The LMS and Its Dis-Contents

So, I’m following up on yesterday’s post re: connected blogs as a content management system, as opposed to putting content into the LMS with its semester-based course-defined approach. For me, blogs are better in every way, and I’ve actually never put content into an LMS; before I switched to blogging platforms exclusively around 2005, I created freestanding websites with tools like Composer and Dreamweaver. There are a lot of factors involved, and I’ll sort them into two categories:

  • the advantages of publishing on the open Internet and using real publishing tools
  • the disadvantages of publishing inside an LMS and using the LMS tools.

I’ll try to limit myself to just 10 factors (5 for each category), and then maybe somebody who has had success with content inside the LMS can share their experiences. I’m sure that content inside the LMS can work well in some situations, but I honestly don’t know what those situations would be. What I do know is that publishing content on the Internet with real tools has worked great for me, and here are the main reasons why… and I hope I’ve zoomed in on the most important reasons here, but I’m giving myself the option to add to the list later if I realize I left something important out! 🙂

Advantages of publishing on the open Internet and using real publishing tools:

1. Fast, fast, fast, fast, fast. Did I say fast? The whole reason I have opted for blogs over websites is that blogs optimize my time for content creation. I rely on labels and other blogging tricks to manage the navigation, and I am happy with simple templates for the design. That means I can focus on content creation. And I have so much content I want to create and share! If you look at the list of blogs for my classes, you will see what I have created lots of content. Beyond those blogs, I have many other blogs for my writing and research that are full of yet more content. The thought of trying to create all that content inside an LMS makes me shudder.

2. Fun. It may sound silly, but the fun factor matters a lot to me. If I am going to spend serious time creating content (and I do), I want to be able to have fun doing that, creating fun widgets to use in my blog sidebars and playing around with the template design. Nothing fancy, but being able to just play around with it. There is nothing (NOTHING) fun or playful about creating content inside the Canvas LMS. At least D2L kind of sort of tried to provide some fun design templates. In Canvas, the goal is clearly to stop anyone from having fun because everything is supposed to look exactly the same in every course everywhere all the time.

3. Project-Based. As you can see from my list of content blogs, they are project based. Some are old projects, some are new projects; some are retired projects, some are ongoing projects, and some are projects that I’m thinking about reviving. A few of the blogs are specific to a course, but the majority of blogs are actually not course-specific. I need to be able to develop content based on specific project goals, and it would be very limiting if I were to think of my content in course-based terms.

4. Co-Learning with my Students. As I mentioned in previous posts, my students are blogging too, so we are learning about blogging together. Canvas is not a tool I can co-learn with my students. I far prefer to use the same tools as my students so that we can do that together. I learn more, they learn more. We all learn more. Connecting learning: it works.

5. Real Tools for the Real World. This is closely related to the previous reason I gave about using the same tools with my students, but with a forward-looking / outward-looking emphasis. If my students and I are using real tools as we work and learn online, it’s more likely that we will able to use those same tools for other tasks, both now and in the future. The LMS is a faux tool that does not have a lot of transference. Blogs have great transference, as do the other digital tools that I encourage my students to use as they create content for this class. Their blogging and content creation skills are something they could put on their resume; their use of the Canvas Discussion Board is not.

Disadvantages of publishing inside an LMS and using the LMS tools.

6. Lack of Course Continuity. Instead of seeing a course that persists over time with new cohorts of students (which would make sense), the LMS treats every new semester instance as starting from scratch: new students and new content. So, each semester you “copy” content from the old semester to the new semester, but that’s a bad way to do business — and it’s a TERRIBLE way to do business if you want to make your courses public, as I do. If you make your courses public to share with other teachers and learners, you want the links to continue to be valid, and you want the links to lead to the current version of the content. That kind of content continuity is impossible when the LMS treats every semester as starting from scratch. How did we end up with this deplorable mess? It happened because the LMS was built, first and foremost, to meet the administrative needs of enrollment and grading, not for the purpose of developing online content.

7. Terrible Content Creation Tools. I’ve now created a fair number of pages at Canvas for my Canvas Widget Warehouse and my Growth Mindset Playground, and it is a very frustrating experience. Probably the biggest frustration for me is how little of the screen space I control. Looking at a 1200×800 display, I have 900×500 of real estate that I can edit, which is less than half of the available space.

8. Terrible Content Navigation. Or, rather, there is no navigation. I have to build the Pages navigation menus manually, which is a nightmare. If I want to try to use the left-hand navigation bar, my only recourse is to keep adding instances of the Redirect LTI, as opposed to just editing the navigation directly. If I want to, god forbid, put an external site in the sidebar navigation, students are warned of the danger of leaving Canvas, even though I am the one who put the link in the navigation bar for them! The idea, of course, is that I am supposed to do all the navigation through the Modules, arranging everything in linear order. But there is nothing linear about my pedagogy, and nothing linear about my content: it’s exploratory, not a one-size-fits-all scripted experience of “previous” and “next.”

9. Terrible Content Maintenance Tools. Or, rather, the LMS content maintenance tools are non-existent. In Pages, I cannot put my pages into folder or tag them in order to help me manage my workflow. Why are there folder options in the Files section, but not in the Pages? I can sort Pages by creation date and last edit, but that’s it. There are no other tools available for me to use in managing the content. Not even a search box. Eeek.

10. Uncertain Longevity. My school stayed with D2L for many years, and based on that, I can imagine we will stay for many years with Canvas LMS. But that’s not something that I control; Canvas could go away next year or the year after. As someone who is in this for the long term (I’ve been developing online course materials since back in 1998), that worries me. I’m not a proponent of “it must all be on my own domain,” but I am a proponent of being able to make my own decisions about the platforms that I use, and longevity is important to me. When it comes to my school’s commitment to an LMS, I can hope for longevity, but it is just that: a hope. They could change LMSes any time, a decision completely beyond my control and even beyond my influence.

So, as part of driving my own learning, I need to be able to drive my own content… and the LMS just does not give me a way to do that. For me, blogging is by far the better option.

I drive my own learning.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

The LMS and its Ecosystem

So, I promise to get back on track with my student blog network posts next time, but as a follow-up to the Canvas training course post from earlier this morning, there’s something I really need to write about. The Canvas trainer unlocked the locked board, so I posted my intro, and I saw that another person in the course had a question about loading up lots of big image files into Canvas for course content. The Canvas trainer recommended that she use OUMyMedia which I had thought was just for video (???). The question was not about video but about image files, so I added a response about using OU Create which is where I am hosting all the images that I use for my Canvas Widgets. I also commented that I was surprised how there had been no mention of OU Create as part of the Canvas training (or, for that matter, in any of the Canvas marketing I received all last semester). And the Canvas trainer responded: “we would like faculty to focus on the core features and start building their courses.”

In other words: we aren’t going to present Canvas as part of a RANGE of options that faculty have so that they can decide what tool is best for their purposes. You know, maybe having some kind of chart which at least alerts faculty to the pluses and minuses of likely tools they might use. Nope. We are going to get them to just use the LMS regardless of any other considerations. Then, at some unspecified date in the future, the faculty might find out (not clear how) that there are options like OUMyMedia or OUCreate which they could use for content development. Or other content management tools, including tools that are fully supported by our campus IT like Microsoft OneNote (which has good Canvas integration), etc.

But here’s the thing: after faculty have already loaded all their content into the LMS, are they really going to want to “unload” that content and redesign their course using a different tool or tools…?

I don’t think so.

The result: people are going to load their content into Canvas, just as they loaded all their content into D2L, and they are going to leave the content in Canvas for 10 years until we make them move it to the next LMS (or however long we stay with Canvas; we stayed 10 years with D2L).

Are there reasons to have your content in the LMS? Sure, there are some reasons.

Are there reasons NOT to have your content in the LMS? Yes! There are many reasons to use other tools, and it depends on each person’s goals/needs.

So, what faculty need is some help, up front, in deciding which option(s) will be the best for them. Telling them just to put their content in the LMS and then explore other options later seems like a good way to make sure they won’t be exploring those other options. Not if it means having to redesign their course all over again.

And so, even though we have a new LMS, it seems like we are still stuck in the same old LMS culture from which we will never achieve escape velocity.

Wake me when it’s over. But I fear it will never be over.

Student Tech Support for Canvas

This is a post following up on the Student Voices post, where I shared the results of the survey I conducted in Week 8 asking students for feedback about Canvas: Student Voices about Canvas. In this post, I’ll explain how I used those results to offer some more tech support for students, based on what I noticed in their comments. And here’s something cool: at the bottom of this post, you can see the live stream of posts from my students’ blogs about their use of Canvas. (The power of Inoreader and iframe at work!)

Meanwhile, here is the support I’m using right now for Canvas:

Canvas Tech Tips. The main way I do tech support in my classes is by offering extra-credit Tech Tips that students can use to learn more about the technology we are using in class. The most popular tips are the ones for customizing their blogs, but I also offer tips on other tools, and after the midterm survey I realized that I needed some tips for Canvas. Here are the four tips I decided to write up:

  • Canvas Mobile App. Based on the limited number of students who reported using the mobile app, I wrote up a tip about that. Although I don’t use a mobile device myself, the students do, and so I wanted to make sure they knew there is a Canvas mobile app and, based on what I’ve heard, Canvas’s commitment to mobile was a big plus in their adoption at my school.
  • Canvas Calendar. This is the Canvas feature that is the most important for my classes, and I really hope students will take advantage of the ability to synch the Canvas calendar with any other calendar the students might be using like Outlook, Google, etc. A couple of students mentioned that in their comments, but my guess is that most students had not explored that option.
  • Canvas Notifications. Although I have mixed feelings myself about how Canvas handles course communications (more on that in a later post), it is still crucial that each user configure their notifications. I could tell from some of the student comments on the survey that not everybody had done that, so this tip is meant to encourage students to explore the notification options to see what will work best for them.
  • Canvas Profile. Admittedly, this was not something that came up in the survey, but I wanted to be sure to include it also because of one of my favorite Canvas features: unlike in D2L, students can choose their Canvas display name! So, for the many students who do not use their first name of record (because they use a nickname or their middle name or some other name of their own choosing), Canvas allows them to set up that display name. In this tip I encourage students to complete their Canvas profile and I also alert them to the display name option.

In addition to these tips, I also put some Canvas tutorial videos in the sidebar of the Announcements blog which is my Canvas homepage, as you can see in this screenshot:


Because students write up a quick blog post when they complete a tech tip, that gives me some additional feedback about their technology use. My feed reader, Inoreader (I LOVE INOREADER), allows me to assign rules automatically to incoming posts based on keywords, and I can then syndicate those results in a new feed, so here is a live stream of student blog posts which mention Canvas! More student voices, and more feedback — direct and indirect — that I can learn from as I try to improve my Canvas support next semester; it’s easier to read outside the confines of this blog post: Canvas Post Stream.

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.


Open Content: Resources, not Courses

Yesterday I wrote about Open Syllabuses in Canvas, and I am a true believer: I would rate open syllabuses as my single biggest goal for Canvas at OU and, if anybody wants my opinion (ha ha), I would rate the number of open syllabuses in our Canvas system as a metric of success. For people who want metrics.

But content in the LMS: yikes, no. A thousand times no. I would never … let’s be clear: NEVER … recommend that anyone put any content in the LMS. There are so many better options! That is just my opinion, though, and I know that others feel differently. Canvas, unlike D2L, does allow for open content, and it even allows you to create persistent content on the Internet. That’s all very different from what D2L offered to us before.

For me, being able to get massive quantities of content online quickly and easily is the key, so I prefer to use blogs. That might seem weird, but it works great for me: blogs are very quick, they have good auto-navigation with labels, and they are linkable, searchable, scalable, and durable. The complete (and massive) UnTextbook for Myth-Folklore is a blog, the evolving (and also massive) Freebookapalooza library of free books online is a blog, and so on. That’s a solution I like, and there are so many other great solutions, especially now with OU’s project (see more about that below).

The traditional LMS, on the other hand, is a terrible solution for content. Totally aside from the specifics of each system, the overall purpose of the LMS defeats the content: the LMS is built to support courses which disappear at the end of a semester. At the end of each semester, what happens? Students — gone. Content — closed. And links — broken.

But, you say, I can extend the closing date of my course! Sure, you can do that. But what are you going to do when you offer the course again, with a new course space in the LMS filled with a new cohort of students? You are going to copy the content over — which is a disaster for sustainable, durable, shareable content. You don’t want multiple copies of content floating around. Instead, you want a stable location for evolving content where you can use, re-use, and improve course content over multiple classes and multiple semesters.

You need content as a lasting RESOURCE, not content that lives and dies with each expiring, self-destructing course iteration.

And Canvas, thank goodness, gives faculty one possible solution to this problem. Just like D2L, Canvas will automatically generate new course spaces for you every semester, but unlike D2L, with Canvas you can create your own spaces too. You don’t have to ask for an admin to do that; you can do it yourself. So, with just one click you can generate a Canvas space to use as an open, linkable, lasting resource that persists from semester to semester.

Here’s an example: this summer I created a Canvas course that I filled up with content, and you can see that here: It’s actually a two-fold experiment: it is a resource for Growth Mindset materials, and also a resource for live content strategies (embedding, javascripts, etc.). I’m personally not interested in any of the Canvas content management features like Modules, etc., but I could use those content management features if I wanted, just like when building a course.

So, when you see your Canvas course space automatically generated for you, don’t just leap into putting the content there. Step back and take a moment to ponder and plan: you have options!


You should definitely check out an amazing option that goes far beyond what Canvas could ever make possible: CREATE.OU.EDU. For serious content development, you need a domain of your own. And awaits you. 🙂

Find your own path!


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Canvas for Open Syllabuses

As promised, here is another post about the power of Canvas for open, following up on yesterday’s post: Go Open with Canvas. Today I want to focus on OPEN SYLLABUSES.

It’s November, so enrollment for Spring semester is happening right now on my campus, and the students are busily enrolling in classes… without being able to see the syllabuses for those classes. The Faculty Handbook states that faculty must post a syllabus in the LMS. In D2L, alas, that means the syllabuses are closed; there is no open option for syllabuses or for any course content in D2L.

So, instead of enrolling in classes based on the actual content of the classes, students are making choices based on other factors: word of mouth (which is useful, but only so far as it goes), and similar sites (again, useful, but only so far as it goes), blurbs in the course catalog (brief, generic, and often so out of date as to be worthless)… but they are not using the most important source of information: the syllabus which actually describes the course.

Students NEED to see the syllabus. They need to know what content the course covers and what they can expect to learn. They need to see the required materials, including the cost of those materials. They need to learn something about the instructor’s philosophy of teaching. And, yes, they need to see how grading works in the class (but about grading, I say: #TTOG… more here:

And they need to know all of that not just after they enroll, but before they enroll. Otherwise, how are they going to make good enrollment decisions?

I’m an LMS minimalist, so I don’t use the LMS to conduct my course, but I am very glad that Canvas can allow us to share syllabuses with prospective students in the open. Canvas even allows faculty members to make the syllabus for a course public even if they decide to keep the rest of the course private:


I’ve always kept my syllabuses and course materials public, so when I started using Canvas this semester, I just posted a link in my Canvas syllabus pages to send students to the relevant materials online, as you can see here: Indian Epics Syllabus and here: Myth-Folklore SyllabusEach faculty member can use the Canvas syllabus space in the way that works best for them: they can use the Canvas syllabus-building tool, they can upload the syllabus as a document, or they can link to an external syllabus (which is what I chose) — it’s all good.

Open syllabuses would benefit faculty too! We could all learn so much from each other by sharing syllabuses. If OU IT scraped the syllabuses periodically and built a search engine from the scrape, that would be so cool. I would personally love to discover connections by browsing a syllabus index, finding other faculty who use Twitter or blogs, and also finding other faculty who are teaching about India, about Buddhism, about mythology, about storytelling, etc.

Currently, my school is running both D2L and Canvas, but starting next year, it will be all Canvas. I hope very much that faculty will be required not just to post their syllabuses in Canvas, but to do so in the open. If it is not required, I doubt faculty will do it. And since we already do require something of them (i.e. we require them to post syllabus in the LMS), I think it is perfectly reasonable to require them to make the syllabuses public in our new Canvas LMS.

I also hope some resources will be dedicating to integrating that information with our SIS. Long ago, we had a system in which faculty syllabuses (published at our old webspace, now replaced by were integrated with our enrollment system (a homegrown system now replaced by Banner): if faculty had activated their webspace, students could get to the faculty member’s web space in a single click. I always posted my syllabuses that way, and I still publish the syllabuses in my own web space, even though it is no longer integrated with the enrollment system. I far prefer students to know what to expect when they enroll in my classes; that’s good for the students, which means it is good for me too. How great it would be if, when students look up a class in the enrollment system, they could get to course syllabuses in a single click!

Does anybody have stories of open syllabuses to share? In particular, an example of Canvas being used as an open syllabus platform for an entire campus? Integrated with the SIS? I would love to find examples of that to share with the administration at my school. We all have so much to gain from that: students and faculty alike!

And, yes, I need examples! I’ve raised the topic of open syllabuses many times with many people at my school, sharing resources like SALSA, etc., but so far, I have seen no commitment to an open syllabus project. I’m not sure if examples of open syllabuses at other schools would make a difference… but it certainly could not hurt.

So… are you taking advantage of Canvas’s open syllabuses at your school? And are the course syllabuses integrated with your SIS? Please share details!

Meanwhile, I am hoping that Canvas will indeed be a step forward for us in creating an open culture of learning at my school: let’s go!

Standing still is not growth. Take a step forward.


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

How Instructors (Don’t) Use the LMS

For today’s post, I wanted to share this graphic from Blackboard about LMS use since mutatis mutandis that is relevant to the whole LMS world: Blackboard Study on How Instructors Use the LMS. (There’s a more detailed write-up at the Blackboard blog; I might respond more specifically on their blog post later.)


As you can see, hardly anybody is using the LMS for what the LMS claims to do, which is to provide a totalizing learning environment (or VLE as some call it, virtual learning environment). Just 2% have “balanced use of assessments, content, and discussion.”

And no wonder: whether you call it a learning management system or a virtual learning environment, the LMS/VLEs are extremely unappealing, faux tools created for faux school activities as opposed to the real ways people interact, learn, create, and share online.

You might be surprised to be reading about this at a blog which has “Canvas” in the title… but check out the tag: “confessions of an LMS minimalist.” I use Canvas only for what needs to be done in a secure environment: grades. (And my students record their own grades via the quiz tool; you can read about that here:

So, I am glad to take advantage of the opportunity that the common LMS at my school provides to connect with other faculty members (which is why I created this blog), but I personally have no interest in increasing my use of the LMS. Instead, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to do a better job as an online teacher, improving my own digital literacy and the digital literacy of my students. The LMS has nothing to offer me there, and the main tools I rely on are blogs and websites: real content built with real tools on the real web. You can read about how I use blogs here: Building a Student Blog NetworkAnd you can see my students’ wonderful websites here: eStorybook Central.

In future posts, I’ll have more to say about all that, and I’ll take the results of this Blackboard study as a strong indicator that faculty are clearly not making use of the LMS in a holistic way… which means a logical question to then ask is what other tools, resources, and strategies are available to achieve that holistic learning experience? Let’s share and learn from each other about that!


Constant, endless curiosity is what feeds your abilities.
(Growth Mindset Cats)

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.