Email Pumpkin

Community Team
Community Team

In a studio art classroom, it is difficult to be 100% paperless. Projects and sketches aside, I have been operating my classes digitally for three years. I initially started with another LMS, and after my school adopted Canvas in 2014, I’ve happily been creating materials for my students there. Canvas has made my life as a teacher much easier. While I cannot say that it has turned extra paperwork into pumpkins for me - since I did away with paper a while ago - it has made communication with students much simpler. So my anecdote is really about a “email pumpkin” rather than a “paper pumpkin.”

Before Canvas, I relied on shared web-based image albums for students to share their artwork with their classmates throughout summer break. I also used comment threads within these albums for critiques and threaded emails to conduct discussions. (Yikes! I know.) The communication with my students and between the students was a mess. It was inconsistent, rather unorganized, and students struggled to find continuity.

For the first time this past summer, my AP Studio students were enrolled in their Canvas course for Fall 2015 as soon as their Spring 2015 term ended. While this isn’t a setting that we use institution-wide, I wanted to see how I could use Canvas to build community and creative thinking throughout the summer rather than starting from square one on the first day of school. Summer is a long time to be disengaged from the studio and creative processes.

I use a great combination of features in Canvas to make my course work.

  • Discussions - Each student was assigned their own “blog”, and they could share an image of their project and ask for feedback from me or from their classmates. There were other open discussions so students and I could share “Cool Art Finds” and “Art Around Minneapolis” to inform everyone about neat things that could be inspirational to their projects.
  • SpeedGrader - For every sketch assignment or project, students needed to submit a .jpg image of their artwork. That way, I was able to provide feedback using SpeedGrader. I could drop pins on their artwork and give very specific feedback, utilize a rubric, write in the submission comments, and/or record an audio comment.

There were some very positive things that were a result of this movement to Canvas.

  • First, my work email was only used for correspondence with colleagues. I didn’t lose track of threaded conversations that I filtered into a folder, and while I was willing to collaborate with my students over the summer, I didn’t always want to check my work email. I was able to separate my different teacher “hats” - so to speak - because I could log-in to Canvas if I wanted to check on student progress.
  • Second, students had a one-stop-shop for their course. They didn’t need to remember which email thread to respond to or which link(s) worked for commenting on their group members’ web-based portfolios because modules did that for them. Modules in combination with the active linking of assignments or discussions into content made navigation transparent.
  • Third, students had and continue to have access to everything that occurred during the summer. They don't need to search through emails or links to the albums. They can go back to the appropriate assignment, discussion, etc and review feedback and critiques. That’s a great resource for them to have as I push revision and growth within their portfolio. Depending on the discussion or group activity, students may gain some peer support as well since settings allow for class/group participation much easier than group emails do.

My biggest challenge was the inconsistency in student participation. I had a few students who were online frequently, but since I could not have formal due-dates for projects until school officially was in session, I had a good number of students who appeared online long enough to gather the requirements, and that’s it. While it wasn’t perfect, it was a significant improvement from years prior (like I explained above). I think this can only get better too! I'm optimistic.

Next summer, here is what I'd like to add:

  • Implement Due Dates - While this is a discussion that I would like to have with my administration, I think check-in points would be really helpful. I can then use the “Not Available Until” features to pre-program some material that I will need students to do in sequence. It would also help me monitor and increase the level of participation of all students in the class.
  • Promote Participation - Canvabadges may be a help with increasing student involvement, but I can also do my best to talk with my group a few times face-to-face before jumping into summer work.
  • Establish Peer Reviews - Over the summer, students can revise their work and resubmit as many times as they would like, and I think Peer Reviews could increase the quality of the comments that students make on their classmates’ work.Yes, discussions are helpful, but I like that students can grade their peers using the same rubric that I do.