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Personalized Learning with Canvas Series: #1 - Project Based Learning

Community Advocate
Community Advocate
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Project Based Learning (PBL) is a great way to personalize learning.  Once the driving question has been introduced and students have been hooked with the launch of the project, there are many ways students can take control of their learning.  Using sustained inquiry to continually find questions to answer can lead research.  Research leads to answers and even more questions.  Analyzing and evaluating the findings in the research can help discover solutions to problems and answer the driving question.  Throughout the process, solutions and answers can then lead to the development, refining, and completion of the product that will be shared with an authentic audience.

For some greater understanding of PBL, check out these Community Resources:

To explore PBL more in depth, take a look at the Buck Institute's website:

There are many ways that Canvas can be integrated within PBL for students. The following image starts with the Key Knowledge, Understanding, & Success Skills logo in the center.  These are essential project design elements of gold standard BPL and was created by the Buck Institute.  Surrounding the design elements are Canvas features that can assist with each design element.  Each item will be explained with more detail below.

Goold Standard PBL elements with ways Canvas can support these elements

Challenging Problem or Question

Canvas Pages are so versatile and have so many different uses.  I would suggest using a Page as an introduction to the PBL in Canvas.  I would not start off the students by sharing the page with them first thing.  The page would be introduced after the launch event and the students have already been hooked and enticed.  The page can then be used as a reminder for what the driving question is, timelines, additional info students need to know, and any other pertinent information that students may need to know to get started and continue throughout the process.

What are Pages?

How do I publish or unpublish a page as an instructor?

How do I edit a page in a course?

How do I view the history of a page in a course?

The Canvas Course Calendar could be used to show dates when experts will be visiting class, due dates for assignments, days reflections will take place, and when final products will be presented to an authentic audience are due.  While some dates will be firm and will not change, others dates on the calendar can easily be adjusted as needed.

What is the Calendar?

How do I add an event to a course calendar?

How do I add an assignment from the Calendar?

Sustained Inquiry

Student editable Canvas Pages can be used as a location where students can add questions to be answered for sustained inquiry.  While these questions could also be posted on a classroom wall, a page in Canvas can be accessed from anywhere when students are not in class to post additional questions on the go as well as read questions others have introduced as well.

How do I view Pages as a student?

How do I edit a course page as a student?

Discussions can be added to a course for the purpose of sustained inquiry as well.  Depending on the size of the task, there are various ways Canvas Discussions can be integrated with PBL.

  • One discussion can be created and all questions can be posted within the one discussion.
  • Several discussions can be used to create categories for sustained inquiry.  Questions specific to each category can be added to the appropriate discussion. 
  • Discussions can be created within student groups if students are working with partners.  This way questions specific to each group's tasks can be posted, researched, and answered by all group members.

While the teacher has access to all of the discussions, make sure students are the ones that are answering the questions.  If you feel that answers are off base or going down the wrong path, feel free to offer some assistance or direction, but make sure that students are working to find the answers.  This is sometimes difficult to do as a teacher because we have often been in the business of dispersing information and sharing content.  But to get students to truly own their own learning, keep the answers you share to a minimum.

How do I create a discussion as an instructor?

How do I allow students to create a course discussion?

How do I subscribe to a discussion as a student?

How do I grade a graded discussion in SpeedGrader?

Student Voice & Choice

Flexible content gives students opportunities to learn and research based on their choice and best methods of learning.  Include text for for those who like to read.  Embed videos for those students who learn better visually and auditory.  Offer links to Podcasts that relate to concepts and topics students are studying.  There are many LTIs that can be added to Canvas courses to add content for students to explore and research as well.  (I am not going to go into the LTIs specifically at this point because there are so many and different institutions do not necessarily use/pay for the same ones.). Whatever text, media, LTIs you have available can be incorporated into Pages, Modules, Assignments, Quizzes, and Discussions. 

  • Pages can have various types of flexible content on a single page.  This way, many learning styles can be contained in a single location giving students the option for many choices to direct their own learning.  Students may even explore additional content in attempt to confirm what they have found in other areas as well as find extra details for further understanding.
  • Quizzes can be set up for quick formative assessments.  Add text, embedded videos, or links to external content to each quiz question.  These could be questions that need to be answered to make sure certain content standards are met, or the questions could be created and linked to content based on sustained inquiry questions that students conceive.
  • Content can be added to discussions to have students share, debate, dispel, and confirm other comments and ideas that have been posted.
  • Create assignments that have content linked or embedded in the details of the assignment.  This way, students do not have to go to one place to access their content and then another place to submit their assignment.  Finding the content and submitting the assignment can both be done in the same place.

The beauty of adding content most anywhere within Canvas is that it can be done using the Rich Content Editor.  Once you understand the Rich Content Editor, a great deal of flexible content can be added wherever you like.

What is the New Rich Content Editor?

How do I use the menubar in the New Rich Content Editor as an instructor?

How do I create hyperlinks to course content in the New Rich Content Editor as an instructor?

How do I create hyperlinks to external URLs in the New Rich Content Editor as an instructor?

How do I upload a document in the New Rich Content Editor as an instructor?

How do I use the Math Editor in the Rich Content Editor as an instructor?

How do I use the Rich Content Editor in New Quizzes?

How do I record media using the New Rich Content Editor as an instructor?

How do I use the HTML view in the New Rich Content Editor as an instructor?

How do I insert a table using the Rich Content Editor as an instructor?

How do I link to a YouTube video in the Rich Content Editor as an instructor?

Reflection with Critique & Revision

Reflection is an integral part of PBL.  Traditionally, if reflection is done, it is often done at the end of a project right before the project is submitted.  Unfortunately, this method leaves no time for students to gain insight or fix issues that may be confusing.  PBL offers many opportunities for students to reflect on their learning, their ideas, concepts they have constructed, as well as any products they have begun working on throughout the learning.  The following video called "Austin's Butterfly" is a great example of the importance of reflecting on one's work throughout a process and not just at the end.  If this is what a 1st grader can do with reflection, imagine what older students can do as well!

  • Students can share their work for critique in Canvas Discussions.  The details of the post could be created by the student and might include a summary, a specific aspect of learning achieved, a draft of their project, or many other things for other students to review.  Critique and questions by other students can be posted for the student who initially created the discussion.
  • Assignments can be used for critique which leads to reflection and revision.  Once all students have submitted the requirements for the assignment, Peer Reviews can be set up for students to receive feedback for reflection and possible revision.

How do I create a course discussion as a student?

How do I create a peer review assignment?

Public Product

The scope of the project will ultimately lead to how learning, findings, artifacts, and overall projects will be shared.  While teachers may want to have students submit their work to a Canvas Assignment, the true audience of any PBL should be more than just the teacher and classmates.  Early on in the learning and development of the product, students should have an authentic audience in mind.  Authentic audiences will change from project to project, but may also change from group to group within a single PBL experience.  One way students can share with others, maybe even a global audience, is using an ePortfolio in Canvas.  Students can organize their text, images, media, etc. and share a public link so that anyone may see their finished product.  (While the ePortfolio will not always be the best option for sharing a finished PBL with an authentic audience, it does give students options for sharing their learning beyond the walls of the classroom.

How do I create a new ePortfolio as a student?

How do I upload a file or image to my ePortfolio page as a student?

How do I add rich text content to my ePortfolio page as a student?

How do I enable comments in my ePortfolio as a student?

How do I make my ePortfolio public as a student?

There is still so much more to cover in regards to Personalized Learning and PBL.  Hopefully this will give you a good starting place to take control over your own learning and explore more about PBL.