Canvas for Everyone: Connecting and Sharing

As I’ve written before at this blog (Open: It’s the Canvas Difference), the single most important difference between Canvas and D2L in my opinion is that Canvas allows for open spaces: real pages with real addresses on the real Internet, no log-in required. You just share the link, and people can click and go. You can visit my Canvas courses (Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics), and you can visit my Canvas workspaces (like the Widget Warehouse and Twitter4Canvas): it’s all open, ready and waiting, part of the real Internet.

That means we can all have an open, public presence in Canvas. And I don’t just mean faculty: I mean departments, colleges, academic programs, academic support services, residence halls — everybody who is involved in teaching, learning, and student success at OU.

We’re used to thinking of the LMS as a space for courses, but the open Canvas platform allows for much more than that. It doesn’t take much: the Canvas space for an academic department might just house a single page focusing on the most useful information for students and/or for faculty as they use Canvas. That might be static content (links to the departmental webpage and other online resources), or it could be dynamic content, like the live Twitter feed for the department, displaying the latest news, announcements, and upcoming events. See more at my Twitter4Canvas project, and for just a couple of examples of great Twitter content take a look at the OU History Department Twitter account or the Twitter from the OU Tulsa Schusterman Library.

In addition, those Canvas pages could then become the locus for distributed content throughout our Canvas network. Again, this is a totally new opportunity, something we never had with D2L. There are many opportunities for sharing via the Canvas Commons, and it’s also possible to do an easy-and-quick HTML share, which I’ve documented here: Ready-to-Use Canvas Pages.

So, I hope everyone — not just faculty, but also departmental and academic support staff all across the OU campuses — will explore the possibilities that Canvas offers. It’s a totally different world of possibilities from the closed D2L system… so, start exploring! And share what you learn!

Where and how to share?

We have our own University of Oklahoma space at the Canvas Community online.

And we can connect at Twitter; I’ve been using the hashtag #OUCanvasCommunity.

Canvas: it’s open for business! So now that we can connect and share, let’s see what we can learn from each other.

Observe others: the task is possible!

Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.

Open: It’s the Canvas Difference

For the past two days I was participating in a WEC minicourse in Canvas, and yesterday I also got to participate in a fun remote session with the TLInnovations group at CSU Channel Islands. They have a Domains project and are also looking at a Canvas transition in the near future, so we had a lot to talk about. And yesterday was the debut of Keegan’s Canvas Camp: Learn and Build Courses in Community website, which is what I am eager to write about today. Other people have been busy with finals this week, but I have been having such a good time just connecting with people and sharing ideas. Definitely more fun than finals. 🙂

The Canvas Camp site is published at Keegan’s domain, as you can see, and it provides support for his four-day in-person Canvas workshop. I am really glad that there is now something like this site to go along with all the face-to-face training that has been happening all summer and fall. Having online resources like this benefits people who, for whatever reasons, do not attend the in-person training, and it also benefits people who attend the training and later want to refer back to what was covered. Everybody wins!

The Big Picture. Keegan also provides a helpful background page to give an overview of the thinking behind the materials he has assembled, and it’s a really attention-getting list of topics, very different from the click-here-click-there approach of so much LMS training:

Teaching the technical skills to use Canvas
Engaging faculty in course development
Producing Canvas courses
Reflecting on why the university switched to Canvas
Learning Canvas as part of a community

I’m most interested in course development and community along with institutional goals, and Keegan is providing a real service by including those areas in his work with the faculty. There’s already a super-abundance of materials online from Canvas and from other schools that address Canvas features and technical support, but these other areas are what will lead us to a truly successful Canvas adoption. Without a discussion of those broader topics, people are probably going to seek to use Canvas just as they used D2L, and D2L use was very limited (and also typical; see How Instructors (Don’t) Use the LMS). If we want Canvas to be something not just new but something better in terms of teaching and learning on campus, those broader topics are the key.

LMS… or the Internet. Of course, there’s an obvious irony here, one which Adam already pointed out in his share of Keegan’s site at Twitter: If we must teach the LMS, then we shall build on the domain. Indeed! Keegan has chosen not to build this site as a Canvas resource course, building it instead outside of Canvas at his domain. My guess is that a statement about the reasons why he made that choice would be a great way to get faculty to ask themselves that question as well, reflecting on alternatives rather than just uploading their content into the LMS willy-nilly.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to putting content in an LMS, and it’s important for faculty to ponder that before they get started. That is exactly the kind of thing they need help with, in fact, since it is probably a question they have never asked themselves before. The assumption has always been “just put your course materials in the LMS.” That was true when we had Blackboard and when we had D2L, but I hope we can have a better informed conversation about that now with Canvas, especially because Canvas offers very different options than D2L or Blackboard when it comes to content.

OUCreate. In addition to Canvas being very different from D2L (more on that below), OU’s Domains project (OUCreate) provides faculty with strong support for web publishing that they did not have in the past, along with all the hosted options out there too (I’m still loyal to Blogger; here is Blogger-in-Canvas). My guess is that most faculty still do not really know what OUCreate is about, and we probably need to use every possible opportunity to educate people about it, yet it has not been the focus of any of the Canvas Taskforce emails I’ve received.

The Canvas Difference. In D2L, it was impossible to share courses on the open Internet. That has now changed with Canvas: you can choose to share your course publicly, or you can choose to share just the syllabus. Canvas also makes it possible for faculty to create resource courses on their own, without having to ask an administrator (as in D2L). So, in addition to deciding what content goes in the LMS, faculty also now have different options for what to do with their LMS content. The ability to create resource spaces in Canvas, not just official courses, allows Canvas to become a true content platform. Instead of having content associated with a course (so that you have to copy the content from one semester to the next to the next), you can now create a true content space in Canvas, linking to it (to the pages, to the modules, etc.), thus developing the content over time, using and re-using it from semester to semester. I’ve written a blog post about that already, and I hope that is an option faculty will explore: Open Content: Resources, not Courses.

My Canvas Resources. I choose to keep all my course content outside the LMS (“open by default” is my motto, so I never put content in D2L), but now I’m having fun developing some resources in Canvas: last summer I built a Growth Mindset resource that demonstrates the use of live content in Canvas (Twitter, RSS, etc.), and for winter break I’ve built a Widget Warehouse where I am sharing Canvas-friendly javascripts (feel free to use them in your courses if you want, or use them as models to inspire you to build your own). Since both of those projects are about Canvas, I am really glad that I can do the content development inside Canvas, while sharing that content on the open Internet. Good scholarship needs a community to grow, and so does good teaching. Canvas gives us that opportunity to share and learn from each other.

This openness is, in my opinion, the most important difference between Canvas and D2L, and about that I say: vive la différence!

Learn to look at things from different angles.

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.

Go Open with Canvas

As #OpenEd16 gets underway, I am hoping it will signal the start of a push for Open-with-Canvas at my school. I’m an extreme LMS minimalist, but there is one huge difference between D2L and Canvas that I really do care about: Canvas can be OPEN.

So, that means without a log-in of any kind, you can visit my classes: there’s my live-content demo course at, plus the two classes I teach every semester: and I can even link to pages inside those courses, like this page about Twitter Widgets in Canvas.

Real webpages. On the real Internet. The open Internet.

For me, OPEN IS THE KEY. This online educational space is something new, and it is something wonderful, too — and we are all just now learning how to use it. To learn how to use it well, we need to do that in the open, sharing and learning from one another.

Yes, I know: Canvas defaults to closed… I wish it defaulted to open. But that’s never going to happen. Which means: it’s up to US to open things up.

I’ve been teaching fully online courses since 2002, and I have always taught in the open. The whole reason I wanted to teach online was to be part of a community of learners online, working and sharing our work in the open with each other. I was inspired by people like the late, great Bruno Hare who created the Sacred Texts Archive, and all the great people who built the Perseus Digital Library, and other online pioneers who made it possible for me to share a wealth of knowledge with my students at their fingertips. Just as they shared their work online, I shared all my work online as well.

In turn, I also asked my students to share their work online, publishing their Storybook projects on the open Internet. Every semester, they produce beautiful, creative, original work, and almost all of them choose to leave their projects online after the class is over, for which I am extremely grateful. The archive of past student work is the single most valuable asset I have in teaching my classes.

Yet I know that for many faculty the openness of the Internet is a very strange experience. Even though academic life depends absolutely on the sharing of knowledge, that sharing has taken place primarily in the form of print publication and face-to-face encounters, while the online world is something different: sharing, yes, but different ways of sharing, with a culture of sharing that is unlike the hierarchical, top-down, gated-community culture of the academic world.

Still, even in that strictly hierarchical academic world, “openness” is making real inroads, as researchers realize that with open access their research will reach wider audiences and have greater impact. That conversation about open access scholarship is going strong at my school: just look at ShareOK, a repository where faculty can share their scholarly work (I have put four books there from my past life as a Latinist). We also have a Data Librarian (how cool is that?), and there are many other new initiatives in the Library to assist faculty in sharing their research work as widely as possible.

Plus, I am glad to say, the Library is also home to the OpenOU project — and their course grant project allowed me to transform the reading options in my Indian Epics class; thank you, @OUOpenEd!

My hope is that now, with Canvas, we can start to have an even wider conversation about open teaching at my school, helping faculty to see that just as their are great benefits to open access in scholarship, there are also great benefits to open access in teaching. In the coming days, I will write some posts here about specific aspects of openness in teaching, starting tomorrow with a post on open syllabuses.

Meanwhile, I will say a big THANK YOU to all the champions of openness who are gathered in Richmond for #OpenEd16 this week, and I am looking forward to following that hashtag (see the sidebar of this blog) and watching some Virtually Connecting events, enjoying all that good open energy even at a distance.

It’s time to open the door…
and explore the unknown!


Crossposted at OU Canvas Community.