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Campus Technology Insider Podcast February 2022

Listen: 10 Basics that Students Want from the LMS, and How to Help Faculty Implement Them

Rhea Kelly: Hello and welcome to the Campus Technology Insider podcast! I'm Rhea Kelly, editor in chief of Campus Technology, and your host.

At Ohio State University, students developed a list of 10 ways that instructors can use the learning management system more effectively — calling it "Carmen Common Sense" (Carmen being the name given to the university's Canvas LMS). These basic guidelines aim to make courses more consistent, predictable, easier to navigate, and generally more student-friendly. For this episode of the podcast, I spoke with Sam Craighead, associate director of professional learning in Ohio State's Office of Technology and Digital Innovation, about understanding the student perspective, supporting faculty with research-based practices, and the impact of instructional design on student success.   

Before getting into that conversation, I thought I should quickly run through the 10 Carmen Common Sense guidelines, to give a little context. They are:

  • Upload the course syllabus to the LMS and provide it as a downloadable file.
  • Upload assignments with instructions and clear due dates.
  • Enter grades into the LMS when grading is complete.
  • Use a consistent mode of communication and mention it in class.
  • Organize course materials into modules according to content matter.
  • Remove unused tabs or pages from the course navigation.
  • Organize the course homepage with instructor contact information.
  • Utilize clear and consistent naming conventions for assignments and files.
  • Use Open Educational Resources when feasible.
  • Leverage the resources and support that are available from the university.

And another brief note: You can hear more from Ohio State at our upcoming Campus Technology Leadership Summit. On Wednesday, February 23rd, we are hosting a series of presentations focused on the many facets of digital transformation in higher ed. The session "Tech Tools for Student Wellness and Holistic Support" will feature Jessica Phillips, interim director of Learning Programs and Digital Flagship at Ohio State. She'll share how the university launched a student wellness app that offers tools and resources in an easily accessible format - and made sure that students were directly involved in the design, development and ongoing improvement of the app. You can register for the summit for free at

And now, here's my chat with Sam.

Hi Sam, welcome to the podcast.

Sam Craighead: Hi Rhea, thanks for having me.

Kelly: So I thought, you know, to sort of give us some background, could you talk a little about yourself and your role in the Office of Technology and Digital Innovation?

Craighead: Sure, yeah. So I lead our professional learning team. And we coordinate learning opportunities and resources designed to help educators at Ohio State to leverage technology to provide high quality learning experiences, to create inclusive online and technology rich learning environments, and to make evidence based decisions about teaching with technology. So it's sort of an intersection of educational development and instructional design and ed tech. And sometimes a little bit of IT in there too, because our department does that. But yeah, that's, I think sums it up.

Kelly: So I read recently that Ohio State has developed a set of learning management system guidelines called Carmen Common Sense. Can you kind of give me the background on how that came about?

Craighead: It originated as sort of a collaboration between one instructor, who, her name's Nicole Kraft, she's from our School of Communications at Ohio State, and with members of our undergraduate student government. So you know, undergraduate students, and, you know, they kind of came to us to see like, Hey, can you do something with these? How can we kind of get these out to people? And so we worked together to help bring attention to Carmen Common Sense, initially as part of a fall teaching showcase that we did before COVID. And then we also worked to create a new home for their recommendations by turning it into a teaching topic on our Teaching and Learning Resource Center site.

Kelly: My understanding is that there were like, surveyed students and got a lot of feedback about their experiences using the LMS. And I guess I should also add that I think Carmen is your instance of Canvas. Although it seems to me that these guidelines are pretty universal for any learning management system. But I'm just wondering what it was like to survey students about their experiences and what kinds of criticisms or complaints did they have.

Craighead: So the guidelines and recommendations, these were wholly developed by students, and they were the result of some surveys that they did internally. So I haven't seen the surveys, I don't know the methodology. But like, you know, the way that they kind of talked about them, it did feel like it was like, semi formal. So I don't know, you know, what the sample size was, how many students they heard from, We just know that this was, you know, folks within Undergraduate Student Government. Certainly, they talked to other students there. And I think there was some amount of you know, them getting feedback from other students across the university. So I guess this goes back to my previous answer, I probably just builds on it a little bit, they worked with that instructor, Nicole Kraft, and she helped them kind of figure out how to package that and how to brand it. And then we worked to kind of provide some feedback and make sure that what they were suggesting was going to be in line with university policies and guidelines. So while we didn't personally get involved in the development of that survey, we were, you know, involved in helping take what they learned from it, and the, the recommendations that they were providing, and try to help shape it into something that like, aligned with what we had heard from students and seen from students. And also that's going to align to like, what we know we can tell people is like, this is safe to do, these are good practices, you know, this lines up with what we know. So, yeah, you know, all that said, like, I, I do have a lot of other experience separate from this, where we have done focus groups with students on other topics, and it, you know, the way that they responded, and the types of feedback they provided here really seemed to align to, you know, similar things that we've heard from students elsewhere, whether it was about the learning management system, or it was about, you know, using wireless internet on campus, or other kinds of things around technology. So, you know, while, while we didn't design the survey, it does seem very aligned to the types of things that we've heard from students. So it was really, you know, certainly believable and helpful to, you know, be able to have something like that. You know, in a lot of ways, we found it useful that we didn't do that work, right? So as of now, it very much is like it's students, like harnessing the student voice and providing that guidance, like, it really feels like a more powerful message to instructors to say, this isn't the tech office, or you know, the law, the legal office or someone else saying you need to do this, or you need to be compliant. This is like, these are the students that you've taught, this is their experience, and we want to make sure we're just helping you kind of hear that from them.

Kelly: Yeah it's kind of amazing that students had that agency to, you know, think of this as a problem that needed to be solved, and to kind of come up with these guidelines on their own. So were there any of the sort of guidelines that they come up with that surprised you and made you think, like, I can't believe faculty are doing things this way?

Craighead: So my first job at Ohio State was doing classroom technology support, and I did that for quite a few years. I've met with, you know, at this point, probably realistically, hundreds of different instructors in different ways there, and I've, I've done work with instructional design and with tech implementation, so I've met with, with faculty in a lot of different ways and seen a lot of different things. And, you know, as a result, I'm not particularly surprised by I think any of it at this point, there's, there's, there's very little that will surprise me in that realm. And I don't mean that as a, you know, it's all bad  and I've seen the worst or anything like that, just like I've seen, like a full spectrum of it. And, and there's, there's not a whole lot that's, that would be surprising to me in particular. But, you know, I'm also in a position now more to guide the direction of what our programming is. So, like, we've also, you know, separate from whatever faculty's attitudes might be, and, and, you know, things that they might be doing in their courses, what I am able to do is say, here's what we could do different about how we provide, you know, training and how we provide resources that can be more helpful to them. So that like when we hear about some of these, like, hopefully outlier incidents of like, courses being, you know, disorganized and hard for students to navigate, that we can provide more guidance and recommendations that are going to be like more applicable and easy to take and and, you know, apply to their course. So, again, not to say that, like what we did before was terrible, it was just we grew out of IT, and IT is, you know, a more reactive and responsive, you know, part of like working with technology. It's about folks saying I am struggling with this thing, please help me with it. Or you know, this is broken, fix it. So a lot of what we did was more focused on, you know, tech tutorials or demonstrations of what our tech might do. And then like what, from a technical standpoint, we might recommend. But now we focus a lot more on like, Okay, what would, you know, what is the, the scholarship of teaching and learning tell us about what would actually be the best thing to do here. Sometimes it's not to use technology. So you know, now we're more focused on specific recommendations, like similar to what you'd see in Carmen Common Sense, that are going to be based on those best practices. And they're, you know more about supporting the course goals and the learning outcomes and student success than saying, here's all the things you can do with technology. And, you know, here's what we would suggest as people who know, technology, but maybe don't know, teaching or don't know your subject matter. We're trying to, like, find the space in between all of those to, you know, bring all those together. So that, you know, what we provide is going to be based in something that we know is going to support students, it is going to be based in research that we know is like evidence that this practice is going to work. And that it's also going to be you know, good, good practices and policies aligned to like what we know is going to work with the tech. So my long answer to maybe not exactly the same question, but that sort of, I've had enough years to see a whole spectrum of good and bad use of tech and classrooms and good and bad use of the LMS. And you know, what I think we're focused on now is like, how can we make it easier for them to know what good use of that is? And that's not just, you know, it can do this, here's all the capabilities, you're the expert, you have a PhD, you go figure it out. It's okay, here's what we know. Here's what the students told us. Here's what the research tells us. Here's what we know from the, the platform, you know, like canvas that we, that we use on campus. How can we combine those things and just say, the easier we make this for you to digest, the, the better we know it's,the experience is going to be. Like we can reduce the amount of, you know, weird outlier situations and possible bad experiences in a classroom, if we reduce the amount of difficulty they have learning how to do, you know, do that well.

Kelly: So let's talk about some specific examples of the guidelines that the students came up with. Some of them sound, truly sound like basic common sense, you know, like uploading a course syllabus, or uploading assignments with clear due dates. One of the ones I thought was kind of interesting was utilizing clear and consistent naming conventions for assignments and files. Could you talk a little bit about that one, and why it's important?

Craighead: It's all about creating experiences that are clear and consistent. So throughout those recommendations, even going back to the syllabus that you already mentioned, it's sharing those expectations up front for letting the students know, like, what they're going to expect for the class, how this is going to work. So the rest of those recommendations even around naming conventions, assignments, and files, like that's a logical extension of that — part of reducing the student's cognitive load. So the less time you spend trying to figure out how to navigate the LMS, and the less, you know, time you're spending trying to figure out, like, What exactly am I supposed to be doing, you're able to focus more on engaging with the course content and the activities to like, meet the learning outcomes. So you know, it's it's a, you know, learner experience, user experience, it's all kind of part of the same thing here. You know, we bring that same type of focus to user experience on our Teaching and Learning Resource Center, by using templates and a consistent voice and style through the site. And so it's, you know, more based on the idea of like, good design is good if you don't think about the design when you're engaging with something. So it's, you know, a similar practice that we're recommending to educators that we're trying to model through this, the resources we create, but that we're, you know, sort of saying the same thing for your students, if you want them to, you know, write an essay, make the prompt clear, and make it make sense and aligned to a rubric so that they know like, what they're doing. Like, what they're working towards makes sense to them. And it's, they don't have to think about where's the, where's the file for that, or what is this one that says rubric dot pdf. Like there's, it's, you know, being consistent and clear in what, what you put into your course, makes it easier for people to navigate it. If you do it in one module, do it the same in the next module, so the students are learning, you know, early on, like, what the structure is going to be to expect. And it's less work for them on you know, the, the part that is just like using the LMS and more work, you know, more focused on the actual subject matter of your course.

Kelly: Yeah, it also seemed to me that it was about you know, if you have an opportunity to put information in the LMS you should do it, whether that's the syllabus or the assignments, even the instructor contact information. That was another one of the guidelines. You know, and grades like putting grades I suppose it, you know, I never had an LMS when I say college so, but like, it totally makes sense that why make students go somewhere else, like to the student information system or wherever grades go, when they could see it right within the context of their course.

Craighead: I think something I can I guess add to that that might be useful, is just what you just mentioned, I, I went back to finish my degree in my mid to late 20s. And so I did get to experience the LMS. And you know, a lot of what we heard from students in talking about Carmen Common Sense aligned with my actual experience, which was, not everybody uses it. So not every course you take necessarily has, like they by default, get like a shell in Canvas, but they may not populate it, or maybe they just throw the syllabus in there. Or maybe they dump a bunch of files in there. And so I think, again, this is pointing back to, you know, if one instructor is making their course more navigable and consistent by, you know, organizing their modules and files and titles in one way, how great would it be if all the instructors do that, so when you're like, all of my courses actually make sense to me. Like, you know, it's one thing for, for a course by course basis to work its own way, but I think that's kind of what the students were aiming for too with these guidelines, which is, how can we make it so whenever we take any class, we get to have at least some baseline level of a common experience. And I think that's what they were looking for is like, what's like, what's the lowest, you know, bar that we could ask people to reach, so that we can, you know, make our jobs trying to take your course and engage in your course just a little bit more pleasant and easy and focused on the subject matter of the course, and not the, the tools and the, you know, the platforms that you're trying to interact to get to it.

Kelly: Yeah, you know, I think it's interesting, also the link between that student experience and, you know, actual issues of student success and how, you know, barriers to their success. And there's a line on the Carmen Common Sense website that says, you know, bad Carmen habits can be a barrier to student success. It just made me want to ask you, do you ever think that these guidelines should be a little stronger? Like, should they be requirements? If it's, you know, because those are kind of high stakes in terms of it can really impact student success, so how do you walk that line between needing to encourage and support faculty to do things in a certain way, but also wanting to make sure that students are getting the best possible experience in the LMS?

Craighead: So I feel like I've definitely been at, you know, conferences, or, you know, other places, with, with peers from other institutions, or, you know, I, I've certainly heard people say it within our own institution, like, what, why can't we just make everybody do this one thing, or, like, you know, this, this small list of things. And, you know, I guess, for one we're not empowered to, and that's, I think, fine. You know, I think the, the amount of pushback we would see, if we attempted to do that, we would end up probably losing more people than we might win over, or again, you know, then are people just doing things because they're told they have to. So I the, the approach that we've really tried to take is about building, you know, self efficacy, and an understanding of the sense of purpose and to do this because it's actually, you know, you want to, because your students want you to. So, I'm, I'm not much on the side of mandates for, you know, educator, like blanket mandates across the board. And certainly, I don't think the educators at our institution would want me to be. So we, you know, we kind of say, you know, that's not our place, you know, if that's, if that ever gets to the point of what, what comes up and what college leaders wants to do, we're gonna find a way to make sure that we communicate things in the most, similarly, we're going to focus on student success, we're going to focus on the purpose behind it, why it's going to be useful, how we can make it as easy for you and painless for you as possible. But, you know, I feel like the, what I would hope would lead to a better student experience is, you know, real buy in from instructors that they want to do something. Because, you know, the other thing that comes with the, the mandate is the feeling of, well, I was forced to do this. And I don't want to do any more of this. You know, the, the guidelines at Carmen Common Sense are a starting point, right? There's, there's still so many more things you could do to make your course engaging and to, to help your students meet your learning outcomes that go well beyond what the students have articulated. And if we want to get people to take that next step, eventually, we need them to feel good about taking that first step. So you know, working towards, you know, using this as scaffolding for something they could build off of later. So this is, right, this is like level one. If you can do this, great. And if you feel good about it and you see the point of it, then you're going to be more interested in exploring what you can do beyond that. And I think that that gives us a better place to build from. So I, and we have certainly seen, and this is where, you know, separate from Carmen Common Sense, we developed a page called Keep Teaching that's also on this resource center. And that was in response to the pandemic. And what we saw, and what we saw in many institutions was, you know, we're very quickly pivoting to a new way of teaching we haven't done before, adoption of tools and practices that many haven't done. And you know, for years we've provided these tools and said, I wish more people use them. Very quickly, everybody had to, and we kind of used a similar approach to Carmen Common Sense, which was, do these five things. Like, let's boil this down to just, you've got two weeks, we're switching to emergency response teaching, let's focus on some core things you can start from. And you know, what we found, and what we kind of thought through when we, when we listed those out was, what are some things that are still going to be useful after this is over, whenever that is, which still seems to be ongoing. But like really thinking about it from that standpoint of like, yes, it would be great if everybody did this bare minimum. But if we can get, get lots of people excited about the bare minimum, that's they're going to be excited, they're going to be excited about level two, level three, like doing these, like more robust things in their courses. And throughout all this, they've also learned to engage with us to, you know, they've built some self efficacy, because they saw this thing they did the steps that were easy to them. And now they're, you know, they're becoming more comfortable and familiar in a system that they can take some ownership of and do more in over time.

Kelly: Yeah that's a really interesting point that this, you know, these, the Carmen Common Sense, it's pretty bare bones, but it's actually a foundation for going to the next level. The other thing I noticed about that website is, I really liked how these, the common sense guidelines provided kind of a framework that you use to then point faculty to a whole variety of resources to help them with all of those, you know, all those basics, you know, you had how to articles, templates, videos, can you talk more about the kinds of support services that you provide to faculty?

Craighead: Yeah, so the site that that, the page is featured on is our Teaching and Learning Resource Center, which is technically a newer site, it's been around for a couple years, we launched it during the pandemic, but it was part of an ongoing project to revise our department's resource center that was really more technology focused. And what we wanted to do with that was to create a hub with any resources that are going to be relevant to instructors across our institution. So not just the areas that we're responsible for and have expertise in, but the ones that branch into like the, you know, more specifically pedagogical, that don't have to do with technology, to you know, creative writing, and just writing in general for courses, to the science just, you know, stem and other parts of the sciences. So we are working with, I think, at this point about 10 other units to develop content for that site. And really, the goal is similar to Carmen Common Sense: Let's make an easy starting point for people that's consistent, that's clear, that's easy to navigate, that has all the things that you just described. So we have, we have very specific templates that we repeat, so that the experience is going to be consistent. So if you read the Carmen Common Sense teaching topic, when you go to read another teaching topic, you're going to experience a similar thing, where we start with sort of a storytelling opening to, you know, draw people in, whether it's from a student perspective or an instructor perspective, we have a, starting those with a similar entry point, then moving on into sharing some of the research behind that particular topic. And then moving on to also sharing examples from the school, you know, from different parts of OSU. So, you know, so from faculty you may know, here's something that they did in their course. And then also examples from the students. And then yeah, again, links out to templates, to videos, to how tos, it's really about how do we create a consistent way of experiencing that regardless of the topic. So it doesn't have to be about technology. It doesn't have to be about the LMS. It could be about, you know, understanding microaggressions that might happen in your class, and how do you address something like that? So it's really like understanding that all of these things are part of an instructor's toolkit when they're teaching, and how do we really think about those holistically rather than, you know, here's the tech stuff, we're going to give you tech ideas, here's another group you go talk to over there. Like how do we really put this all in one place? And that also includes, like there's sections there where we have contact forms for all the different partnering units, those are linked out on those pages. So it's really about, you know, creating an easy starting point for people, making it consistent so regardless of if it's tech or if it's not, they know, they know how a page is going to look, they know what to expect when they click on something, they know where it's going to take them. And they also know this is going to be of a high quality and connected to like real evidence that says, If I adopt this practice, there is, you know, there's proof that it's actually, if I'm, if I'm doing this correctly, and I'm doing it in a way that's connected to my course learning outcomes, it's actually going to, like lead to student success. So it's really about, you know, actually bringing those practices that support student success into one place, and connecting them to each other.

Kelly: Do you have a sense of sort of the response among faculty to all, all these resources and, and guidelines that have been available to them?

Craighead: Sure. So you know, to go back to the Carmen Common Sense part, we had really solid attendance at, we did, I think I mentioned earlier, we did a teaching showcase, this was back in 2019. So when those recommendations were first put out there by students, we have an annual conference called Innovate, where we talked about it as part of a related event there. And then Nicole and some other instructors have presented at the conference, which, you know, has, I think, at that point, when we were still doing in person, you know, close to 1000 attendants each year. And it was, it was a popular session there. And, you know, then I think beyond that, she also started to teach a short course for faculty just based on Carmen Common Sense. So it was an instructor telling other instructors, here's how you adopt these recommendations. And that was in collaboration with the Teaching Center at our university, which was also popular. And we did have a lot more plans for focusing on promoting that, and then of course COVID hit. So that's when we developed that, that Keep Teaching page that I mentioned. So the traffic to, what we can mostly understand about people using these resources, especially during the pandemic, is through site traffic. And we have, I think per semester, it's, over the last year been like 60,000 to 65,000 unique users of the site. And those are, those are high traffic pages that get quite a lot of traffic at specific times in the term and consistently throughout the year. What we're also working on now too is like that, within that partnership for the Resource Center, we're developing a joint survey that we're going to be sending out this year, at the end of the semester, to get an idea from all instructors about how they engage with those resources, what they like about it, what kind of gaps they're seeing, what do they need more of? So long way of saying, we are hoping to learn more, right now we know, it's we get a lot of site traffic, we, people spend a lot of time on the pages, and we're going to be finding out more about you know, what do they need more of, what do they what do they appreciate most, And hopefully, we'll have a better answer to that then in about a year. So yeah, we'll be doing, doing that survey in April, and then, you know, doing the analysis and recommendations this summer. So we will know a lot more in the very near future.

Kelly: And do you have any final advice for, I guess, taking the student experience into account when, when teaching with technology?

Craighead: Yeah, so I think, and hopefully I'm not being too repetitive by saying the same things throughout this, but you know, considering student feedback as one component, is, it's really important and to also, you know, take that and look at it alongside what the research says, to, to look at it alongside how have instructors addressed this already at my institution. So where you can find those case studies, you know, connect with the actual instructors at your institution, connect that to what the students are telling you, look at what the evidence says about what are good practices, and, and, you know, look at the leadership landscape of your institution. So there's like a sort of the political side of it is what, you know, from what we're hearing from students, how much of that aligns to what we know of best practice, how much of that aligns to what instructors are telling us, how much of what we might want to recommend aligns to what we think our, you know, college and university leaders are willing to put forward. And, you know, combine those together and the more aligned those are, I think the more powerful, you know, whatever recommendations you can provide are. Which, again, is, means, you know, the more powerful and the more adaptable what you're recommending people do is, the better chance that people can actually do it. And, you know, the better chance we have of actually addressing that student feedback. So, I guess, yeah, in short, look, you know, think of it as one part of that, you know, larger ecosystem of the university, and make sure that you consider it in that context and then act accordingly.

Kelly: Yeah I like what you said about it has to be doable, you know, because otherwise no one's gonna do it. And then and then it doesn't matter what, what the practice is right?

Craighead: Yeah.

Kelly: Yeah. So thank you so much for coming on. That was great.

Craighead: Thanks Rhea.

Kelly: Thank you for joining us. I'm Rhea Kelly, and this was the Campus Technology Insider podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify and Stitcher, or visit us online at Let us know what you think of this episode and what you'd like to hear in the future. Until next time.

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