one of the best. She is able to generate enthusiasm, sustain interest and effect learning at all levels of instruction in literature, literary theory and composition.

Email: giltrow@interchange.ubc.ca

Department of English
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Link: http://www.mcmaster.ca/3Mteachingfellowships/past-recipients/1995/giltrow.html

Sheila Roberts

Monday, January 1st, 1996

Ms Sheila RobertsMs. Sheila Roberts received the 1996 SFU Excellence in Teaching Award.

Sheila was born in Vancouver and attended UBC and SFU. She taught Elementary School before finishing her university degrees in English, and then became the Assistant to the Dean of Arts at SFU for many years. Sheila began teaching English full time in the late 1980’s, and is still involved in teaching which is her passion.

Email: sheila_roberts@sfu.ca

Department of English
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Link: http://www.sfu.ca/seniors/roberts.htm

June Sturrock

Saturday, January 1st, 1994

Dr. June SturrockDr. June Sturrock received the 1994 SFU Excellence in Teaching Award.

Her first degrees were from Oxford, her doctorate from the University of British Columbia (Thesis title:  “Wordsworth’s Eye:  A Study of the Nature of Vision in Wordsworth’s Poetry in Relation to Contemporary Concepts of Vision”).  Her main academic interests are in British poetry of the Romantic period and nineteenth century women’s writing.

Email: sturrock@sfu.ca

Department of English
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Link: http://www.sfu.ca/~sturrock/