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#SundayShare: Why Are There Multiple Sites?

#SundayShare: Why Are There Multiple Sites? published on

You may wonder why we have more than one website for the course. In SPOT survey responses from last year, students said that there were times when they weren’t sure which website to use. One student commented, “This class was so confusing. There was so many different websites with content we had to keep up with on it.”

I certainly don’t want any of you to be confused, so I want to explain a bit more about the course sites with these FAQs.

What are the websites for the course?

We have three websites that are important to this course:

  • The Canvas site: You will turn in all your graded assignments on the Canvas site. You can also find links every day in the Announcements.
  • The Course Website (this site): the location for all course materials, daily readings, weekly work, policies, and other documents.
  • The Assignments Website: the location of the assignments for all major assignments.

If you are working toward a grade higher than a B, you may also be visiting a third site: our group on Facebook.

Why are there so many different sites?

The three main sites are intended to work together

  1. Protect Your Privacy: The Canvas site has all of the university-approved FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 [U.S. Public Law 93-579]) protections in place that make sure your grades and related feedback are secure. It’s federal law that I make sure your information remains private, so the Canvas site is a must.
  2. Ensure Free, Open Resources: Textbooks cost a lot of money, which is why I am committed to using free materials as much as possible in this course. Virginia Tech can claim ownership of content that is posted in Canvas (according to IT anyway). I use my own websites so that I control the intellectual property rights for everything I write. If it’s mine, I can make sure it’s free.
  3. Save Time: Lots of course resources change a little bit from term to term, but there are some that essentially stay the same. In particular I noticed that the writing assignments for the major projects were not changing from one term to the next. I added the Assignments Website to save time, which I can then use to respond to your questions and take care of other thing for the course.

Why the separate Facebook Group?

The group page on Facebook is a little different main sites. I find the Discussions tool in Canvas awkward. It’s hard to see related comments easily, and everything is in one gigantic forum.

I have tried Slack, which I personally like. Students, however, haven’t responded as well. They find it hard to follow the ideas, which are not always visually separate. The long, scrolling text can be overwhelming. It doesn’t make sense to add one more thing for you to learn when it doesn’t work for everyone, so I stopped using Slack.

I also tried Piazza, which I know many engineering students are familiar with. I love that Piazza was designed by a woman engineer to help women do better communicating in their courses. The problem was that I never figured out how to manage the flow of ideas properly. I never felt sure that I was reading and responding to everything I should. I hated feeling that I might be missing someone’s question, so I gave up on Piazza.

I ended up choosing Facebook (for now anyway). It collects all the related comments together visually. It’s easy to tell one idea from the next. I know that Facebook is an “old person’s tool”; but students usually have a login and they know how it works. There’s nothing to learn, and it does everything we need it to.

How is the main course website set up?

The main course site seems logical to me of course. I made it, so I know where everything is. But that doesn’t mean it seems logical to you, so here’s what to find under each of the menus on the site:

The Home Page
All of the daily posts for the course in reverse chronological order (the most recent posts are at the top). This is where to look for details on what to read and what to do each week. Additionally, find the daily posts that give you additional information about the assignments and other topics in the course.
Official information on the course set up and policies (just like the syllabus in a face-to-face classroom). This additional course information is located under this pull-down menu on every page of the site.

Accessibility Information
Details on special accommodations for the course, including information on how to get more help.
Schedule of Due Dates
A list of the work that is due in the course. This menu item is a link to the page in Canvas that is always up to date.
Course Logistics
Explanation of how to find the work you need to do each week, how the daily discussion posts work, and how to keep up with the website.
Succeeding in an Online Course
Tips on what you can do to make sure you do your best work in this course. This menu item is a link to a permanent page with an infographic.
When Your Grades Are Based on Labor
Description of how you can benefit from the labor-based grading system in this course. This menu item is a link to a permanent page with an infographic.
Explanation of the course assessment system, and a complete outline of work necessary in the course, including details on how to earn a grade higher than a B.

Labor Log
Description of the weekly journal requirements for the course, which contribute to the final exam in the course.
Writing Groups
Information on the online writing groups that are part of the peer feedback system in the course.
Major Projects
Brief description of the five major projects that are required in the course, with links to additional information.
Final Exam
Step-by-step instructions on how to complete the final exam assignment for the course.
Course Help
Links to information on the site that can help you do well. This page includes links only.

Campus Resources
Outline of places on campus where you can get more help for the course (like the Writing Center).
Ten Ways to Improve Your Writing
List of ten common strategies that will help you do better in the course.
By Title
Links to all the daily posts on the site, listed in reverse chronological order (the most recent posts are at the top).
By Category
Links to the daily posts on the site, sorted by the categories they were published in (e.g., #TuesdayTutorial).
Links to all of the pages on the site, in alphabetical order.
Contact Info
Form for visitors to the site to use if they want to send me a message. Students should email me directly or send a message in Canvas.


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