Yesterday I read Sherman Dorn’s Article Why I Recommend Canvas as an LMS, and the result on my part was a great deal of head nodding. Dr. Dorn is an author and Professor who spends his time” questioning our central assumptions about education.” I appreciated the article, but it got me thinking of why I as a high school teacher recommend Canvas by Instructure. There’s some love there too, but when you say you love an LMS, you come across as fanatical or just creepy.
I’ll start by saying that I use the “free to educators” version of Canvas, and that I have taught classes using Microsoft’s Class Server, Moodle, Pearson’s Open Class, D2L, as well as non-LMS structures like WordPress, Google Sites, my own harcoded site, combined with Google Apps for Education (which made me think seriously about Audrey Watters Question: “Google Apps for Education: When Will It Replace the LMS?” I have also dabbled with Udemy, GoodSemester, Edmodo, Schoology, and BlackBoard’s CourseSites without ever unleasing them upon students. I’ve had mixed opinions on them. But this isn’t about what is missing in other LMS’s, so here is where the Canvas love comes from:
Ease of Use and Setup – probably the most discussed feature of Canvas is how quickly you can get your course up and running. I have a solid LMS background so getting started was incredibly quick. If you have read anything else on Canvas, you’ve probably heard this already. Even for a LMS newbie, getting the basics up is very intuitive. There is even an on screen wizard of sorts when you first start.
SpeedGrader – This is Canvas’ built in assessment tool for assignments. If you have never used another LMS, it is difficult to describe how great SpeedGrader is, and how it crushes the competition. I have my students either upload documents, or share a link (Google Doc, LucidChart, etc.) when submitting an assignment. SpeedGrader will preview the document (using Scribd), or the website they have submitted. I also have the option to download the original (or an archive of all the originals.) The best feature is having the ability to have a rubric or checklist embedded into the platform. I see the assignment on the left side of the screen while filling out my assessment on the right. I can leave notes, or an attachment, or video. Notes appear in a teacher-student discussion format. It that wasn’t enough, I can easily switch to viewing the peer evaluations that have been made by other students (yes, Canvas also easily allows me to require students complete a set number of peer evaluations.)
Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) Integration – LTI in Canvas allows me to integrate other useful tools into my Canvas courses. For my math classes I can easily insert a graph from Graph.tk. The button appears directly in the page editing tools. I love Piazza as well. Piazza has a great system for asking questions, and getting answers from a teacher or other students. With LTI, Piazza becomes a link in the main navigation bar for the course. Since my students use the same email address for both, it is also a single-sign-on for both tools. Canvas and Piazza certainly make a great pair.
Quizzes and LaTeX – Recently I have been developing more quizzes for my courses, partly because it is so easy, and partly because I am using “pre-quizzes” the night before. The pre-quizzes act as a formative assessment, but also are paired with a short pre-lesson. This isn’t flipped instruction per se, but introduces larger (or real world) concepts the day before the nitty gritty of the following days work. This is a bit of me attempting to reduce cognitive load of the following day. The quiz with the pre-lesson is the means of tracking participation. What ever your reason for having online quizzes, Canvas makes them easy. It also has one of the best LaTex editors I have seen for including equations into questions. It also allows you to add LaTeX equations in the answers; this is one of the greatest shortcomings of most other LMS’s and is actually a big deal if you teach math. Canvas gives a quick series of graphs of results (great for quick formative assessment) as well as all the data exporting, commenting, and mark over-riding you would expect.
Learning Outcomes – I have not used this feature yet, but it’s my next thing to do. It gives me the ability to create learning outcomes (expectations, standards) and have them embedded into assessments. So I can assess a student’s meeting of an expectation, along with other non-expectation specifics. It gives me the option of while having that expectation assessed, not having it as an actual grade that impacts the overall mark of the task. Being data driven is an increasingly popular discussion in education, and this tool certainly gives you the power to collect and analyze data surrounding specific expectations that may span several assessments.
Notifications – My students (and me) have the power to set how we would like Canvas to notify us on various events. For example, Canvas will email me when an assignment is handed in late, but not when it is on time. One of my students can receive an email when a new assignment is created, updated, overdue, etc. Another student my choose to get the same notifications via Twitter, but receive a notification via Facebook that someone replied to their discussion post.
Canvas also has video conferencing, ePortfolios, one click Creative Commons licensing, easy page creation with text, embedded video and images, and all the usual LMS functionality. Their support has also been great when I have had any kind of problem. I wish our entire school board was using Canvas, however, given the fact that the province struck a deal with Desire2Learn, this is unlikely to happen. My thoughts on the Province-D2L deal is probably best left to its own post.
With Canvas being to easy to use, it’s worth the small time investment to sign up for an account and begin to dabble away. Then you too can share the love.