Has your school system recently adopted a Learning Management System called Canvas? If you’re anything like me, you think of yourself as tech-savvy and decided you would start diving in headfirst without attending professional development sessions. Great idea, right? After I stopped beating my head against the wall, I received some great advice from my PLN--take it one bite at a time. Start simple and go from there. Genius! We just started our fourth week of school and I’m quickly falling in love with Canvas. I’ve come up with a few small bites for which beginners should be able to manage.
1. The Right People in the Right Roles
As teacher, you have the ability to invite a few different types of people. Students (DUH!), observers and teaching assistants. My list of students was already uploaded for me at the district level so I didn’t have to worry about that. A great aspect of Canvas is that parents can easily stay abreast of the happenings in your class, eliminating the need for a separate webpage or homework page. You can invite parents to join as an “observer” and they can view assignments, course events and grades. I recommend having them download the Canvas Parent app (available for iOS and Google). For more information, view the Parent Registration and Student Observation video from Canvas.
Don’t forget about tutors! They can also be invited as an observer. This could save you time communicating upcoming timelines and class materials.
Sometimes keeping up with communication with resource teachers and instructional assistants can be daunting. I’ve discovered a beautiful gem with the “Teacher Assistant” feature in Canvas. If you just want them to be able to view content, you could set them up as an observer; however if you truly want them to be able to have an assistant role, you’ll assign them as a TA. They will then have the ability to post announcements and even grade assignments, but only if you set the permissions to allow such tasks. Canvas allows you to customize the role of a TA to your liking. I haven’t even scratched the surface of what all the TA can do but it has been invaluable just giving the resource teachers and their assistants access to the course files and postings.
Make sure to encourage your participants to download the app and allow notifications so they can see any new postings such as content or announcements. This has eliminated the need for me to use Remind (even though I love it)!
2. Take Back Your Prep Period!
I post all class notes, in-class practice activities and homework so gone are the days of me having to spend my prep period making extra copies or getting work ready for absent students. From Day 1 this year, I laid out the expectation that students would check Canvas for any make-up work or extra copies. In order for this to be successful for me, I create content in Modules. In each Module, I have a Content Page detailing the day’s agenda. I then attach pdf files of class notes, activities, homework and applicable keys. I like to make folders in Files to help organize content for students (i.e. Chapter 1 Notes, Chapter 1 Homework). If you’re going to go this route, make sure you set aside time to show students how to access the material you’re posting.
3. Make a Useful Landing Page
One thing I couldn’t get past was how to make a nice page that students would see every time they clicked on my class. Should I use the “Syllabus” tab? Should I create multiple buttons for each unit? I poured through so many examples that I became even more uncertain of what I wanted to do. Finally, I went back to KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). I went back to what I know. I like using ThingLink and consider myself proficient so I created a ThingLink with tags to pertinent course information. I also find it funny that students see my avatar each time they enter the course! I’m waiting to see how long it takes a student to comment before I make any changes.
As I continue learning, I’m sure I will make many changes to how I do things; however right now I’m quite happy with what I’ve seen thus far and it has made my life way easier. Parents are loving the transparency and it’s creating more responsible, self-sufficient students. Don’t forget to check the EdTech Heroes blog for more Canvas pointers as the year progresses! Next I will be trying out online quizzes and SpeedGrader.