Laura Gibbs

Canvas and Ed Tech Dreamers (like me)

Blog Post created by Laura Gibbs on Jun 11, 2018

I am a long-time reader of Lisa M Lane's (Online) Teaching and History Blog, and I can definitely share the frustration she expresses in this latest post: The ed tech dream is dead.


My take on Canvas is different from Lisa's, but I do feel the gloom re: other software products that I see sucking down so much money, time, and attention (especially automated writing assessment, plagiarism policeware, etc.). At the same time, I haven't given up on the open web and web-based apps (not yet anyway). I build my classes as student blog networks, where Canvas just plays a supporting role, giving my students a Gradebook where they can record their work (I don't grade; here's how/why) and Canvas is also convenient for embedding my class announcements as the homepage. Plus, I'm a huge fan of the Canvas Community; I blog here now because it means my blog posts reach an educator audience that they might not reach otherwise.


it's true that I've never found any of the traditional LMS tools to be useful for my own teaching goals. I've been teaching fully online for 15 years, so, like Lisa, I've experimented with a ton of different tools over the years. I still miss good old Delicious (yes, Diigo is cool... but Delicious was way more social; I loved it), and I also miss Ning. I used Ning as a group blogging platform for years; it was when Ning gave up on education (understandably; they couldn't compete with the LMS behemoths) that I decided to switch from a group blog platform to each student having their own blogs, connected in a network using RSS.


And... switching to open blogs was the best thing that ever happened to my classes! I let the students choose the platform they want to use; as long as it was RSS feeds for posts and for comments, that's good with me. Students interested in the indie web have DoOO/WordPress for free at my school; some use that option, some don't -- it's their choice. I then use the amazing Inoreader to pull all those blog feeds (I have 90 students total each semester) into an ad hoc network each semester.


The Canvas part: because Canvas is so embedding-friendly, I can embed the stream of my students' blog posts right there in Canvas, and I invented a "hop-in-the-stream" commenting assignment for students who just want to hop in, see the latest blog posts from their classmates, and leave comments. Since I teach fully online classes, I really like the way that students can see the class in action at any time of the day or night, with the latest blog posts popping up in the stream in almost-real-time (there's just a few seconds of lag time before the posts appear in Canvas). Because Canvas lets us make our class spaces totally open and linkable, you can see my Canvas classes here... including the embedded student blog streams:
(I use those URLs so that I can have a stable URL that points to my current class; the LMS does its usual bass-ackwards approach of starting each semester from scratch, even though I really do teach the same classes every single semester. So, I redirect the URL each semester to go to the latest LMS incarnation -- right now, the links point to the spring semester classes).


Because I am a true believer in the power of student blogging and in blog networks, I've documented that whole process here in a series of posts that you can access with this link: student blog networks in Canvas.


A lot of what gets discussed here at the Community is admittedly alien to the way I teach. All the top-down tools to control students, the plagiarism software, quizzes, grading schemes, none of that is my style. But here's the thing: Canvas has room for all kinds of styles, including student-content-driven blog-based classes. When we were using D2L, there was literally nothing I could do: the fact that the D2L space was totally closed with no real URLs meant that I was stuck. It was not the Internet as I know it. With Canvas, I can create courses and content pages with real URLs, fully linkable, indexable by search engines... part of the real Internet. I have no interest in "learning management" in the LMS sense of that term, but I do care very much about building content online, and Canvas helps me organize and share my own content and my students' work in an open space. I know Lisa came from Moodle, which is a very different experience; I probably would also be very frustrated having gone from Moodle to Canvas. But Moodle was never on the table for consideration at my school; going from totally-closed D2L to open Canvas has been a huge plus for me.


And I can happily advocate for student blogging in the Canvas context. In that spirit, I'm always glad to brainstorm and share ideas with anybody who's interested in this eccentric way of using Canvas. Bring on the summer brainstorms! You can find me here, or at Twitter @OnlineCrsLady. If you are frustrated with the traditional LMS tools, there really is a whole world of tools out there, and when it comes to blogging tools, I am a fan. :-)



A mind stretched by new experiences
can never go back to its old dimensions.

... in other words: there's no way I'm going back to just limiting myself to LMS tools. :-)


leaping cat


(more growth mindset cats)