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similar sites (again, useful, but only so far as it goes), blurbs in the course catalog (brief, generic, and often so out of date as to be worthless)… but they are not using the most important source of information: the syllabus which actually describes the course.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.

2 thoughts on “Canvas for Open Syllabuses”

  1. Below is a copy of a post to the Moodle users forum describing the settings in Moodle which would allow students to view a course without enrolling. Note that the date of this post was 2006.

    Here’s the thing, an LMS can be made to do what you are requesting. The issue is in getting admins to agree to set it up that way.

    below is the note in Moodle users forum:

    “Martin Dougiamas
    Re: Change in self- enrolment procedure and status of course visitors
    Martin Dougiamas
    Wednesday, 25 October 2006, 12:05 AM
    Group Core developersGroup Documentation writersGroup Moodle HQGroup Particularly helpful MoodlersGroup Plugin developersGroup Testers
    That is correct. It’s possible now for registered users to enter courses seamlessly as guests, and ony enrol if they want to do anything like posting etc.

    There are really three types of guests now:
    a user who is “just visiting”
    someone logged into the guest account
    someone who is using the site and not logged in at all

    This is how is configured (with autologinguests on). I think it’s a lot cleaner than it used to be, and the list of enrolled participants might be smaller but a more accurate reflection of people who are participating.”

  2. Sadly, we have never considered Moodle as an option. And if there is a magic key to getting D2L to open up, I did not see that in the 10 years we had with D2L on my campus, and I never saw it open on any other campus. When D2L launched their MOOCs with some open features, I asked if that same functionality would be coming to campus installs of D2L, and I was told it was not.

    So, at least for us, moving from D2L to Canvas, there are real opportunities: I don’t have to ask an administrator for permission to open my class. I JUST OPEN IT.

    So too with the syllabuses: no special permissions from admins; you can open the syllabus. And I am guessing for many faculty that option to open the syllabus but not the course will be something they like.

    I’m not a fan of the LMS, but the one thing that has distinguished Canvas from the start was this ability to let instructors configure their courses as open. Exactly because that was never possible in D2L, I think we need to be emphasizing that in the Canvas publicity that is going out to faculty right now. And we need to start talking about what an Open Syllabus project might mean.

    Hope springs eternal.

    But I’m also glad that I don’t have to wait on anyone else to put a CC license on my Canvas courses, such as they are, and make them public. The reason I built a demo course at this summer was precisely because I could share the link and, presto, just like a real link, you click and go. 🙂

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