Fancy course management systems are not just for fancy universities
You will not believe how cool this is: you can get a fancy course management system, for free! Yes, you, fifth grade teacher in a small Catholic school in rural Kentucky! And you, teacher of High School English in Jakarta! And even you, teacher of “Loving Yourself and Loving Your Soul,” in Southern California! What I have to tell you about today is really useful, interesting and free!
You might not think that you need a Course Management System (CMS), but you do. A CMS is a tool that makes it really easy to teach. A CMS can help to organize student work, keep track of obligations and provide multiple mechanisms for teachers and students to interact.
Not so long ago, when my students’ work was done on paper, I would spend days before the students arrived, thinking about how to keep the papers organized. These preparations did improve the quality of my life once the school year started. Clear systems make both grading and teaching easier.
I expected this process to be simpler on the computer. When I began my home-school cooperative, a friend was eager to explore Moodle. He created a beautiful site for me, but as I did not know how to maintain it, I quickly became overwhelmed with it. Moodle is big and was (at least for me) quite complicated.
My school year started. I needed to get content to my students and I was demoralized by Moodle, so I wanted to keep everything really simple. I started sending out work as attachments. However, I knew that there was a better way and that one day I would have the time to find it. That day was today.
Canvas: A free CMS for you
My plan this morning was to drink coffee and explore Google Docs. Then I found Canvas by Instructure, which provides free teacher accounts. They are even partners with WizIQ. The more research I did, the more exciting it became.
Here is the video introducing Canvas:
They also have really great tutorial videos, which are available here.
When I called for information, a really pleasant, friendly, human being chatted with me, asked me what I was looking for and helped me to get started.
I already have my account. I have folders for my classes. I am maniacally watching tutorial videos and in absolute awe by how groovy this site is and how much easier it could make any teacher’s life, online or not. There is just no need to be working with paper.
How I will begin with Canvas:
Journal letters: Every week, I exchange journal letters with my students. They tell me about the books that they are reading and I ask them questions to get them to look at the books more critically. It is a pretty typical interaction and assignment. I have been using e-mail, which clutters my inbox. With Canvas, I simply start a “Conversation.” All of the students’ letters are saved, immediately visible to me, and organized in reverse chronological order. I click on the student’s name and I will instantly see all of our correspondences.
Weekly Essay: I love audio comments, so I have been recording voice comments on my students’ documents. The upload is excruciating, as I do not have a super fast internet connection. Canvas has a full suite of correcting tools, including voice comments. No more uploading.
Canvas is going to make my life so much easier and it is free. You will love it.