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Consolidating with Canvas

Katrin VoelknerOver the last few years, I have experimented with a range of tools to make up for the functions I was missing or did not like in Blackboard. Blackboard’s relative one-directionality and instructor-centeredness did not suit my pedagogical needs and I started to supplement with other tools to address Blackboard’s weaknesses. There are two main areas where Blackboard falls short for me:

1) It is crucial for me to have options for students to contribute to the course via online postings including links to articles, pictures, and short posts. I also need an online environment that encourages students to build community and interact with each other outside of class time. I have reluctantly used Blackboard’s discussion board but it has always felt cumbersome and students have told me they dislike it as well. Blackboard also lacks a more social functionality where students can establish a profile, list interests and connect with each other.  As an alternative, I have used Facebook and a free course management system called Lore. Neither option convinced me. Using Facebook feels like blurring the line between my students’ personal and academic lives too much. Lore is a better option in that regard but its interface and functionality didn’t sway me. A third tool I have tried out is ScoopIt. It’s a “web curation” tool and I used it to have students find current web content that is relevant for my class and relates to the specific topics the students are interested in.

2) The second area where Blackboard lacks desired functions is in the way it organizes content. Blackboard’s folder structure works well as a storage container for materials but does not lend itself well to navigating and displaying various materials for use inside and outside of class. Google docs and Google sites do a much better job and I have relied heavily on Northwestern’s own Bboogle for student projects.

Yet integrating several different tools into my class to work alongside Blackboard certainly had its downside: The mix of various sites and tools became unwieldy and during class I had to juggle multiple open sites. Plus, students had to sign up for additional accounts, create and remember new passwords, and learn how to use and navigate several tools.

When I started using Canvas this quarter, I realized that I no longer needed to supplement with other tools. Students can create profiles with pictures and desired contact information, they can post discussion assignments, and create wiki entries and entire pages that are part of the course site. Canvas works well as a centralized site during class where I can easily create, display and have access to all relevant materials and refer back to student contributions. Currently, I am in the process of setting up sub-pages for students’ final projects. A feature I really like in Canvas is that I have the ability to give students access to certain sub-pages while maintaining control of other content pages. For each new sub-page that is created within the course site, the instructor can decide who can edit the page. My students will be tasked to set up one page per group and topic.

I’ll be happy to report back on what the students thought about the process of content creation and page assembly on Canvas. Initial (and anecdotal) feedback from students has been positive and I am not anticipating any surprise complaints. And as far as I am concerned: I’d be happy to keep Canvassing. Sorry, Blackboard.