Ben Latham / Courier. PCC Dean of Library, Learning Resources and Distance Education Dr. Leslie Tirapelle and Technologist/Developer Maureen Davidson at the Shatford Library on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, Pasadena, CA. They are leading the integration of the NameCoach tool into Canvas.
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A recording add-on designed for spoken name pronunciation in Canvas is expected to begin preliminary testing in October and launch in January, after the PCC Board of Trustees (BOT) approved $7,000 in September to purchase the software subscription from Palo Alto-based firm NameCoach, Inc.

“What that subscription gives us is the access. It retains our information from year to year, and any updates to the software automatically happen so that we don’t have to manage it,” said Dean of Library, Learning Resources and Distance Education Leslie Tirapelle.

Integration with Canvas is key. Tirapelle led the effort to implement Canvas at PCC in 2011, the first higher education institution in California to adopt it.

“The state of California pays for Canvas for every community college,” Tirapelle said. “This is one of the tools that they looked at and selected, so we did get a reduced rate because the state has an agreement with NameCoach.”

An important selling point for the state was student data security. NameCoach is compliant under the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

“It’s great when the college system actually vets those tools first,” said Distance Education Technologist/Developer Maureen Davidson. “Even though they’ve gone through their process, we still go through ours internally. We’re double-covered.” 

The new tool is expected to be live in Canvas for the Winter 2020 term. Before then, the tool will be extensively tested by a team of developers and faculty.

“We want to make sure it is actually meeting our needs the way we anticipated,” Tirapelle said. “We haven’t had our initial implementation team meeting. We take a careful approach.”

Testing will be followed by a campaign to introduce the new tool to users across PCC. 

“It’s usually about a semester. If people want to actually pilot, that’s great,” Davidson said. “It’s a great marketing thing for them to spread the word: ‘This is why it’s a great option for you, this is how it’s going to help your course, help your students, so think about it.’”

The implementation’s first phase will add a new clickable box to a Canvas course. The user’s profile picture will appear with a button to allow the user to record their own preferred name, along with personal pronouns and honorifics. Recording can also be done through a call feature.

“Teachers can also record their name,” Davidson said. “So if a student doesn’t understand how to actually pronounce a teacher’s name, it works the same way.”

Sociology instructor Thea Alvarado sees benefits of NameCoach in and out of the classroom.

“It follows you in all of your other course shells,” Alvarado said. “For me as a faculty member, I can go home at night. I can log into Canvas and I can look at my entire student roster. I can hear my students’ names as many times as I need to.”

The tool has built-in flexibility for non-use. It can be deactivated in any course at the instructor’s discretion. Students can also choose not to participate.

“They don’t have to record,” Davidson said. “It’s just available in the course. It’s something they can do.”

To show the potential reach of the NameCoach tool implementation, Tirapelle looked up Fall 2019’s Canvas course metrics. Currently, 25,725 students and 983 instructors are actively using Canvas in 2,378 courses this semester.

“I make it an assignment the very first week or two for them to go and update their information in Canvas,” Alvarado said. “And then I’m able to go and look and see when they accessed the course to make sure that all of the students are actually looking at that Canvas info.”

Director of Student Equity Michaela Mares sees NameCoach as an advantage in supporting PCC’s efforts in improving equity gaps.

“Research has shown how critical it is to a student’s sense of belonging, and to their sense of an academic identity, for their professor to know their name,” Mares said. “I really like the idea of having that software and that add-on. It gives a space for some privacy and some practice.”

Tirapelle is pleased that Canvas has grown at PCC to be a vital platform for students, faculty, and new value-added learning features. She hinted at more development to come.

“The company has other products that we may investigate in the future,” Tirapelle said. “Each time we bring something to that environment, we are proud of that. I think NameCoach will be extremely helpful.” 

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