Thanks to Covid, a lot of us who teach are facing a remote semester. That means we have to get rid of the old playbook, or at the very least do some serious revising. Unlearning the old ways and relearning the new has required me to traverse some unfamiliar territory this summer. For me, that unfamiliar territory was Canvas, one of the most common learning management systems on the market, right after Blackboard. Before Canvas, Blackboard was my home, my familiar stomping ground, with its ugly interface and counter-intuitive workflow. Blackboard is what I’m used to and what I’ve become a self-proclaimed expert at using. Canvas, on the other hand, touted as prettier and easier to navigate, was up until recently completely foreign to me. So, after spending the better half of my summer watching tutorials, reading blog posts and exploring the site, here are some of my favorite features:
Linking to external apps
Canvas makes it super easy to link external apps, such as Kaltura and Zoom, directly to your courses. If you read my blog post on my essentials for advising and teaching from home, you remember me talking about how I use Kaltura to caption my videos and add quiz questions as well. Rather than having to download the video from Kaltura and upload it to Canvas, I can just embed the Kaltura link straight into Canvas (more on embedding below).
Connecting Zoom to Kaltura has been my absolute favorite, though. Since I’ll be teaching remotely via Zoom, I was worried about how to make the logging in process to our weekly, virtual discussions as easy and seamless as possible.
Because I can connect my Zoom account to Canvas, I was able to set up a recurring, weekly meetings, each with their own Zoom ID to prevent Zoom-bombing. Those links can be found within each course, so my students don’t have to go elsewhere to look for it. They just log onto Canvas, as they would anyway to access the course materials, and go to the Zoom link for that day.
Ability to embed
As mentioned above, I embed the links to my pre-recorded presentations housed in Kaltura directly into Canvas. Embedding is different than linking the video. With a link, students have to click and wait to be taken to a different site (in this case, Kaltura). Embedding the video allows the students to just hit “play” directly from Canvas, without having to load another website entirely. It also makes it clear to my students exactly what I want them to do, which is to watch the video. Because they can see the media player right there on the page, they won’t have to guess on next steps or go searching for the correct link.
Control over the homepage
Unlike with Blackboard, Canvas allows you to control what page the students see upon first opening your course. For my course, I made the first lesson the homepage. They literally can’t miss it. I plan on changing the homepage each week so that the current lesson is always the first thing that pops up for them.
Modules allow you to have more control over your lessons, especially if you’re teaching an asynchronous class. For me, I have only 2 things in each module – watch the pre-recorded presentation and complete the quiz question.
You can also enforce sequential learning which means that the students have to complete these 2 tasks in a specific order. For my lessons, they cannot move on to the quiz without first viewing the presentation. Furthermore, you can control exactly what the students have to do in order to complete the module. The module is only marked as complete once the presentation has been viewed and the quiz submitted.
Just like with formal assignments, you can assign “due dates” to your pages (i.e. your lessons). For example, I assigned a time by which my students should work through the lesson from that week (i.e. – watching the pre-recorded lecture). This then creates a new item on the student’s “to-do” list in the right-hand column that links them straight to the page for them to complete the lesson. Gone are the days when students say that they didn’t know that they had anything due! Well, probably not gone but perhaps lessened in occurrence.
Now, to all my Blackboard die-hards (if you actually exist), not to worry! My love for Blackboard runs deep, so look out for a post on how to make the most of BB coming soon.