Monthly Archives: January 2013

Greatest Benefit of Canvas

Last spring, I was part of our district’s pilot for an LMS. I became a fan of Canvas and was very pleased when we selected it as our district’s LMS.

I absolutely love Canvas’ ease of use. I use all the typical features like announcements, discussions, and file storage. More unique features like modules help my students find everything they need for each unit and pages allow me to easily share enrichment materials.

However, looking back at this first full semester with Canvas, I was surprised which feature had the greatest impact on student learning. It wasn’t any of the above. It was SpeedGrader. Specifically, the ease with which SpeedGrader enables me to provide rich feedback to students on their assignments. Sure, I provided feedback before Canvas by writing comments on lab reports, but it was time consuming (I write much slower than I type) and not always legible (my handwriting is poor). I always had more feedback to provide than what I took the time to write. SpeedGrader has changed all of this.

Here’s my workflow for AP Physics B. Students create an ePortfolio in Canvas that contains all of the labs for which they perform analysis and are assessed. I create an assignment in Canvas for each lab and they submit a link to their ePortfolio. (The ePortfolio part isn’t critical, you could create assignments and have students submit their work in any number of ways.) In SpeedGrader, I can view their ePortfolio in one pane while typing feedback in another. This feedback is what has had the greatest impact on student learning.


I don’t score labs by subtracting a bunch of points, I read them. For my AP class, they earn a score of 1-5 which is reported in the online grade book, but doesn’t show up anywhere in Canvas. In Canvas, I just mark the assignment as complete or incomplete. In Canvas, the focus is on learning; not grades. What students do get is my feedback which often starts a discussion about their lab. My feedback is usually questions of the type I would ask of them in person. Questions that help them make connections between different ideas, clarify a misunderstanding, or illustrate an inconsistency in their analysis. In addition, I can easily point out sections that are incomplete. Many students have their notifications configured so that they receive an email when I submit feedback and some respond back almost immediately.

The integrated discussions in SpeedGrader is a perfect example of the role that technology should play in education. Enhancing a sound educational practice (rich feedback and discussion) by making it more efficient and easier for all involved.

Four of my five classes submit all of their assignments in Canvas. Guess what that fifth class will start doing this semester?


My AP Physics B class developed capstones as their final rather than a traditional exam. I give them tons of tests to help them prepare for the AP exam; so, I didn’t want to give them a traditional summative final for the fall semester. I wanted them to synthesize multiple concepts, have a choice in the topic they pursue, and present it in an engaging and creative manner.

I had remembered reading about John Burk’s capstones and modeled mine after his. While I have done similar end-of-semester projects before, these were by far the most successful. Reflecting on the capstones, I think a couple of factors helped my students be so successful.

The first is that I provided several exemplars as sources of inspiration. I stressed that I didn’t want a traditional lab report or a PowerPoint presentation. I wanted something that other students would want to read or watch. I pointed students to the following YouTube channels and blogs:

Based on our current unit, I frequently share links to these folks; so, most students were familiar with their style. Since I wanted students to spend the final exam period engaged in each other’s capstones and I would be spending my winter break scoring these capstones, I wanted them to be as interesting as possible.

The second factor that contributed to my students’ success is the requirement that students submit an initial idea for their capstone and then are provided considerable time in class for work and feedback from me. I spent an entire two days moving from student to student and sharing feedback on their capstone. Students had two additional days to work in class, solicit additional feedback, and use lab equipment. This wasn’t enough feedback for every student. A few really needed another round of review and feedback as their capstones missed the mark. While they could have solicited this additional input on their own, their final capstone would have been better if I could have shared another round of feedback.

The third factor that contributed to success is that I provided access to a wide range of technology, but I didn’t mandate that students use any particular technology. This is how educational technology should be integrated into the classroom, it is a tool to enhance learning where appropriate and not a means to an end unto itself. Students chose to use a high-speed video camera, Tracker, Logger Pro, iPads, iPad document camera stand, Educreations app, Scribd, video screen capture, VPython, LabPro and sensors, Vimeo video hosting for embedding, and Canvas ePortfolios.

There were so many fantastic capstones. I selected several to share that represent the variety of engaging presentations:

Thanks to John Burk for planting the capstone seed in my mind and Derek, Henry, Rhett, and Randall for providing amazing and engaging exemplars for my students to model!

In case you’re interested, here is the rubric. It isn’t perfect, but it worked okay:

Download (PDF, 36KB)