Transforming Your Blank “Canvas” Into a Teaching Masterpiece

image of a blank canvas with brushes, paint, and supplies

Last week, I began dusting off both my notes and my memory as I started preparing to teach my course this Fall Semester. I haven’t taught this course since the Spring of 2019 and, needless to say, quite a few things have changed since then! I got out the textbook, my old syllabi, and my files, and opened my laptop.

I found myself staring at a blank Canvas page, realizing that there were so many ways that I could design my course site and trying to figure out what made sense to me and what would work well for my students. Over the last week or so, I’ve figured out many ways that I DO NOT want to design my site. I have also realized that there is not a single, “right” way to go about this. Whether you are starting with a blank space or you are trying to improve an existing course site, we want to share feedback and suggestions with you as well as point you toward resources and support here to help you build that Canvas teaching masterpiece.

Feedback from WFU Students

In a survey of all WFU students conducted at the end of the Spring 2021 semester, we asked students to share any specific examples of how Canvas was used in a way that was particularly beneficial to their learning. We heard back from 14% (986) of students across the College and all the Schools. In their open-response answers to the question of how Canvas was beneficial to their learning, some of the ideas emphasized by students again and again included accessible, easily navigated, and well-organized sites that included due dates, assignment information, and modules where they could find materials.

Word cloud with the words students mentioned most. The biggest word is assignment, followed by organized, professor, easy, find, schedule, and grade

Specifically, students shared…

  • “Having one spot to go for all my relevant class information was a welcome change “
  • “I found that professors who put in the time to clearly organize their canvas page made it much easier on me to stay organized and learn more effectively.”
  • “Not all teachers do this, but when every teacher takes advantage of setting a due date through Canvas our To-Do Lists automatically update and we see an up to date list of what needs to be done and when”

Creating a Canvas Teaching Masterpiece

Ok, so maybe that is overpromising a bit. But, here are some resources to help you build an effective course site.

First, some advice. Over 90% of students agreed that they could easily find instructor contact information, office hours, and the course syllabus. But students indicated more difficulty finding due dates and the instructions for how to submit assignments. To help with this, make sure you check the box to assign due dates and to add the item to the “to-do” lists. This will ensure that the due date shows up in the “syllabus” menu and the student’s to-do list.

Second, our colleagues in Academic Technology have written posts to help you develop consistency in your site navigation.

Finally, you can attend the following workshops led by the Instructional Technology Group, Academic Technology, or ZSR librarians.

Some final words of caution….

Be thoughtful about how you use announcements and notifications on Canvas. If you, or your students, have all the notifications turned on, you will get emails constantly about any change in the site. This can get overwhelming for students and can lead them to miss out on important information.

“I get blasted with 20+ canvas notifications every day over email which are a mix of completely useless information and important information.”

88% of Wake faculty and 81% of students indicated that they used Canvas in all of their courses during Spring 2021. If you choose not to use Canvas for your course, make sure you put a great deal of emphasis on consistent communication with your students about materials, assignments, expectations, and deadlines. As one student shared, “Professors who use alternative websites or don’t use the modules on canvas make it difficult to keep up with everything.”

 

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