5 Ways to Use Canvas in Your Onground Classes

by George Rowe

If you’re an instructor in a higher-education classroom, it’s unlikely you haven’t heard of or used the ‘flipped learning’ or ‘flipped classroom’ approach: students access course content online via video lectures and other multimedia, then come to class armed with questions and background knowledge ready to engage in guided, workshop-oriented tasks. Through this model, the instructor transforms from ‘sage on the stage’ (lecturer) to ‘guide on the side’ (facilitator). Flipped learning is a popular trend in today’s classroom for a good reason—when designed and executed well, flipped learning activities have a number of benefits for students and teachers. Although it is possible to ‘flip’ an entire course, the suggestions here favor a micro-flipping approach, in which only portions of the course or particular lessons are ‘flipped.’

Micro-Flipping Your Classroom

To really up your flip game as an instructor, remember to make at-home tasks interactive. In other words, avoid simply having students ‘watch’ or ‘read’ something at home. Students should interact with the content in some way. For example, students complete an organizer or task while viewing the content. For instance, instruct students to pause the video at various points and do something like solve a problem, predict an outcome, or write down an interesting question. Create a Google Form or discussion board that student’s use to answer questions collaboratively. You can also use the Canvas quiz feature in conjunction with flipped content, or check out tools like PlayPosit, which allows you to build pop-up quiz questions at teacher-selected points in a video. There are also questioning apps like Verso, which offers ways for students to interact with each other on learning objects.

You don’t always need to create your own videos, of course. Depending on the subject you teach, there are tons of videos online and other digital sources that can provide students with content. Remember, it’s the instructor that designs the task and controls the level and type of student contribution. Consider using foreign modules (courses within courses) and free resources online as the ‘flipped’ content. Design tasks and plan in-class activities that draw out key concepts and allow for ‘deep-dive’ analysis and application in the classroom. If you’re wary or lack confidence with flipped learning approaches, keep in mind that you can start by flipping a single lesson. Think of the classroom session as a workshop. Then, build/curate online content that prepares students to come to class and execute a task or work on a project.

Once you’ve experienced the efficacy of well-designed flipped learning tasks, you’ll be eager to continue exploring this instructional approach and the dividends it pays to learning.

Discussions as Homework to Enhance In-Class Study

In onground classes, a discussion board is a great tool for off-loading further focus and collaboration on target concepts. Have you ever been asked a tangential question in class that really requires presentation and instruction beyond what you’ve planned? Throw it back to your students as a discussion for homework where they research and posit answers to the question. Discussion boards have all kinds of potential linkage with classroom instruction.

For example, students can prepare for more complex in-class discussion, share and provide peer support on outlines or draft papers, or find out what they already know about an upcoming topic. Online discussions can also be used for continuous assessment and diagnostic purposes. For instance, teachers can read discussions to monitor students’ understanding and where they might need help with particular concepts. This valuable information can then inspire future lesson approaches. Another interesting approach is to have students start their own discussions based on questions of inquiry they have. Examples include ‘muddy point’ questions, student surveys, or statements of interest in a particular area.

To make interacting and commenting more engaging, give students conceptual targets; rather than ask them to ‘reply to at least two classmates’ with ‘substantive comments,’ ask them to ‘give’ one classmate an idea, suggestion, or useful nugget of information, and ‘steal’ one idea, suggestion or piece of useful information from a classmate. Because discussions are text-based, and participants have the opportunity for reflection or even further research, they have a higher degree of detail and allow for more complex interactions. In this way, they are an excellent way to enhance and check understanding of key material.

Low-Stakes Quizzes Support High-Stakes Outcomes

Canvas quizzes can be used in a number of ways, the most effective of which are practice quizzes, self-assessment tools, and opportunities for low-stakes feedback. For example, at the start of a course, have students assess their own skills related to the course subject. Another idea is for students to assess their technology skills and ability to use Canvas and other online tools effectively. ‘Meta-quizzes’ like this help students reflect on their preferred learning modes as well as their level of comfort with online learning. The instructor can identify who might need extra support and direct them to the appropriate campus resources.

Practice quizzes are a great way for students to hone in on the most important concepts, identify areas needing more clarification, and practice for higher-stakes assessments. For example, create quizzes for 0 points and allow students to complete them as many times as they wish. These quizzes can be used to prepare for an upcoming exam or to self-assess one’s knowledge of course concepts. Online practice quizzes are also terrific pre-test tools when using a test-teach-test framework; you can use them to introduce key concepts, get students to reflect on what they already know, and establish a track record of student progress in the unit or course (i.e. average student test scores improved by 27% from pre-test to final assessment).

Overall, use quizzes to give your students multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned. If students can take the quiz multiple times, the quizzes can double as question banks that help students study for exams. Consider this tweak for exam preparation: Instead of providing ‘answers,’ give students the option to answer ‘I understand this concept’ or ‘I need more knowledge/practice in this area.’ Then use the feedback tool to provide more guidance for students that need more support. If you’re not using the Canvas quiz tool to review and assess key course concepts, you’re really denying your students a powerful tool to help them succeed in your course.

Resource Banks Foster Learner Autonomy

Set up a resource bank so that students have a central location for accessing various resources related to the work they will complete in the course. The use and effectiveness of this resource bank can be enhanced by requiring students to use these resources for particular assignments.

For example, in my intermediate writing class for ESL learners, I include a learner’s dictionary, the MLA stylebook, and a grammar checking assistant in my resource bank. A vocabulary assignment set in class might require that students look up the words in a specified dictionary and compare the definitions to the ones given in the textbook. A writing assignment could require students to cite their sources using MLA stylebook rules. Another writing assignment asks students to check their grammar using Grammarly.com and make edits before submitting to the instructor. In this way, students get practice applying tools that will potentially be of use to them later. Creating a resource bank and designing tasks that integrate the use of these tools into the course supports learner autonomy and reinforces good study practices (i.e. proofreading work and using reference material).

Collaboration Pages

Students contribute assets and/or findings from an assignment to a single page where all students can view each other’s work. These collections of student-found multimedia resources can be mined for assignment ideas later in the course. For example, students submit ‘fitness and well-being’ videos and along with short summaries of the content. Then, each student chooses a classmate’s video, follows one of the fitness suggestions in the video for a week, and finally, writes a reflection or prepares a presentation of their experience. The Canvas discussion tool can also be used to build these types of collaboration pages.

Having students find, create and submit work in a shared space with other students has a number of benefits. First, it fosters peer teaching and peer feedback. I’ve also found that student-generated resources are usually more interesting and accessible to other students. Finally, it showcases student work and gives learners a sense of accomplishment and pride to see their work displayed and used as classroom material for further instruction.


George Rowe is an Instructional Designer in eLearning.

Last Updated November 11, 2019