Canvas could be the pandemic’s silver lining

Michael Seton

What is the first thing that students do when they get home from school? If you’re like me, you click through your various school assignments on Canvas and Google Classroom. Then, you probably go to Synergy to check your grades. Do I enjoy this daily ritual? No, but there is no other way to stay on top of homework and grades in this new, post-pandemic era.

I’m not the only student who sees our technology platforms as a nuisance. In a 2022 Cub Bark survey, 48 percent of Redwood students agreed that teachers should improve the way they use Canvas by updating grades at least once a week. When asked how they felt about Canvas generally, most students agreed with the statement that, “How the instructor uses Canvas determines how much I like it.”

Redwood High School adopted these new teaching platforms in mid-2020 after the onset of COVID-19 to enhance online learning and remote communication. A combination of Canvas, Google Classroom, and Synergy continues to be used by teachers and students to post and track homework assignments and grades. 

One of the problems is that some teachers don’t use Canvas at all. They prefer Google Classroom. This requires students to go to a different platform in order to check their classwork. Since Google Classroom displays only homework and not necessarily grades, you have to go to a third system, Synergy, to find the grades for that class. At least with Canvas, all the assignments and grades are in one place.

Redwood’s administration has announced that it will continue to support only the Canvas tool starting in the 2022-2023 school year. That can’t happen soon enough for me. Redwood’s elimination of support for alternate tools like Google Classroom will ensure all teachers move onto Canvas, getting rid of the time-consuming exercise of toggling around different platforms. Based upon a review in the EdTechTeam blog, many teachers appear to prefer Canvas over Google Classroom as a learning tool too. 

Like teachers, students generally believe that Canvas is a good tool. But another problem is that different teachers use Canvas in different ways. Some teachers will put homework in the ‘Assignments’ tab, others will put it in the ‘Modules’ tab, and some even list homework on their homepage. This inconsistency often makes it very confusing for students to find homework assignments, deadlines and grades. 

41 percent of Redwood students agree that teachers should improve the way they deploy Canvas by using only the ‘Assignments’ page and not ‘Modules’ to post homework. Many believe that if teachers separate and organize their information according to the ‘Assignments’ and ‘Grades’ pages that are provided, this greatly eases students’ ability to stay on top of their work.

Illustration by Michael Seton

Another issue with these tools is that students have to check them daily to ensure nothing is missed as deadlines often change. It would be a lot easier if we could look up all our assignments once a week and feel confident that we’re seeing everything we will be responsible for that week. 

On the other hand, grades hardly ever seem to change. In the same Cub Bark survey, 48 percent of Redwood students agreed that teachers could improve the way they use Canvas by updating grades at least once a week so we don’t have to continually check for updates.

Unfortunately, some teachers feel that Canvas doesn’t address their teaching needs as well as Google Classroom. According to the Instructure Learning Platform, some teachers are less comfortable with Canvas than Google Classroom. It can be hard for educators to learn new technology tools and certain tools may work better for some academic subjects than others. But to ease students’ burden of staying on top of homework and grades for up to seven different classes, it is encouraging to see that Redwood’s teachers will be using Canvas next year. Further, Redwood’s teachers should be trained to use Canvas in a consistent manner so students can quickly scroll through their classes to confirm assignments and grades without confusion.

As a next step, Redwood could train both teachers and students to take advantage of the more advanced features of Canvas, such as the daily dashboard which shows all upcoming homework assignments for all classes in one place. While it is important to note that some teachers already use Canvas in an optimal way for their students, there are still many areas of improvement.

If Redwood’s teachers would employ Canvas in a consistent manner by using only the ‘Assignments’ tab for course work and updating their grades regularly, that would greatly simplify the life of a typical Redwood student. With these changes, Canvas could be a silver lining to the pandemic cloud.