Sasha Weiss is a rising sophomore and computer science major at Northwestern. Having just finished his first year here, he and his classmates never really experienced Blackboard, but used Canvas in almost all their courses. Sasha actually used Canvas in high school as well. “It was a lot slower back then, a lot less developed. In just a few years it’s come a long way,” he said, comparing the two experiences with the learning management system.
About his experience with Canvas at Northwestern, he said, “It’s generally a great tool. It really helps centralize stuff.” For example, Sasha has found that it makes managing many courses at once easier: “I can check my physics homework and download stuff from math class and then switch to my design course to look at lecture notes.” It’s less of a juggling act because you don’t have ten tabs open, you just have Canvas.
Sasha emphasized that students get the most out of Canvas (or any learning management system, for that matter) when teachers and TAs put up information in a timely manner. He said that Canvas is the most beneficial when teachers are present in Canvas forums to answer questions.
When asked about the integration of Canvas, he said, “Pretty much all classes are on Canvas or have Canvas components. It’s all about how the professor and TAs use it.” He added that he had heard that some professors still used Blackboard in the 2014-15 school year, but it was rare. “Sometimes professors choose to just make a website and upload course materials on there,” Sasha remarked. “And that’s fine, too. You still get the materials you need.” However, he mentioned that when teachers use their own websites, students don’t have access to the class roster, discussion tools, and assignment submission software that are available in Canvas.
Now for some negatives. “Quizzes through Canvas kind of suck,” Sasha admitted. “They just never work out very well.” Canvas, like any website, can be a little slow sometimes. “It can be really annoying when you’re just trying to glance at your syllabus but you get stuck on the loading screen,” Sasha said.
A classic question we ask our Northwestern Canvas users is if Canvas makes them feel more connected to their classmates, professors, and/or university. The answer is usually overwhelmingly: “Yes, I feel more connected to my teacher,” and Sasha is no exception. “The best thing about it is that professors can share course materials and upload assignments at any time,” he said. “Some teachers will put lectures on Canvas directly after class, so everyone can refer to them immediately.” There’s also a discussion tool that “makes interfacing with your professor really easy,” according to Sasha.
Canvas can also help connect classmates. “Most of my classes are pretty big, so finding people you know is important,” he said. At the beginning of the year, Sasha checked the class roster to see who he would know in the class. This helps students make homework contacts and interact with other students.
“Whether or not [a Canvas course] succeeds is very much based on the teacher and how they use it,” Sasha said. “It’s about the amount of involvement from both the teachers and the students.”