My colleagues and I were talking about how we could make life easier for teachers/make the experience better for students in their Canvas courses (we're Learning Technologists). We got to discussing how introducing a degree of automated standardisation could assist this. At our university we expect teachers to include a lot of existing information in their Canvas courses: what are the learning outcomes? what is the assessment strategy? Who's teaching and when are they available to see students? The list goes on.... but all that info already exists, just in systems outside of Canvas.
Seems mad that we ask teachers to go and retrieve this from various places, just to then copy and paste it into their course. That’s work a machine should be doing – not a teacher!
So, we should get the systems to talk to Canvas and push all this info into courses for them. Take away the laborious “cut and paste this from here and that from there” and teachers will be grateful for having less mind-numbing clicking to do. Instead, they can just get on with the stuff that can’t be done by anyone but them: creating, compiling and sharing the actual learning resources for students.
But why stop there when you’re trying to form a Utopian vision?! Can’t we help teachers with some smart ‘n’ easy method for presenting their learning resources in Canvas too?? Now things start to get more difficult… we agree that the intended/best way to use Canvas (generally speaking) is to organise content into Modules, and that these Modules contain Pages that will contain the learning resources/links to the learning resources. Modules can of course house lots of content types… but we champion Pages because these let teachers add context to the resources. For us, Pages really make it a learning environment for students, not just an organised (but unguided) repository. In short, Pages rock!
We’d love to pre-build modules and pages for teachers… even put in a standard design for the pages so the structure/presentation is already there. Just think - a teacher would arrive at their new course and literally just do the academic bit of the job!! Those teachers with fantastic digital capabilities may decide to hack it up and make it exactly how they want it, and that’s their prerogative of course, but those at the other end of the capabilities scale… well they’d get well-structured and presented courses, and students would get a user-familiar experience across many of their courses.
At this point we think we’ve found the boundary wall of our utopia – we’ve seen lots of great Canvas courses where Modules are used – generally organised as either topics or by chronology (i.e. “week 1”, “week 2” etc). And we’ve seen so many different approaches to structuring content in pages!
The Actual Discussion
When there’s so much variety evident, is there really one approach to structuring page content for learning resources that we as an institution can advocate, let alone push into new courses, in an attempt to help teachers (and by extension, students)? For example, here’s an idea for a simple standard template design of a learning resource page (for a HE face to face course):
- Banner stating “About this topic/session:”
[space below for teacher to add text/imagery/video – expectation is for them to present a short synopsis of this topic/session]
- Banner stating “Learning Resources & Activities”
[space below for teacher to add links/embed all these here – expectation is for them to also describe/explain what the resource/activity is and (if necessary) what students should do with it]
- Banner stating “Required Reading”
[space below for teacher to add links to any journal articles, websites, etc]
- (we’d make it all nice with icons, colours, use divs, make the design responsive, and make it accessible of course!)
How do you think teaching staff at your institution would react to this (maybe think back to not long after you adopted Canvas)?
Would some from a particular subject group be shouting “this just doesn’t work for us!”?
And fundamentally, can there ever really be ‘one page (design) to rule them all’...?