End of summertime

A new Canvas lies in wait

missing our Haiku

It started out innocently enough. As summer break wound to a close, I did a quick once-over of Western Reserve’s famous 8-page back-to-school schedule. Near the end of the document, something caught my eye. Perched inconspicuously between “College Counseling Kickoff” and “Convocation,” I noticed that I was to report to Wilson Hall for “Canvas orientation and copier training” for a half hour. I thought nothing more of it, as I assumed anything paired with copier training was bound to be a yawner. But this, as we all now know, turned out to be subterfuge.

I want to emphasize that in most cases, I know that change is good. But for the upperclassmen at WRA, lately it’s been a lot. We’re talking significant, fast-and-furious-type change. Some notable examples: there were the classroom pods in the football stadium parking lot (bad) for the eventual refresh of Seymour (good). There was moving away from the Advanced Placement curriculum to a College Level framework (very good). Most recently, there was the tectonic move from the 7.0 grading scale to 4.0…or is it 4.33 (also seems good)?

So as my senior year began, I was brimming with confidence. Nothing could stand in my way. Then I set up Canvas (not so good).

Week 1 email: “You have 42 new notifications.”

Week 2 email: “You have 39 new notifications.”

The to-do list seemed impossible to follow as my professors loaded their assignments for the semester into the application. Some items listed a due date, others did not. Some of the notifications had nothing to do with assignments at all:

“Grade Weight Changed.”

Why? Did weights actually change at all, or were they just set up?

What’s more, in the Canvas app, there isn’t always a way to see assignments for a particular class. Some of my classes currently have this “feature”, some do not. In the online version, often you have to scroll down through several pages of content (don’t these companies know we teenagers don’t scroll?) to get to the very, very bottom of a page to see the upcoming assignments for a class.

I actually flubbed a homework assignment once already due to this chaos (hat tip to Mr. Warner for understanding). Since then, I’ve tried unsuccessfully to increase the frequency of notifications I’m receiving. I’ll visit the Technology folks. I’ll keep trying. That’s what we survivors do.

Besides getting used to the new app, the biggest observable difference between Haiku and Canvas seems to be in the area of content organization. Haiku is more dynamic. It allows landing pages to act more like websites and thus is more interactive. From what I’ve seen so far, Canvas uses a file folder approach that feels static and somewhat antiquated.

To make sure it wasn’t just me, I asked around campus for some more input. Feedback varied, but the overall impressions of Canvas weren’t resoundingly positive. One professor noted that he was “more confident” in Haiku. It seems many share this view. Another student thought Haiku worked just fine, and summed up his thoughts with “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Yet another exasperated student was frustrated with having to go through “this whole bookmarking process” again. At best, students were apathetic.

I wouldn’t say Haiku was perfect. But it was adopted and accepted. We knew what to expect from different teachers on the site, and where to find information. There are several educational websites that rate PowerSchool Learning / Haiku, and it currently trends at about a 4.5 star rating out of 5 stars on EdSurge, a leading education news organization that reports on the people, ideas and technologies that shape the future of learning. This is the same score as Canvas is receiving on similar sites. To teachers and consumers, these applications are about the same.

Matt Kelsey, an educator and blogger, believes that this type of technology change is rooted in what he calls a problem of choice (he prefers Haiku to Canvas, for the record–pun intended). He argues that the selection of the first acceptable choice from a list of alternatives outweighs the psychological cost of searching until the “best” alternative is found. In effect, he suggests that often the “best” alternative is not an efficient use of an organization’s resources and that change is justified only when it is expected to make a measurable improvement in student achievement. Sometimes the best alternative is to change nothing at all.

Enough about Canvas. I’m sure we’ll all adjust.

P.S. I also could still use some help with the copiers.

-Tim Zamarro ’20

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