Last week was the 19th Canvas Camp hosted at the University of Oklahoma. Looking back on its evolution from May 2016 to today, the dozens of courses developed by participating instructors, and the feedback I’ve received, Canvas Camp is an ongoing success.
Canvas Camp is intended to teach instructors how to use Canvas while they are producing their first Canvas course. Most of our time is spent exploring notable features, developing courses, and problem solving how to design courses in Canvas. All levels of expertise are welcome because Canvas Camp is flexible enough to scale and adapt to suit everyone’s needs—there’s always something to learn in our open-ended sessions! That being said, although this training is meant to teach several components of Canvas, there are many more pieces beyond what we introduce.
Canvas Camp occurs face-to-face in 2-hour sessions over 4 consecutive days. Demonstrations of Canvas, exploration of features, and discussions of course design all take place during this training, however the main focus is the development and completion of participants’ courses!
Before I jump into the design of this training, be aware that my curriculum for Canvas Camp is openly shared using a Creative Commons license and you are welcome to take, adapt, use, repurpose, etc. all of the materials without permission as long as you abide by the license. Additionally, feel free to reach out to me on twitter or via email—I’m always up for a video chat.
Canvas Camp Design
Canvas Camp was built around five main components:
- Teaching the technical skills to use Canvas
- Engaging faculty in course development
- Producing Canvas courses
- Reflecting on why the University switched to Canvas
- Learning Canvas as part of a community
1. Technical Skills
As with any new tool or software, there are varying degrees of digital literacy and technical expertise of the Canvas Campers. For individuals who possess high technical skills, the Canvas Camp website aims to empower them to progress through the Canvas Camp curriculum at their own pace. For participants who have just started to learn Canvas, the face-to-face sessions provide them with a safe space to ask questions, learn, and experiment on their own or in community with others (including the facilitator).
Canvas Camp is intentionally flexible in design to serve the needs of a wide range of technical expertise.
2. Course Development
Working with instructors over several days offers the opportunity to engage them in course design and discuss the pedagogical implications of their Canvas course decisions. This aspect of instructional design is intertwined with learning the technical skills of Canvas as the camp facilitators explain and discuss the ramifications of decisions made while developing courses. Depending on the feature or design in question these interactions might occur on a one-on-one basis, however there also opportunities to draw on the collective expertise of the instructors present—this often yields rich discussion.
As an example of how course development takes place, a significant shift in organizing course materials has occurred, in part, due to the popularity of Canvas Camp. I see many more instructors organize their course materials chronologically than topically like they did in the previous learning management system (LMS). Granted, both types of organization offer their own benefits and shortcomings. However, now faculty are being more intentional in this design decision. They are engaging with each other and the camp facilitators to pursue what is best for their students. For example, most of the faculty that participate in Canvas Camp opt to use the Modules feature of Canvas to arrange their content by week, unit, chapter, etc. This chronological presentation of material is intended to give their students greater levels of context for the materials they are studying during the semester.
3. Producing A Course
The notable draw to Canvas Camp is the promise to come away with a course, built and finalized. In most cases, we see faculty members complete 75-100% of their course. Sometimes instructors have completed more than one course during this professional development. Regardless, this is heavily marketed to bring people into Canvas Camp.
4. Why Switch To Canvas?
Arguably the most important aspect of Canvas Camp is engaging in discussion with the participants throughout the week. For example, after faculty members have wrestled with Canvas—learned and experienced its strengths and shortcomings—we ask them to tell us why they think the University decided to switch to Canvas. Inevitably, someone always brings up the monetary aspect, but after several minutes of discussion, faculty often suggest the change was made because “Canvas is better for the students,” “easier to use,” and/or “nicer to look at.” All of these reasons are recorded on the whiteboard at the front of the room to highlight positive aspects of Canvas. This reflection is crucial. If you hope to change perspectives about Canvas, give instructors meaningful experiences with the tool and follow up with reflection and discussion. In other words, Canvas Camp also functions a primer (and potentially a model) to tackle larger digital literacy questions related to educational technology and learning management systems.
5. Learning Canvas Together
Training is always more fun together! Canvas Camp benefits from diversity of disciplines, types of teachers, and the people present. The community aspect of this training is integral since participants must turn to one another when they have questions or need recommendations. In particular, this occurs when the facilitators are assisting other attendees. Overall, Canvas Camp is a wonderful learning environment to engage faculty in technological and pedagogical practices of Canvas, but this training shines when it empowers faculty to become both students and teachers to one another.
The reason Canvas Camp is our most important training at the University of Oklahoma is not only because it’s our most comprehensive, face-to-face training, but because it’s our most fun.
I know that sounds weird. I realize building courses can be tedious and far from fun. There’s just something special about Canvas Camp that I hope to bring into every other training program I build/facilitate. The comradely of learning Canvas in community paired with the feelings of accomplishment from completing courses is fun. The energetic discussion and informal instructional design that occurred during each session is fun. The creative challenge that coincides with building engaging courses is fun. There’s a lively spirit present with each cohort of instructors at Canvas Camp, and yes you guessed it, that makes it fun!
Beyond the fun of Canvas Camp, this professional development strives to do more than teach software. Canvas Camp aims to shift the culture of the University. Yes, there are many more components to such a process than a single training, but as of January 12th, 143 instructors now have greater confidence to build courses in Canvas (and you have to start somewhere)!
The discussion that happens on the final day of Canvas Camp is crucial for shifting culture. During every Canvas Camp, participants openly express their apprehension and frustrations with switching learning management systems. Giving instructors time to interact with Canvas and see how their courses look and behave in the system affords them the opportunity to naturally grow knowledgeable and comfortable with the change. Highlighting this perspective change during discussion while reflecting on the week of Canvas Camp, emphasizes and reinforces the cultural shift.
There are plenty more aspects of Canvas Camp I could touch on, but this is enough from me for now (feel free to reach out with questions). Instead, here’s a few testimonies from the participants of Canvas Camp:
What was the most valuable/useful aspect of this session?
gaining familiarity through doing.
Overall, the camp was terrific. I enjoyed engaging with faculty from other departments.
Very hands on and practical–lots of time to work directly on courses.
The balance of some delivered content, and some ‘free time’ for us to explore Canvas and explore our own content in it. But the free time had the facilitator present to answer questions. That was very helpful.
The most valuable aspect for me was learning the basic mechanics of Canvas. It is overwhelming for anyone trying to self-teach. I also like that the canvas instructors gave specific recommendations for how to optimize course use (ex: enter rubrics directly to use Speed Grader instead of uploading files, etc.)
No doubt: it was the instructor. A truly exceptional educator. He took his time, making sure everyone was able to keep up, yet kept things moving along. Very nice, articulate delivery, good organization.
The featured image is provided CC0 by Carsten Thomsen via Pixabay.