Way back when, when I first joined the college for which I used to teach, I was tasked with designing the philosophy courses I would also be teaching for their then-nascent online program. Because of my demonstrated design and teaching experience, the school tapped me for its inaugural Canvas training cohort in March 2011. I must have shown some particular aptitude during the training process, because the school then asked me to be part of the LMS pilot team and to administer one of the two pilot programs. In the summer of 2011, we piloted the two finalists—Canvas and Blackboard—and I taught classes in both of them as well as in our existing LMS, WebCT/CE8. (Yes: three LMSs at the same time!)
Three LMSs @ the same time...
Being the administrator for the Blackboard pilot gave me some unique insights. The differences in philosophy and culture between the two platforms were stark. As the Blackboard admin during that summer pilot, I was able to identify features that simply didn’t work—buttons that didn’t function when pressed, misleading UX design, and the like—and duly went through the somewhat-cumbersome process of reporting them to the company. Their eventual response was either that they might be addressed in their next version—seven months away—or would not be addressed at all, ever. At the same time, our school was actively engaged in continuous conversations with the Canvas folks (and no exaggeration, I think there were only 37 of them at the time), and we received such rapid responses and fixes that we could almost literally watch Canvas morph before our eyes. Even so, I was simultaneously enchanted by and frustrated with Canvas. I was enamored by its flexible cloud-based Web 2.0 design, yet perplexed that certain features our ancient and clunky WebCT/CE8 could perform quite well (running student activity reports and selectively releasing an assignment, to name a few) were notably absent from Canvas.
Nevertheless, the adoption decision was easy. In October 2011, our school made the formal decision to move to Canvas, and I was asked to be part of the transition team in which I would work with faculty members to redesign and migrate their courses from WebCT/CE8 to Canvas in a gradual process that ended in December 2012, which was when WebCT/CE8 would simply go away.
During the fall of 2011, I started searching out like-minded community members in the Canvas Forums. I started out in the Feature Request forum (later known as the Feature Discussion forum and now called Canvas Feature Ideas) by asking for features that I had come to rely upon in the former LMS. Although I didn’t always succeed, I tried very hard to avoid the “that’s not how we did it in our old LMS” syndrome, and my requests (and sometimes-pointed criticisms) were always met with courtesy and curiosity. From there, I gradually discovered that there was such a thing as an Ask a Question forum (today, it’s Find Answers), and that’s where I found a home. I realized that a multitude of early adopters were working through the same design and migration issues we were, and in Ask a Question we joined in addressing them and sharing our solutions. Some of the demonstrably skilled participants—with a shout-out here to the emeritus coaches Neal Legler, John Louviere, and Kevin Reeve, as well as our Community ManagerRenee Carney and current coach Chris Long—were extraordinarily generous in allowing anyone to benefit from the hard work they’d already put in. I saw that those participants had a special designation: they were “Coaches.”
That’s when I knew I simply had to be a Canvas Coach. And that brings me to how I became one.
Why do you think you were approached to coach?
In January 2012, a colleague and I gave a presentation at CanvasCon Orlando on our school’s LMS selection, training, and migration process. There, I had the opportunity to meet face-to-face for the first time with Brian Whitmer and Devlin Daley. My confidence in the company’s nimble listen-and-implement philosophy was reinforced by a five-minute sidebar conversation I had with Devlin, when I pulled out my laptop to demonstrate a UX issue that had been frustrating our students and teachers alike, whereupon he initiated the fix for it on the spot. (The results of the fix appeared in the live version of Canvas about three weeks later.)
Lunchtime was my golden opportunity, as I found myself on the lunch buffet line two spots behind Brian Whitmer. I decided to give up my place in line to approach him, and here’s roughly how it went:
“Hey, Brian, I’m Stefanie Sanders—you know, the one who bugs you all the time in the Feature Requests Forum. How can I become a coach?”
He might have been a bit nonplussed, but he was certainly gracious. “Talk to Matt McGhie.”
So I did, and Matt asked me to demonstrate my skills in a one-month trial in the Ask a Question forum. I must have passed, because I became a Canvas Coach in May 2012.
What characteristics make you a good coach?
Although this is certainly no longer the case today, at the time I was the only Canvas Coach who was actually also teaching Canvas courses; the other coaches were from the worlds of instructional design, admin, and IT. While I am admittedly an autodidact in course design and my abilities in that area are largely pragmatic, I have considerable experience in teaching online courses in Canvas, and so I’m able to address the questions that come from teachers who, like me, are striving to employ Canvas’s stellar features to maximize and enrich teacher-student and student-student engagement. What makes me happiest is the spirit of generosity inherent in the fabric of the Community. Being a coach is a fulfilling experience—and great fun—and it’s especially gratifying to be a coach for a dynamic learning platform like Canvas. It’s always changing, it’s always improving, and it allows me to engage in a continuous learning process that I can in turn share with anyone who needs it.
(edited February 2017 to add: I am now a Community Manager! w00t!)