Jennifer Johnson, PWR Lecturer Photo Credit: Megan O'Connor
Jennifer Johnson, PWR Lecturer Photo Credit: Megan O'Connor

Canvas Course Profile – Jennifer Johnson

This Canvas Course Profile showcases Jennifer Johnson’s exemplary use of Canvas to enhance teaching and promote collaborative learning. She shares her experience with Canvas’ peer review and Pages’ features (wiki – easy to edit, collaborative web pages) and *SuiteC collaboration tools to increase student interaction and engagement. She also shares insights about leveraging Canvas to facilitate instructor-student, student-instructor and student-student communication and provides examples of how to provide richer feedback using SpeedGrader.

Canvas Course Profile

Instructor: Jennifer Johnson, Lecturer
Department: Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR)
Canvas Courses: PWR1, The Rhetoric of Language and Thought, PWR2: The Rhetoric of Language, Identity and Power, PWR-LSP6: Academic Writing and Argument

What has your experience with Canvas been like so far?

Love it! Having made a similar “CourseWork to Canvas” transition as an instructor at UC Berkeley two years ago, I came to Stanford with a good deal of Canvas experience.

In my first two quarters teaching in Stanford’s Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR), I extended my use of Canvas to align with PWR’s commitment towards collaborative learning and increasing opportunities for students to engage with each other’s work through Canvas’ peer-review feature.

How has Canvas helped to enhance teaching and learning in your courses?

(e.g,  facilitating assessment and feedback, supporting interactions, collaboration and engagement)?
I use Canvas as a platform to centralize communications for students in my PWR1 course. The front page of my PWR1 course is linked to both an updated syllabus and a course stream that reminds students of upcoming assignments.

Student Home Page - Recent Activity Stream and To-Do List
Student’s Home Page – Recent Activity Stream and To-Do List

What’s great about Canvas is that materials, assignments and announcements can be easily linked together.

Announcements Tool
Announcements – Instructors can insert content (links, files, & images) directly into an announcement (and assignments) so students can download the embedded files when they view the announcement in their email. In the “HW for Thursday” screenshot, I am inserting a reading into the announcement.

When I create an assignment, an assignment notification can land  directly into a student’s Stanford email inbox, other email account, or even as a text message on his or her phone depending on the student’s preferences and Canvas notifications settings.

I also use Canvas to upload, store and review all student work. When students submit drafts of major assignments through the Canvas Assignment file upload feature, I offer written feedback on their essays and request that students dialogue around my feedback directly into the text or on the side comment box; this creates a student-teacher dialogue around the student’s text. Instructors can even leave a voice comment!

SpeedGrader - Instructor Feedback
SpeedGrader – Instructor Feedback

What’s nice is that all student work is stored in the same place. When reviewing final paper submissions, I can easily access students’ peer-reviewed and instructor-reviewed drafts to view improvements and previous feedback/conversations with students.

I really like Canvas’ peer review feature. Through Canvas, I assign two reviewers to each student draft, and students have access to each other’s work inside and outside of class.

Peer Review - Options offered when creating an assignment.
Peer Review – Options offered when creating an assignment.
Peer Review Feedback
Peer Review – Two students synchronously offer peer review feedback on a third student’s assignment. (NOTE: The Comment tool is not available for Anonymous Peer Review assignments.)

Canvas also facilitates student engagement across sections. Through Canvas, I introduce students from different sections working similar topics that may be interested in sharing their work.

I use the “Pages” (or Wiki pages) feature as a space to collectively share popular culture and “in the news” examples and applications of course themes. The settings on each “Page”  can be modified so that students can edit/add too.

Pages - Editing Screen in Wiki Pages
Pages – Editing Screen in Wiki pages. Students and instructors can share external links related to the class here. Instructors have the option to allow students to edit wiki pages.

It is my hope that engaging with external sources will be useful for brainstorming research topic(s) and in making connections between course themes, different rhetorical traditions and our everyday world. In the future, I hope Canvas makes this feature more like a social-media scroll, with real time updates and easier posting features.

What’s your favorite thing about Canvas?

My favorite Canvas feature is the “SpeedGrader” which allows an instructor to move through reviewing a “stack” of papers with just your computer by viewing the uploaded Word docs through the Canvas interface. Instructors can leave comments directly on student work.  And, if you are without Internet, you can always download the batch onto your computer, offer feedback and re-upload the submissions.  

Assignments - Download Submissions
Assignments – Download Submissions and Re-Upload Submissions Options

Are there any challenges or areas for improvement?

The Canvas instructor guides are useful to review when you need to troubleshoot an issue, but, sometimes the amount of information in the guides can be overwhelming or irrelevant to your specific issue. I recommend viewing Stanford’s Canvas resources for instructors , as they filter some of this information or contacting the Canvas team for help.

What are some key lessons learned from your Canvas experience?

Canvas has many transparency options included with the features (grades, attendance, real-time feedback release, time-stamped submissions, etc.) for students and instructors.

Attendance Tool
Attendance Tool – Badges allow an instructor to label absences (i.e., “emailed”, “excused-medical”) with specific details. Students can also view their attendance status.

I think it is important to decide early in the quarter how you want to use these features and communicate with students based on your reasoning. For example, for ungraded drafts, I release feedback as I review, but for final drafts I mute the assignment so feedback and grades are released at the same time for all students.

Do you have any advice or tips for faculty just getting started with Canvas?

Start by populating the syllabus page, assignments and files (readings, handouts etc.) in the Files tool. If you populate the files first, you can then link files as you make assignments so you do not have to go back and do it later. For example, if you create an assignment handout  based on a course reading, embed the reading into the assignment so students do not need to look for it in the “Week 2 readings” file folder.  

Content Selector
Content Selector – Instructors can embed file links into the assignments (by selecting content from the “Insert Content into Page” window). Instead of students needing to search for the file, they can click on it directly from the assignment.

Assignments - Content

What are your plans for future courses in Canvas?

Overall, I have found Canvas to be far more interactive and user-friendly than other learning management systems –  facilitating student-student and teacher-student communication in and out of the classroom.  At present, I am working on finding better ways to link Canvas to external websites (like the Wiki Page feature), so students can make connections between course materials/discussions and important issues in their communities.

*Update 9/23/20: SuiteC is no longer available.  Please contact us if you’d like to try Harmonize (a rich discussion tool that is similar to SuiteC) or to schedule an appointment to discuss your course and get one-on-one help. For more information, check out our Stanford Canvas help resources for instructors.

Want to share your Canvas experience? Please get in touch with us to contribute a Canvas Course Profile.

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