Canvas Success Stories, Episode 1: Tom Hogan, professor of practice, human resource management

Mar 22, 2018 | Canvas Success Stories, News

HR professor uses Canvas, unconventional teaching style to create ethical business leaders

Tom Hogan shot in studio

Tom Hogan

Note: This is the first in a series we are doing called Canvas Success Stories, which will take a look at some of the more interesting ways Penn State faculty are using Canvas to teach. 

Tom Hogan, professor of practice, human resource management in the School of Labor and Employment Relations, began teaching business ethics in higher education after taking an early retirement from AT&T. During his teaching career, he has utilized three different learning management systems: WebTycho, ANGEL, and Canvas.

Although it has been in use across the University less than a year, Hogan is a major proponent of Penn State’s current system. “To me, Canvas has been the best and most helpful because it fits well with my style of teaching, which is not traditional,” he said.

Hogan teaches two online courses and one face-to-face course. In fact, when you look at his courses in Canvas, it is nearly impossible to tell which are online courses and which are face-to-face. And that is intentional.

Blending Canvas into blended learning

Hogan is a strong believer in blended learning; a teaching style that combines aspects of in-class and online courses. “In my mind I don’t separate the two,” he said. “Canvas as a learning management system enables me to teach online and face-to-face courses in a way that’s very similar to one another. I find Canvas to be a blended learning-friendly tool.”

Blended learning is also active learning, and for Hogan’s students taking his in-person LER 460 Labor and Employment Relations Ethics class, this means that the majority of class time is not spent on lectures. Instead, LER 460 has activities such as in-depth class discussions, role-playing activities, and guest speakers, including Penn State football coach James Franklin and University Ethics Officer Tim Balliett. The class discussions, Hogan said, are building on what students read in assignments prior to class, which enables students to interact and learn from each other.

Inspiring the ethical business leaders of the future

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of LER 460 is a class community service project that is 20 percent of his students’ final grade, and is in lieu of a final exam. During the fall 2017 semester, Hogan brought in three groups, the Penn State Office of Human Resources, Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center, and the Huntingdon County Business and Industry group, to work with students on the project.

“As they’re learning throughout the semester, the students are working on their community service project and trying to make things better in our area,” Hogan said. “This fits in well with a business ethics class, as corporate social responsibility is an important part of business ethics.”

Through Canvas, Hogan coordinates the community service projects with his students. Last December, Hogan’s students were part of the Campus and Community Sustainability Expo at the State College Municipal Building, where his students presented poster sessions for each project. This “grand finale” of the community service projects featured Penn State student-produced posters that focused on a variety of sustainability issues, and was attended by several hundred people – including borough officials and community business leaders.

One of the posters Tom Hogan’s students presented at the Campus and Community Sustainability Expo last December. From left to right: Penn State student John Lisberger; Hogan; Brynn Rousselin, Penn State human resources initiatives strategist; Penn State student Juliette Busby; Penn State student Haley Banashefski; and Penn State student Daniel Wilson.

Canvas as an organization, communications tool

Within Canvas, Hogan gave his students a one-stop spot to find information about project milestones and information on how to do poster sessions. “I tell students everything they need to know about how to do a community service project, and therefore, I don’t need to get into that during class time,” he said.

Juliet Busby, a senior telecommunications major in LER 460, said that having everything in one spot has helped her and the project group remain organized. “The ability to organize things in Canvas is a lot better than it was with ANGEL,” Busby said. “It’s great when working on our end-of-semester project to have everything we need in one folder, like contact information, rubrics, etc. It’s all right there and easy to find.”

Besides a way to keep his course and his students organized, Hogan also uses Canvas as an ice-breaker for students. He uses Canvas Discussions for students to introduce themselves, talk about where they are from, discuss career goals, and more.

“I love how I can use Canvas in this way,” Hogan said. “They are going to be working with each other in teams throughout the year, so it’s good for them to have this initial introduction, and of course, they’re used to meeting people like this online.”

Danny Wilson, a senior labor and employment relations major in LER 460, agreed with Hogan. “It’s good to get to know each other’s name, especially for our class project where there’s 17 students working on it,” Wilson said. “Canvas helped me learn all the names and get to know my fellow group members better.”

Canvas as a better way to communicate with students

Hogan also finds power in Canvas’s communications tools. He noted that he appreciates how easy it is to quickly create course announcements for anything from schedule changes to updating students on future class speakers. But one really unique communications tool that Hogan found helpful is Canvas’s voice messaging capability, which allows users to either send a text-based message or a voice message.

“I couldn’t reply with a voice message with ANGEL, and I love having the option,” Hogan said. “Sometimes a student will be confused about something even after emailing them back and I’ll realize it might be better to send them a voice message so they can hear me explaining it.”

In addition, Hogan uses Canvas’s video embedding capability, noting that, with students, often short video clips are better for teaching them than a lot of text. He said he will post videos that range from course-relevant webinars to recordings of guest speakers to interesting videos on ethics he encounters online.

Even with all the Canvas tools that Hogan has used for his courses, he said that still, he feels like he has a lot to learn and has just begun to delve into the learning management system’s capabilities. Hogan said that Penn State IT Learning and Development face-to-face sessions and webinars have been very helpful in helping him up his Canvas game.

“I want to get to that mastery level with Canvas, and I’m not quite there yet,” Hogan said. “The continuous learning I get from the training is getting me there and I really recommend to faculty that they seek out that training.”