For Some, the Time to Adopt Canvas is Now
While some colleges are learning about Canvas for the first time, others are diving into the learning management system(LMS) head first. Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Social Work are developing in Canvas now, and both plan to start the Summer 2016 term with all active courses in Ohio State’s new and improved version of Carmen.
The two colleges participated in the Canvas pilots, which familiarized their faculty with the tool in an environment with much support from their own units and ODEE. Each college had distinct uses for the features Canvas had to offer, aligning with teaching initiatives they were already planning. Each college had its own needs and applications, but a few themes were common:
Enabling Best Teaching Practices
Good pedagogy can be exercised on almost any platform, but the best tools make the right thing to do the easiest thing to do.
A pivotal player in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s early Canvas adoption was Dr. Melinda Rhodes-DiSalvo. She arrived as the new Director of Teaching and Learning for the college last May and saw the potential in a new LMS for Carmen.
“We were already embarking on a strategic plan for faculty development,” Rhodes-DiSalvo said. “The college was looking at the learning experiences of our students in preparation for a curriculum mapping initiative. The timing was perfect to change platforms and make the best use of Canvas.”
The adoption of Canvas is more than a tool change. It’s an opportunity to reimagine how we deliver course content at Ohio State. In many cases, it’s about equipping instructors who identify more as disciplinarians than educators. A better LMS makes it easier for these lecturers to deliver strong course content so their students can succeed.
Byron Roush, Director of Educational Technology for the College of Social Work, said many Social Work courses are taught by community lecturers. They work primarily in the field, and bring valuable experiences to students for a class or two, but primarily work outside of the university. This made for uneven adoption across the college—many Social Work faculty simply didn’t use Carmen to conduct their courses beyond sharing course material and collecting assignments.
Roush said many faculty and community lecturers perceived the learning curve for the D2L version of Carmen as too steep—too much a burden for instructors who have many demands on their time. Roush saw Canvas, in contrast, as an intuitive tool that faculty and community lecturers can adopt quickly.
When course content is confined to a single course shell, it doesn’t reflect the true nature of how students acquire skills and knowledge across a college career. Canvas facilitates flexibility that mirrors how students really learn.
“Students have to develop new skills, like how to take a history on a patient,” Rhodes-DiSalvo said. “They’ll learn the process early on in their program, but the concept needs reintroduced over and over, or students can’t perfect it.”
The Canvas Commons, a library of educational content and a community of Canvas users, helps make this possible. Learning content that is placed in the Commons can be shared amongst courses and faculty members — making it easier for students to revisit concepts and skill sets. Creating learning modules on a topic and making those modules available to any College of Veterinary Medicine faculty who would like to place them in their courses creates the opportunity for students to review or remediate on topics in more advanced courses and to master skills necessary for success in the field.
Canvas enables flexible interaction with learning content and also with peers and faculty. Social Work students are widely distributed, Roush explained, since the undergrad program is offered on all four regional campuses as well as the Columbus campus. These course sections are merged in Carmen, and the Canvas version offers a richer student engagement experience with more robust collaboration features.
Bells and Whistles
Canvas lays a strong foundation for smart course design, and some particular features are icing on the cake.
“The tools really save time for the instructors,” Roush said. “SpeedGrader is a game changer, along with the rubric tool and the option to leave comments in audio or video format.”
There’s more to multimedia than just being shiny and new: Studies and our pilot experience has shown students are more likely to incorporate peer and instructor feedback when it’s delivered in audio format compared to written feedback.*
Further, audio and video comments allow for tone and context for your feedback to students.
“If students can hear you as an instructor of see your expressions, you can provide additional encouragement not possible in written form or mitigate the sting of a bad grade by “talking them through” performance improvement.” Rhodes-DiSalvo said.
At the end of the day, it’s the student experience that matters most. A learning management system exists to support learning, and Canvas does a better job meeting students’ expectations based on technology they use in their everyday life.
“Some of our curriculum is heavily didactic, with a lot of lecture involved.” Rhodes-DiSalvo said. “We wanted to find new opportunities to add enhancements and interactive modules to complement that content.”
The College of Veterinary Medicine knew it was time to make those enhancements with the multimedia tools offered in Canvas. When opportunities to add media and interactivity are built into the platform, faculty can use them to enhance the curriculum instead of building their course around the limitations of the tool. Rhodes-DiSalvo said developing from scratch is encouraging faculty to get creative and envision content anew.
Special features in Canvas can also help students balance their course loads and personal lives.
“Students will love the calendar,” Roush said. “They can finally have all of their course deadlines in one place, and it stays updated so any changes made by the instructor are reflected automatically.”
The dynamic Canvas calendar can pull in a students’ Gmail or iCal content, incorporating course dates and personal to-dos, with the option to keep things separate or view all deadlines at once for time management and planning.
A Sleek, Intuitive Interface
Roush said the Canvas interface is so simple, he anticipates a much higher percentage of Social Work instructors will adopt Canvas and use more of its features than were used with the D2L version of Carmen.
“I think it will be a big win in terms of getting higher adoption, and also to use our LMS as more than a content repository,” Roush said. “Canvas is just more intuitive, so it’s easier to make use of the features that can make Carmen an immersive learning experience.”
Rhodes-DiSalvo said she loves the Canvas interface because it allows students and instructors to focus on the learning content instead of the tool that houses it.
“You have to consider cognitive loads,” she said. "Canvas offers a minimalist approach, and it works.”