Several weeks back I mentioned I was working on simple MOOC-like courses for instructors with specific grant requirements. They needed university students and public, openly-enrolled students to share course materials and the same discussion space. Having moved their course from a proprietary LMS (that offered this setup) into Canvas, it was time to see where this design journey would take us! 🙃

The first challenge was setting up the course for the open students. Originally, these student spaces were shared, but technical requirements (from IT) necessitated a separate instance of Canvas for the open students. The “Free for Teachers” version of Canvas solved this issue as it also offers open enrollment in courses. With separate Canvas courses, the next challenge was connecting these two groups of students. Fortunately, this is easy if we use one of many 3rd-party tools and a bit of Canvas duct tape.

Canvas course with AccessPress Plugin configured to let students blog directly within Canvas.

Canvas duct tape: The Redirect Tool used to bring in a WordPress blog into the Canvas navigation.

Climate Courses Everywhere

As we brainstormed, I discovered multiple universities are using the same curriculum, particularly the course videos, to teach students about climate. With a bit of that Canvas duct tape, all of these courses could easily be connected using the same external tools in all courses. This idea of shared discussion spaces across multiple universities would be an interesting way to connect students to discuss their experiences with climate from various states and/or countries.

Not all of these institutions have Canvas, but that only means connections are limited by the external tool support of any other LMS service. Worst case scenarios would require clever use of hyperlinks. Any course that wanted to participate could readily involve their class in this large scale discussion. With a manner of coordination, the end result would be a larger community space for students and conversation to interact.

There are many tools that could serve as the connective tissue between courses and multiple could be employed depending on the course design. In our case, the instructors wanted to start with discussion as the common space for student interactions. They are looking at using Flipgrid, but they could utilize anything from Slack to a custom website. For our university courses and the open-enrollment section, we can integrate Flipgrid directly into the Canvas menu for both groups of students:

Canvas Course showing Flipgrid integration

Continued Thoughts

I find this model of shared discussion interesting in prospective cases across disciplines, online courses, and countries. Also, I’d love to see graduate education courses use this interconnectedness to bring together voices while studying education technology, etc. It could also bring practitioners into the conversation through open course participation, there are many possibilities for this setup.

Here are more thoughts I have on this project I want to record for myself for later consideration:

  • What does discussion look like with students from various parts of the country (or even world) share a common space?
  • What do students get out of this design? How might it enhance their learning experience?
  • How do we make actively include all voices as a courses community expands?
  • What privacy concerns might arise from this course design?
  • What external tools act as the best connective tissue between courses?
  • How might community grow in such a connected course?
  • What other parts of courses might be connected in this way?
  • How do you coordinate and manage this course setup?
  • What are the sustainability limits?

The featured image is provided CC0 by Karsten Würth via Unsplash.

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