Friday, May 1, 2015

Canvas: Why Live Content?

This post originally appeared on May 1 at my Digital Teaching blog.

When the Canvas decision was announced at my school last week, a faculty member and long-time friend wrote and asked: "What is the one thing that Canvas does do that D2L doesn't that the normal teacher might want to use? I don't suspect that Canvas will entice me to change my teaching style much or how I use technology."

This person is expressing honestly what a lot of faculty feel about the LMS: teaching in the classroom is normal, but using online tools for teaching is not normal, and if you are going to suggest that people change their teaching style, you need to give them a good reason!

And what is my answer to his question? I actually have two answers:

Answer 1: Canvas can be public. The number one thing that Canvas does differently from D2L is that it lets us make our courses public so that we can share and learn from one another. Within a day of our Canvas sandbox being open for use, I had a Growth Mindset Playground course up and running  — just click and go: no log-in required! Real webpages on the real Internet. I will be using that as a demonstration space to entice people to think about using live content technology in their courses... and also to share growth mindset resources; weaving growth mindset explicitly into my course content this year has been a huge boost for me and for my students.

Which leads to:

Answer 2. Live web content. In my opinion, all faculty can and should be creating and/or curating web content for their students, extending what we do in the classroom so that students have even more opportunities to keep learning online. If you are pressed for time (and everyone is), then curation is the way to go! You don't have to create content; you just have to find existing content and share it with your students. And that's where live content comes in: with live pages in Canvas, the content shows up there automatically — you don't even have to log on or do anything at all after you set up your live pages.

And there are lots of kinds of live content you can display in Canvas. See a video you want to share with your students? Add it to the YouTube playlist for class, and students can watch the video in Canvas. Find a website you want to share? Bookmark it in Diigo and tag it for your class; the link will show up in Canvas. Photographs, infographics, memes? You can save images to a Flickr album, and those images will appear in your Canvas slideshow. And so on for all the different types of live content that you can embed in Canvas pages.

Even better: you can configure these pages so that the students can also be contributing content, creating and/or curating together with you. For example, choose a class hashtag for the students to use, and their tweets will show up on your Canvas page. Do your students blog? You can use Inoreader to have their blog posts (all of their posts, or only posts with a specific label) show up inside your Canvas course.

Canvas without Canvas. After you set up your live pages in Canvas, you can spend your time out on the real Internet, searching and browsing! As you save the content (bookmark in Diigo, retweet in Twitter, etc.), it appears in Canvas automatically. No logging in and editing, no copying-and-pasting; instead, you are out there on the Internet, finding things and sharing what you find with your students. And your Canvas course does not have to be public for this to work; live content pages will work just fine whether you choose to make your course public or not.

And that's all, folks. There are other people at my school who will be sharing materials and conducting workshops about other Canvas features, but that's not my thing; I prefer to use the real Internet for my classes, along with real tools, not an LMS. But I am very interested in the ways that Canvas can connect to the power of the real Internet, and I'll be adding posts at this blog, and also at my Anatomy of an Online Course blog, to say more about creating and curating live content, and specifically about the tools I like best: Inoreader, Blogger, Twitter, Diigo, YouTube, and Flickr. I know I will learn a lot by documenting my use of these tools, and perhaps my posts can be useful to you too!

Questions? Requests? Let me know — you can comment here at the blog or get in touch with me by email ( or Twitter (@OnlineCrsLady). I hope this transition will be a chance for those of us interested in online teaching to pool our knowledge, helping each other out and sharing ideas!

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