Communications

Given the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, we may need to adapt how we communicate.

But, even as an in-person class, we use a variety of online tools to communicate between course staff and students. We will have in-person class meetings (in Room 312 Wendt); we will use Canvas (see Tips on Using Canvas) for announcements, discussions, and hand-ins; we will use Piazza for student-initiated communications; we will use Zoom for online conversations, and we will use the course web to distribute information.

  • Announcements will be made via Canvas
  • Emergency announcements will be made via email, but we will try to keep this to a minimum.
  • Discussion Assignments (including assigned discussions) via Canvas Discussions
  • General (Open) Discussions via Piazza
  • Communication with Course Staff via Piazza, or email in an emergency
  • Broadcast information via the course web (announced on Canvas)
  • Course restricted information via Canvas pages and Files
  • Grading Feedback via Canvas
  • Class Design Activities using Google Suite and (possible other tools)
  • Please be respectful of others in online communications.
  • Meetings with staff via Zoom (or in person)
  • Class meetings in Wendt 312 (unless moved online)

Communications in CS765

I have chosen to use a variety of different tools for communication in the class. I did this since no one tool is perfect for all of the different kinds of communications we need to do. For each type of communication, there is a tool to use it in, and the tools are connected.

Everything is organized by the type of communication.

Announcements via Canvas. The course staff will make announcements using the Canvas announcement system. If something is important, we will announce it on Canvas. You may want to configure Canvas to notify you when there are announcements. Setting Canvas to send you a daily digest of announcements is recommended. (see Tips on Using Canvas).

Email for emergencies only. We will only send email to the class mailing list (1) at the beginning of the semester while we are getting started, or (2) in the event of something really urgent that we want to make sure everyone sees right away. (we expect some people to get Canvas announcements as part of a daily summary) If you want to send us a message, use Piazza (below).

Assigned Discussions via Canvas Discussions. For any discussion we require you to participate in (e.g., the weekly Online Discussions and Seek and Finds) we will use Canvas Discussions. Almost always you will be part of a group (warning: groups are one of the more frustrating aspects of canvas - see the Canvas page), and you will need to make your own posting (in response to a prompt) before seeing others' postings and being able to respond.

General Discussions via Piazza. For any discussion that is student driven (where a student initiates the discussion), or is optional or general interest, we will use Piazza. Basically, if its not something where I give you a discussion prompt, it happens on Piazza.

Course Information on the Course Web. If I want to give you information (like this page), it will be on the course web. If new information is made available, it will be announced on Canvas (so you don’t need to keep checking the course web for new stuff).

Restricted Information via Canvas Files and Pages. If something is restricted (limited to use by the class), it will be placed on Canvas, not on the open web. Please do not share restricted materials outside of class.

Communicate with the course staff via Piazza. Send us a private message on Piazza as the preferred way to communicate with us. We prefer this to email. It has the advantage that two of us read it, so you will get a quicker response. (even if its because the TA sees message and alerts the Professor of the urgency). It also helps us, because it logs all class traffic in one place. If something is very urgent and/or personal, it is OK to send email.

Assignments will be turned in via Canvas. Anything that will be graded should be on Canvas (with exceptions of class participation things, which might happen elsewhere).

In-Class Design Assignments will may use online tools: This is still being developed, but we will experiment with using online methods for in-class work. This might be as simple as asking people to “scan” their work and upload it using their cell phones.

Feedback from the course staff (grading) will come to you via Canvas. In general, our feedback will be given to you in the Canvas grade comments. A warning: do not respond to Canvas grade comments, we may never see it. If you want to respond to our feedback, send a private message on Piazza (you may want to quote the feedback).

Synchronous class meetings will use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. Be sure to enter BBCU via Canvas (this logs that you attended).

Meetings with the course staff will usually be via Zoom, unless otherwise specified. If we expect a small number of people, we will use Zoom.

Office Hours will be held either in person or via Zoom. See the instructions on the instructor’s web page. If you need to schedule something send a Piazza message or an email (this is a case where email is OK).

Course staff may communicate with you via email. If you get email from us, please respond via email.

Some Rationale

Understanding why we are using all these different tools will help you know how to use them all together in class.

We are using Canvas Announcements because they give you (as the student) options on how you want to be notified. They also have the advantage of being logged, so you can go back and refer to them. You may want to configure Canvas to notify you when there are announcements.

We are using the Course Web because it gives a better authoring experience for me to write things, and more flexibility in how I organize information. It also is public, so people not in the class can see what happens in the class. For information that is private, I will use Canvas Pages. Canvas pages are not a good option for class information because they are harder to author, and have limited organizational opportunities. The course web has the downside that it is non-interactive (so we will only use it for 1-way communications), and there is no easy way to notify people when things are changed (I will manually announce it on Canvas).

We will use Canvas Discussions for graded (prompted) class discussions. Canvas discussions provide important features for this: grouping (you will almost never have a discussion with the whole class), post before seeing others, reasonable threading, “new post filtering”, connection to logging and grading, likes, … They are good for a focused discussion on a single topic (the response to a prompt). They are less good for open discussions (where students want to raise new topics).

We will use Piazza for general discussions and direct communications with course staff. Piazza is a decent tool for free-ranging discussions where anyone might want to start a new topic. It’s commonly used in CS classes, so most students are familiar with it. It doesn’t provide great analytics, or support for focused discussions, or “must post first” discussions, so we can’t use it for the graded discussions. Consider setting your Piazza notifications so you are aware when relevant things are posted.

We prefer Piazza to email for communication since it helps us keep things related to the class together. It also makes it easy to move things from private to public when appropriate.

If we want to send you a direct message, we may use email since not everyone spends as much time on Piazza as we have to as instructors.

We will use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra for class meetings. It is a good tool for syncrhonous class meetings, with good chat and breakout support, interactions, and decent instructor to student audio/video. It is not as great a video platform as more focused communication tools (like Zoom), but its good enough. It is integrated into Canvas, allows us to get attendance information (yes, we will keep score), and is officially supported by the University. Zoom will be supported by the University, but not in time for us to plan to use it for lectures (although, we might switch).

We will use Zoom for small group meetings (e.g. 1-on-1s with the course staff). Supposedly, Zoom will be officially supported as a University platform for the fall. The advantages of BBCU (entry through Canvas, structured for classes) are less of a benefit fpr small groups. I’m not sure Zoom is better than its competitors, but I use it out of habit.

Some Things You Can Do

In an in person class, there is subtle dialog that adds to the class. Students ask questions. The professor sees puzzled faces. Students chat with their classmates. We all chat before and after class. If I make a mistake while lecturing, or an assignment isn’t clear, I’ll find out right away. If a student sees an interesting connection between topics in class, or has an interesting perspective, they can bring it up. If a student wants to know where to go to learn more about a topic, they ask me after class.

If you want clarification on an administrative thing (for example, an assignment isn’t clear)… Make a public posting on Piazza (after checking that no one else has asked the question already). Others may have the same question.

If you have a content question - either something that doesn’t make sense, or something you want more information about… Make a public posting on Piazza (after checking that no one else has asked the question already). Others may have the same question.

If you see something cool or interesting that is related to class, like you find some new tool or see a particularly cool visualization… Make a public posting on Piazza

If you want feedback on your work before it is due, or more info on the feedback we give you afterwards… Make a private message to the course staff on Piazza.

Some Things Not to Do

  1. Do not reply in Canvas grading comments! Canvas grading comments are a way for us to give you feedback. If you post a reply to your feedback, we may not see it.

  2. Do not send the Professor or TA an Email when Piazza is more appropriate. Prefer Piazza to email - you are more likely to get a faster response since both the TA and instructor check it, and if one of us sees it, we can alert the other (if it needs them). Email responses may be delayed, and may also say “please ask on Piazza”.

  3. Do not send a private Piazza message for something of interest of the class. If you need a clarification, someone else might be asking the same question. First check to see if someone else already asked on Piazza. Then post it as a public question, so everyone can see our response. If we don’t think your post is appropriate for the whole class, we can make it private before we respond. However, if you send us a private post, we will not make it public (we might respond to you and ask that you make the post public, which will add a delay).

  4. Do not use Canvas direct messages to communicate with the course staff. Prefer Piazza, or even email. Things in Canvas direct messages often get missed.

  5. Do not reply to Canvas announcements or anything else in Canvas, other than Group discussions.

Etiquite Online and Online Conduct

Online discussion can be challenging. Because you don't get the real-time feedback from others, you may say something inappropriate, mean, hurtful, aggressive, or offensive without realizing it - or only realizing it too late (after the posting has circulated and damage is done). On the receiving side, because we miss the non-verbal cues, it is easy to misinterpret a message in a negative way. And when we try to resolve bad occurrences, delays in dialog can allow negative feelings to grow before they can be diffused.

Because it is new, the "rules" for acceptable conduct online (both in terms of being sufficiently civil in discussion and being proper academic conduct) is not well formed. Use good judgment. If there is something questionable, feel free to ask.

In the past, we have found that students in online discussions for this class have been respectful and professional. But I think this takes conscious effort from everyone.

Some guidelines:

  1. Be polite and respectful of others. It's OK to disagree, but do so in a constructive way. Be mindful of the how the reader will interpret your message.
  2. Stay within the topic and scope of discussions.
  3. If you feel that someone is being inappropriate, or says something that hurts you, feel free to bring it up with the course staff.
  4. Use reasonable writing. What works in spoken conversation can feel weird in writing.
  5. Beware of sarcasm and humor - it often doesn't work online, and you cannot get immediate feedback to know that it is being interpreted correctly.
  6. Be honest. Don't cheat. You can go back to edit things, but don't use it as a way to avoid deadlines. (e.g., making an initial posting before the deadline and fixing it afterwards).
  7. Don't plagiarize. Give proper attribution for things you borrow.

See also the University Netiquite Guidelines

The course staff has the right to remove content it feels is inappropriate at its discretion.