mmeservey@instructure.com

Rule 32: Enjoy the Little Things—Encouraging Student Success

Blog Post created by mmeservey@instructure.com Employee on Apr 16, 2020

“Enjoy the little things.”

- Tallahassee Zombie Land

 

 

The world is a challenging place. Life can be hard. In the last couple months it’s gotten even more challenging as we all learn a new way to live, work and learn together. The fears of a nation are weighing heavily on our students and making the job of educators even harder and more important.

 

Education is difficult. Tests, stress, books, knowing where classes are, balancing a million activities, and now doing it from your living room with your mom on a con-call, your little brother tugging on your leg and a cat who desperately wants to get onscreen with your class at the worst possible time. It’s difficult and stressful, and we want to help.

 

Being relatively new to Canvas, I’ve been talking to a lot of Educators, Administrators and Students over the past several months. I’ve learned so much, and it’s been amazing as users share their lives with me, the wins, the losses, the difficulties and the successes.

 

One thing was a bit of a surprise to me, students regularly rank Canvas lower in satisfaction than teachers and educators do. At first I was puzzled by the discrepancy, until you realize what is going on: Canvas is an educational platform. It was built to make the job of teaching easier. It doesn’t focus as much on the process of consuming that teaching.

 

Canvas provides a place to deliver and manage the content, courses and the ideas that are central to the educational process. It’s not built to help the student directly. It’s a place where they have to go do the hard work of learning those ideas.

 

It’s a place where they go to do homework, take tests and be judged on performance, it’s where they submit assignments. In many ways it acts as an extension of the authority of the school. Of course they will enjoy it less than the teachers do!

 

Canvas has focused hard on hosting, managing and delivering content, we make creating, tracking and grading possible, but we haven’t had too many opportunities to manage that process better. We enable the educational process, but we don’t guide it, or facilitate it in any way.

 

We want canvas to be more than just a system of record. We would like Canvas to be a trusted ally in the educational process, a friend in learning. We want to make sure things don’t get missed, that teachers and students are aware of important things that are happening, we want to make sure things don’t fall through the cracks. We want to make life easier. We want students and teachers to get a distinct feeling that Canvas has your back! That we’re there to help, and let you focus on the learning itself, and not the tool.

 

The writer James Baldwin said: 

“The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you can alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change the world."

In these challenging times, it’s important to remember to focus on each other, it’s important to celebrate the successes we achieve. Research tells us that a tiny bit of encouragement at the right time can cause tremendous change and makes us want to try for more.

 

As a team we want to do more to celebrate success and encourage the learning process and increase student engagement. Two of our core corporate values are Customer Experience and Excellence. We want to do as much as we can as a team to encourage these traits in ourselves and others.

 

Canvas is going to work to improve the product and the educational experience and do more to encourage and guide the process in small ways—giving users more control over their notifications, integration with new chat tools to improve communications with classmates and others, and improving the User Experience and making it more simple and clean.

 

One of the things I’m most excited about is a simple feature celebrating on-time assignments. When a student submits an assignment on time, they are congratulated for their work and getting it submitted on time. This is a small and simple act that acknowledges and rewards their success.

 

Feature Background

Some have asked if our new celebration act is superfluous, but as we’ve talked to hundreds of students and educators, many of them mentioned that one of the things they love about Canvas is the personality we bring, and how much we care about students and the educational process. We want to do more of that. If something is difficult, little moments of delight or satisfaction help tremendously.

 

In discussing this idea among the engineering team, we thought it would encourage good behavior, motivate students to do well, and hopefully reduce the load on teachers and reduce stress in the process. As it turns out, one of the things teachers like doing the least is dealing with the fallout of late assignments, such as chasing students down, and reducing scores due to tardiness. Getting stuff in on time makes life easier for everyone, so encouraging positive behavior is a good thing.

 

One of the great things about Instructure is each engineer has some time budgeted to work on personal development, skill improvement, or to work on innovation projects that are outside the normal stream of work. A couple of engineers decided to build a prototype of a celebration project with their personal development time to test how students would respond to this idea. This project was done outside the time allotted for our regular roadmap development tasks. Sometimes personal development projects are based on an engineer’s desire to build something specific that will make a difference to our customers, which was the case with the celebration discussion. This project happened to come together very quickly and we started showing it to students.

 

Feature Research

Students often express a desire to make education more engaging and fun. The assignment celebration feature was a small test we ran based on the science that says the more you encourage or reward an act, the more of that act you tend to see. We want to provide little moments of reward or satisfaction when students are doing the right things.

 

Originally we thought this feature would be more useful for younger children in the K-12 school as college students are more mature, or “too cool” for something as simple as a “good job” for submitting an assignment on time.


I recently had the opportunity to spend time with some amazing students at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem. Their project was to improve the feedback process from Students into the Canvas Product team. Students want a voice in their educational system and have a lot of really great ideas to make their time in Canvas more productive, easier, and sometimes even fun. One of the central themes was making education more fun and engaging.


I showed them the prototype for the celebrations feature to get some feedback, and they loved it. Even the massive football linebacker in the class, who I thought would be the least likely to care about something as simple as a “good job”. 

 

Feature Results

Our feedback and research (not all mentioned here) suggested we can release assignment celebrations to the masses. We want to encourage more on-time submissions (no garden gnomes if you are late!). We want Canvas to have your back and have students be a more active participant in the educational process. If a student hates joy, they can disable it. (There are some students—I know, it’s hard to imagine), but for the rest, submitting an assignment on time should bring a little burst of happiness and a feeling of satisfaction that’s a lot more fun than just “assignment submitted”. 

Other applications are also incorporating more happiness into their products. A popular list-making application, Trello, also includes a way to add a celebratory emoji to a completed column and produces celebration confetti when a task is complete. Users of this application are able to control this action and incorporate it because they find it brings them joy.

 

Like Tallahassee said, in the training film “Zombie Land”, it’s Ok to “Enjoy the little things”.

 

If we can’t enjoy the little things, and celebrate the successes, what can we enjoy?

 

Stay safe, stay healthy in this new and challenging time, and as always, we welcome your feedback. We live to help make people better, smarter, and happier, and we love spending time with our users and hearing their stories.

 

Matt Meservey

Canvas Product Team

Outcomes