Canvas: It’s about Communication, Collaboration and Instruction

Julie Wray
Julie Wray is the coordinator for digital learning innovation and design for the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS). She has served as an elementary teacher, technology resource teacher, instructional facilitator and graduate instructor.

Joe Allen

Joe Allen joined HCPSS in 2014 as the coordinator of learning systems. Previously, he held positions leading learning and technology functions for Fortune 500 companies.

As HCPSS heads into the final stretch of its second year using the Canvas Learning System, Wray and Allen take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re going with the platform.

Canvas, the HCPSS online learning management platform, is aptly named. You could think of a student as a “canvas” that is shaped by teachers, families and life experiences, and is an individual masterpiece by the time they graduate from Howard County public schools. Canvas is also an online space where HCPSS connects all the digital tools and resources teachers use into one place, and helps develop student skills for college and career readiness.

Two years after launching the platform, we see teachers shifting from learning how to use Canvas to transforming their teaching and learning practices through Canvas. Classrooms are moving beyond paper and pencils to functioning in real-time with digital content, communication and feedback.

“Canvas is the first tool that has allowed me to see what a 21st-century classroom looks like. Using Canvas in conjunction with online software like Nearpod has helped me to teach without paper and has my students become more engaged and take ownership of their own learning. Canvas has also made me more acutely aware of the digital competence students must gain in order to be college and career ready,” said one HCPSS teacher.

“I have been able to transition to a paperless classroom because of Canvas…The amount of time I spend grading has been drastically reduced due to the use of rubrics for writing assignments and quizzes that are automatically graded,” another HCPSS teacher said.

Canvas is a place where all teachers are able to communicate with their students and families. Teachers have taken advantage of various features such as announcements to provide regular updates to parents, calendars to highlight upcoming events, and timely, personalized feedback on online assignments.

“The benefit is that there is one central location with everything I need to access for classes or school,” an HCPSS student told us.

“I like how students and parents can access Canvas and learning materials from home. When a student is absent or has transferred from another school, I can post materials on Canvas for the students to ‘make up’ and learn on their own at their own pace,” an HCPSS teacher said.

Canvas provides integrated tools for delivering instruction in engaging and flexible ways by including audio, video, text and other digital tools. Canvas also allows students to collaborate online using discussions, within groups, and participate in peer reviews. With the recently updated Google Apps for Education (GAFE) integration, teachers are also able to easily embed docs, sheets and slides directly into Canvas for students to use.

“Canvas has afforded me the opportunity to build a module that takes my students through the multiple steps of a project. They can watch a video as motivation for the lesson, download files to use, click on links for research, fill out a quiz as an exit task and collaborate as a group to make a Google slide presentation, all in one location. This ability, to have everything in one location and to have an archive of this lesson to build from or make changes to, is invaluable,” one HCPSS teacher said.

Recent HCPSS graduates have already shared how Canvas has real life application and has eased their transition to career or college experiences. They have gained the fundamental skills to collaborate and communicate effectively using a variety of digital tools and systems.

“… I personally think [Canvas is] the best resource we have used so far,” an HCPSS senior said.

Canvas will continue to innovate and introduce new functionality. This year, we introduced grade level pages which simplify communications and information sharing at the elementary level, and the Canvas Parent mobile app, which helps parents at the secondary level keep track of their children’s assignments and grades.

We look forward to Canvas’ ongoing role of creating rich learning experiences for students, efficiencies and blended learning tools for teachers, and opportunities for parents to stay connected to their children’s education.

The Canvas testimonials in this guest blog come from feedback submitted anonymously online by the HCPSS community.