teaching, Technology

Reconceptualizing Course Planning with Canvas, Part I: “The Old Paradigm”

Late last school year (and after a series of meetings and trial investigations of different Learning Management Systems), my school decided to shift from our previous LMS (which, in classic Voldemortian fashion, I shall not name) to Canvas.


In my experience of using the previous LMS, there were two major problems:

  1. At the end of a school year, all the work you’d put into the LMS (uploaded assignments, files, pages, resources, etc.) were all purged and deleted. This functionally (or lack thereof) meant that you had to recreate work you’d already done every single year.I learned about this “feature” from a former colleague, who had spent countless hours building out her class only to discover in July that all that work had gone down a series of tubes (or was it a dump truck?), thereby spurring very understandable and appropriate Sturm und Drang.
  2. To get something to appear on the calendar for students to see, you had to create that item as an assignment, which would then appear in the grade book. In practice, this might not sound like such a big deal, but as a history teacher who assigns mostly reading, having a bunch of “Actively read pages 332-339 in McKay and annotate for …” assignments appear in the grade book (and which didn’t need grading) was a big pain in le derrière.

On the positive side, however, this LMS had the ability to easily create Pages where one could embed HTML code.

So, as a workaround for the first problem, I decided to create all of my lesson plans/student schedules in Google Docs, where I (or, more accurately, our benevolent overlords in Mountain View, CA) maintained control of the material from year to year. So instead of recreating all this material anew on Voldemort LMS each year, I could instead just re-create Pages and then embed my lightly updated schedule of class assignments, homework, and useful resources.

Essentially, students logged in, navigated to my class page, then navigated to a page (which I organized by Cycle [see more on that below] and titled after whatever material we were working on and where that fell in the schedule) that had the in-class schedule, homework, etc. Here’s what those pages looked like:

While this method worked well in terms of allowing me to preserve my work from year-to-year, update it in one place and have those changes pushed to the students, and easily embed that material on the LMS, it created some new problems:

  1. None of the material that I included on that Google Docs was pushed to the calendar on the LMS itself. If I wanted something (usually something that was graded) on the LMS, then I had to go back and create that as a specific assignment in the LMS’s grade book.
  2. Students had to figure out when a particular day would take place. Because we have a rotating schedule (see snapshot below and try to keep the gray matter in your head within the confines of your ears), not all classes have the same in-class assignment or homework due on the same calendar day.
    Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 4.17.08 PM
    My Cycle Schedules gave them all the details for my class (and on what day of a Cycle it would take place), but students then had to map that information into their own schedules/planners to determine when it would actually occur and where it would fit with their other work. While I’m not opposed to having students do this organizational work, it was unfortunate that my solution to solve one problem created superfluous additional work for them.
  3. My colleagues and I often devised separate solutions for how we communicated work within the LMS. Some folks adopted the system that I was using by embedding Google Docs into the LMS. Others included links to their class pages on Google Classroom. Others used the calendaring features within the LMS.In practice, this meant that students couldn’t gain access to all their work in a single place and had to navigate to each individual teacher’s class page to get resources, information about their assignments, etc. and then transfer this information to a calendar where all the information would show them exactly when in the real world all this work would be due.
    lms_disconnects (2)
    Again: redundant (and superfluous) work for students.

Now that I’ve outlined the array of problems and challenges posed by the old system, in my next post I’ll talk about how Canvas addresses those with its more robust calendaring feature and how I’ve gone about transferring my old Cycle Schedule into the Canvas’s “Modules” feature.



One thought on “Reconceptualizing Course Planning with Canvas, Part I: “The Old Paradigm”

  1. Pingback: Reconceptualizing Course Planning with Canvas, Part II: “The New Single-Site Paradigm” | The History Channel This Is Not...

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