How can Learning Management Systems (LMS and/or Non-LMS) help me develop courses where students learn in the best way for them (teacher-structured/personalized), while providing me with the tools I require for efficient and efficacious presentation, moderation, support, and assessment (for, as, and of learning)?
For my final project in OLTD 504, after encouragement from my peers, I decided to build two units for my French 9 course in Canvas. Canvas is a learning management system developed by Instructure a US based company. As a face to face high school teacher what is initially appealing about using Canvas is the fact that it is free. This semester I developed two of my classes, French 9 and History 12, so that they are paperless and students are able to access and complete most of their assignments online. We are typically spending three to four classes a week in the computer lab. As a relative newcomer to the world of online teaching and learning I chose to use Weebly as my teacher homepage, and also for my students e-portfolios. I have no regrets of this choice, as my students are finding Weebly easy to build and work with, and I am excited by their results. Typically I will load assignments on my Weebly site for students to access it, I have also built links to student webpages, so they can easily view and comment on their peers projects and blogs. As a starting point I am happy with this system, but as an organizational hub or dashboard it leaves a lot to be desired. In many ways it feels like I am building the airplane as I am flying it, and I am comfortable with approach for now, as I experiment with a personalized online layout in a face to face classroom. As I look forward using an LMS like Canvas allows me to provide a much more organized course for students and it also allows me centralize student services, something I would like to work towards.
Reflection and Comparison to D2L
In the past month I had the opportunity to build a unit in D2L and in Canvas. I have to report that using Canvas was significantly easier for me. Specifically, I found the interface and options easier to use. It must be noted however that D2L is a larger program and has more options for customization, however for my purposes and perhaps teachers who do not have significant tech training this is not necessarily a positive. I found the options for loading assignments easier in Canvas, and I preferred how assignments were presented to students in the student view. Typically students are concerned with knowing their grade, and finding how what they have to do assignment wise. The student view in Canvas is quite straightforward in this regard compared to D2L. Although I haven’t tested the grade-book in Canvas with my students, it seems much simpler and integrated than D2L. Realistically in my present teaching situation I will probably continue to use an external grade-book, BCESIS or Jupiter Grades, however I am tempted to use Canvas' grade-book given its simplicity and integration with assignments. I was also impressed with Canvas' attempt to integrate popular open source tools such as Google Docs, Facebook, Skype and Twitter.
In conclusion I think Canvas provides a cleaner, clearer and easier to navigate platform than D2L. While D2L has seemingly infinite options, Canvas still provides resources for discussions, quizzes, grade-book, collaboration (even web conferencing) and provides a clean dashboard for outlining assignments and courses. Practically at this juncture I can not see myself being limited by Canvas and would easily choose and recommend it over D2L, understanding that the free version is an open source and this may be a negative for certain educational institutions.
Final Thoughts and Future Plan
While I’ve loaded two units of my French 9 program to Canvas as a trial this week, the real test will be to open it to students next September and to continue experimenting with the diverse tools it provides. In my given face to face teaching situation I will need to determine and reflect on whether the added features and complexity of an LMS (Canvas) adds to student engagement and is appreciated and easy to use by my students. Furthermore, I will also have to assess how adopting a central dashboard works for me compared to using a simplistic website in Weebly. As I progress through this semester my plan is to continue adding units to Canvas and to maybe test it with a select student group. I am continually amazed that educators have free access to so many powerful learning tools, and Canvas certainly falls into that category. It's a pretty exciting time to be an educator.