Learning the Canvas LMS Lingo
Like everything else in education, it’s helpful to learn a few terms as you become comfortable with the platform:
- Blended learning: An approach to education in which learning comes via digital and online media in addition to traditional face-to-face learning.
- Course navigation menu: A listing of links to different areas within your course. It appears on the left side of the Canvas screen whenever a course is selected.
- Dashboard: The landing page in Canvas. It is the first screen you see when logging in to Canvas and it is where you can easily see all of your courses, your to-do list, upcoming events, and more.
- Global navigation menu: The navigation bar that always appears on the left side of the Canvas screen. It is the main tool for moving from the Dashboard to the various sections within Canvas, such as your Courses, Inbox, and Calendar.
- Instance: A specific version of Canvas with separate login credentials. Each school, district, or institution has its own “instance” of Canvas, but you may have more than one if you teach in different Canvas environments or are a part of multiple groups that use Canvas.
- Instructure: The company that makes Canvas LMS and supporting tools.
- LMS: Short for learning management system. An LMS is an online learning environment based in the cloud where teachers and learners from Pre-K through higher education can log in, receive educational content, interact with fellow students, complete tasks and assessments, and participate in discussions.
- LTI: Short for the Learning Tools Interoperability standard. It enables external tools to function smoothly within Canvas. “LTIs” refer generally to plug-ins or apps that provide additional functionality to the platform.
- Options menu: A list of items from which you can choose within the platform. The Options menu icon in Canvas looks like a stack of three dots, but it’s also been called a snowman, a hot dog, or a stoplight. When you see the Option menu icon in Canvas, you know you have more tools or choices at your disposal.
Navigating the interface
Located on the left side of every page in Canvas is the global navigation menu. This is the most important location to become familiar with, as its your key to accessing all the various parts of Canvas. Here’s what you’ll find:
- Account: This is where you can change your personal user settings, add or modify your profile picture, and set up the options for how Canvas works for you.
- Courses: This is where you see a list of all your published and unpublished courses.
- Calendar: This opens the Canvas Calendar screen where you get a snapshot of the events occurring in your courses. You can adjust the calendar view as well as which courses appear on the calendar.
- Inbox: This opens the Canvas Inbox, which is the messaging tool within Canvas LMS.
- History: This opens the Recent History page, which lists the most recent pages you viewed in Canvas. It includes page history for the past three weeks, listed in chronological order.
- Help: This opens a list of resources you can access for additional help with something in Canvas if you find yourself stuck.
Staying mindful during your Canvas LMS journey
It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all Canvas has to offer educators and students. Here are a few tips to help you keep your head in the game and take advantage of how Canvas can positively impact the students in your classroom:
- Start small. Start with the simple tools in Canvas that you feel will really make an impact in your classroom and dive right in. Use them for a few weeks or until you gain comfort in using those tools. Then add on a few more, and then a few more. Ultimately what you are able to accomplish with Canvas LMS is only limited by your imagination.
- Become a “solution-seeker.” Whether you are brand new to Canvas or a seasoned Panda Professional, make a habit of checking out the Canvas Community website at https://community.canvaslms.com when you need help with Canvas. When you embrace the act of finding solutions to any problem and students see that, you continue to evolve in your craft and model that vital life skill to your students.
- Let go of the ego. Educators who let their guard down, open themselves up to collaboration, and refuse to stay stagnant in their teaching practices are the ones who thrive in their use of Canvas. Lean into not knowing everything. Lean into picking other teachers’ brains for ideas. Lean into creating, experimenting, and playing with the platform to see what works best for you.
- Establish healthy expectations. Don’t think you need to learn and do everything in Canvas right from the get-go. If you want to thrive and be the best you can be for your students, remember to establish realistic and healthy expectations for yourself and the timeline for your journey.
- Don’t ignore the “quiet wheel.” You know the old phrase, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” What that usually means in a classroom is that the most glaring and noticeable students get exponentially more attention. Don’t forget the quiet learners just because they aren’t demanding your attention. In Canvas, this becomes easier because of all the innovative ways that you can differentiate to serve the needs of all learners.
- Let students know you see them. With Canvas in your teacher toolbelt, you have a powerful communication tool at your disposal. Canvas offers many ways to effectively communicate with your students, so take advantage. Let your students know you see them and value them and their efforts. That may be the highlight of their day.