Collaborating with and Empowering Teachers to Apply a Canvas Course Template

Concurrent Session 2

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Increasing the ability of institutions and faculty to facilitate online student success by implementing a common navigation course template using the Canvas LMS; combined with a video training program to enable faculty in applying the template to both new and existing course content.

Extended Abstract

Collaborating with and Empowering Teachers to Apply a Canvas Course Template

Student success ranks highly as a driving force behind a broad scope of initiatives across education. In order to facilitate online student success, we developed a standard course template that can be applied to any Canvas LMS course, using html and css.  The Common Navigation template utilizes the Modules as the default layout, course orientation materials (syllabus, instructor page and schedule), weekly modules which contain an overview and a list of the activities. Each page has a corresponding title which describes the activity such as Read, Submit, Discuss or Watch. Each academic department has the option to select their own “branding” elements such as heading colors, logos and images to market their programs. 

The first stage of implementation with this strategy focused on development of the template itself. Uniform course design structures were welcomed by students but lacked broad adoption due to the technical skills required to implement the template formatting. Our department was responsible for applying this course template via two different processes. Instructional designers would use templated pages and then they or the teacher would add in the content. The second “track” was that instructional support technologists would work with individual teachers to add in the template elements to existing course content. This process worked quite well and students enjoyed the template since multiple classes utilized the same means of navigation, making it easier to find the information they needed. However, COVID made it clear that the number of online classes went up damatically! We needed to find a better way scale our deployment of the course template since our staff was insuffienet to apply the tempalte for a univfresity wide deployment. We needed to enlist faculty who could apply the template in their own courses. The question was – how can we enable non tech savvy teachers to apply the template int their own courses-both for new content and for existing content?  

Our solution, detailed in this presentation took two forms: the development of “institutional templates” which was available to all faculty and training materials to show them to how apply the template themselves. We used an existing tool we already had called Design Tools by Cidilabs. This tool adds a great deal of additional functionally to the rich content editor in Canvas. We embedded various elements of the template in Design Tools in the form of “institutional templates” which are entire pages such as the schedule and the syllabus and as “HTML snippets” which are the headings such as Read and Submit. 

Our training strategy revolved around two main criteria. We wanted to present the templates and the methods of using them in manageable blocks of information. Second, we wanted to present the training in a way that would not overload faculty with too much information. This led us to determine that 30-minute sessions would provide the optimal time necessary to present part of the template, demonstrate its uses, and answer questions that faculty and staff might have. Using these criteria as gauges, we also determined that we would need three sessions and an introductory video to present the training.  

As mentioned previously, we wanted to emphasize explanations as well as demonstrations so that faculty and staff could have visual examples they could reference when working with the template infrastructure. This decision informed our strategy by making a Canvas LMS sandbox shell a necessary part of our presentation and demonstration strategy. 

Before explaining our primary deployment choices in more depth, it is relevant to point out that our organization had previously established a series of webinars focused on making online content accessible for students who rely on alternative technology for accessing web pages. The choice to train through webinars was partially informed by this past success. Another practical advantage of choosing webinars as our chosen mode is that the accessibility training series could be used to drive traffic to our new training initiative. 

The primary deployment and presentation methodology we chose was through webinars. This mode of presentation readily accommodated faculty with concerns related to COVID-19. The choice of presentation mode also removed limitations usually associated with physical facility occupancy caps. Presentations were set up as three-person teams. One person took responsibility for presenting the content and demonstrating techniques in the video conference while the other two team members moderated the video conference chat room. This made it possible to field questions in real time without interrupting the presentation or leaving faculty inquiries unaddressed. 

We capitalized on the MS Teams webinars by recording them. This opened the door to secondary deployment and presentation mode. The videos from our presentations were hosted on a public-facing university website. The videos and the website had the added advantage of providing contact information for getting in touch with support representatives in our department. This opened up additional opportunities to provide follow up, support and additional mentoring. 

We feel that this strategy differs from other initiatives in a few ways. We did not try to present the training in a single session. The training was split up over four sessions. We leveraged multiple modes of presentation to communicate the training. This included live video conferencing, video recordings, and additional mentoring. The training was supplemented with a website that instructors can reference. The live video conferencing mode is still ongoing. We continue to present and update live training every Spring and Fall. This training initiative was not isolated but incorporated into a bigger plan to impact student success.