Creating Community & Collaboration in Canvas

It really is quick and easy to create an online course — just upload some readings, write a couple automated quizzes, turn it on and walk away for the semester! In fact, the LMS and other instructional tech makes it possible to hobble together a course like this in no time flat and let them run on autopilot. I experienced one of these courses as an undergrad – there were readings followed by multiple choice quizzes for each chapter. I sat down with a pot of coffee, Google, and a textbook and earned three credits in anatomy in under 18 hours. The only reason I remember (and resent) this course is because Wells Fargo occasionally reminds me that I paid for those credits.

Obviously, that type of online experience is not good for the student, and cheapens the role of the faculty member in the educational experience. But the LMS can provide for a relatively rich online experience if you dig just a bit deeper into the interface. I’ll be going over some of these features in my upcoming design sprint, “More than a Data Dump: 10 Tools for Creating Meaningful Interaction in Canvas.” In the meantime, here are a few recommendations that apply to any LMS or online platform:

  1. Don’t be an egg! If you’ve ever used Twitter, you know that the default profile picture is a colored egg. This is a sign to other users that you are new, you aren’t good with technology and don’t know how to update your photo, you don’t care, or you’re a bot. Updating your photo in an LMS or other platform goes a long way toward humanizing you in any online space. We’ll go over how to do this and other ways to humanize yourself in Canvas during the design sprint!
  2. Death by discussion board. If you’ve ever taken an online course, you’ve probably encountered a discussion board. These have great potential, but leading discussions in an asynchronous online environment involves different strategies compared to in-class discussion. Prompts asking students to “respond to the reading” often fall flat because they are vague or cause cause students to worry about looking stupid in front of their peers. Giving students a way to respond that allows them to offer value or expertise is one way to reduce face-threat and spur more meaningful discussion. We’ll talk about this and walk through some features in Canvas that can help set the stage for quality, engaged discussions.
  3. Finally, I want to circle back around to assessment – what can we do beyond readings and quizzes? There are actually quite a few features in Canvas (and other LMSs) that provide for student-to-student interaction. If you’re teaching a writing-intensive course, you could make use of the robust peer-review features. This summer, I’ll be using the discussion board to have students submit digital projects. This allows them to showcase their work to their peers while giving me an opportunity to provide them with a score in the gradebook.

I’ll be returning to this topic later this month with additional strategies and “how-to” instructions specific to Canvas, the LMS we use here at the University of Mary Washington. If you’d like a more hands-on demo of these features, make sure to join us for “More than a Data Dump: 10 Tools for Creating Meaningful Interaction in Canvas” as part of our Digital Liberal Arts series at 4:00pm on Monday, November 7th in HCC 407.

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