In fall 2018, my school selected Canvas as our new learning management system (LMS). At that moment, I had no idea how fortuitous this decision would become. I did not initially design the LMS effectively and utilized it primarily for basic tasks such as posting assignments and grades.
A major shift occurred for me in the summer of 2020—during the peak of the pandemic—as I prepared to teach a summer American history course for One Schoolhouse, an organization partnering with independent schools to offer supplementary online classes. I uncovered how Canvas enhances learning across online, hybrid, and traditional classroom settings.
Regardless of the LMS you use, the strategies I’ve embraced and tailored since then offer the potential to similarly empower and elevate your teaching approach.
Creating an Inviting Landing Page
A welcoming and effective digital learning environment starts with a well-crafted landing page. This initial point of contact is crucial, as it sets the tone for the course and provides students with the information essential to beginning their learning journey.
Here are some key elements to consider when creating a landing page for a digital learning environment.
Personalized welcome with video introduction: A simple video introduction is an excellent way to forge a personal connection right from the start. It allows me to convey my teaching style, enthusiasm, and expectations in an engaging way that text alone cannot match.
Mapped-out learning journey: Providing a detailed course map upfront is vital for clarity and transparency. It helps students grasp the course structure, anticipate what they will learn, and understand how each part contributes to the overall learning objectives. This road map greatly aids their planning and engagement with the course materials.
Visible schedules for accessibility: Displaying my teaching schedule and office hours prominently is crucial for fostering open communication. This visibility reassures students that support is available when needed and encourages them to reach out, fostering a more interactive and responsive learning atmosphere.
Immediate access to essential materials: Ensuring that all key course materials, such as reading lists, course policies, and expectations, are thoroughly covered or clearly linked to an inside module, is also important. This allows students to begin the course feeling prepared and well informed, fostering a sense of empowerment. Such organization also prompts students to adopt a proactive approach to their education.
Structuring for Engagement and Clarity
The “Modules” section in Canvas is a critical component in my students’ educational journey, acting as a central hub for assignments and daily activities. Its thoughtful organization and structure are vital for several key reasons, each contributing substantially to enriching the students’ learning experience.
Keep the following aspects in mind as you set up your modules.
Intentionally structured design: I set a clear standard and pace for the entire course by carefully designing the initial module. This deliberate structuring from the outset helps students quickly become comfortable with the course’s flow and expectations. Understanding the structure early on reduces confusion and anxiety and allows students to focus on learning rather than needing to adapt to unexpected changes in course delivery.
Engaging introduction: Each module begins with a basic and unfancy one-to-two-minute video overview to immediately engage students and outline clear objectives. This method not only captures their interest but also provides a clear context for the material that they’re about to encounter. Students can mentally prepare for what lies ahead, which enhances their readiness and focus. When appropriate, I also offer insight as to why a particular topic fascinates me, including how it resonates with my understanding of current events.
Variety in assignment types: By incorporating a diverse array of assignments in each module—such as seminars, in-class essays, and projects—I cater to different learning preferences. This varied approach allows every student to find engaging activities that align with their interests and strengths, which leads to enhanced understanding and participation. Additionally, this diversity in assignment types helps to prevent monotony, ensuring that the learning experience remains dynamic and engaging.
Reflective practices: Embedding reflective activities in the modules encourages students to think deeply about what they’ve learned. This strategy not only reinforces the material but also develops critical thinking skills. It allows students to connect the dots between different concepts, fostering a more profound and personal understanding of the course material.
Personalized feedback: By offering individualized feedback on module assessments, I help students recognize their strengths and pinpoint areas needing improvement. This tailored approach to feedback ensures that each student receives guidance relevant to their specific learning journey, making their experience more impactful and fulfilling.
As I continue to evolve and enhance my teaching, I’m excited to experiment with other Canvas features to tailor the learning experience for my students. I plan to implement two key strategies—peer collaboration/learning and flexible learning paths. My aim is to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and collaboration within Canvas. By organizing group projects, creating peer review assignments, and engaging discussion forums, I plan to cultivate a learning community where students can exchange ideas and knowledge.
Leveraging my One Schoolhouse training, I also hope to adapt Canvas to better serve my students’ diverse interests and learning styles. This approach allows for more consistent, personalized learning paths, where students can regularly choose their preferred mediums—such as videos, readings, podcasts, and presentations, or a combination of these offerings. Instead of hoping that various lessons and assignments occasionally match a student’s preferred style, this method ensures a more continual alignment with each individual’s learning preferences, fostering a more effective and tailored educational experience.
Essential Principles for an Effective LMS Page
Designing a Canvas page transcends mere content organization; it involves constructing an engaging, cohesive, and supportive digital learning environment. Effective design marries clear, succinct information with interactive and diverse learning opportunities. It’s crucial to ensure that each element contributes to a comprehensive learning experience—one that not only imparts knowledge but also inspires and aids students.
This approach ensures that the classroom—whether in person, digital, or a hybrid—transforms from a simple information repository into a dynamic, interactive space that fosters exploration and learning. These strategies, while specific to an American history course, can be adapted to enhance learning across various disciplines, providing a framework for effective and engaging online education.