Learn how I leverage our institution’s learning management software as a crucial and effective resource for in-person teaching and learning.

Bear with me as I take you on a little stroll down memory lane. How many of you remember the days when organizing and printing lengthy, spiral bound packets was the best (and perhaps only) way to distribute course content and materials to students? I remember receiving and distributing these makeshift textbooks, filled with readings, handouts, assignment guides, and more. Now, my students and I print little to nothing. Why? Because we’ve got Canvas! 

A few articles back I shared my process for brainstorming a new course at Ball State University. I just wrapped up teaching the course for the first time. Along the way, I assessed the effectiveness of the course materials at-large with students and trusted peers. I wanted to know learners’ true feelings, and whether or not our class resource in the learning management system was supporting their learning throughout the semester. I was pleasantly surprised with the results. 

Listening to Students 

I took advantage of the midterm feedback service offered by the Division of Online and Strategic Learning to gather student feedback on our class page in Canvas.  

One student commented that the Canvas resource was the “most organized of any class” they had ever taken. Several noted that because the content was planned and published for the whole semester, this allowed students to see the overall arc of the course. Students appreciated the consistent content layout, but with different and engaging activities each week. They described this as the “same content but with different twists.” Many students remarked that the due dates were extraordinarily clear and that this transparent design was helpful to their learning. 

Shortly after the midterm feedback conversation, I invited students to meet with me individually for 1:1 reflective touch points. These conversations were learner-focused and meant to build individual confidence in students, but inevitably a part of those conversations often centered on how the supports built into the Canvas space were serving them. Overall, learners were pleased with our use of the learning management system in our in-person, synchronous class. Following are a few student quotes.  

“I love how everything is right there at my fingertips. I can see where we’ve been. I can see where we are going. Everything is clear and transparently laid out.” 

“The clear and organized Canvas course supports my learning. Everything we need is right there. I like how we have one page for our in-class time, and one page for our homework. I don’t have to guess where to look or what to access.” 

“Canvas space is clear and consistent. I like the consistency a lot because there are no surprises, no hunting around for content. I can go straight to the task at hand. This is really helpful because I have so many other classes to navigate.” 

I also received helpful constructive feedback from students. I learned that some of the assessment tools I was using in the course weren’t as impactful as others or provided un-needed stress and complexity. This included VoiceThread, an interactive presentation tool that I incorporated into a few modules to help students critique historical and contemporary photographic images. Students appreciated the tool itself, but found it too cumbersome to access, and received unnecessary vendor messages. I will be modifying those assessments and use a different tool in the future because of my students’ honest feedback. 

Listening to Peers 

In addition to listening to my students, I sought feedback from peers during the first offering of this course. I was paired with a fellow faculty member teaching in Honors College to conduct peer observations. My colleague offered the following feedback in regard to the Canvas resource.  

“Sometimes it’s a struggle maintaining student engagement when students have open laptops in front of them throughout class. Even the most engaged students can be distracted by their open laptops during discussion. In Dr. Ackermann’s class though, students were using laptops (and their Canvas resource) throughout the class period and were focused on gaining ideas and skills from class activities that they will need to successfully complete the final project in the class.” 

I also took advantage of the Peer Review of Teaching Program where I was further affirmed of my efforts in building a solid, non-overwhelming Canvas space for students to learn and extend, during our face-to-face time and beyond. My peer review of teaching cohort members appreciated the streamlined use of modules in Canvas. Content was easy to navigate, and my peers witnessed how students were using the content in real-time to engage in activities, reflection, and collaboration.  

So, what does this all look like in practice? In the following section I share my simple and straightforward module structure in Canvas.  

Adopt a Streamlined and Straight-Forward Module Design 

Clear, organized, and consistent. These were the words that students used to describe our Canvas resource. What does this actually look like in practice though? 

Modules are organized for each week and contain a Learning Guide and Post-Class Task. Learners reference the Learning Guide in class with me, as we work through a variety of resources and materials. After class, students pop back into the module to complete the post-class task. This is often a discussion board reflecting on that week’s materials. Even within the discussion board format though, I do my best to fluctuate WHAT students actually post in the board to keep them engaged and curious. Sometimes, students link to a folder of photographs they’ve taken in the board. Sometimes they link to a presentation deck. Other times, they might access an editable brainstorming document and share their completed copy in the discussion board space as an attachment. 

Module Sample One
Screenshot Canvas Module One: Introduction to the Self-Portrait in Photography.
Module Learning Guide
Screenshot Canvas Module 1: Module Overview, Module Objectives, Module To-Do List and In-Class Resources.
Module Post-Class Task
Screenshot Canvas Module 1: Discussion Board. Overview, Objectives, Steps, and Success Criteria.

It’s important to me that my students always understand the WHY behind every class task or assessment. To help with this, I include module level objectives that align with our broader course level objectives, as well as language explaining how discussion board tasks help students achieve course-level goals. 

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Module Sample Two
Screenshot Canvas Module Four: David Owsley Museum Visit.
Module Learning Guide
Screenshot Canvas Module 4: Module Overview, Module Objectives, Module To-Do List and In-Class Resources.
Module Post-Class Task
Screenshot Canvas Module 4: Discussion Board. Overview, Objectives, Steps, and Success Criteria.

Regularly Revisit Your WHY

Meaningful course design in your learning management system doesn’t need to be complicated or cumbersome. In fact, I believe the more streamlined your approach in Canvas, the better! The clearer expectations and directions are for students, the quicker they can get to the most important and authentic tasks in your course. This, I feel, is important for all learners, regardless of the modality in which they are engaging with you as an instructor.  

Throughout this article I’ve shared examples of how Canvas has been used to support in-person learning specifically. But, regardless of the modality, I lean into a variety of tools and services to map out my learners’ journey in our learning management system, and constantly assess the impact of my content and engagement strategies along the way.  

I invite you to share your key Canvas tips with our Teaching Innovation Blog community as we all strive to elevate the learner experience through thoughtful integration of our learning management software. What will you do in Canvas today? 

Do any of these Canvas tips resonate for you? How do you engage with in-person students through the learning management software? How might these strategies work across teaching modalities? 


Ackermann, Sarah. “How I Brainstorm New Courses.” Teaching Innovation Blog. October 4, 2023. https://blogs.bsu.edu/teaching-innovation/2023/10/04/how-brainstorm-new-courses/

Jacobi, Kathleen & Ackermann, Sarah. “Opening Your Door (And Your Heart) to Peer Feedback.” Teaching Innovation Blog. January 11, 2023. https://blogs.bsu.edu/teaching-innovation/2023/01/11/opening-your-door-your-heart-peer-feedback/

  • Sarah Ackermann

    Dr. Sarah Ackermann’s background is in educational technology, instructional design, teacher leadership, and art education. She has experience teaching and leading in online, face-to-face, and hybrid formats. Her most recent research is in the area of teacher response and professional development during the COVID pandemic. Additionally, she has written and illustrated a children’s book which encourages young learners to identify their personal strengths.

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