Canvas info overload!

Canvas is an incredibly powerful learning management system (LMS). The amount of customization available for courses is incredible and the basic functionality of the system is fairly intuitive. But sometimes having all this choice and information thrown at you can feel kind of overwhelming. For this reason, the Technology and Innovation Department is going to publish a series of Canvas info guides and how-to’s in an effort to help make sense of the feast of options we have available in Canvas, but don’t always know what to do with.

We have data about how we, as a district, use Canvas. While that information isn’t always relevant to a teacher’s or staff member’s day-to-day routine, perhaps knowing a little more of the big picture will help put your own usage into a larger context.

Since Canvas was first introduced at ICCSD in the Spring of 2017, we have seen its use at the secondary level increase exponentially. This can be measured by several different metrics including number of courses in which Canvas is used, number of teachers or students using it, number of assignments or discussion topics within all courses, and even number of files uploaded to the system. However, the most relevant statistic to overall activity within Canvas is the number of page views. Counting page views gives us a sense of the number of users, frequency of use, length of use, and depth of use all rolled into one number.  The patterns that arise in the numbers of page views can give us insight on Canvas usage from year to year or even from day to day.

Take Canvas use at West High School, for example. Here is a graph of daily page views at West between Oct. 14 and Nov. 15 of this school year. Can you spot the weekends?

This regular pattern emerged over time but didn’t exist at the onset. At the beginning of our Canvas implementation, between May 18th and June 2nd 2017 there were approximately 2000 page views total at West. This isn’t a high number, which makes sense. It was the end of the year when this new system came online. 7 teachers, teaching 196 students, decided to dip their toe in the water and created a handful of assignments in Canvas.  Each of those students clicked on a page about 10 times over the course of 2 weeks. Everyone was just trying this out.

At the beginning of the 2017-2018 more teachers at West were ready to hit the ground running. Starting on Aug. 23, for the first two weeks, the school averaged about 30,000 page views a day. The activity tapered off a bit after that as some teachers, having tried Canvas, decided to go with a more traditional content organization format. But by the end of the 1st Trimester the school had racked up 1.6 million page views across several categories including content pages, assignments, quizzes, files, grades, announcements, collaborations, conferences, groups, and other general pages.

The 1st Trimester the following year, 2018-2019, West saw about the same amount of Canvas usage as the previous T1, approximately 1.6 million page views. It looked like there was saturation and that perhaps this was the most use the school was going to get out of the system. But as the year went on the Canvas usage grew steadily. In the first full week of the 2019-2020 school year, the page views at West exceeded 60,000 for 3 consecutive days. It was clear that the school had entered a new phase of its Canvas implementation.

This was also apparent by the fact that the Helpdesk was getting inundated with requests for help with Canvas like never before. It was somewhat perplexing until we took a look at the data and realized that the Canvas usage across the district was much higher than it previously had been. This put all the help requests into a new context. It was good that people were needing help. It meant that there were more new users working to implement Canvas in their classrooms.

By the end of the T1 this year West High School alone had clocked in at over 2.8 million page views, a 75% increase from the previous T1. Given approximately the same number of students, this represents an increase of about 800 additional page views per student over the course of the trimester. This pattern is consistent with usage at the other high schools in the district, including significantly increased usage at the Junior High level as well.

There are multiple factors that contribute to this odd pattern of usage stagnation and then explosive growth. One interesting factor is something that is happening behind the scenes which we can tease out by looking at our data on manually created courses. These are Canvas courses that are created by teachers and students (yes, student created content!) rather than being imported through PowerSchool. These include ‘sandboxes’ where teachers try out new features and functions before implementing them in their classes, PLC courses where teachers and coaches are teaching and learning about Canvas or other teaching tools, and even some courses created specifically for student collaboration. The graph below represents district wide page views of manually created courses between August of 2017 and now.

During the first year, as a district, we averaged about 2,000 page views a week for courses of this type. In the second year that doubled to about 4,000 page views a week. And in the third year, this year, it tripled to approximately 12,000 page views a week! The amount of teacher and staff learning about Canvas and through Canvas has been increasing dramatically. This shows that even during times when it seems like there is stagnation in usage, teachers are still collaborating and developing their Canvas skills, which then serves to launch our Canvas community to the next level during the following academic cycle.

So regardless of whether you are just starting out on your Canvas journey and aren’t sure where to start or you are a veteran, daily Canvas user, you are part of a vibrant and growing community of users at ICCSD. There are many opportunities for collaboration and to receive assistance whether its from the Helpdesk, a neighboring teacher, or an instructional coach. Don’t hesitate to reach out!