New Year, New Canvas: Three Resolutions for Improving Your Canvas Courses

katehoof
Instructure
Instructure
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New Year, New Canvas

Three Resolutions to Improve Your Canvas Courses

What’s Included in This Post?
• Accessibility
• UDL
• Collaboration

 

As a high school teacher and adjunct professor, I had always tweaked my Canvas courses at the start of each semester.  After completing the initial build, it was always fun to infuse my existing courses with new ideas from the latest podcast I had listened to or leverage features in Canvas I had not used before. Much like the third or fourth draft of a research paper, each revision or tweak improved my courses in some way.  

As winter break comes to a close and teachers begin to dig into their second semester plans, it’s a good time to review your Canvas courses and further develop them with instructional design best practices. In this blog post, we'll explore thee resolutions that teachers can embrace to breathe new life into their Canvas courses, fostering a dynamic and engaging virtual classroom for the upcoming year.

Resolution #1: Review and Improve Accessibility

Think about the learning materials in your own courses: The vintage Schoolhouse Rock Video without accessible captions students love, the PDF that covers a tough concept in an approachable way, or the engaging worksheet with the humorous gif. All of these items may appear informative and helpful to students, but are actually obstacles to learning for many. 

Accessibility in digital content refers to the design and implementation of digital materials and technologies in a way that ensures they can be easily and effectively used by individuals with diverse abilities and disabilities. The goal is to provide equal access and opportunities for all users, regardless of their physical, sensory, cognitive, or technological capabilities. Accessible courses will ensure educators are not creating barriers to learning for their students. 

Start small. Begin with the seven accessibility pillars to help you improve your courses making them accessible to all.  Accessibility U by the University of Minnesota breaks down these seven pillars and explains why each “core skill” is important and how to apply it. These seven pillars include: 

  • Alternative text- Add alternative text to meaningful images 
  • Color Contrast- Ensure there is contrast between foreground and background colors 
  • Headings- Apply proper formatting to headings and paragraphs in all digital content
  • Links- Do not use raw URLs. Instead use a descriptive title and hyperlink it
  • Lists- Create lists using the list tool in the rich content editor. Do not manually create lists
  • Tables- Use tables for data only and not for design. Tables must have a caption and headers for rows and columns
  • Captions and transcripts- Videos must have accessible captions that have been edited by humans and not auto-generated. Audio files must include transcripts.  

In addition to removing barriers by implementing the seven core skills, run the Canvas link validator to check for and fix broken links. Regular link validation is essential for maintaining the overall quality and effectiveness of your course.

Resolution #2: Infuse UDL Principles

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework that seeks to optimize learning experiences for all individuals, regardless of their diverse abilities, learning styles, or backgrounds. The primary goal of UDL is to provide multiple means of representation, engagement, and action and expression in educational materials and activities. At its core, UDL  recognizes and embraces the inherent variability in learners and strives to remove barriers, ensuring equitable access and participation in the educational process. Accessibility is one component of UDL. 

The key to UDL is to infuse flexibility and student choice into your course content.  Here are some ideas to help you get started. 

  • Content Variety: Present course content in multiple formats, such as text, images, videos, and audio. This accommodates different learning preferences and allows students to engage with the material in a way that suits their needs.
  • Assignment Choice: Offer students choices in assignments or projects, allowing them to demonstrate their understanding in a format that resonates with their strengths and interests. Provide options including responding with text, audio, or video.
  • Flexible Assessment Options: Provide a variety of assessment methods, such as quizzes, essays, and project-based assessments. These options accommodate different learning styles and allow students to showcase their understanding in ways that suit their abilities.
  • Self-Paced Modules: Design self-paced learning modules within Canvas, allowing students to progress through the material at their own speed. Self pacing accommodates varying learning paces and provides opportunities for review and reinforcement.
  • Communication: Integrate UDL principles into your instructional materials and communication strategies to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment for all students. For example, avoid using a set of all or nothing rules written in all caps in course introductions or syllabi. 
Resolution #3: Add or Increase Collaboration

An effective way to build a community of learners is to add opportunities for collaboration into your Canvas courses. Student to student interaction helps to humanize a course thereby making it more engaging for all students. Consider collaborative projects for both low stakes and high stakes activities, assignments and assessments. The following Canvas tools facilitate collaboration: 

Creative discussion board activities:  The Center for eLearning Initiatives at Penn State University provides some ideas around reframing the traditional discussion board of post once and respond to two people assignments.  Their recommendations provide students with structure when responding to open ended prompts.  One recommendation is to use TAG. TAG stands for “tell, ask a question, and give a resource/suggestion.” Another recommendation entitled "the 3CQ Method" asks students to “compliment, comment, connect, and question. These frameworks can facilitate more thoughtful student responses.  

Canvas Peer Review: A peer review assignment enables students to provide feedback on another student's assignment submission. Peer reviews are a tool that allows communication between students and can help students master the concepts of a course and learn from each other. Peer reviews can be assigned to show student names or display anonymously. 

Class Page used as a Wiki: A wiki is a collaborative tool that allows students to create, share and edit information. Create a page in Canvas and make it editable by students.

Final Thoughts

 

When updating your Canvas courses for the upcoming semester, prioritize accessibility, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, and enhanced student-student interaction. By committing to these resolutions, educators can transform their virtual classrooms into dynamic, inclusive spaces that cater to the diverse needs of all students. 

What are your New Year’s resolutions for improving your Canvas courses? 

Please comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

 

Our Design and Curriculum teams offer a variety of services, including course templates, consultation hours, badging and certificate services, course reviews and evaluations, instructional workshops, course authoring, content reconstruction, and much more! If you would like to learn more about our services, please contact your CSM or Miranda McIntosh, Manager, Learning Services, via mmcintosh@instructure.com.