As I continue this educational technology journey, I realize that what I’ve learned is only a small fraction of what I will soon learn. Last semester, I discovered terms like
MOOCs and ‘BYOD’ … this semester, it’s ‘blended learning’ and LMS. Although so many of these elements or components of educational technology are related … almost ‘interdependent’ … I find that I am still only able to grasp bits and pieces of the puzzle. With my mind currently being occupied by thoughts (anxiety!) about the major project for this class – developing a module for an online or blended course – the task of exploring learning management systems is perfect for me.
According to a recent PC Magazine article, Moodle and Instructure (the makers of Canvas) are really giving Blackboard a run for its money in the educational LMS market. PC Magazine author, William Fenton, praises Canvas’ for its “tabs and contextual menus”, which make it easy to use for new LMS operators. Unlike many other software programs in this category, Canvas lets users share their modules and assessments with others and has the ability to be connected to “third-party tools and services” (Fenton).
The only ‘con’ that Fenton identified in his review of Canvas was that, in some cases, prices listed might not be totally accurate. I’m about to see for myself if there are any other weaknesses to this highly acclaimed software…. stay tuned!
Account Set Up
Account set up was simple. I entered my name, teaching details, and selected a username and password. I received two emails: one from Instructure with a link to complete the registration process and the other, from a Canvas employee. The second email contained a welcome message and then five links to help get me started with this LMS. The topics for the links were:
- Meet the Canvas Community
- Overview of Canvas
- Canvas Instructor Orientation
- Canvas Guides
- Ways to Invite Students to Join Canvas Classes (links shown below)
I clicked on each of the links that the Canvas representative provided in her email. I was pleased to see lists of very clearly laid out topics – most that would be beneficial to me in the coming weeks!
- Within the Canvas Community link, there was a video from an experienced educator who stated that, within an open source classroom, engagement levels seem to be higher. Given my school divisions current emphasis on student engagement, Canvas’ focus on ‘sharing’ and ‘community’ really appealed to me.
- The Canvas 101 link provided a sample course, shown from a student’s perspective. I could see how easy it would be to navigate the site … and I was impressed that one of the tabs was for “Collaborations”. This is a space where collaborative work, like Google Docs or Google Slides, would appear. One thing that I expected to see in this section was something about assessments. I didn’t locate it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there!
- The Canvas Instructor Orientation link was amazing. Front and centre on the page was a “Start” button that lead to 45 minutes of informative video about how to set up a course. Watching it once may not be enough for me so I think I’ll add that link to my “favourites” in Google Chrome! One feature that I absolutely MUST point out is “Speedgrader”. It isn’t quite as amazing as it sounds, but it does offer some real time-saving ways of viewing and grading student submissions. AND … if you’re using Canvas with a Chrome browser (uhhhh….. like …. who WOULDN’T be), you can you talk-to-text options for your assignment comments. (Talk-to-text is one of my FAVOURITE features on my Android!)
- The Canvas Guides link took me to the fine print – the complete details on how to use Canvas to its fullest potential. The guides are split by user group: instructor, student, administrator, and observer. For the more visual or auditory learners, there are video guides!
- Perhaps one of the most important links was the last one: Ways to Invite
Students to Join Canvas Classes. It turns out that instructors can invite students to join in one of three ways: a) manually, using email; b) using a join code; or c) using a secret URL. The instructions for each method of student enrollment were fantastic – each used text plus screenshots. Source
Having visited all of the links, I decided to dive in and try Canvas out. Immediately after I started exploring Canvas, a chat room message popped up:
I didn’t actually take advantage of Matt’s offer to help – but I certainly appreciated the gesture! I’m sure that I’ll require his assistance once I’m a bit further along in this process.
This was the first screen that I was taken to, once I’d set up my account. There wasn’t really anything showing there, as I had yet to set up any courses. When I indicated that I wanted to create a new class, I was prompted to click on the “Setup Checklist”. The dashboard screen changed and I saw a long list of options for getting started with my course. I thought I would begin by adding files to the course, so I clicked on that option. A new message appeared – describing both what it meant to add files and with another button to click to get me started. So far, Canvas has been incredibly user-friendly!
I was a little bit unsure of what to do when I arrived at the “add files” area. I decided to add a folder (“+Folder” button) . I was able to easily name my new folder. I didn’t know how to add files to the folder, but I noticed the “upload” button, so I clicked that; the window that popped up showed all of my recent files – Word documents, PDFs, JPEGs, etc. I selected one, just to test it out, and, within seconds, it appeared in my folder.
Given my early experiences working with Canvas – and, considering both Ashley and Andrew (my amazing group members and colleagues) liked what Canvas had to offer, I have NO trouble giving this LMS two thumbs up.
I look forward to learning more about Canvas and what it has to offer. I appreciate all of the LMS information that EC&I 834 classmates shared in their blog posts – particularly all of the details about Canvas. We will certainly be able to help one-another when it comes time to set up our online and blended modules!