Canvas Pilot Program Benefits and Challenges Educators and Students

As of the fall semester of the 2017‒2018 school year, Dimond High has become a pilot school for the new Canvas By Instructure educational program.

Along with two other high schools, Service and Bartlett, Dimond will be trying Canvas for the next year.

The program allows teachers to post assignments, tests, videos, notes, presentations, schedules and even grades to an online interface that students can access.

For students, Canvas can be downloaded as a mobile application or used on a desktop computer where they can complete assignments and communicate with their peers as well as their instructors.

It increases access to information for students, especially if they have been absent.

Overall, the program is intended to make learning and teaching easier.

It is connected with Google Drive and, two programs that the majority of students use for their papers and presentations. Having everything on one interface makes doing homework online much simpler.

Charles McCubrey, Dimond’s technical coordinator, said, “We kind of volunteered ourselves. One of the reasons is that last year, there were a lot of what they call LM Systems, Learning Management Systems, such as Edmodo and Blackboard. There are all those different things, so any one student could have multiple places to go to get all their information.

“With Dimond, we’re one of the forefronts for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in the school district, and with us having so many students using their devices we really wanted to solidify our school into one.”

Jennifer Childress, Dimond’s physics teacher, said, “I like the idea that students can log into one place and see all their classes. I think that is something that will be very nice for students. In the past, maybe one teacher had a website and another used Google Classroom and another used Moodle. Sometimes I think that was confusing for kids.”

Most students have at least one of their six classes on Canvas and many have up four or five. Teachers are using it in different ways, with some posting entire assignments and grades while others just put up the daily agendas for each class.

Lem Wheeles, a history teacher at Dimond, has had experience with Canvas through iSchool and is having his history students do their weekly homework through the program.

“I like that it has a lot of features that we can use as teachers. We’re able to put things there that are able to be used in the future. It has some challenges, just working things out and moving stuff there is time intensive. We didn’t get access to do that until the first day of work for teachers. I think it will be something that will evolve over the next couple of years to where it’s more fully used,” Wheeles said.

Canvas was so recently introduced to Dimond that teachers and students alike are struggling to use it.

A trial and error period is necessary for teachers to be able to learn how to use the program since the district has only provided limited training.

Childress said, “I think there are a lot of different ways to use it, and I don’t think very many teachers know how they are going to use it yet. It is not as intuitive as I would like so it has taken a lot of time to figure out some of the things. We haven’t had many training opportunities to really figure stuff out. I would say that’s the difficulty: How are people going to implement this without a lot of training?”

Dimond Senior Kenzie Lindemann said, “Canvas in itself is a very cool idea. It’s easy to access on your phone, nice if you are sick and miss a day and if you don’t exactly know a deadline then you check it really fast. In reality, with our teachers not knowing how it works as well as us students not exactly knowing, it becomes a whole lot more complicated.”

Students are enjoying the benefits of Canvas such as the ability to work through their phones or computers, but some are questioning whether online education is better than traditional learning.

Senior Kobe Vanderwood said, “For some classes like AP Statistics I don’t enjoy Canvas just because the math homework is online, and it makes it much more difficult to do instead of having a textbook and paper. Although for classes like AP Government, it makes it much easier to submit work online since it automatically goes through Turnitin.”

He continued, saying, “I like in-class learning; I like it in front of me, but at home it is nice to have it on the computer just so I have all the material in front of me.”

Piper Sato, a Dimond senior said, “I think it’s just easier, at least for me personally, to think stuff through and understand better when I can actually see it physically in front of me and work with it. Sometimes it’s harder to pay attention when you’re reading on your phone, or it’s harder to keep transferring back from doing a problem in a notebook and then putting that into your phone or computer.”

While this is meant to have a positive impact on education, there are some pressing issues that need to be addressed before this can be implemented district wide.

Access is a major benefit of the program with students being able to have their assignments, notes and texts all in the palms of their hands.

Yet, it also presents problems for those students who do not have smart phones or computers readily available for them to use within the classroom or at home.

Nate Normandin, a Dimond math teacher, said, “Of my Algebra I students, about half to three-quarters of them cannot use Canvas at home, at least not efficiently. It’s not as easy of a thing to do. The kids that have a little bit more economic difficulties have more of a struggle trying to deal with that.”

This is a problem that will always be present no matter the district, city or state that online education is being used.

Whether schools will be able to provide access for all is a point of concern for both teachers and students.

Canvas has the potential to have a very positive influence on modernizing education, but if mainstream learning is to continue down this route, it is imperative to listen to those most affected: students.