This summer I moved my course to Canvas and the jury is in – I can work with it! I approached Canvas with the same skepticism with which I’ve approached many other learning management systems (LMS) in the past. Part of the challenge that I have had with the design of various LMSs is that they are quite often not suited to the type of work that we do in humanities, specifically writing and communication classes. I have to say that Canvas excels as a management tool, providing both instructor and student with an opportunity to manage class and individual activities as the course develops throughout the semester.
Here are some specific features that I like about Canvas:
- The Course Summary: on the Syllabus tool of your course site, Canvas automatically populates a summary of the course as you develop it. For example, as I set up a new module or new assignment, students can see these activities at a glance. I find this feature particularly useful as a reminder to me (and my students) as to what’s been posted, and more importantly, when it’s due (The Calendar tool is also a great way to see due dates).
- The Attendance tool: In 2015, Canvas listened to users who wanted the tool redesigned so that students could have access to their attendance records. I teach in a program at Georgia Tech that has an attendance policy, but the management of that policy has always been cumbersome and the dissemination of that information to students has always been problematic. While not perfect (currently there are some new features that are on Canvas’s product radar for this tool), the attendance tool is certainly heading in the right direction.
- The People tool: Again, when using Canvas as a management system, I like that I can see students’ activity in the course. While not meant to be an indicator of student engagement with the course, I do like that I have a way of checking in with students based on their activity in Canvas.
- 24/7 help: With Canvas, help is always available. I appreciate that Georgia Tech has ensured that our community has access to technical support whenever we need it (click here find out more about online support options). And the best part? I haven’t had to use it yet.
Canvas is intuitive and easy to learn. As a former software trainer, I’ve never felt the need to go to formal training sessions in my pursuit of learning new software, so part of the litmus test for good software has always been how easy it is to learn. I find Canvas to be very straight forward to navigate and learn.
Overall, I give Canvas a B+ as it displays great potential to improve! The development environment is responsive: Canvas Studio encourages their users to tell them what they need. Once the idea is posted, other users vote on the idea, leading Canvas quite often to develop that feature for their users if there is sufficient interest (read more here about the feature development process).
Dr. Halcyon Lawrence is a Marion L. Brittain Post-doctoral Fellow in the Writing and Communication Program at Georgia Tech and teaches courses in Technical Communication. Halcyon has over twenty years of industry experience in technical writing, usability testing, and end-user training. Her research focuses on the design of speech technologies for underrepresented and marginalized communities. In the fall, Halcyon will be a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Technical Communication at Towson University in Maryland.