I recently attended a demonstration of Canvas and wanted to give some of my thoughts on this educational tool. Already, Canvas possesses the baseline features of a Learning Management System (LMS) such as content distribution, grade management, discussion forums, etc., but beyond these fundamental ingredients, there are several parts of Canvas that I found interesting when thinking about education.
Some of my favorite features of Canvas included (1) the option to have students engage in peer grading, (2) giving students the ability to create their own courses within the Canvas system, and (3) being able to produce content and interact with Canvas on mobile devices.
(1) Integrated Peer Grading
In Canvas, peer grading is a streamlined process where instructors can easily assign their students to give feedback to their peers. This feedback process can take place within the bounds of a rubric that is managed by Canvas to seamlessly give and receive feedback on assignments. Instructors can create custom rubrics for assignments or use any that have been standardized by their institution.
In addition to increasing the frequency of feedback on assignments, creating a culture of peer critique and academic interaction is an important step for training the employees and scholars of tomorrow.
(2) Students Create Courses
One of the best ways students gain mastery and transference over content is by educating each other since the challenge of teaching is also the perfect opportunity for learning. Fortunately, Canvas is flexible enough that students can be granted the capability of producing their own courses within the system. Not only would this be valuable practice for pre-service teachers, but this could capitalize on the perspectives of content and learning from our students’ points of view.
For example, imagine a course that is prepared by students as a prerequisite to General Chemistry. In this potential course, students could outline the study materials and explanations that they believed were valuable to their own learning in this course. The act of producing such a course would be an excellent learning exercise for students, and generating more resources for future pupils can aid in their understanding of course materials.
(3) Producing Mobile
I want to build courses using only my phone! Why? Because with that level of flexibility, I can use any device at any location to be productive. As mobile devices are the most prevalent personal computing devices in the world, we shouldn’t be constrained to a computer when interacting with students online. Fortunately, the option to produce and consume content in Canvas from a mobile device is possible via iOS or Android apps. And there is a complete guide on what can be done on mobile devices in Canvas. Imagine being productive using a computing device that was under $50 and breaking down socioeconomic barriers related to technology access and education!
Altogether, these are some of the features that I see being most important for the future of this LMS. Even if these features are underutilized at first, granting these capabilities to users will expand their opportunities for use to engage students.
It was wonderful to see all the external tools that now integrate into Canvas. Due to their excellent API, other companies and communities can integrate their tools into Canvas, adding even more features to this LMS. (Even Minecraft has a Canvas integration!) A byproduct of this openness is the integration of search engines for creative commons materials. For example, pulling open content from Flickr can be done in seconds without leaving the content editing interface of Canvas.
Finally, beyond all the functionality I saw demonstrated, Canvas sports a clean, modern design. The user interface is nice and I prefer its navigational setup to other LMSs I have used. In fact, it is possible to hide unused components of Canvas from view to minimize confusion when students access a course.
Try Canvas Now!
If you want to try out Canvas for one of your courses, you are able to do so right now! Just sign up for one of their Free-for-Teacher accounts. You won’t have access to your institution’s Student Information System (SIS) within the Canvas system, but you can still use all of the basic features with your students.
I just started exploring Canvas myself and am excited to try some of those features I mentioned—especially interacting with courses using my phone! Up until this moment, I have never been excited for an LMS. But now, I believe this LMS may have a future in my collection of instructional tools.