OIT Monthly Blog Volume 14, Issue 7


Important Canvas Updates

Over the summer, there have been several updates to Canvas. The most dramatic of these updates was the release of Draft State. If you have not visited Canvas since last Spring, the new interface may be surprising. At best, it is a cleaner version of the older interface. In a nutshell, instructors will need to manually publish all course activities (assignments, modules, discussions, etc.) so that students can access the content. We will offer workshops on Draft State in August so be sure to sign up for one. In the meantime, you can watch the video below and visit the Canvas Guides for more information.

Other new features and updates you should be aware of include the following:

Gradebook Learning Mastery Views: If you have integrated course activities with your course activities in Canvas the Mastery Gradebook view is a must. These are opt-in settings that allow instructors and students to view student outcome mastery results separately from graded assignments. This is a highly valuable tool for students and faculty alike in assessing student performance. To activate: 1. go to Course Settings 2. select the Features tab and 3. Click On to both the Mastery Gradebook options.

Student Activity Update: Instructors who select People from their course navigation menu will also see a Total Activity column for each user in a course. This change helps instructors see how long their students interact within a course and is associated with page views. However, use your discretion in applying this information to working with your students. This feature has its limitations as a page view has a minimum requirement of two-minutes for the activity to register before it can be calculated in the total time. This time also includes any time that Admins may masquerade as the student. In addition, it does not calculate video time.


Seven Traits of a Highly Effective Online Course Orientation Module

According to a body of student development research, a prime benefit of on-ground Orientation is that it positively influences students’ sense of belonging. In the case of online learners, transferring that same experience to online programs stands to offset the isolation often experienced by distance learners. Isolation is known to be a contributing factor in distance learner attrition. Wolzniak et al. (2012) found that students in an online orientation program exhibited a strong “need for timely, interaction-based orientation activities and ongoing access to orientation style resources throughout the semester.” Their research also suggests that more program-specific orientations are warranted.

Whether students participate in a program orientation or not, it is an effective practice for instructors to use the orientation framework to introduce students to their courses. Course-specific Orientation Modules can help prepare students for success in the course by providing them with clear guidelines for getting started in the course and with expectations for successfully completing the course. Students can also benefit by having ongoing access to pre-course support throughout the semester. Faculty can further benefit by creating a customized course entry point that establishes presence and order before the course begins.

But where do you start? Creating an Orientation Module can be done well in advance so that it is available during the first week of class. It may be helpful for to think of the elements for an effective course orientation as comprised of following six basic parts.

1. Course Welcome-The Course Welcome is critical as it establishes instructor presence and sets the tone for the course. Options for a Course Welcome can include a letter or a welcome video. If you are doing a welcome video, be sure to follow best practices and close-caption (or attach a script) the video so that is accessible to students needing special accommodations. Watch this exciting Course Welcome video sample from Instructor Matt at University of Washington. In a more toned-down version, watch how Amy handles talking about course expectations in the welcome video.

2. Course Introduction-Use this portion of the module to orient students to the course by providing relevant information concerning course structure, policies, and procedures. For example, briefly explain what students can expect on a weekly basis in terms of activities and assignments. As well, let students know the objectives for the course. Answer questions such as “How are the modules organized?” or  “What’s your policy on late assignments?” In addition let them know how much time will be involved. For example, if it is a fully online 3-hour credit course, inform students of the time they are expected to commit 10-15 hours weekly to working in the class. The important thing here is not to overload your students with information, so use concise language and bullets to get your point across.

3.Technology Requirements & Support-Students can find browser requirements on the Canvas site, as well as in the template. Nonetheless, it is helpful to repeat the required browser information. Instructors should also use this area to let students know about course-specific software packages and technology requirements. For instance, if you require students to participate in live Conferences, let them know they will need access to a mic or headset to participate. Another example is if you will be using the Respondus Lockdown software to deliver exams, this will be a great place to provide the download link and student guide. Finally, make sure students know to contact OIT for technical assistance.

4. Course Communications-Whether it’s a student’s first online course, or their 100th, the reality is that no two instructors are alike. So it is always considered a best practice to provide students with the appropriate communication protocol for your particular course. This includes informing students how you expect to receive course email as well as letting them know your response times (for emails, papers, discussions, etc…). You can also include a section on Netiquette here and have students take a Netiquette Quiz like this one at Carnegie Cyber Academy which is great for Digital Natives.

5. Academic Honor Pledge-Every school has a code of honor and an expectation for students to approach their coursework with integrity. Instructors can use this section to have students re-visit the University’s statement on academic honor as well as the definitions and consequences for plagiarism and academic dishonesty. Instructors can have students acknowledge reading the integrity statement by submitting their signature as an assignment. In addition, it also good to inform students what constitutes plagiarism and then to assess their understanding. At a former institution, we required students to complete a plagiarism tutorial before they began their courses. The University of Southern Mississippi’s University Libraries has created a similar Plagiarism Tutorial which is optional for its students.

6. Icebreaker Activity-The icebreaker activity in the course is designed to facilitate interactivity and build community among the class members. This may be an Introduce Yourself to the Class discussion board or even a virtual meeting for “Cyber Coffee and Chat” using the Conferences tool. Instructors benefit by having students use the tools, as well as by learning more about their students. Students benefit from engaging with peers and by experiencing a sense of community.  In any case, instructors should not only guide discussion posts and dialogue exchange, but participate. This can be motivational for students as well as establish strong faculty presence. For icebreaker ideas, visit the Teaching with Technology Ice Breaker Wiki.

7. Assessment-The assessment portion of the Orientation module can provide students and instructors valuable insight as to what was gained from participation in the module. Examples of assessments include Student Readiness Surveys, Syllabus Quizzes, and mini Quizzes inserted throughout the module. TOOLS (Test of Online Learning Success) as seen at University of Houston is a free, open source self-assessment test created by Dr. Marcel S. Kerr and Dr. Marcus C. Kerr of Texas Wesleyan University, and Dr. Kimberly Rynearson of Tarleton State University. (For more information on using TOOLS visit Texas Wesleyan). Another way to assess students and for them to demonstrate competency in skills required for the class is to provide practice assignments so they can gain experience in attaching documents, taking an exam, or posting to a discussion.


  • Send a Welcome email to the class and let them know Orientation is available and when to start
  • Require the Orientation Module before students begin accessing content using the Module Settings in Canvas.
  • “Reward” students for their time with an Orientation Certificate of Completion
  • Use interactive content (multimedia and graphics) throughout the module to engage students and encourage active learning


OIT Summer Certifications

Over the summer, Instructional Technology hosted a diversity of instructional technology workshops including working with Draft State, Templating your Course, and Faculty ePortfolio development. Participation in this year’s summer workshops was very good. Although not all workshops lead to certification, OIT also offered several certification options after school ended in May thru July to credential those working with distance education and technology.

OIT granted 9 Certificates to 8 DSU community members who participated in those certification workshops. To earn the Certificate of Completion, participants must not only sit in on the workshop, but they must also demonstrate mastery and competency by developing content. To become certified in a specialty area, participants must demonstrate competency in the technology, develop supporting components using multimedia, and execute a clearly defined project.


Ann M. Ashmore is the first recipient of a Social Media Technology Certificate with a specialization in Twitter. Ann, who earned her Certificate this July, is an Associate Professor of Library Sciences and Reference Liaison to the School of Nursing.

Pictured, CIO Dr. Edwin Craft hands Ann Ashmore her Social Media Technology Certificate. Ashmore participated in the Twitter workshop and learned to create a secure Twitter site for educational purposes. The workshop included learning Twitter lingo, hashtagging, managing your Twitterverse with TweetDeck, and complying with FERPA & University policy. Ann shared that as the library moves more and more into using social media technology to connect with students, she believed the workshop was a good opportunity to find out more about Twitter. In addition to creating a protected site to explore and discover credible library resources, Ann used web-based avatar software to create her avatar icon.


Summer Certifications

Social Media Technology Certificate with Twitter specialization

Ann M. Ashmore, Associate Professor of Library Sciences

Certificate of Completion & Digital Badge in Campus Template

Tricia Walker, Director of Delta Music Institute

Liza Cope, Assistant Professor of Math

Jennifer Wilson, Director Delta School Leadership Pipeline Project

Cindy Casebeer, Assistant Professor Teacher Education

Respondus Lockdown Browser 4.0 Certification

Cindy Casebeer, Assistant Professor Teacher Education

Jean Grantham, Instructor of Nursing

Emily Newman, Instructor of Nursing

Louise Seals, Associate Professor of Nursing

OIT Team Members certified in Respondus Lockdown Browser 4.0 (May 2014)

Kelly Kirkland, Senior Instructional Designer

Brent Powell, Technical Support Specialist

Dawn Carver, Technical Support Specialist

Shawn Steele, Technical Support Specialist