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Meet The Prof.: Timothy Dohrer

Timothy Dohrer

Photo by Jarod Spohrer,

Today begins a new series called Meet The Prof.  We will be hearing from professors and professionals. We will endeavor to get a deeper look on what is on the horizon for Northwestern University, listening to their experiences during the LMS Review process. This week we introduce you to Professor Timothy Dohrer who piloted Canvas this past winter term.

Timothy is the director of the Masters of Science and Education program in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern. Born in Evanston, Timothy is a former English teacher at New Trier High school and he has been a department chair and administrator as well. He just finished 5 years as principal at New Trier. He had been an adjunct professor at Northwestern in the School of Education for about 10 years when the previous director decided to retire and the department approached Timothy to apply. After a long process he is now in a great department that fits his passion to teach and to lead.

Timothy knows the importance of a leader to be on the horizon learning the new programs so he can better guide his colleagues and be a role model for others.

We sat down to talk about his experience with Canvas during the winter pilot.

How did you get started in Canvas and how did you learn?
I was happy to be a guinea pig. I went through the training with Les and got both my classes up and going using Canvas this past Quarter. The trainings were really useful, as someone could walk me through and also gave us time during those sessions to work on our courses. It was an immediate application of what we just learned and it helped me build the course. By the time I got to the end of the training week I had almost completely finished one of my courses. Soon, I built the second course using the help and support within Canvas. I learned a lot during the training like managing the discussion board and how to do surveys and quizzes. Using the grade book was extremely useful and made more sense. In fact, I didn’t grade any papers by hand; using the Speedgrader I was able to do it all in Canvas.

Any apprehension about jumping into the Canvas pilot?
I was a little nervous about using it this much as I had some not great experiences with Blackboard.

What did you find most useful in Canvas?
I knew that the file management and the modules in Canvas were a big part of what I wanted to do to have most of my material online for students to access electronically. I also tried to get it so we didn’t have to print anything out. About half of the students wanted to have paper versions, it turned out. That still might be in a period of transition.

Did students adapt to Canvas quickly?
I think the students did great. Many of them did not even need the walkthrough provided, maybe only one or two them really needed some extra guidance. I know students got some useful information from the Canvas Help desk and they got immediate responses that were very helpful and helped the class run smoothly. Students and I were able to send emails to the Canvas Help desk, chat with a person live, use the tutorials. I think I only needed to contact NU Canvas support maybe once or twice.

What would have helped you adapt to Canvas?
I think I could have used maybe a one-on-one session with someone maybe three weeks into the course to go over everything to see if I’m doing everything right. Even if I were in a room with 4 or 5 people, I’d appreciate seeing what others are doing.

What do you think could be better in Canvas?
One issue that came up was while using the discussion board. I’ve never seen as much interaction in any of my previous classes, which was great. However, something that was not quite right was the visual representation and organization of the discussion board. I finally found an option to choose “threaded” about two weeks into the quarter, which helped, but it was still not clear. I hope that will look different in the future, to look better and more organized.

Speedgrader was good, but sometimes it felt like I had to go back and forth between the Speedgrader and the grade book a lot, I felt that could be better.

Rubrics: I didn’t use them in the way I wanted to because it seemed like it wasn’t designed with the way I think they are meant to work. There might need to be a discussion to get that designed a little better.

Inbox I loved that if you started to type in a student’s name it finished it, also that it showed what classes they were enrolled in. I used it so much that I may have only corresponded with students outside of it on something else, like Outlook, maybe only once or twice. However, I used it so much that I become frustrated that it didn’t function more like Outlook, like being able to CC people, and it was a little clunky sometimes. I had to be careful that when I responded to a student who was in enrolled multiple classes I taught, I had to check which class his question referred to. It’s almost there but could use a little more work.

What did you like that surprised you?
Group management is very well done. When I set up an assignment for a group, and their assignment was posted I was able to grade that assignment and it gave the grades to the entire group. I can tell that this could be a really powerful tool to be used in the future.

What would you like to see?
I would like to learn to use Adobe Connect or something like that with Canvas. File management was good, but I felt like it was still a little clunky, maybe if it had drag and drop functionality. I use the Survey tool and I liked it, I think it was a bit of a learning curve though to set it up, however. On the back end, I’d like the survey to have the same abilities of Survey Monkey, where I could get the results all in one place and copy it out. It’s one step away from being awesome, it’s almost there. I’m amazed at how much Canvas updates, I was in the training seminar and they even had an update during the training session. I’m impressed by the direction they are going in and the speed at which they are doing it. I might want to look at the apps, but I think I would like another training session to explore.

What advice would you give to faculty who have not experienced Canvas yet?
Go through the training seminars. Before going though, organize your assets. Have your documents, assignments, articles. Have them digitally ready and then you can simply drop them in and your course will be almost already done with Canvas trainers there to help you.

  • Have things ready to go, in Box or Dropbox or something.
  • Organize the way you want your course to look.
  • Do the training seminar.
  • Don’t sweat that you are going to need to know everything right away, focus on what you know you will need. For me I only needed the file management, discussion board, and grade book.

Top quotes from the interview with Timothy Dohrer:

“I am the happiest when I’m in a classroom working with students.”

“It’s important for a leader to spend time in the trenches…learning the new programs.”

“I’m one of those people that said to Les. ‘Don’t take it away from me.’”