Turn the Page on Your Canvas Course
Tips, strategies, and best practices for closing the semester (or end-of-year)
Every course we teach tells its own story; some are filled with admiration and successes, while others are filled with horror and dread. We learn from each course and take our experiences into the sequels, consciously or unconsciously. @NicoleHiers and I have compiled our best tips and tricks for turning the page on your Canvas course this year.
We are constantly growing and moving forward. And to do that, we need to hear from our students. After all, the best way to know if learning impact was achieved is to ask our students; they have a front-line view of what worked and what didn’t in our classes.
Tip #1: Survey your students.
Spend some time asking your students how things went and then reflect on how to make improvements. Collect feedback and evaluation from the student perspective: communication, structure, engagement, interaction, technical issues, and anything else you might be curious to know. Use these questions as a starting-off point:
- What worked well in the course? What did not work well?
- What technical difficulties did you have?
- How was my responsiveness to those technical difficulties?
- What areas of the course need improvement?
- What content or activities were effective? What content or activities were ineffective?
After feedback is collected, reflect on the gap areas. For instance, let’s say that the feedback bore out these three gaps. What will you do differently as a result of this feedback? (Suggestions and best practices are located under the gap area.)
- Unclear communication
- Leverage Inbox messaging, Announcements, Discussions, Message Students Who from the Gradebook and New Analytics, and the variety of feedback options (text, annotation, video, and audio) in Speedgrader.
- Clunky rubrics
- Leverage Rubrics in Canvas for Assignments, Quizzes, and Discussions. Ensure that criteria is clearly worded, outcomes are pulled into rubrics, the rating scale is consistent, and set the rubric to be used while grading in Speedgrader.
- Course navigation is confusing
- Leverage Modules in Canvas. Use a Module structure that is organized by topic (chapter, unit, objective, standard), chapter, unit, or by time (Week, Month). Capitalize on Text Headers to chunk lengthy material and provide a specific structure.
- Create a Homepage that utilizes a class banner, a welcome message, and quick links to critical areas of the course. Students can then access course content directly from the landing Homepage.
Tip #2: Collect student advice for future students.
Post an Announcement or Discussion collecting advice from current students for next year/semester’s students: What advice would you give next year/semester’s students to help them be successful in this class?
Students can drop written advice or a video directly in the Announcement or Discussion. Allow for comments so other students can add or qualify the suggestions already made. Using student responses, you can create an infographic using Canva (or some other graphic design tool like Google Drawing or Venngage) to put the advice in a Top Ten Survival Tips for Mr. Smith’s English Class.
The closing of a semester/year can be harried, taxing, and frustrating. Here are some tips and strategies to make your semester/year-end close out less chaotic.
Tip #1: Make final student connections.
Post a final announcement or inbox message to students offering encouragement, parting words of advice, and/or last-minute checks. Consider posting a video, a meme, a .gif, or a poster that captures your sentiment. Connect with students by allowing them to post comments.
Tip #2: Grade all assignments.
You may have set up a Missing Submission Policy in the Gradebook. Check for missing assignments and assignments with 0s. Double-check to make sure students have not submitted assignments previously marked as missing.
Tip #3: Message Students Who . . .
Use Message Students Who . . . to communicate with students who meet certain criteria: Haven’t submitted yet, Haven’t been graded yet, Scored below xx on an assignment, or Scored above xx on an assignment. If there are students who are still missing assignments, message those students individually via the Gradebook or New Analytics to give them another opportunity to submit or to check in on them. This is a great tool that is often overlooked.
Tip #4: Post any Hidden Grades.
You may have set up a Grade Posting Policy in the Gradebook, where grades are hidden until all submissions are graded. Be sure to double-check that assignment grades are not hidden.
Tip #5: Verify all grades.
Be sure to verify all grades. If you keep your grades in Canvas and in a Student Information System like PowerSchool, Infinite Campus, Aeries, or Synergy (review the complete list of SIS Integrations supported in Canvas), it is best practice to compare the grades in Canvas to the SIS to ensure they match. Often, there can be grade disparity when assignment weights are applied in Canvas that do not match the weights in the SIS.
Tip #6: Sync Final grades to SIS (if that is an option for your institution).
If your institution uses a SIS (see Tip #5), you may have set up the grade sync process early on in the semester or year. Refer to the SIS Integrations supported in Canvas to explore that process for your institution’s specific SIS.
Tip #7: Export Final Grades.
It is best practice to export your final grades from Canvas so that you can have a paper or digital copy of all grades. You can then file a digital copy on your computer, in Google, Office 365, or your desk drawer. This will be advantageous if you have grade questions after the close of the semester or year.
Tip #8: Collect exemplars.
Download some student work submissions that can serve as exemplars for future classes. It is best practice to show exemplars of student work so that students can see what you consider to be an example for mastery. You can create an item in a Module where the assignment lives and title it, “Assignment Exemplar.” Students can then access it along with the Assignment details. Alternatively, you can create a link to the exemplar in the assignment.
I am not a huge cleaning fan when I know that it looms large. But once I get started, I feel refreshed because I know I am accomplishing something. In fact, I feel exhilarated once finished. Cleaning up Canvas courses feels a lot like that. You have an entire semester or year to organize (or purge). Our team wrote this awesome blog post to help make the spring/summer cleaning process more manageable and less daunting.
Lastly, to write a new chapter, you may need new resources. As educators, we often also play the role of student. To sharpen your saw, we suggest staying connected and engaging with some of the new resources available to you.
Tip #1: Learn a new Canvas tool
If you've only been using Canvas for a year or two, it is impossible to successfully use everything Canvas has to offer. Is there a tool that you have yet to apply to your class? In your survey (see above), did you ask questions about the (in)effectiveness of a specific tool? If not, consider that. The data gleaned from that question could lead you to pinpoint a Canvas tool to explore and possibly implement. Consider learning about these Canvas tools to help maximize student learning.
- Google Doc Cloud Assignment or Google Assignment 1.3 (Canvas Admin will need to turn these features on)
- New Quizzes
- New Analytics
- The Canvas Commons
- The Scheduler in the Calendar
- Icon Maker in the Rich Content Editor (Canvas Admin will need to turn this feature on). Bonus: Check out this awesome blog post about the Dos and Don’ts of the Icon Maker.
- LTI Applications (Note: before adding an LTI application, check with your technology department)
Tip #2: Connect to the Community
Canvas isn’t just an LMS; we have a community of people here to support you along your journey! As you write your next chapter, it’s okay to gain some inspiration from your peers and mentors. Take a moment to follow some of our blog spaces, or our ID team in the Canvas Community. We have so much to say and wish the best for you and your success in Canvas. Be sure to create a profile in the Canvas Community and then check out these top spaces to follow:
- ID Blog Space
- Higher-Education Canvas Users
- K-12 Canvas Users
- Roles Spaces:
Tip #3: Explore more resources
Need extra support moving forward? Check out this Beginning- and End-of-Course Checklist blog post.
As you close out one chapter, you’ll likely begin writing another. We hope these tips help you to write the beginning of what’s to come in your next story. All it takes is the courage to pick up your pencil (or open your Canvas course) and get started. What tips and strategies would you add to this list?
Please comment below. We’d love to hear from you!
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