Why “It’s all on Canvas!” is not a helpful answer

Online Course Design Pitfall #1: Upload your course materials, then call it a day.

It’s easy to blame students for their inability to find the assignment, or for making “lame” excuses for why they didn’t do the reading. However, since I never used a CMS as an undergrad, I have no idea how to assess whether my course organization makes sense; since I LOVE to read and go down rabbit holes (don’t all academics do this?), I have no idea if the assigned readings are too complex or too long or seemingly “unrelated”. Yes, I get excited about the latest article the compares “resilience” to “adaptive capacity” because it’s what I am currently researching. IRL, though, students may not be able to pick out the nuance or history behind the different terms (nor should they, as it isn’t important to the learning goals of the course!), they have other courses, they don’t have time to mess with a disorganized Canvas site, and they increasingly rely on devices to send them reminders of when things are due. Sooooo, to counter this I have two goals for this term: 1. Revise all course content for updated materials and media (e.g. I want to include podcasts as sources of information, and may expand the acceptable format for participation in an “outside seminar” to participation in an “environmental activism or community-based activity”. 2. Work collaboratively with my new grad student (who also happens to be the course TA and who only months ago completed her undergraduate degree) to check the Canvas site for structure, how enticing it is, and to see if there are any “secret tech tools” I can use to better connect Canvas and course work with their everyday devices and activities (e.g. can Canvas notifications be synched to an iphone calendar??). I suspect that by specifically tackling these issues as a instructor-TA (who happens to have recently been an undergraduate student) team, we should be able to come up with something good!

A third point of action would have to be participation in this Hybrid Course Learning Community. As faculty we (I!) tend to get caught up with other “very important” things, and often don’t (never!) prioritize updating course materials and keeping up to date on technology. Thus, although a far cry from totally jumping on the tech train… I certainly care about designing a course that is exciting for students, and streamlined for ease of teaching and interacting with students; especially when I see them in person once per week. The Learning Community is a great way to hold myself accountable to making those changes and learn along the way. It is my hope that these three strategies will help me to never ever again have to say “It’s all on Canvas!” in my most exasperated voice. And that instead I will find technology to be the unifying factor of the hybrid course delivery.

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5 Responses to Why “It’s all on Canvas!” is not a helpful answer

  1. chakerir says:

    Hi Ana.
    I love the idea of incorporating the grad student’s perspective. We see and know our own materials so well that it is often hard to see how they might be confusing or overwhelming to our students. I get a lot of questions on things that I thought were obvious but repeated questions of the same nature show me weren’t. Just having another pair of eyes to look through your course and check for usability, clarity, organization and flow, typos, etc. can be so helpful! I sometimes offer students a point or two of extra credit for errors they bring to my attention or suggestions they make for improving the course organization or ease of use! Thanks for a fun post!

  2. gallaghs says:

    Hey Ana,
    Your post was super helpful today specifically as I was interacting with a student who has struggled to get assignments submitted and to read instructions for a leadership role he was to participate in this week in an online course I’m currently doing. I was literally thinking “all this is on canvas, the student is “clearly” not reading the assignment instructions or the announcements for the week or other reminders I’ve tried to introduce to help orient people to the course. SO…. I’ll take your good advice, both for the organization of the Hybrid for Spring and in spending a little while looking over my online only course this quarter to see where there might be gaps in the flow and clarity. Sally G

  3. Emily M says:

    So timely to read this as I just found out the my biweekly Canvas participation self-evaluation (for my on-campus course) was linking to a corrupt file and that’s why none of my students completed it 🙁

    That’ll teach me to pay more attention to what I’ve uploaded and be more present!

  4. kneiflc says:

    I have made this mistake too, and I now use similar strategies to make sure my students know how to find what they need. If we have an upcoming assignment, I will walk my students through, step-by-step, how to access the assignment on Canvas and how to complete it. If somebody asks about a document that is on Canvas, I will walk them through the steps of finding it and using it correctly. It’s not that our courses are unorganized, necessarily, but rather that everyone’s courses are organized differently, and so the student experience on Canvas ends up varying substantially from one class to the next. I also find it helpful to limit the number of options that show up in that left-hand tab as much as possible. If it’s not essential for course delivery, I disable it to simplify things for my students.

  5. gallaghc says:

    In relationship to all of this — I struggle with how many ‘places’ or deliveries I use to inform students. I wonder if saying it in class, having the information on a lecture slide, being able to access in in Canvas via a module, via an announcement, via an assignment — isn’t too overwhelming? When is enough…enough? An even though you can create experience in Canvas that aren’t just reading based — it’s still a lot of reading, sifting through and cross-checking. For a visual and kinetic learner like myself — this is difficult.

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