Laura Gibbs

Confessions of an LMS minimalist who loves Canvas Community

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Jun 16, 2017

After a fun back-and-forth with Bobby Pedersen in a message, I wanted to share some of that conversation here (thanks, Stefanie Sanders for the prompt to do that), and also refer people to Bobby's all-purpose conversation question here about getting started with Canvas in a primary school setting:

Canvas in Primary Schools 


I don't teach in primary school, but the questions Bobby had asked me about using an LMS in general and also about switching from one LMS to another prompted me to write up a blog post here about what it means to be an LMS minimalist, and how it happens that I use very few Canvas features but also find so much of value here in the Canvas Community! So, here goes:


How I use the LMS... or, rather, how I don't use the LMS. I've been teaching fully online since 2002, and from the very start my focus has been on open content (I never put any content in the LMS) and on student web publishing (my students have always published their work on the open Internet). Because the discussion board in Blackboard was so terrible back in 2002, I paid for an EZBoard account (that was back in the heyday of Ezboard; it was such a fun forum system for its time)... but as time went on, and students became more and more adventurous in their blogging, I dropped the discussion board entirely and let discussions emerge through the students' blog spaces. The only thing I have ever used the LMS for is a secure Gradebook, and I hack the quiz system to allow students to record their own grades. And that's it. I even do my LMS homepage as a blog that sits outside the LMS. You can find out more about my approach to grading here:

Student Gradebook Declarations 

And I've done a CanvasLIVE about my blog-as-homepage:
Blog-as-Homepage for CanvasLIVE


Yet, even as an LMS minimalist, I am a huge fan of Canvas and of the Canvas Community. Here are three reasons why:


1. Canvas is open. Unlike other LMSes (my school has used Blackboard, WebCT, D2L, and NextThought), Canvas really lives on the Internet. Unlike the so-called "walled garden" (much wall, little garden) of those closed LMSes, Canvas can give you a real website, open to the Internet. All pages in a Canvas course have real URLs of their own, and if you choose to make your classes open (I do: and, then anybody can link to your pages, and they can also be accessed by search engines, helping to build the educational value of the Internet for everyone. You can also create Canvas "courses" that are open resource sites, as I've done at my Canvas Widget Warehouse and also my Canvas Growth Mindset space. Open educational resources (OERs) are crucial for equity and access in education, and we can all be making our own OER contributions, large or small. I prefer to use other tools to build and share content on the web, but that's a purely personal choice. You can also use Canvas as a tool for creating and publishing real web content, both for your own students and for an Internet audience; that was not true of the LMSes that my school used in the past.


2. Canvas connects with outside content. In addition to making itself open to the Internet, Canvas also makes it easy for you to bring Internet content into your Canvas space. Now, admittedly, I don't do this myself; my students are working on the open Internet already, and all our work takes place outside of Canvas. But if, for whatever reasons, you need to bring outside web content inside Canvas, there are lots of ways to do that. You will find Canvas LTIs for many services, and you can also use the power of the Redirect Tool and/or iframe embedding to bring even more web content into your Canvas space. Over the past year as my school adopted Canvas, I have really enjoyed exploring these integration strategies, and then sharing them with other faculty. I put together an overview of my experiments here at a PAINTCanvas course that was part of the Canvas rollout at my school:

Laura PAINTs Canvas 




3. The Canvas Community is where we can all keep learning. Even as an LMS minimalist, I have learned so much from participating in conversations here at the Community. By definition, anybody who shows up here is someone who wants to learn about teaching and/or share what they have learned. And I love the fact that this is a community for both K-12 and higher ed, and and also that this is an increasingly international community; we can all benefit from that broad collaboration. I am not impressed by top-down education reform imposed by people and organizations (corporations, bureaucrats, special interest groups) who are not working with students every single day. The real reform, I believe, is going to come from students connecting with students and teachers connecting with teachers; it's all about connected learning, and that is exactly what I get to experience here at the Canvas Community.


So, a big thanks to Instructure and to the fantastic Community managers here. I learn something new every day here at the Community, and I really hope that next year I will see even more people from my school joining in the conversations here, learning and then sharing what we learn! :-)


And of course there's a cat for that:

Follow your natural curiosity and see what you learn. 


Follow your natural curiosity and see what you learn.