SMORE –Web Platform for Creating Interactive Flyers

Posted by Christine Dereberry at 1/13/2017 9:33:16 AM

Recently I needed to create some technical help documentation around a change within our LMS. The change involved our plagiarism tool, Turnitin, which had sunsetted the API version of the tool and was launching the new LTI version.  The change was to take place on January 1st. The timing was perfect as the date for the implementation would allow our faculty three weeks to make the adjustment to the new Turnitin LTI tool prior to the start of the spring semester.

In the past I’ve used the content pages within Canvas as the method to communicate training or to create help documentation. While searching for something to jazz up my method for communicating training to our faculty, I found the tool smore.

Smore is a free web service that allows a user to create interactive web flyers.  After creating my account on the website I was able to begin making flyers for my training documentation. Here is a sample of a document I created:

There are several reasons I really enjoyed using this tool:

  • It allowed me to select the layout I needed which contains interactive drag and drop templates for dropping in the content, images, links and video.
  • I was able to move the content around on the flyer.
  • I was able to bring in images quickly and easily.
  • I was able to pick a standard font and color for the header and body of the flyer.
  • I was able to select a background look for the flyer.
  • The flyer allowed me to import in Thinglink images I had created. Here is a sample of one of my flyers that shows how I used Thinglink.
  • Thinglink is another free web service that allows a user to annotate images and videos which is very helpful when creating training document. You can learn more about Thinglink at
  • The flyer allowed me to control my sharing options which included all the normal social media solutions including Pinterest.
  • The flyer provided me with an embed code for dropping in my content into a Canvas content page.
  • Any edits I complete on my flyer in smore are instantly updated within Canvas.
  • I am able to preview and print my flyer if necessary.
  • Best of all, once I had 30 hits on my flyer, I received an email from smore telling me I can view the analytics for my flyer.
  • The analytics included how many visitors had seen my flyer, a Google map showing the location of the visitors, and the amount of time visitors spent reading the flyer. I can also see how many other sites are linked to my flyer which tells me how much traffic my flyer is receiving. How amazing is that! The analytics are included with the free account.

As you can tell I’m very satisfied with my approach to creating my technical documentation.  To evaluate the success of my new method for delivering help documentation, I am going to survey the faculty and ask for feedback on the training materials I developed using smore.

Why Canvas?

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 9/13/2016 9:49:15 AM

In 2011, Blackboard announced their decision to sunset Angel which prompted Cardinal Stritch University to enter the RFP (request for proposal) process to locate a new learning management system (*LMS).  When we went through our RFP process in the spring of 2011, Cardinal Stritch University had four different Learning Management Systems come to campus and present their proposal/sales pitch. Stakeholders from across the university participated in the presentations and demos of each product and the participants used rubrics evaluate how easy common tasks would be in each system. The Office of Information Systems reviewed all of the technical documentation to identify which system would work best within our current environment and with our student information system, Jenzabar.  After collating and reviewing all of the results, the committee had a vote and it was unanimous! Canvas would be our next LMS.  We spent the next year programming the configuration of Canvas to ensure the launch in August of 2014 would go smoothly for all users.  

With the launch in 2014 the institution set a minimal usage requirement of a course homepage and link to the course syllabus for all faculty using Canvas at Cardinal Stritch University. Since our initial launch of Canvas we have seen a gradual rise in usage among faculty, staff and students. Now in 2016, Canvas is being used in almost 100% of our courses regardless of format. Final Grade submissions within Canvas was announced as mandatory for all faculty using Canvas beginning August 29th, 2016. Since our initial launch we’ve seen Canvas introduce many new features including draft state and the new user interface. Compared to other learning management systems, Canvas is a very young: Instructure, Canvas' parent company, started in 2008 and the LMS was launched in 2011. Canvas now supports over 2,000 universities, school districts and institutions worldwide. With such a strong growth rate you might expect increases in support issues or outages to occur. However, in the last twelve months Canvas has reported an average 99.990% uptime, which is outstanding. 

I recently had the opportunity to attend a day long Canvas conference for “Canvas groupies” like myself.  Our first keynote speaker was the Senior Vice President of Product & Customer Experience, Mitch Macfarlane, who gave a great speech on why we should buy Canvas. At first the speech bothered me because I thought we already have Canvas so why would you devote 40 minutes of our day to talk to us about purchasing Canvas. As the day went on I dismissed the keynote address and focused on what sessions I wanted to attend. Many of the sessions introduced me to new and exciting ways to use Canvas and to other features Canvas has in development (HINT: A NEW Quizzing Interface is coming!). Talk about feeling energized! So what makes a Canvas conference such a powerful experience? It’s in the way that people talk about Canvas and how they have a crazy desire to get you to love the tool as much as they do!  

As I reflect back to the keynote delivered by Mitch it occurred to me that each person presenting during the conference emulated the excitement and desire to talk about Canvas as much as Mitch did in his opening remarks. It was like they couldn’t wait to share what cool new thing Canvas could do. It reminded me of a parent who might be overheard saying…”My daughter can ride her two wheel bike now!”.  Every presenter was enthusiastic, engaged and asked the audience repeatedly throughout the day, “What would you like to see Canvas do next?” It was invigorating to see the interest the presenters had in us (the end users) as we discussed our challenges around certain features  or a lack of certain features in Canvas.  While Instructure may be a young company and Canvas a young LMS, I believe the company holds the user experience at the center of all decisions.  This reaffirms why I am 100% behind our original and unanimous decision to select Canvas. I can’t wait to see what new feature is coming next.

Beware of the shiny objects!

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 8/12/2016 9:54:38 AM

The NPR Education team ran an article yesterday summarizing recent research on the connection between technology and learning.  In short, a number of recent studies have found that increased technology usage does not necessarily lead to increased learning.  Contrary to conventional tech-laden wisdom, researchers discovered that more technology was, in some cases, linked to a decline in student achievement and performance. 

If you follow traditional educational news media and venture capital funding, you might be inclined to believe that educational technology was keeping our classrooms and campuses afloat.  Innovation and disruption will revolutionize how we teach and learn, or so the narrative goes.  In 2015 alone, nearly $2 billion flowed into the coffers of US edtech companies. 


Yet, for all of this investment, what have we gained?  If we can demonstrate a non-existent (or negative) relationship between the very technology that we trumpet and the student learning that we strive for, where does that leave us?  As NPR importantly notes, there are a number of factors contributing to these findings:


  • Poor planning and integration: look no further than the LAUSD's disastrous purchase and rollout of iPads and the ensuing fallout.  Many institutions are ill-equipped to deal with an immediate influx of new hardware and software.  They do not have the technical support staff to handle the inevitable technical hiccups and required maintenance, they do not have the project managers to see the project from initial funding to completion, they do not have the instructional support staff to ensure that faculty, staff, and students are sufficiently prepared to use the technology in a manner that encourages deeper learning and robust, rigorous assessment.
  • Poor incentivization:  the funding carrot, often tied to standardized test scores for K12 districts, can fuel poor short-term decision making.  Quick fixes generally do not exist.  Shiny new objects might temporarily distract us from an insidious structural issue impacting student learning.
  • Poor training and support:  whether it is a new learning management system, a new student information system, a new assessment platform, or a new multimedia lab, institutions often do not invest the resources and time necessary to train their faculty  on the why and the how.  Likewise, schools must be prepared to support their students at every turn, particularly online and blended learners.
  • Poor instruction:  no amount of technology can obscure poor teaching, poor instructional planning, or poor curriculum design.


Many K12 districts and higher education institutions are hamstrung by budgeting crises, enrollment shortfalls, and unforeseen externalities.  Regardless of learning modality, institutions must address these shortcomings to see results. And even then, we might not see the commensurate gains we have mistakenly associated with technological innovation in educational spaces.  

Educational institutions must be leery of drinking the edtech elixir: it is enticing, potent, and ubiquitous, yet expensive, dangerous, and ultimately unsatisfying on its own.  It would be hazardous and foolhardy to make it the cornerstone of your daily nourishment.  

Technology with Purpose!

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 7/29/2016 9:57:13 AM

When instructors come for help with technology, their lead question is usually something along the line of, “how do I use this?” They want to know ‘how’ tools like Google Docs, Canvas, Camtasia, or Microsoft Office works so they can avoid what everyone has experienced in life: the tech failure! Activities and assignments that were ruined by crashing websites, equipment failure, or looking incompetent in front of others. While these are all valid concerns, the first question should not be, ‘how do I use this?”. 

In order to be sure you are using technology correctly to maximize learning, the first question that needs to be asked is, “why am I using this?” Too many times technology is an afterthought in planning and can actually distract from learning. Other times technology is used because instructors think, “they like using computers so I want to use technology.” Using technology with purpose gives the learner an experience with information that was not possible without the technology. So leading with the question of ‘why’ rather than ‘how’ leads to both better planning and better learning. Once planning and use of technology has purpose, it will have greater impact. 

Here are some ways to get started using technology for the purpose of learning:

  1. Collaboration in Real Time - There are excellent tools that allow learners to collaborate on projects that have changed the game on group work. Products such Google Docs and Microsoft OneNote allow project-based learning to be monitored, documented, and done outside of class hours. With more online learning it is a must that learners have a way to work in real time together and not have to be face to face. These products allow all participants the latest version of working documents and presentation. 
  2. Reflect and Share - Too many times ‘learning’ seems to be about acquiring knowledge and memory. Technology allows learners to interact with more materials, reflect on what they are learning, and share with others. Having learners create a blog and participate in discussions and blogs with other learners brings learners together and makes the application of the knowledge real. 
  3. Better Research - Technology has made research simple and efficient. In this day and age of “I’ll Google that,” gone are the countless hours of going to the library, searching the card catalog (remember those?), hoping the book was not checked out, dropping quarters in the copier, etc.. Now with databases you can turn up hundreds of resources and search those resources by key words all from the comfort of the local Starbucks. And remember the nightmare of knowing multiple citation and formatting styles, like MLA and APA? Google Docs can do that for you and build a perfect bibliography page at the same time. 
  4. Write, Rewrite, and Rewrite Again - Many of us remember a time when learning to write and research required a typewriter!  You submitted your rough draft and days later you got some scribbled noted in the margins from the instructor as feedback. Days like that are long gone now; most people never even start with paper and pencil when writing. Getting feedback, revising, and editing have all changed as well. With tools like Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365, and Draft learners are more involved in the writing process and instructors can give immediate and relevant feedback right in the draft of the document or project.
  5. Create Something New - Another paper to write? Another presentation to give? Another poster to make? All of these mediums are static and might lose their luster over time.  Learners should be challenged to create rather than just regurgitate. With so many technology tools learners can find more purpose if they can make a movie, create a song, build an app, or even design a website to demonstrate learning and knowledge. 
  6. Create a Digital Portfolio - Learning should be about growing and what better way to show growth than to be able to look back and see how you have grown as a learner. A digital portfolio allows you to archive work, look back over time, see what you have created, written and done, and see how much you have improved. Another benefit is when learners know their work will be on display, they will also take pride in what they do best and want others to see.

In the end, technology with purpose will only enhance the learning experience if used correctly. For further assistance in planning with purpose, please contact us at

Leveraging the LMS

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 6/15/2016 10:05:25 AM

The learning management system is inherently limited.  The LMS is a closed system -- i.e., it does not interact naturally with the broader online and digital world.  It requires specific programming and technical specifications to make interactions occur between external programs and itself (like an API, or LTI).  Though a number of learning management systems are now open source, this has had little impact on the overall user experience and underlying function of the LMS.  There are still broader questions we should ask about the centrality of the LMS to learning and how it might constrain our ideas of what online and blended learning can be.  For more on this topic, I encourage you to read Michael Feldstein’s (2015) excellent four-part series on what comes (or should come) after the LMS and Malcolm Brown, Joanne Dehoney, and Nancy Millichap’s (2015) piece on the future of the LMS in Educause Review.

As for now, the vast majority of institutions are operating within the LMS-world.  That world has a finite number of choices.  Despite all of its limitations, the LMS can still be an incredibly powerful tool to deliver learning to students across space and time.  And with that learning comes data that tells us a detailed story about what, how, and when our students are learning. 

Given the ubiquity of the LMS, it should not come as a surprise then that there is an abundance of data available to instructors, staff, and administrators.  Learning analytics -- just a fancy term for the data that we can cull from the LMS, enterprise systems, or other digital learning platforms -- provide information that can be incredibly useful when trying to predict student performance and persistence.  In a recent post on Inside Higher Ed, Paul Fain gives a brief overview of how certain institutions -- with help from external consultants -- are incorporating the data from the LMS into their retention models.  Information gleaned from LMS data can then be used to identify students who are at risk of dropping out or failing.  This is often done in concert with an early alert system for academic support and advising.  

As Fain notes, institutions have traditionally relied on other sources of information (e.g., GPA, midterm grades, advisor meetings, demographic data) to alert them to at-risk students.  However, data pulled from the LMS can offer a more accurate and timely picture of student engagement.  An end-of-semester GPA occurs at the end of the semester: it might suggest future student performance, or it might tell us that a student has already failed a course.  Demographic data fails to tell individual student stories and experiences.  A student often requests to meet with an advisor after an event or experience has impacted their success and ability to persist.  

Fain contends that student GPAs “lag in comparison to engagement data as a predictor”.  We might expand on his use of the verb “lag” to include the economics term “lagging indicator”: a lagging indicator describes a “measurable economic factor that changes after the economy has already begun to follow a particular pattern or trend.”  These descriptive student metrics tend to tell us the story after it is already in motion.  The LMS data can tell us the story in real time. 

But, the LMS is only as powerful as its users.  For many faculty, staff, and students, the LMS still seems far too complex or confusing.  Sparse or intermittent LMS usage might lead to unreliable or inconsistent data.  In order to strengthen that signal and leverage LMS data to improve student outcomes, institutions should work on the following:

  1. Robust and regular LMS usage: train, support, and encourage all faculty to utilize the LMS regardless of learning modality.  Whether face-to-face or online, students will use the LMS only to the extent that their instructor requires it.  Limited interaction means limited data.

  2. Systems integration:  the LMS should be seamlessly integrated with other enterprise and assessment systems for easy data tracking and reporting.

  3. Modeling & Early Alert: LMS data should be incorporated into retention modeling and early alert systems

  4. Staff training:  advisors and academic staff should be able to analyze LMS data and be trained to spot indicators for at-risk students

What does an instructional designer do? Part Two.

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 5/27/2016 10:10:19 AM

In a previous post, we discussed what it is instructional designers do:  a “jack of all trades”, who can analyze, design, write, troubleshoot, communicate, create, and adapt.  Instructional designers work in a variety of settings with diverse groups of learners across time and space.  Regardless of where they work, IDs must all confront internal resistance, cope with external pressures, and overcome significant challenges to see their work come to fruition.

In an April 2016 report commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the consulting group Intentional Futures (iF) examined instructional designers in higher education: where they are from, what they do, what tools they use, and what barriers they face.  The findings confirm our “jack of all trades” characterization: IDs must do a little bit of everything.  iF created four broad categories to classify the work of instructional designers:  train, support, manage, and design.

  • Design: design new or redevelop old courses, create instructional deliverables, quality assurance

  • Manage: project management, policy improvement and promotion, work across service areas

  • Train: technology training, instructional training, facilitate professional development

  • Support: learning management system (LMS) support, faculty consultation

In fact, one survey respondent in the iF study remarked that the best IDs “are ‘aces-of-many-trades’, with authentic experience and training in all aspects of the process” (p. 10). 

Much of what IDs do is cross-categorical: they might be managing a large program development project that also requires their design and support skills.  Though this report was written specifically with higher education in mind, we can imagine how these categories might be just as relevant for a corporate trainer working on a new elearning initiative with a tight deadline and limited budget.

IDs in higher education and IDs in the private sector must both deal with obstacles impeding successful learning and training initiatives.  In the iF report, IDs identified major barriers to their work.  With a bit of linguistic substitution, we could create a similar list for the corporate ID:



Image adapted from Intentional Futures (2016), Instructional Design in Higher Education (p. 15)

Whether on a college campus or in a corporate office, all IDs must have a certain set of skills that they can draw on to train, support, manage, and design.  They must be able to handle organization-specific challenges that will undercut and jeopardize their best-laid plans.  And, they must be able to quickly improvise and adapt in the face of such challenges to create and implement successful learning solutions.


Using Google Slides for Interactive Instruction

Posted by Ed Price at 5/27/2016 10:07:42 AM

Back in April, we posted an entry titled, “The Lecture is Dead! Long Live the Lecture!” Yes, the lecture lives, so maybe the question becomes, how can we improve the lecture to make it better and more active for the audience? 

This month, in conjunction with National Teacher’s Day (May 3rd), Google released a new feature in Google Slides called Slides Q&A (or Presenter View). While Slides (Google’s web-based version of Powerpoint) often leads to unidirectional instruction (teacher to learner), with little to no interaction, this new feature will allow anyone to take their Slides and make them an interactive presentation. 

Google Q&A, when enabled in a Google Slides presentation, will allow the audience to submit questions to the speaker. Once a question is submitted, the speaker can instantly see the question and if they choose, answer it on the spot. Another feature allows participants to vote “up or down” on questions submitted. If you like a question asked, or have the same question, just click the thumbs up. Don’t like or agree with the question, click on the thumbs down. The speaker also has the ability to display the questions asked to the audience. 

Suddenly the “lecture” becomes more of a conversation with the click of a button. Anyone in the audience with a web enabled device is connected not only to the speaker, but can also see questions asked by everyone else in the audience. The static one-way communication is turned on its head: everyone in the room is part of the learning, questioning, and the teaching. 

Slides Q&A can be used by anyone with a Google Account since they also have access to Google Apps. So now you take that boring presentation for your next business meeting or convention and really connect with people. 

As for educators and students, there are many possible applications.  Students giving reports can now ask questions of each other. Students could ask questions to teachers in a whole new format, and at the same time teach them proper netiquette and interactions with others. This may give voice to the student who will not raise his or her hand to participate or ask a question.

The win here is not learning a new tool, but having a new, free, and interesting way to connect to  people and information. Want to learn more about Google Slides and Google Q&A? Try out our free Google Sheets and Slides class.