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A Great LMS for PBL

Managing student work is difficult in any classroom. In a project based classroom, it can get quite out of control.  Each group is doing something different.  Within each group, there are individual pieces of the project as well as group components.  It's up to the teacher to manage all of these different pieces.  If not managed correctly, it could be a beauricratical nightmare.

I think this clip from Terry Gilliam's masterpiece Brazil says it all. (Film Geek Note: the director's cut is the masterpiece not the "Love Conquers All" cut)

The one tool that can prevent the paper trail becoming the focus of the classroom Is a powerful learning management system or LMS.  In Elmbrook schools we have found that in Canvas an LMS deigned and managed by Instructure.

Why Is Canvas such a great LMS for facilitating a PBL classroom?  There are many reason.

To do lists are great for students and teachers.  Any assignment you create with a due date will be added to the calendar.  Now, it's nice that it's in the calendar, but what student actually looks at your course calendar? Canvas creates a to do list for your students of all the assignments they have yet to complete along with the due date.  The to do list is not just for students, there is a to do list for teachers.  The teacher to do list will inform you of all the online submissions you have to grade.  This tool is invaluable when you have students who are working in a self-paced class environment.

Files and links can be embedded in any Canvas page.  Most of the instruction sheets I create for my students are made in Google Docs. These files can easily be embedded in a Canvas page.  If I need to make adjustments to the instructions, any changes I make to the document will automatically be reflected on the Canvas page. In addition to docs, videos can be embedded as well. I use this for students to access additional sources of content on topics covered in class.  These videos can be directly linked from sites like YouTube or Khan Academy.

Canvas accepts a wide variety of submission types.  In a project based classroom, there will be a wide variety of student submission types.  When creating assignment, teachers have the option to choose a variety of different online submissions including direct file upload or online URL. My students save all of their work to Google Drive, so all the students need to do is paste the link to their assignment into Canvas and it's turned in.  They can still make changes to the original document and I'll be able to see the changes when I correct it.

Speedgrader is a timesaver. For any assignment that you create in Canvas, you can create an online rubric.  That rubric can be used to grade the assignment via speedgrader.  If the assignment is a digital upload or URL submission, the file and rubric can be seen at the same time in speedgrader.  In a Google Doc, the teacher can make comments that will be reflected in the original doc.  In other file uploads, Canvas uses Crocodoc to allow teacher comments and annotations.  Speedgrader also has an app for the iPad.  So, you can do all of your grading right on a tablet.  In fact, I have used speedgrader on my iPhone to grade assignments in bed.  

Online assignments can be resubmitted without deleting the original submission.  In my classroom, I allow students to do corrections on assignments to show growth and progress towards objective mastery.  In Canvas, students can resubmit any assignment digitally. When grading, I can compare it to the first submission to determine growth.  This can be a great way to grade drafts on the way to a final version.

Mobile apps are available for iOS and Android devices.  Although Canvas can be easily accessed via mobile browsers, Canvas courses sites can be viewed more easily on mobile devices using the free Canvas app.  In my class, students use the app on their iPads to do everything from seeing what's on their to do list, to taking quizzes, and submitting assignments.

Setting up groups on Canvas is easy and essential for PBL.  Because students will be completing many projects as groups, it doesn't make sense to accept a version of a group assignment form each individual student.  Teachers can set up groups easily that can be applied to any assignment. Or if the teacher wants, students can have the control to setup their own groups.  When the assignment is turned in, the grade given in speedgrader is automatically applied to all students in the group.

Quizzes allow immediate feedback for students and teachers.  Teachers can put together a series of questions that students can take online. The questions can be created from a variety of different types. These types include multiple choice, fill in the blank, numerical, matching, short essay, among others.  Teachers can determine the correct answer(s) so that the questions can be immediately graded.  Canvas calls these quizzes, but they can be graded or ungraded.  This also a good tool to create surveys.  Quizzes can be designed to be taken once or multiple times.  Questions can be designed to give answer specific feedback as well.

Students progress can be individualized by locking modules.  Canvas allows teachers to set perquisites for modules to be accessed by students.  When setting up a module a teacher can determine what is required for the module to be considered complete. This can include what pages need to be viewed and required scores on quizzes and assignments.  Each module can also be designed so that students can't access it until they have completed other required modules.  

Badges can be designed and awarded to students.  Canvas has add on apps that can allow teachers to expand the power of what Canvas can do.  My favorite of these allows teachers to design and award badges to students.  These badges can be manually awarded or they can be set up with specific prerequisites to be completed.  Once the prerequisites are met, students can claim the badge.  These badges can also be added to a Mozilla Backpack.

It's free for teachers. My district is paying for a version which can be used by all teachers in the district.  This allows all the classes a student takes to be coordinated in one calendar.  But if you want to use it in your classroom, you can use it free. Follow this link.

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