by Sebastian Squire
Photography by Jackie Veliz
Aside from school being online, little has done more to change Las Lomas student lives than Canvas, a new learning management software that the Acalanes Union High School District introduced this year to replace School Loop. The District intends to minimize confusion and students’ inability to navigate multiple online platforms, as they were expected to do during distance learning last year. Canvas boasts such features as the integration of email, Google Apps, Zoom and more under one umbrella webpage. In addition, Google officially supports Canvas.
“Canvas doesn’t just use better tools—it uses tools better. For example, the communication features offer more than just an email inbox; Canvas provides users with a global notifications panel that lets them choose [how] they’d like to receive information,” claims the website of Canvas’ parent company, Instructure. The website also notes that Canvas is “the world’s fastest-growing learning management platform.” A representative for Instructure, Cory Edwards, summarized the company’s mission statement as “helping to elevate student success, amplify the power of teaching, and inspire everyone to learn together.” He also noted the numerous ways that Canvas works to help with technology problems and solutions: “We have lots of tutorials if you need them!”
Finn O’Dea, a Las Lomas Freshman, praised the transition to Canvas over the summer saying, “I like Canvas more [than the learning management system of last year] and I think Las Lomas did a very good job with their transition into the new school year considering everything going on.” O’Dea said that some of his favorite parts of Canvas are the organizational tools and the convenience of having all of the necessary tools accessible from one platform. In terms of reducing stress, O’Dea said, “I’d say it’s about the same, because [Canvas] didn’t make my life easier or better, but it also didn’t make it worse.”
“I really like how comprehensive it is in terms of the features. For example, all of the various options for quizzes, the Google Docs integration, and how organized you can make everything with the modules,” said Kerry Ginsberg, a Las Lomas teacher. Ginsberg also commended the transition: “I think that given the massive changes and stress we have all been dealing with in 2020, we have all done a pretty amazing job with this.” She also added, “I think the Canvas training courses that [the] district put together for teachers and students were very helpful with this.” Another Las Lomas teacher, Mark Lewis, said, “I really don’t have any strong views on Canvas just yet…[I’m] still in learning mode and not sure how I feel about it until I learn more.”
Both O’Dea and Ginsberg pointed out some weaknesses in the platform. From a student perspective, O’Dea said, “I wish Canvas didn’t need multiple websites along with it. I wish everything was just in Canvas.” On the other side, Ginsberg said, “The thing I most dislike is how much time everything takes to create. Even for a lesson I’ve done in the past, it takes a lot of time as a teacher to ‘translate’ it to Canvas. I also have personal beef with a few of the grading features, like how ‘Speed Grader’ is not that speedy, or how the video quizzes don’t integrate with the gradebook.”
Even with these criticisms, both acknowledged the difficulty that Knights faced during the pandemic. And through their criticisms, both agreed that Canvas is far preferable to School Loop for online school. Ginsberg said, “I would just add that with all of this, I think we have to be mindful of what the alternative is. For example, I get frustrated by not being able to have the in-person connections that I’m used to having with students, but if the alternative is to put anyone’s health at risk, then I’m okay with it. Same goes for Canvas: I’m not enthusiastic about every single aspect of it, but it’s the best learning management system I’ve used, so I’m happy with it overall.” Both were also quick to point out heroic efforts on both sides. O’Dea said, “I thought the teachers have really been doing [their] best and have really been patient with the students.” Even through fires and pandemics, students can rest assured that school will continue regardless.