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Students who say, "just tell me what to memorise," and how to serve them

Community Contributor
9 14 1,308

I love learning, *really* love learning: if I could avoid my classes and sneak into the back of colleagues' rooms to listen to lessons on classical civilisation, Russian grammar, and theoretical physics all day long, that would be heaven.

As it is, I am a teacher, but I don't want to be a teacher - never have. Plus I don't like people (children or adults - I'm an equal opportunity misanthrope) - staff room break times can be a bit awkward...

But, it turns out that I just know what I like. Remember Sally ordering her pie with ice cream on the side but strawberry instead of vanilla if they had it, ...?

I'm just the same, only not with pie (cooked fruit in pastry?!), but pedagogy and people - I know what I like and what I don't like: I don't like didactic methods and those who shy away from intellectual challenge.

If you want your learning to be a journey in which you really engage with the material, develop skill sets, and go outside your cognitive comfort zone, then you're my cup of tea.

And therein lies my recent problem.

Having discovered Canvas at Christmas, I excitedly made loads of content, showcased it to my students...and they were distinctly underwhelmed. Their chief complaints (and yes, they complained and made a protest survey declaring online learning 'inefficient') were that...

8079757631_cbb509a44b_b.jpg1. They preferred me to stand at the front of the class to deliver content which they would then write down - chalk and talk - I said I wasn't prepared to teach like that and that I would be doing them a disservice if they left with a certificate in my subject (Economics) but without the skills that would allow them to succeed in higher education and an increasingly competitive, globalised labour market, i.e. digital/IT skills.

2. They found the platform confusing - it transpires that they didn't bother to scroll to look for the blue 'submit assignment' button, so some decided to complete the work online then simply print it off and hand it in (defeating my 'save the trees' stance), and that some had *very* poor IT skills, e.g. didn't know how to refresh a webpage or search for specific phrases using quotation marks.

So, my attempt to blend learning and flip my classroom this year did not go well. I rushed it, students didn't understand why it was happening, there was no buy-in, and it wasted time - I had to reteach all the content.

Lessons me!

1. Do not assume that 21st century students with thumbs attached to smart phones are actually tech-savvy: I teach Yr10 (first year of GCSE, 14-15yrs old) and Yr12 (first year of A Level or BTEC or IB, 16-17yrs old) in a UK independent school (fee-paying, not run by the gov't) so there isn't poverty of access or opportunity, but there are no IT lessons anywhere in the curriculum after age 12, which is a problem to be tackled sometime never... My students are also 'disadvantaged' as they are very conformist - they expect chalk-and-talk simplicity and not being challenged with new ways of learning/thinking - they just want to memorise what they need to pass the exam...

2. If you're the only teacher using the platform they are much less invested in learning how to use the technology, and really engage with it, as they are not going to need it in nine months' time. But I worry that they are right - spending time learning a digital skill-set they won't need in the examination, in their other classes, and, maybe, not even their HE or career paths isn't efficient - with a ridiculously short academic year (Paying a shed load of cash for your education? Then we'll give you fewer days in the classroom - you're welcome!) I should just be shovelling the information into their brains and getting them ready to regurgitate it onto an examination script... but I *really* don't want to teach like that...

3. Explain the benefits of Canvas from the start and from their perspective: course materials, assignments, calendar, etc. are available anywhere with internet - no need to lug books home in the holidays, etc. They will need these skills in HE - and I have explained that ad nauseum - but the reply is depressingly repetitive - "I don't want to think about university now or the skills I need, I just want to learn the content that will get me the A* grade in the final examination." I honestly think these students may be some of the least intellectually adventurous people I've ever met!


4. Be clear on expectations of engagement - their grades will depend on this. I shouldn't have been cowed by the populist protest - I know they will benefit in the long run by using Canvas and I should have stuck to my convictions. Instead I gave up and switched back to standing at the front, showing them a PowerPoint, and telling them what to write down from it.

5. Patiently showcase Canvas and make room for the students who are reluctant - find a way to support and encourage. I had assumed that this new way of learning would be embraced quickly. If I had been given this opportunity, I would have grabbed it with both hands - 'the future is now!' sci-fi dreamscape of Inspector Gadget's Penny and her computer-book...but they just don't seem keen. I'm not good at empathising with those who do not have the same love affair with technology as I do: I just expect everyone to be as deliriously excited as I am about all the buttons and the possibilities and the everything!

Next steps

I am part of a team helping guide staff in the transition to being a BYOD school whilst we implement our 'digital strategy'. Staff don't understand why we're changing - it seems to be about photocopying less and, thus, saving money. Students don't understand why we're doing this either. Staff are reluctant to change teaching habits and my enthusiastic proselytising isn't helping. I guess the pressure on exam results to boost our position in the rankings and, thereby, get more customers squashes any desire to try something 'risky'.

I need to find a way to really sell it to them.

So, here I am trying to make sure that my new classes in September have a better experience. Does anyone have advice on what I should do differently this time, or other recommendations for improving student motivation?

Canvas User Engagement







 @drimmer ​, great post! Thank you for sharing your experience!

Here are a couple of thoughts and suggestions:

Change in the middle of the year is hard.

Students were comfortable with your teaching style and then it changed. It disrupted their rhythm. It will be easier when you start in the beginning of the year.

Build Habits

Understand that it may take some time for students to get in the habit of going to Canvas for class resources. Love your students anyway, but don't take no for an answer. I call this 'pleasant persistence.'  In younger grades, students sometimes practice the little things like writing their name on the top of the paper, or forming a line to walk to the cafeteria. It can feel the same way when starting with a Learning Management System. It will take a some practice, but they'll get it.

Start small in the beginning of the year.

  • Begin with the basics like setting up your profile & syllabus.  Take a day in the first week and help your students set up their own profiles.  If they start asking 'why', I would let me students know that it will help us all stay organized together (both for them and for myself.) I often used the analogy of a mountain guide: The first time you climb a mountain, it is easiest to do it with a guide that has climbed the mountain many times and knows the path well.  I am that guide. I have been on the path many, many times and can warn them of dangers ahead as well as times we can sit back and enjoy the view. We can think of Canvas as the backpack we use on the hike.  It is the best tool for the journey as you climb 'Mount Economics.' --This analogy worked well with my students (age 14-18.)
  • When creating pages for your content in Canvas, keep the pages short. For example, the five lessons learned (in your post) could each be their own page in Canvas. If you organize your content using modules, there will be a 'next' button for the students to move on to the next page.
  • Use web sites & video.  Students will watch a 3-4 minute video a lot more often than they will read a page full of text.
  • Scaffold. Start with something simple on an assignment. Really as simple as turn in a Word document with your name on it or turn in a link to Do it in the last 15 minutes of class (the first time) and they must turn it in before they leave.  Show the class once (using 'student view') and them let them help each other if they need it. You may end up helping them develop their IT skills a little bit along the way.  I agree completely with you, although many people think kids know everything about technology, they don't know as much as they could/should and have a LOT to learn.

Selling Canvas to your Staff:

  • YOU don't need to sell Canvas right away, your STUDENTS will.  If your students have a good experience, the other teachers will find out.
  • If teachers ask why you are using Canvas, let them know Canvas makes teaching and learning easier. It will save you time and especially give you the time to focus on the students who need the most help.  Put the focus on how it helps students learn by being a central source for all class resources, calendar, communication, feedback, etc. It will dramatically reduce the routine questions of "I lost this paper, may I have another?" or "I missed class yesterday, what did we do?" or "Why did I miss these points on this assignment?" or many more.  The answer to their questions will almost always be the gentle response "After you have checked Canvas, come talk to me if you still have questions."  Students will learn quickly to be more self sufficient and time will then be spent on learning.
  • Don't push Canvas on everyone. Get a few key influencers (3 to 5) who want to try it. It is easiest if they teach in the same department or same subjects. Help them have a good experience.  Word will spread on how much Canvas has helped them, too.

One final thought... After getting your first year finished, consider gamifying the course with a theme and badges.  But that's a topic for a whole different post.

I hope this helps!


Community Contributor

Thanks, Deactivated user​.

What you say makes sense. I already include videos/websites and pages are short - in fact, the department philosophy is to teach in five-minute chunks - every five minutes should be stand-alone so that they can reflect on each part - I didn't like this piecemeal method as I was used to university lectures (used to be lecturer/researcher) but I see that it suits young people who are only just leaving GCSE.

Community Contributor

Dr Rimmer, your metaphor ''learning as a journey'' definitely won my heart. Teachers and students are expected to choose a route that will lead to the knowledge enrichment. And choosing the right orientation of education is one of the most important steps in this learning journey. I cannot but agree with Mike Cowen that in the midst of school year it is much more difficult for students to adapt to the fast changes. Such turn of events can only distress students, instead of encouraging them.

Prior to my career at Unplag, I was teaching kids and teens. And the very important thing I have learnt is that the lesson starts with a student interest to the subject. This condition cannot be dispensed with. Without it, all my efforts would have never reached educational goals.

Community Contributor

t.logvynenko, you are right about the student interest and wonder if that is something missing for a good portion of my Economics students. It was the same when I taught at university and it seems to be the same here: students have very rarely taken the subject before, but opt for it because it will lead to good job prospects. There is often little idea of what Economics is about and little interest other than, eventually, it will help them get a good career where they earn a lot of money.

I'm looking forward to the September start when using Canvas just becomes the norm.

Community Coach
Community Coach

Off topic, but on, if you get the chance I think you would get a LOT out of attending the yearly Canvas conference (InstructureCon). It's going on right now for 2016 - InstructureCon 2016​, so you would have some time to plan for 2017. It's hands down the best conference (technology, teaching, and otherwise) I've ever attended and I can see where you would get a lot out of not only attending, but possibly presenting! Just something to keep in mind! Smiley Happy

Community Contributor

If my school would fund the trip,  @kona ​, I would love to attend - sounds exactly like my cup of tea...

Community Coach
Community Coach

For all conferences they post all the sessions online (for free) on YouTube and in the Community! Watch for the announcement that they are available for the 2016 conference!

Community Contributor

I wonder if they will ever have presenters/audience via videofeed... someone not able to attend in person could still participate (for a reduced fee) if the sessions were live streamed...

Community Coach
Community Coach

They did some live streaming of three of the keynotes. Not sure if they've considered streaming the other sessions, I know others posted/asked about it as well. For me personally there is nothing like actually being there. You really can't understand the enthusiasm and passion that comes from an InstructureCon conference, and that's from the users and the employees - seriously best conference ever (hands down, no contest) and I've been to a lot of conferences!

Community Team
Community Team

Having just attended my first (yes, my very first) InstructureCon,  @drimmer ​, I completely agree with  @kona ​. The value in this conference does not just derive from the presentations. It's from the connections you make with the other attendees and Instructure employees while you're here. The body of knowledge in this crowd is invaluable, almost overwhelmingly so--and you can't get that kind of knowledge from a video.

Community Team
Community Team

For anyone interested in this topic, be sure to RSVP to the CanvasLIVE presentation Inspire Greatness with Canvas Feedback Loops, which is coming up this Tuesday, February 7, 2017. RSVP “yes” if you will be there--and if you’re interested, but your schedule doesn’t allow you to attend in real time, RSVP "no" or "maybe" to receive all event updates. Your RSVP ensures that you will receive a notification should the event be cancelled or changed.

Community Champion

Good Morning  @drimmer ‌,

This was a great post!

You mentioned:

Do not assume that 21st century students with thumbs attached to smart phones are actually tech-savvy

I couldn't agree more! Digital natives still need to be taught about educational technology, which is drastically different than the social media side of technology (why they think they already know everything). I feel the greatest help to students is teaching: digital citizenship and digital literacy (understanding how/why we learn differently online vs. print). These are 21st century "textbooks" (resources) for this upcoming generation.


Click here for Common Sense Digital Citizenship

Click here for 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship

I am a big fan of personalized learning and am a BIG fan of the new feature mastery paths‌. This may be something to work up to, but helping students learn how they learn best is very powerful (and Canvas does it). differentiation‌

Canvas Release: MasteryPaths 

How do I use MasteryPaths in course modules? 

How do I allow a page to be a MasteryPath module item? 



Community Contributor

Thanks for the digital citizenship resources...going to share these with colleagues and implement in school. Wish there were resources aimed at UK students...

Community Coach
Community Coach

What a fabulous list Dr Rimmer. Thanks for putting the effort in to sharing it. Great points that I will be referring back to.