How can we use digital space of an online LMS to work towards creating a space of Radical Openness for co-creating with students and engaging them in shaping the course?

I recently stumbled upon a 2017 blog article by Dr. Jesse Stommel in which he considers what kind of Learning Management System (LMS) bell hooks would have created. He concludes that bell hooks would not have created an LMS but further states that he shouldn’t even define her educational space. Instead, he spends time contemplating the challenges we face with learning management systems especially when we see our teaching as a kind of activism.

For those of us who may have a more radical approach to our teaching, the LMS can feel static and impersonal. It may feel as though it is a space in which we are enacting our own agenda upon our learners. However, using the right tools with a critical lens, Canvas can provide opportunities for us to engage in radical openness.

What is Radical Openness? 

You may be asking, what does it mean to be radically open? Stommel explains that radical openness requires that we sit in our discomfort, and it “demands the classroom to be a space for relationships and dialogue, at the expense of content, summative assessment, and so-called academic rigor” (2017).

Radical openness demands that we make space for our students to be co-creators in the classroom (2017). But how can we do that in Canvas?

Radical Openness in Canvas

Stommel informs us that the LMS was designed to make ranking (grading) students convenient. It also, according to him, does not allow space for students to join in the creation and evolution of the course. Instead, students are faced with content, resources, and learning objects that are imposed upon them by the instructor (2017).

I can see and empathize with his larger point here, but ultimately, I think we can always subvert the use of the LMS to meet our pedagogical needs. We can find ways to utilize Canvas and its features to meet our philosophical and pedagogical slant. In fact, I want to discuss one such feature that I have used in an effort to open up my class to co-creative moments.  


If we want to create digital spaces where we can co-create with students, collaborations are great for that. This guide will walk you through the process for setting one up. You do have the option of using Google Drive, but I recommend using Office 365 because it is a university supported tool and students can use their single sign-on to access it.

Let’s take a look at a pedagogical use for this. I recently worked with my students to co-create a rubric for our research proposal assignment. I went into the collaborative document and set up spaces for the students to brainstorm in groups. Then as we moved down that document, we began to build our rubric out in a table.

I recommend that if you want to have some pre-planned text like I do, you create the collaboration and save before adding any students to it. Then you can open it up, plan out the text, save, and then add the students. I say this because students will be notified immediately via email that they have been added to a collaboration.

Here’s a link to the collaborative document screenshotted below (SSO required).

As we worked through this document, the students were able to have a say in what would be graded, and I think that moment of co-creation is radically open. Of course, that all comes down to exactly how you enact it.


I think it is fair to say that Canvas spaces aren’t necessarily the radical openness that hooks and Stommel are advocating for. But I do believe that there are ways that we can utilize the space to work toward that end. The collaborations feature offers one such space to co-create with our students and engage them in shaping the course.

How might you utilize features in Canvas to create radically open spaces in your course?


Stommel, Jesse. 2017. “If bell hooks Made an LMS: Grades, Radical Openness, and Domain of One’s Own.” Jesse Stommel (blog). June 5, 2017. 

  • Shane Lanning (they/them)

    Shane Lanning is an Instructional Consultant in the Division of Online and Strategic Learning. Their academic background includes an MA in Linguistics and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), which they earned at Ball State, and they are currently pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric and Composition. They previously taught as an Instructor of ESL in the Intensive English Institute where they developed a passion for international students and internationalization efforts; moreover, Shane strives for an inclusive teaching practice and is interested in exploring how to best achieve community in a rapidly evolving educational landscape.

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