Canvas is a Poor Tool for Students

Emma Leibowitz, Opinion Editor

June 22, Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) superintendent John Nickerson announced in a districtwide email that the traditional learning management system (LMS) SchoolLoop would be replaced with Canvas for the 2020-2021 school year. The change was made with Nickerson stating, “The platform will support a much better learning experience and tools for parent support, whether we continue with in-person learning or need to transition to distance learning.” But although Canvas was implemented to make distance learning more workable and less confusing for students and teachers, Canvas has actually made learning more complicated by introducing a brand new LMS while students are still trying to adapt to a brand new method of schooling. Because of the many issues with the new LMS, AUHSD should not continue to use Canvas once distance learning ends to improve the quality of school for students.

When the district conducted distance learning in the spring, it became very apparent that many of our students were struggling with accessing material within multiple platforms. The district and school determined that it was essential to change our management system in order to better support our students, but also make the process of distance learning easier and more attainable for each differentiated learner,” Associate Principal Sara Harris said. 

The district opted to move from SchoolLoop to Canvas because of distance learning; Canvas allows students and teachers to access assignments, Zoom links, announcements, and grades all in one place instead of using multiple websites. “Our district and sites have worked tirelessly to design modules online to teach, instruct, and introduce staff and students to Canvas. It is a lot and it will take time, but everything is in there. It is an incredible system,” Harris said. The district is also planning to continue using Canvas as the main LMS in the future. However, navigating to find these different items on Canvas is difficult, confusing, and often takes a long time, especially because not all teachers post relevant information and links in the same places.

Finding homework, links, and other resources on Canvas is challenging because each teacher has a different system. For example, teacher A might post their Zoom link as an announcement while teacher B might post their link as an assignment. This forces students to memorize each teacher’s preferred method of Canvas usage, which makes it hard to navigate through the site. “In my experience, my teachers all have different Canvas setups. The Zoom links are put in separate places, like under a specific Zoom tab, on the home page, or as an announcement, which made me have to memorize all the separate locations,” senior Sydney Gong said.

Additionally, the organization of the Canvas website is hard to navigate and is sometimes confusing. Using SchoolLoop, students could see a complete outline of their overall grades for each class with an agenda of all upcoming assignments underneath as soon as they logged into the system. Now, with Canvas, students can only view grades for one class at a time, and the agenda feature is replaced with “list view” on the dashboard. List view allows students to see assignments for multiple classes at once, but not all teachers publish coursework as an assignment on Canvas, effectively hiding work from students’ list view. This adds another burden to students because they can no longer get a clear picture of their assignment load. Instead, students must get into the habit of checking every class’s page, an action that is easily forgotten, potentially resulting in missed deadlines. “The agenda feature on SchoolLoop was very helpful and helped me to organize my assignments in a manageable way. Sometimes I can get lost or forget an assignment on Canvas if it isn’t organized in a certain way,” junior Tom Inouye said.

Submitting assignments on Google Classroom was also easier than submitting through Canvas. After a student submits work on Canvas, it is very difficult to view the submission and make sure everything is correct. Canvas will also sometimes delete text box responses when students try to submit work, forcing them to redo the activity. The submission process has become more difficult with Canvas than it was with Google Classroom and SchoolLoop.

Canvas also has a tendency to crash or run slowly. “Unfortunately, like with any platform, crashes are not predictable nor something that we can ever prepare for,” Harris said. August 20, a school-wide Canvas glitch made it impossible for students to access the site and join Zoom classes. Some teachers emailed Zoom links to students. The technical issues with Canvas are hard to work around and unpredictable. “Canvas crashed once but otherwise no. It does make it difficult to work,” freshman Isa Wetzel said. 

Although Canvas does provide more features than SchoolLoop and Google, the system has many problems that inhibit learning. Students have been forced to adapt to distance learning and a new LMS this year, which can be very overwhelming. With the AUHSD hopeful for at least partial school reopening in the second semester, the district should move back to using SchoolLoop and Google Classroom for the learning ease of students.