This past weekend I attended my wife's graduation ceremony for her second master's degree. That's why this week of my college's "Summer of Canvas" does not have a week-long workshop series this week and instead is filled with one-on-one appointments and drop-in training. I'm very proud, of course, but wouldn't otherwise mention it except that she earned her degree entirely online. A mother, spouse, and working professional, she yet managed to make the time to become a scholar again.
While at the ceremony I met a couple of her fellow graduates. Both live in New York and flew out to California just for the graduation. (Well, they made a vacation out of it just as we did. ) I asked them about their experiences, both with instruction and as students. What my wife's experienced taught me and their testimony validated is the benefit to students of a consistent structure across classes. They knew that each class had the same rhythm when it comes to reading, research, writing, and response; and that pattern held the same from week to week. Add a couple of summative assignments to each class, and students know exactly what to expect. Topics and instructors differ, but these online students benefited from the known structure of their educational commitment.
All this makes a lot of sense for graduate school, which was a focused academic environment long before the World Wide Web. What about the undergrads? I was fortunate to live on campus for most of my undergrad years and be heavily involved for all of them, so I did not have the all-distance education experience. One of the graduates received her B.S., and she had transferred from a community college. She did feel disconnected from campus life but did feel like part of a learning community (except for those classes where she was the only student!).
How does this connect to Canvas? I begin each Canvas training sequence by encouraging faculty to reevaluate and renew their decision to use a learning management system and to ask how will it make them better instructors and help their students succeed. I tell them, "Figure out how Canvas can do that, and after that worry about how to move stuff over from our soon-to-be-former system." I encourage them to pay more attention to course design at the same time, including a consistent structure, whether they are teaching web-enhanced or fully online classes. After meeting my wife's fellow celebrants, I come back to continue the "Summer of Canvas" with renewed confidence in making that recommendation and thereby give my coworkers less reason to miss my time away.