Marta Gaia Zanchi
Marta Gaia Zanchi, PhD, Director, Biodesign for Digital Health, Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign, Adjunct Professor, Stanford School of Medicine Photo Credit: Samuel L. Fontejon for Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign

Canvas Course Profile – Marta Gaia Zanchi

This Canvas Course Profile features Marta Gaia Zanchi’s  exemplary use of Canvas to enhance teaching and learning. She shares her approach to leveraging Canvas to facilitate collaboration and support her course’s project-based and team-based experience mixing in-classroom lectures, panels and flipped-classroom breakout sessions with independent teamwork by students outside of class hours.

Canvas Course Profile

Instructor: Marta Gaia Zanchi, Adjunct Professor
School: Stanford School of Medicine
Canvas Course: BIOE-273-01/MED-273-01 Biodesign for Mobile Health

What has your experience with Canvas been like so far?

Canvas has been a substantial improvement over CourseWork. Our BIOE273/MED273 course is a project-based and team-based experience mixing in-classroom lectures, panels and flipped-classroom breakout sessions with independent teamwork by students outside of classroom hours. The course has evolved since the transition from CourseWork to Canvas, which finally enabled us to do almost all that we had wanted to with one centralized resource. We would have been challenged to offer the course in its current form with CourseWork as our tool: the newer functionalities of Canvas not only enabled, but in some cases even inspired our pedagogical approaches.      

Canvas Files Tool Screenshot
Canvas Files Tool


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

(e.g,  facilitating assessment and feedback, supporting interactions, collaboration and engagement)

In one word: collaboration. We make extensive use of the ability to work collaboratively on Google Documents through Canvas’ Collaborations: our student teams are working on projects and are instructed to weekly update a “Team Card,” giving both instructors and teams’ industry mentors an always current snapshot of projects and regularly reflecting on how they progress.

Project Team Card Screenshot
Project Team Card


Collectively on Canvas, students can edit and view a Google Document with their short biographies. A separate Google Document also serves as a repository of links redirecting students to other types of documents (spreadsheets, slides) that students can work on collaboratively. Beginning this year, students also take notes collaboratively during class.

Canvas Collaborations Screenshot
Canvas Collaborations


On the SuiteC Asset Library, students share helpful resources with each other and in doing so, with the instructors. The course organizes student content in the Asset Library using hashtags, to help students find and engage with the contributions by other students that are most relevant to their own projects.
Finally, Discussions allow students to build on each other’s questions in anticipation of lectures and panels. This helps instructors create an environment where students contribute to direct the focus of our interactions with speakers and guests in the classroom, enhancing student engagement and the quality of classroom discussions.

Canvas Discussion Screenshot
Canvas Discussion


What’s your favorite thing about Canvas?

Definitely, Collaborations.

Are there any challenges or areas for improvement?

We wish a more straightforward integration with Google Slides — as seamless and easy as the one with Google Documents. Our workaround at the moment is to link to Google Slides from a Google Document. Also, our course requires groups of four students to communicate both synchronously and asynchronously as a team, which they cannot do effectively on the platform, so they use external tools such as Slack. We wish this functionality were native or at least an integration with Slack. Finally, the platform could make it easier to design quizzes; while the current functionality is usable, it makes designing sophisticated forms complex. For example, we do team peer evaluations with external forms (Qualtrics)–we found we could not easily implement them natively.

What are some key lessons learned from your Canvas experience?

Personally, I could not be more excited that Stanford University invested in this transition. The platform has opened me to new possibilities and pedagogical approaches, which I was already experimenting with but was not able to express and iterate on until this powerful toolkit became available.

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

To leverage the helpful resources and the amazing staff at the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (VPTL). Kimberly Hayworth, Associate Director of Instructional Design, was extremely valuable with her support and answers to my questions at every step. I am also thankful for the education and the support I received through the VPTL Teaching with Technology Workshops, which I recommend to all faculty–both just getting started, and already experienced with the platform.

The VPTL Canvas team is always happy to help. Please contact us if you have any Canvas questions or check out our Stanford Canvas help resources for instructors.


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