Part 9: Spring 2019 Labs

162 Using Canvas in Class – 03.01.2019

Laptop, tablet, phone — whatever the device of choice, there’s no question screens have become pervasive on campus and in the classroom. At the March 1, 2019 Active Teaching Lab, ten Lab regulars discussed how we can adjust in-classroom activities to harness the ubiquitous screens for better learning in Canvas. Participants shared what’s worked and what hasn’t in managing screens and students.


  • Identify the purpose of the activity. Is the primary purpose to break up a dense lecture? To gauge student understanding? To provide an opportunity for application of knowledge? Knowing your intent will help you make decisions about the format and facilitation of the activity. Communicating the activity’s intention to students will also help them meet expectations.
  • During collaborative group work, provide a template for each group instead of a single Google Doc for the class, which creates confusion and causes students to disengage.  
  • Embrace students’ tendencies to divide and conquer for part of the assignment (e.g. prep, research) and use in-class screens for the steps in the process that naturally lend themselves to group collaboration (e.g. brainstorming, problem solving, final decision making).
  • Use Canvas as a home base for compiling all the resources, websites, and applications that will be accessed in class. Add the day’s agenda and tasks to a Canvas Page so that students can follow the steps as they work through an activity. Think about durability in the design of the Page for reuse in future semesters.
  • Decide how imperative it is that each student have a device, have backups for those who don’t, and keep stakes low if technology is required. One screen per group is often sufficient for group tasks. For quizzes, students may submit a piece of paper with their responses as an alternative to Canvas.  
  • Set expectations for minimum technology required to succeed in class. Check out UW-Madison’s Canvas templates to see how you can build this language in to your course.
  • Ensure the activity preserves the value of a face-to-face meeting (e.g. building social skills, cooperatively constructing knowledge) instead of merely using class time for a task students could complete on Canvas from home.

For more information on using Canvas in class, visit the session’s activity sheet.


Note: Video begins during participant introductions due to audio issues.

The Active Teaching Lab is a Faculty Engagement program with sessions held on Thursdays from 1:00-2:00pm and Fridays from 8:30-9:45am in the Middleton Building (1305 Linden Dr.), room 120. Check out upcoming Labs or read the recaps from past Labs. We build interdisciplinary conversations that are more emergent than a presenter and more dynamic than a panel — a conversation with colleagues sharing challenges, solutions, and experiments on topics selected by a variety of stakeholders.

Sign up for regular Lab announcements by sending an email to


Active Teaching Lab eJournal Copyright © 2016 by DoIT Academic Technology and the UW-Madison Teaching Academy; Jennifer Hornbaker; John Martin; Julie Johnson; Karin Spader; Margaret Merrill; Margaret Murphy; and Jeffrey Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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