Take a minute to think about your favorite course you took as an undergraduate student. What was it about that course that distinguished it as a favorite compared to other courses you took? Most likely, the course was on a topic you found interesting. Just as likely, the course was probably structured in a way that was interactive and interesting. Maybe the professor was very dynamic in his or her teaching style or maybe the types of activities you completed helped you to dive deeper into the materials and obtain a deeper understanding of the course topic. Either way, it’s very unlikely your favorite course was one that lacked these elements.

One of the downfalls of traditional online course designs are that they lack personalization. Students log in to find a course syllabus and an abundance of information they must read through to learn the material. They feel overwhelmed and may miss key information or due dates if they do not read carefully. Their knowledge is tested through online quizzes and, occasionally, they may interact with their classmates through discussion boards. Their only interaction with their professor is when they receive feedback on any major assignments. It is very unlikely that any course similar to the one just described would make the list of “favorite courses.”

Fortunately, the future of online courses looks bright. Canvas offers a variety of tools that help instructors to personalize their online courses and avoid the common downfalls most online courses suffer from. First, you can add imagery to your course page by creating a Course Banner, by changing your Course Card to an image that reflects the course topic, and by adding a profile picture to your account. Next, you can use Panopto to upload videos that serve in the place of a traditional lecture and allow your students to see your role as their instructor as more than just “the person who grades their assignments.” Incorporating videos is also helpful for students who learn material better when it is provided through a lecture and they can also be useful to emphasize key takeaways of the material. Beyond videos, the set-up of Canvas helps instructors to keep their courses structured which makes it easier for students to follow along. The use of Modules allows students to go through the week’s material similar to how you may have presented it in a traditional course set-up. Additionally, you can incorporate activities and assignments within Modules that serve as “checks on learning” or allow students to reflect on the material through discussions with their classmates. By utilizing these tools offered through Canvas, you can help your students get the most out of your course even if it is all done on the other side of a computer screen.

My role as an Academic Technology Scholar is to help you in achieving the course design you envision. Your job as the instructor is to decide on the course objectives, materials, and overall structure of the course (i.e., what material will be presented during what weeks, what assignments or activities you want students to complete, how you want material to be presented). Then, my job as an Academic Technology Scholar is to help you implement these ideas into Canvas by teaching you the different tools available to you and how they work. As you begin this process of importing your courses to an online platform, reflect on the question I proposed at the beginning of this post: What was it about a course you took as an undergraduate that distinguished it as a favorite compared to other courses you took? Then consider the ways in which you can incorporate the answer to this question into an online environment. I look forward to helping you incorporate these ideas into your online course!