Library Liaison Team
What did you do?
This case study concerns the creation of large numbers of quizzes in Canvas, managing large sets of items (i.e. quiz questions), and keeping track of all these different resources through shared working practices and building a trusted community of practice. The Library Liaison team’s coordinated and close way of working, using Canvas and collaboration tools, has enabled them to create and manage vast amounts of quiz and other resources effectively.
How did you do it?
Using a Sandbox
Establishing a shared sandbox meant that the team had a ‘safe’ area to experiment in when they first started developing their content. This allowed them to try things out without worrying about affecting other materials or live content.
The Library team is using a large, shared Canvas course as a sandbox area to store a bank of Canvas modules (sets of content) and individual quizzes to be exported to live teaching courses on Canvas. The content is managed in such a way that it can be duplicated, edited, and exported to its destination, with a copy being retained for future use. This sandbox is now very large and requires proactive organization and a detailed shared understanding of its use.
Developing shared ways of working
Established ways of working were developed by the team over time, first within small groups, and then expanded to more people. These were not formalized in a written document, but are regularly discussed, changed, or added to as the need arises.
Microsoft Teams has proved to be a useful tool for tracking progress and communicating. The Team area contains several channels, and new conversations are titled with the particular teaching module they refer to. The replies regarding that module are then posted directly to that conversation, meaning that multiple conversations can be held simultaneously without the need to repeatedly contextualize comments. This also provides a record of what has been going on in each module that all stakeholders can refer to easily.
Proactively sharing progress in this way also reduces the need for information-sharing meetings or conversations – everyone can see up-to-date progress of tasks at any stage. In addition to Teams, shared spreadsheets and planners have also been used. The important part is the consistency of use and shared ways of working, not necessarily the specific tool chosen.
The importance of documentation and naming conventions
The team had previously established a tidy shared drive alongside using naming conventions for files and folders. This includes resources linked to all modules they teach on, and because of the naming conventions (e.g., module numbers being included in all relevant files/folders) this shared drive is searchable, and items can be quickly sorted. Being mindful about where things are stored, and how they are named is especially useful when there is a large volume of shared resources. While it does take an extra moment to do this, consistently doing so reduces the time spent looking for resources further down the line.
As this system was already established on the shared drive, it made sense to continue this within the team’s shared sandbox. As Canvas does not sort its modules or activities by name, items need to be organized manually so that they appear in the right place, and in an order that makes sense. As many people use these shared spaces, they can get a little disorganized from time to time. If things get too disorganized, then a member of the team will spend some time organizing the space before things get too out-of-hand.
Another useful element of this practice was to ensure that detailed notes were kept for anything out of the ordinary, for example if something was used for multiple modules. Annotating this means that anyone who is interacting with the content has a clear understanding of its context. For example, once a quiz had been copied to its destination module, the original had ‘copied to course’ appended. Some care must be taken so that these don’t become too unwieldy or have too many derivative copies.
Shared ways of working, well-named and organised content, and clearly annotated lesson plans have been invaluable as the team rotate roles every three years to support different academic disciplines. When you are faced with a new set of modules to work with, seeing your colleagues’ previous work and being able to understand it quickly saves a lot of time.
Looking for Help and Proactive Support
As the team have been working together for some time, they know each other’s strengths, and how these skills can be applied within the team. For example, one team member has established expertise in the technological side of working with Canvas and is the person most likely to search for resolutions to tricky technical problems. When team members know who they can ask for help, they can resolve difficulties faster.
The team took a variety of approaches to resolving problems, including asking each other when problems arose, or when trying something new. The Teams chat was useful for organising this. In addition, the team took a proactive approach to sharing solutions to problems that they had encountered and resolved. When others encountered the same issue, they were able to refer back to the posted solutions. One example of this is that New Quizzes don’t currently have a ‘next’ button to move you to the next activity. This is something that users may assume to be an error at first and may waste time trying to ‘fix’.
In terms of support outside of the team, university-developed resources, such as the Canvas orientation course, were used. The official Instructure guides that are linked from the Canvas pages have also been useful and searching online for particular functionality or errors was also fruitful. The team have also utilized the Canvas 24/7 live chat, which is especially good when quick responses are needed during times of high workload.
With large complex courses with many different editors, mistakes can be made, including accidental deletions, or editing the wrong version. One common error was that instead of duplicating a quiz to make a copy to edit, the original quiz would be edited. As these problems come up it’s worth reminding one another to take care, though sometimes these lessons are learned the hard way! As well as sharing a common way of working, a few other tips have helped minimize these errors, or minimize their impact. Drafting content in Word and then saving it means that a separate copy always exists independent of Canvas and won’t be affected by any accidental deletions.
Some students have responded to the feedback surveys, and where there are responses these tend to be positive. What is harder is the lack of feedback in terms of not being able to see what students are doing in the same way as you would in the classroom. Instead, students only tend to make contact if something is wrong or if they struggle. This is especially true for things like referencing – students may only choose to access the materials after they have received negative feedback on that aspect of an assessment.
Having large volumes of content to maintain is a challenge at the best of times, and care is taken to build content that doesn’t go out of date quickly. This is a challenge in the area of information management, particularly where content may focus on the use of a particular database or site – these can change without warning. While this can be avoided by writing ‘woollier’ questions, at what stage do the exercises become so woolly that they are no longer useful? This can be a difficult balance to strike.
Equally, if content only has a limited shelf-life, students should complete it at the required time. This can be encouraged via the use of deadlines. It’s important to note, however, that the quizzes will be available for students to look at throughout the life of their programme and may go out of date at any stage within that programme.
Another challenge is keeping track of editing permissions within quizzes. It was discovered that after quizzes had been copied, they would effectively be ‘locked’ and no edits could be made. As such, it is vital that the quizzes are not exported until they were at their final version.
The front-loaded nature of this work was a real challenge, as so much needs to be prepared in advance. The payoff comes later when little intervention is needed in terms of updating or changing materials, and now that resources have been created, carefully stored and annotated, they will be easy to use next time around.
While it is clear that online learning brings many challenges, it can also create opportunities to reinvigorate teaching practice and working processes. In the face of these challenges, communities of practice can help us pool our knowledge and improve working efficiency – saving time and resources and adding to the resilience of the team.
Overview of Communities of Practice – https://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/
Newcastle University Canvas Orientation Course – https://ncl.instructure.com/courses/28542
Your own sandbox – experiment in your personal Canvas course to try things out with peers.
- Emily Dott, Assistant Liaison Librarian
- Lorna Smith, Assistant Liaison Librarian
- Louise Cowan, Assistant Liaison Librarian
- Anne Archer, Assistant Liaison Librarian
You can reach the team via email at firstname.lastname@example.org