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Meet The Prof.: Susanna C. Calkins (Part 1)

Susanna C Calkins

Photo by Jarod Spohrer,

We return with an in depth Interview today with Susana Calkins!

She has been at Northwestern for over 11 years and holds a Ph.D. in history . She came to Northwestern in the Masters of Science in Higher Education program in the School of Education and Social Policy. She is one of the directors of the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching. She works closely with NUIT and A&RT after being involved in the teaching and learning technology programs offered in the past.

She related how she had used Blackboard Learn for the entire time she has been here and was therefore  excited for the opportunity to expand her abilities to teach using a new Learning Management System.  She has been one of the pioneers in the Canvas pilot, as she taught a Learning and Teaching course in Winter quarter in Canvas, and she will be teaching another class in Canvas this spring!

Recently we sat down for a discussion of Canvas and I learned of valuable aspects that helped her classes, the challenges she faced, and lessons she learned along the way.

What were some of your first impressions of Canvas?

My very initial impression was it looked pretty cool, I liked it. It’s got a modern look. Students in class have commented that our site looks nice, and it took a lot of work to get there. There are some minor challenges that I encountered learning the new system. Les James was  helpful any time I needed help and I just couldn’t figure out something. It is not like it’s the easiest system in the world but —  like anything else that is new — there is a learning curve.

Were the Canvas help guides and resources… helpful?

Sometimes the guides were a little hard to search through because I didn’t know the keywords, but I used everything! I used Canvas support, the guides, the chat function that was very helpful after I was in contact with someone named Chad who sent me a whole transcript of our conversation. He was really good about helping me with all the questions I had. There was also an Emergency Call  option that was helpful when I was working with Big Blue Button/Conferences. The woman who answered was very helpful and the simple solution turned out to be restarting the system.

What feature didn’t you like about Canvas?

The email system is a little weird. When all you want to do is email three students, it is challenging.  In Blackboard you could just select the students. There is no subject heading, and it took me a while to figure out how to add in someone  (cc) to the message, but I can now.

What did you like about Canvas?

I really liked the Speedgrader, but there was a quirk that I really hope they fix in the future. You could comment on the rubric for one student but when you move on to the next student sometimes the comment is still there from the previous paper. It doesn’t happen every time — just intermittently. Sometimes I would have to start the Speedgrader over. I hope that will get fixed,.

Overall the system has worked really well: I liked the discussion board, my students seemed to really like that. It worked fine after Vicky Getis and Les helped me with a little HTML coding in the rich content Editor. More so, they helped me find a site that could help me with other coding questions.

What do you feel you need to learn more about in Canvas?

The learning outcomes feature. I didn’t understand what Canvas was trying to accomplish with this feature. I didn’t understand the concept behind it, but I would like to learn more about it. There are a couple other things I didn’t understand but I think I’m already learning a ton of things. The next time maybe I’ll add in some things, learn a new feature.

What aspects are better than Blackboard?

I think the look is better, it looks cleaner, it looks neater, the discussion board works better, the rubric definitely works better. The Speedgrader allows you to be able to go from one paper to the next seamlessly; that’s a huge amount of time saved. I’m teaching another class still in Blackboard and I only have a few students, but it’s a drag to upload papers, comment, and so on. Speedgrader was just so much better and faster overall. Blackboard just became a repository while Canvas was more interactive.

Do you feel that Canvas is environmentally friendly and sustainable?

In this quarter we used almost no paper in class except the syllabus and even in next quarter I think I will just create a PDF of it for the students to print out if they wish.

Do you want to continue with Canvas?

I understand we are in a pilot with Canvas. However, I feel Blackboard did not give us enough customer service during the evaluation and their representatives weren’t prepared in presentations to us.

I don’t like the idea of going back to Blackboard with the course I just spent so much time designing in Canvas. It would be really hard to go back to what we had before. We were so innovative in what we were able to do in Canvas.. It would be a real setback.

—–To be continued——