Giving the LMS a chance

I haven’t been shy over the years in criticizing the LMS. Students have consistently told me to stick with my website instead.
Downside: they can’t see their grade up-to-the-minute.
Upside: it’s organized to make it simple and easy to use. Plus all the stuff I’ve mentioned before (openness, availability outside semesters, etc.)

The last time I checked the LMS. Pic of stone age art.
The last time I checked the LMS, this was cutting edge interface.

Still, my critique of the LMS has been based on my use of it wayyyyy back in 2008, when the technology was in the Stone Age and UMW used Blackboard. Today we use Canvas, and I heard it’s not that bad. More importantly, I’m teaching the LEGO FSEM again this fall. It doesn’t really make sense to use my site for the FSEM: the students aren’t HISP majors, so I shouldn’t make them learn yet another place to get info, one that will be unique to my courses. Instead it seems much more effective to learn Canvas alongside them, so I can help them navigate that interface when they have questions.

So before the semester started I rolled up my sleeves and held my nose (metaphorically speaking. It was 100 degrees. I wasn’t wearing sleeves.) and decided to port the FSEM to Canvas. This meant, incidentally, learning Canvas. Here are my thoughts about it:

Good: There are way more options and flexibility than I remember. I have to thank DTLT for this: they’ve opened up many gates in the software. So for instance I can rename my classes, select only the ones I’ll have in Canvas, etc. Nice!

Good: Gradebook. It’s easy and intuitive to enter grades in the system, and the current grade is immediately reflected. But (you saw this coming, right?) it’s not perfect. For one, I still keep a spreadsheet for my courses as well, which means double-entering the information. For another, I can’t seem to find the gradebook in the Canvas iPad app, only the information for individual students. This is a pain.

Good(ish): Speedgrader. In theory, this is an amazing tool. In practice…. it isn’t quite yet. The issue is that speedgrader doesn’t work on the iPad. Since I do all my grading on the iPad, that’s kind of a problem. Still, it has promise for the future.

Bad: The canvas app on the iPad is a HUGE disappointment. It looks beautiful, which made me hope for the best: clearly it’s been designed carefully. However, I quickly realized that it doesn’t *do* anything. You can’t edit the course at all. Nothing. Plus, as noted above, you can’t actually see the gradebook. So it’s pretty, but it’s completely static. Sadface.


Endlessly annoying: You can’t download student pdfs on the iPad! Can’t do it from the canvas app, can’t do it from the speedgrader app. Or I guess there’s no easy way to do it. You have to: open in safari, download, then open in GoodReader. The “export” arrow in the canvas app themselves open to… nothing.

Export button only has one option: "more"...
Export button only has one option: “more”…
...Which leads to this. NOTHING. How embarrassing,
…Which leads to this. NOTHING. How embarrassing.

Final verdict: shrug. It’s not awful, I guess. Some of the features are nice, but most of them are nice for students currently enrolled in the course. For the instructor, it’s just more clunky interface to deal with. And for anyone not currently enrolled in the course, it has the same issue it always had, namely that the information isn’t available to them. (Yes, yes, I think you can maybe turn this on, but seriously, how would students even think to look?)

For my own classes, I’m gonna stick to my website. With one exception: classes for non-majors like FSEMs and 101. In that case, I think the annoyance for me is counteracted by the additional ease for the students.

tl;dr: Canvas is meh.

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