This is my first semester as a distant learning student from Michigan at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and the first being I was acquainted with (after my advisor) was the education software, Canvas.
Since Canvas is new to campus, it is sure to already be the bane of existence for most students and faculty just by dint of it being a new, foreign thing to get used to. No one likes change. I’ve come from using Moodle, a free and open-source learning management system (LMS), for four years at my previous college. Despite this, Canvas doesn’t operate in too dissimilar fashion. In fact, Canvas seems to have more to offer, but for the loss of easy navigability.
A product of Instructure, an educational technology company, Canvas is an LMS that prides itself on bridging the connections between teachers and students online. The dashboard of Canvas, for lack of a better term, is pretty. Each class has a color coordination, but other than that, the site itself is fairly bland to scroll through. When going into each respective class online, I was bombarded with normal text on white background, with little to make sections stand out.
Incidentally, Canvas makes up for its appearance with ample attention toward organization. Announcements, assignments, discussions, and grades, among other options, are generously separated; I use this sidebar more than any other function. On the dashboard, under the title of each course, notification icons will inform you if there are any new comments to discussion boards, new assignments posted, or recent announcements. The notification icons remind me a bit too much of Facebook’s, except I never click on the icons for Canvas. These icons are also linked to student email accounts, which send updates if any new notifications pop up. At least, it should. Often, I will receive these email updates from Canvas very late, hours after I’ve already seen the changes.
Canvas also allows for users to create “groups” for classes that might require group projects. For my creative writing courses, these would ideally function well for workshops in smaller groups. Though the settings aren’t any different from normal forum discussion boards on Canvas, we would have benefitted from a notification for the group being created. The group function allows for isolated conversations, but nothing more than a normal discussion board.
One crucial bonus that many who require time-management or a timeline for deadlines is the calendar button. Each class is color coded throughout the week, but what’s more is that the calendar shows what assignments you have completed and which ones you have yet to finish. Even though I use a planner, I sometimes check the calendar if I’m unsure I’ve missed an assignment.
When typing out responses to forums or assignments on Canvas, the system doesn’t delete the work you’ve already done, which was a major problem with Moodle, which wanted to operate like Google Docs. Regularly, teachers would just inform students to type responses on Google Docs or Word and then copy and paste to Moodle forums. It would often not save and reload the page due to technical issues. With Canvas, I don’t have to worry about that. For ease of use, Canvas doesn’t have too many issues, but it looks so unappealing that it becomes daunting and difficult to get acclimated to. Aside from being able to change the color block for each class, the clinical aesthetic of Canvas is drab. It’s common that I print out assignments so I don’t have to stare at a boring screen for too long. If you’re also a student taking classes online, you’ve probably aired your grievances in some way already, but Canvas isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s here to stay, but hopefully, with enough time and effort, we can forget that we’re even using Canvas, just another learning management system.