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LMSes [Canvas and Blackboard]

Back in the carefree days earlier in the week, I went to a training session hosted by the college on switching over from Blackboard to Canvas. Blackboard and Canvas are "Learning Management Systems," which is kind of a fancy way of saying "file-hosting systems." The fundamental premise behind them is that they're a place where professors can electronically post copies of their lectures, assignments, and supplementary material, where students can go to find everything all in one place.

I think we started using Blackboard at Tufts partway through my undergraduate degree. I remember checking it to download PowerPoint presentations. That was also still fairly early in the era of PowerPoint presentations, where the vast majority of people using the software were using it to display verbose, typed-up versions of their lecture notes, with occasional pictures. For some historic background, the major alternate approach that I observed at Tufts at that time was to have students acquire a "lecture packet," which was a printed and bound book that contained all of the figures that professors were planning on showing us on the overhead projector or slide projector that semester. For those classes, you'd go to lecture (ahem) and take written notes in a notebook, referencing your lecture packet as appropriate for specific figures. In all, I felt like the more traditional method of the time was better for teaching me how to summarize information and take good notes.

From the Wikipedia History Page I see that Blackboard was founded in 1997.

Anyway, educators looove to talk about "kids these days," which is often shorthand for not having a good grasp on what kinds of things contemporary students need from their instructors - those needs may differ from what students required in previous eras, when, for example, they would need to be familiar with things like how card catalogues operate. What I really appreciated about the LMS training session was getting walked through all of the ways in which Canvas is better-structured from the ground up to work for students, in comparison to Blackboard. In a nutshell (help! I'm in a nutshell!), it is structured around course modules, and the general format for Canvas courses is consistent from course to course instead of being slightly TOO flexible. This drastically simplifies navigational headaches for students, which hopefully means they can focus more time and effort on their coursework, and see where they are in terms of overall progress with coursework, and less time and effort on clicking around to figure out where the syllabus is and what they should be focusing their attention on. [I mean, aside from all the other fun distractions that colleges offer outside of the classroom].

So we shall see how this all goes for the fall, as I'll need to create a brand-new Canvas course in addition to generating all of my own materials for first-semester General Biology. Thankfully there's very good overlap with subjects I've covered as a teaching assistant in grad school, so in some ways it won't be quite as new as Animal Physiology was. The main distinction between grad school and here seems to be in how material is presented: my PhD advisor and her colleagues did a wonderful job of structuring all their introductory lectures around the history and nature of science in Biology, whereas most of what I've observed here so far suggests people are either teaching more directly from the textbook or using a more fact-based approach. That can be all right, depending on what people want students to take away from the course. Personally, I find the history and nature approach more fun, and I'm hoping my students come away from the course with improved reasoning skills and with enthusiasm for biology. We shall see, of course.

This entry was originally posted at https://rebeccmeister.dreamwidth.org/1245828.html. Please comment there using OpenID.


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