The Answer That Was True

Victoria College has two new software systems coming online this summer. One is the Canvas learning management system (LMS). That transition is going to take effort on all our parts, and I am excited about this new opportunity.

This time I’m going to build my courses differently.  Over the last six years, I’ve learned a lot about being an online professor. I’ve even taken online courses as a student for part of my recent-yet-no-longer-new MBA. With over 200,000 views on my YouTube channel, I know more about popular types of videos and those less so.

What am I going to change?

Canvas is not a manuscript, it is not printed broadsheet, and it is not Blackboard. The medium matters, and I want to use the new tools with some measure of skill. In fact, I am going to Canvas’ annual conference, and I’ll take some folks from CAPE with me. We’ll be ready to help you starting late July. Of course, Dr Helen Dvorak knows the most!

I will ask my colleague, Dr Deb Butler to help me curriculum map.  I anticipate she and I will have a grand debate over nuances of that process.  All the same, she is very good at reminding me of the global picture when I’m in full on ‘statistician-mode’. After listening to her advice and checking ACGM or WECM to make sure my course is up-to-date, I’ll make my own content decisions. I’ll take those to my department, where I expect another debate. My colleagues’ advice there is also very good at reminding me of the mathematical and student learning perspectives – the lot of us weigh in with about a century of mathematics teaching experience.

While some content may best convey via written word, some information may be clearest via picture or video. I will purposefully choose the ideal medium to tell each concept’s story. I plan to do this concept by concept and will not get it all done at once.  Rather, I will first tackle concepts I know students find befuddling. Embracing the idea of continuous revision, I’ll build my course so I can make tiny edits for maximum impact.

Canvas should work more natively with apps on smart devices. My students may attempt learning anywhere, if I let them. About 25% of our students only access the web off-campus via smart device. I will chunk my course to single concept bites bytes around eight to twelve minutes. These will chain together into sections and chapters. There’s a TED Talk that has some interesting advice (some of which I admittedly doubt).  If I decide a video is apropos, Steve Holsonback (x3425) will help me storyboard, edit, and arrange for captioning.

I’ll also chat with my colleague Liz Prickett to ensure both syllabi and course are accessible. While I once found accessibility requirements burdensome, a more recent update to my personal moral/ethical code asserts it is not acceptable to disenfranchise people who experience the world differently from me. I will not compare my colour-blindness to the true challenges my students may endure; nevertheless, I admit the phrase “you’ll note changes in red” doesn’t feel nice. I’m trying to be kinder.

In all of these efforts, I hope to embrace the new medium of Canvas to make learning more personal for my students. I dearly wish them to see the beauty of statistics as I see it and to realise the power of this newly possible field of data science that opens up so many possibilities and frees humanity’s collective brainpower to focus on the most important things.

I promised you two pieces of software, did I not? The other system reduces effort on all our parts. Katherine Rodriguez, LaVern Dentler, Daniel Robinson, and I made some magic happen. Provided you put a PDF of your syllabus into your syllabus share drive or email that syllabus to your division’s administrative assistant, a lot of things now happen automagically. All we need is for you to please follow this naming convention: LastName.PartofTerm.CRN.CourseName.Section.pdf where PartofTerm is Sp16 or Su16 or Fa16.

Behind the scenes, PDFs push to the web, links feed to Banner Schedule, and a couple other places. You and your future students will now see the same syllabi, and updates trickle up and out, too. You’ll even get a text file of currently missing syllabi for free. It should all look something like Figure 1.

syllabi convention: LastName.PartofTerm.CRN.CourseName.Section.pdf where PartofTerm is Sp16 or Su16 or Fa16

I hope very much your summer is safe, and I look forward to ‘seeing’ you all again at next year’s blog.



Matt Wiley is a tenured, associate professor of mathematics with awards in both mathematics education and honour student engagement. He earned an assortment of degrees in computer science, business, and pure mathematics from the University of California and Texas A&M systems. He is the director of quality enhancement at Victoria College, assisting in the development and implementation of a comprehensive assessment program to enhance institutional performance outcomes. A programmer, a published author, a mathematician, and a transformational leader, Matt has always melded his passion for writing with his joy of logical problem solving and data science. From the boardroom to the classroom, he enjoys finding dynamic ways to partner with interdisciplinary and diverse teams to make complex ideas and projects understandable and solvable.

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