In the beginning of becoming a Canvas Admin, I was very adamant about not forcing templates on my teachers. I firmly believed that having teachers use templates in their courses would take away from the creativity and the individualism that comes from designing their courses. What better sense of pride could you have than knowing what you have created is being used in your course and just like creating the decorations in your classroom to showcase who you are as a teacher, the same can be seen in your Canvas course design.
I spent the first year of being a Canvas admin showing teachers how to create pages, assignments, quizzes, and modules. Teachers would always ask questions like, "What is the best way to lay out the course?" or "What should I put as the homepage for my students?", "Is there any way that I could see someone else's course layout?" I tried to explain to them that creating a Canvas course should mimic your classroom and how you have your classroom procedures/daily agenda laid out. For many of the teachers this was not the answer they wanted. I could see the frustration in their faces and hear it in their voices. I could tell they wanted more information and help in designing their courses, but I still didn't want to make a template page for them.
THEN COVID-19 hit in the spring of 2020.......
The further we went into the spring and summer of 2020 the more I realized my teachers could use the help creating their courses. We were just finishing our first year of Canvas adoption and I saw more and more teachers needing help getting started. Not all teachers felt comfortable creating the layout for their course. The teachers are great at planning their lessons and teaching in person but organizing that same content into a virtual classroom was where they were running into questions and needed the help.
Now during the summer of 2020, I started meeting with teachers from our high school to design a template for the high school staff. We came up with a simplified homepage, that had links to a calendar and then each day on the calendar was linked to a content page. (See below)
At the beginning of the school year, I was a still a little hesitant with giving the teachers a template course, and was questioning how it would be received by teachers that have already spent hours designing/organizing their course for their students. I was very pleasantly pleased when I spoke to teachers in late summer helping them importing the content into their course and linking the information. The teachers always said they had worked hard on their course but if it was in the best interest of the students they would follow the template, and the more they used it the more they liked it. Once they learned that after importing the template course into their course it was just a matter of linking the content they had already created to the calendar pages, I could see they could not focus so much on the layout of their course but rather on the content and how to engage their students.
I also found when meeting with new teachers at the beginning of the school year, especially those hired a few days before school started, were very relieved to see a template for them to start the school year. I could tell in their expressions that have a starting point meant they did not have to learn everything about Canvas all at once (It can be a little intimidating if you are using it for the first time). We also found that it not only helped the new teachers, but it also made the counselors job easier when helping parents navigate courses because the counselor knew that in every course the information the parents/students need would be in the same place no matter the course.
Some asked, why not just use the calendar that is already in Canvas? We found that the assignments and other items with a due date would only show those items on their due date, but the teachers wanted to also show the items on the day they were assigned. So the teachers found using the Canvas calendar to have the students show their due dates, but then also check the daily calendar to show the daily agenda along with links to everything they needed for the day.
Since the Canvas calendar also shows when a student has submitted the assignment by crossing it out, it was a great place for the teachers to send them to when they asked if they had turned something in.
So I again go back to the question Template or Not to Template? That is the question. For me and my district we went the way of a template.
I spent 20 years teaching middle school math, including Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Algebra I Honors, Geometry and Geometry Honors. I was the eLearining and Information Specialist for Lawrence Central High School for 5 years. I am currently the Coordinator for Canvas and Online Curriculum for Warren Township Schools in Indianapolis, IN.
I have been married for 26 wonderful years to Tracey Lunsford who I met at Indiana University and she is the Clinic Coordinator for Franklin College in Franklin, IN. We have a son who is attending college and is going into his sophomore year studying Wildlife Biology.