Student Success Hinges on Three Instructional Choices

A student's experience in CarmenCanvas directly impacts their performance in their courses and their mastery of course material. We work with students and instructors who use Carmen every day, and it is abundantly clear that instructors can take specific steps to enable their students to do well and feel responsible for their progress. However, these fundamental elements are missing from many of the courses taught at Ohio State.
The process of course design requires a careful balance of curricula, learning objectives, accessibility and user experience for both the teacher and learner. Adding these three simple items to that balance are sure to set students down the path to success:

No. 1: Give all assignments and required activities due dates.

Overwhelmingly, students articulate just how critical it is for their assignments, quizzes and exams to be entered into the course and assigned a due date. Even if assignments are listed in the course appropriately, without dates students are often required to search several sections of the course before they find that information.
Why is this step so vital? Unlike the previous version of Carmen, CarmenCanvas is more connected. The information that's entered in one place updates throughout other areas of the course, giving students calendar reminders, a "to-do" list and up-to-date grade information.
For instance, a student may navigate to the calendar and select multiple courses to view. This allows them to see all of their upcoming activities for all of their courses in one space in a weekly, monthly or daily view. With this, students are better equipped to practice effective time management strategies and prioritize their upcoming assignments. The calendar gives students much more than a conventional planner: the system updates for them when something changes, for example, when a quiz gets moved back a day or a due date is edited. Further, when dates are associated with these items, students can set up a variety of reminder and alert options, from a weekly overview of their coming assignments to text messages about due dates.
Faculty may hesitate to post dates in case they need to change them in the future. In this instance, it's incredibly easy to adjust the due date of any assignment in Carmen via the item's settings, or just by dragging and dropping from the calendar view. Even better, when an assignment date changes, all students will receive a notification, keeping students informed and saving their instructors time. Learn more about notification settings and how they can be customized.


No. 2: Post all student grades to the grade book.

Students often express frustration when they cannot access their grades and monitor their performance in their courses. They often assume that their grade is arbitrary or subjective rather than being a fair representation of their development. When they cannot clearly link the scores they receive with an overall evaluation of their performance, they question why or how they are being assessed. Students cite instances where some grades are posted but not others, leading to confusion when their final grades do not align with what they've been seeing in the grade book. Others explain that they are often expected to attend office hours to receive feedback on their performance, which conflicts with their other courses, work schedules and family obligations. For students, withholding grades often creates anxiety and renders them feeling powerless to assess, much less affect, the final outcomes of the course. This feeling negatively impacts their overall engagement with the curriculum and leaves them with the impression that their teachers are not invested in their learning.
While faculty are most familiar with the CarmenCanvas grade book, students have a different view for Grades that provides a simplified overview of their course progress. Without grades entered, they navigate to this space only to see no reflection of the work they've done in the course and no information about what they could or should do differently. Learn more about the student view for grades. The Canvas LMS makes this as easy as possible by automatically creating a grade book based on the assignments, which can then be weighted or adjusted in several ways. 


No. 3: Post the complete syllabus under the syllabus link.

While a course syllabus has long been a standard, many students are still only receiving paper copies or have less accessible digital copies. Many courses may have a syllabus uploaded to Carmen, but that syllabus may be stored in the course "Files" or "Modules" areas instead of the "Syllabus" page, linked from the course navigation menu (The latter can be an effective choice but requires that the instructor remove the then-empty syllabus link from the course navigation, doable via "Settings.") Learn more about adjusting course navigation settings. For students, having a direct link in the course titled "Syllabus" that does not actually contain a syllabus is understandably confusing and often requires them to scour the various areas of content to locate a copy.
Other students have classes with no Carmen course at all, in which case a paper syllabus is their only copy. These are vulnerable to the fates of many paper documents in a time when we no longer purchase folders and binders: they end up lost, damaged or secured in a dorm room when you need to reference them in the library. And, of course, paper syllabi do not accommodate course schedule changes in a way that is accessible to students. Because syllabi are critical documents for students, they must be immediately available in a Carmen course to ensure a positive student experience. This means storing them in one of three places:
  • The syllabus link at the top of the course navigation.
  • A module at the top of the Modules page, usually named to indicate the first week of the term or course information within.
  • Linked or embedded directly on the course homepage.


The Larger University Effects

When all courses meet these three minimum requirements, students have a more positive, consistent experience and are both more prepared and accountable for the work that is expected of them. Instructors often become frustrated with missed assignments and student performance issues, and meeting the expectations of these design choices is the first step in solving these problems. When the information for all of their courses is clear and centralized in one location, students take greater ownership of their coursework, view their instructors as more organized and professional, and have an overall stronger sense of responsibility for their progress through college. As instructors, we can easily become focused on our role, our process and our convenience. Removing ourselves from our view and taking a student's view of your course regularly is a great way to ensure the experience is as you intend.

ODEE conducted a series of focus groups during autumn semester 2017, and students' candid feedback supports the instructional choices outlined above. Students value logical organization, due dates and grades, as these responses surfaced throughout multiple focus group sessions: