Norma Gaines-Hanks | Associate Professor of Human Development & Family Science

Norma Gaines-HanksTo be clear: I am far from a “techie.” I am one of those faculty members who, after years of not using course management systems, decided to try Sakai. Although a bit cumbersome, I found ways to make it work for me. But as soon as I got comfortable with it, I learned that Canvas was coming. I was not too happy about yet another change…and was reluctant to make the switch. But knowing that Sakai would be phased out, I decided it was time to take a leap of faith and embrace the inevitable.

I teach a lecture-based 200-level course and a seminar-based 400-level course that is coupled with a 400-hour senior internship. In addition, I lead students on a Winter session service-learning study abroad program to Barbados and South Africa in alternating years. After talking to new faculty who only knew Canvas and hearing them report on its relative ease, I decided to attend a half-day of workshops in Fall 2017 which introduced me to this new platform.

It felt overwhelming at first. I had to un-learn what I thought I knew about Sakai and re-train my brain to think differently about course management. After that initial session, I met with Beth Cartwright in Faculty Commons weekly over several weeks to set up my Canvas sites and learn more about the platform’s various options. Her patience, support, guidance, and sense of humor helped reduce my anxiety and reluctance. My goal was to set up a Canvas site for my 2018 Winter study abroad program in South Africa as well as prepare for the Spring term. Knowing that my colleague who was travelling with me to South Africa was already familiar with Canvas, I decided that the Winter session would be a good opportunity to “test drive” it. In addition, I knew that despite the seven-hour difference between South Africa and the US east coast, I could always reach out to Beth via email with any questions I may have had.

To help build my skills and knowledge, I tend to record my questions in a notebook or on my computer as they arise and then send several questions to Beth at one time. I later organize and save all of Beth’s responses to my inquiries on my computer so that I can go back to them when needed. In addition to providing specific responses, she provides me with links to other helpful resources—all to make me feel more empowered in learning how to maximize Canvas’ capabilities. I must admit, the learning curve was not as steep and horrendous as I expected. I now enjoy using Canvas. When I have to go back to Sakai to get some information, it feels very cumbersome; so I will make sure I learn how to transfer my Sakai files to Canvas.

Another benefit: students seem to really like Canvas—especially the feature that shows them what is due and when (even though the information is “on the syllabus”).

I have no problem telling them that I am still learning to use Canvas, and therefore , I encourage them to notify me immediately if something seems “off.” They appear to appreciate my candor and my willingness to learn a new skill—a reminder that faculty are also perennial learners. I am looking forward to building my skills even more so that I can enhance my courses and my students’ educational experiences.

(above image) Reflects how I try to make my course sites look interesting with clip art.

(above image) This is an example of how I organized course activities into “Modules.”

(above image) This is an example of an activity description and the rubric used to evaluate it.

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