‘Canvas is user-friendly and can take education to the next level’

Canvas has won the tender to provide a new virtual learning environment (VLE) for the University of Amsterdam.

The new VLE offers a great many opportunities for making education more active and attractive. September 2018 the whole UvA will start using Canvas (instead of Blackboard). Lecturer Danielle Sent has already implemented an open version  of Canvas this academic year in the Advanced Programming and Mathematics module within the Bachelor's programme in Medical Informatics. She tells us about her experiences so far.

Danielle Sent

Danielle Sent

‘The digital learning environment Canvas is extremely easy to design and offers a huge range of functionalities that can really take education to the next level’, says lecturer Danielle Sent excitedly. ‘Our goal is to investigate the opportunities that blended learning offers so we can improve and innovate our education. I work with an open version of Canvas, and therefore not in the Canvas-UvA learning environment that is currently being designed, as this is still in development and for the time being only accessible for participants of the Canvas Pilot Projects. I am therefore running ahead of the pack, which has both advantages and disadvantages. At any rate, I am extremely enthusiastic about Canvas.’

Dancing through the AMC-UvA

‘I was literally dancing through AMC-UvA yesterday as for the first time, my students had properly prepared for the lecture! Previously, my course consisted of two hours of lectures and two hours of seminars per week, and students would hardly prepare at all. During the lectures, I would present the summary of the book, but my students would only start to truly understand the material halfway through the next seminar.’

More active attitude

‘Our goal with blended learning is to encourage the students to take a more active attitude towards their studies. And yes, I opted for Canvas. The reason for this is I wanted to do several things that you can't do as well or at all in Blackboard. I explored all kinds of digital learning environments and Canvas seemed the most suitable. It was only later that I found out Canvas would be used throughout the entire UvA from September 2018 onwards!’

Formative quizzes and group assignments

‘With blended learning in the form of enriched self-study, you can get students to do much more effective and focused preparation. My students work on the material in Canvas itself via texts, knowledge clips, formative quizzes and individual or group assignments. They can monitor their progress in Canvas, support each other and even help shape the next lecture.’

‘I chose Canvas as I want students to discuss the material with each other. To do this, they have to work together and Canvas offers a group page with a whole range of tools to support group work. Working together on a document is also possible in Google Drive but I wanted it to be integrated in the digital learning environment. I also use learning analytics to improve my teaching. In Canvas, you can analyse learning performance at both the individual and group level, which gives me a great deal of insight.’

Differentiating between levels

‘I also wanted the students to be able to do formative quizzes, which isn't possible in Blackboard. The great thing about Canvas is that the analytics allow you to differentiate between levels, so I can assist each student at the level they are at. I had hoped to offer them group quizzes as well to enable team-based learning, but that's not yet possible and it isn't clear if it will be in the future. I also greatly enjoy the video conferencing tool during the online Q&A sessions – especially those just before the formative assessments. One nice feature of Canvas is that you can use the marks module to send targeted emails to groups of students, for example, reminders to students who have not yet submitted the assignment or a compliment to the students who get high marks. I have found that students really appreciate this.’


‘I don't think we have got the most out of the opportunities that Blackboard offers: that platform also can do a great deal. I would therefore urgently recommend that when Canvas is introduced, we ensure good training is provided to show lecturers all of the educational opportunities on offer.’

Extremely intuitive and a fantastic app

‘Canvas is extremely intuitive and very simple to design. None of my students needed training in how to use Canvas. Canvas also offers a fixed menu structure that lecturers can't change, which offers students a great deal of consistency. Canvas has a fantastic and fast app. Via the app, you can synchronise your assignments and other entries in your Canvas calendar with your Outlook and smartphone calendars. Finally, Canvas has a fantastic active community where you can quickly find answers to technical and content-related questions.’

My colleagues can't wait!

‘As I'm running ahead of the pack, I'm on my own when it comes to support. Another disadvantage is that I don't know if the functionalities I use in “my” Canvas will be the same as Canvas-UvA, such as the design of the outer layer. However, in my opinion, the advantages of Canvas outweigh these disadvantages, and from what I've seen so far, “my” Canvas and Canvas-UvA are not so different: I should be able to implement my module relatively easily. Thanks to my enthusiastic stories, my colleagues can't wait to get started with Canvas-UvA, and I'm really looking forward to it myself!’

Preferences for the Canvas-UvA design

‘I hope the Canvas-UvA will offer group tests and summative assessments. I would also like us to use online surveillance (proctoring) for our international students. I'm extremely curious about what the central and faculty layers will feature. I've used a number of applications and the exchange is fantastic!’

Be bold!

‘The most important tip I could give my fellow lecturers? Be bold! Think about what you want to do with your teaching and how Canvas can support this. To me, designing my Canvas environment was a great motivator to critically assess how I teach.’

Want to know more? Go to the website of the Canvas implementation programme.

Published by  University of Amsterdam

2 May 2017