Karen Gourd: Using Canvas to Simplify Collaboration

Last updated: March 28, 2019

GourdKaren Gourd
Assistant Professor, Education
University of Washington, Bothell

Karen Gourd has been teaching with Canvas since UW-IT first piloted the learning management system. She uses Canvas to teach EDUC 501: Introduction to Research Methods, one of the first courses that first year graduate students take. In the course, students learn how to plan a research study and how to conduct a literature review. Gourd recently taught the course for the fourth time. For the first two years she used Catalyst CommonView as the course Web site, and has used Canvas now for the past two academic years.

The Challenge: Finding a Workable Online Solution for Peer Review

The primary project of EDUC 501 accounts for about half of the final grade, which might be an intimidating prospect if Gourd didn’t organize the project into four discrete assignments that build to the completion of the project. For each of these assignments, students have their work reviewed by two classmates. This process, which students carry out directly in Canvas, has a specific pedagogical purpose. When students have an opportunity to see how others are approaching and thinking about the task, they extend their learning. Gourd notes, “Peer review helps students think more deeply about how they should be doing their own work.”

An Unworkable Solution

In previous quarters, Gourd had tried other solutions for peer review. “Google Docs was a disaster for doing this.” For one thing, comments in Google can be identified by nicknames used for setting up a Google account. That leaves an instructor unable to know who is leaving comments, which is an issue when reviews count toward a student’s grade.

The Canvas Approach

Gourd likes the Canvas solution for peer review for several reasons. “It takes very little work on my part to get them to understand [how to do peer reviews in Canvas].” Peer review is completely paperless, so there are no attachments in email. All three students can see all the comments, and all are working on the same version of the file.

To hold students accountable for peer review, Gourd assigns a complete/incomplete grade setting in Canvas. When students add their comments, Canvas marks their assignment as complete. Comments are identified by a student’s full name, which makes it easy for Gourd to keep an eye on how peer reviews are going. “I can keep up with this; it’s just a little bit of extra work ,” she says. She “loves” the new Crocodoc feature, which makes it easy to attach comments directly within the document, similar to the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word.

Although Canvas can automatically assign peer review partners, Gourd prefers to assign partners herself. Doing so allows her to change peer review partners by assignment, giving students a chance to see and receive reviews on their work from a variety of classmates.

In addition to peer reviews, Gourd also has her students collaborate on group work in Canvas — a qualitative and a quantitative review of articles relevant to their area of interest. Gourd groups students with similar interests and leaves it to them to determine how and where they will collaborate. Partners receive the same grade for their work. By choosing the “This is a Group Assignment” option, comments and grades need to be entered only once to be seen by all partners.

Benefits Beyond Peer Review

Gourd also makes good use of the Announcements and Outcomes areas of Canvas. Because Gourd allows students to comment on Announcements, they can use that feature to ask questions about any of the Announcements she sends out. This is particularly useful because all students can see her responses, so questions don’t need to be asked and answered multiple times. She posts learning outcomes in the Outcomes area. This fulfills two purposes: it reminds her students about what is expected of them, and encourages them to start thinking about the learning objectives that they will create when they become instructors themselves.

Being Heard

Gourd loves using Canvas for another reason — the ability to be heard by the people who built and continue to develop it. “If it’s doing something that I don’t want it to do, I can provide that feedback directly to the people at Canvas.” Feedback from users seems to be having a positive impact. Gourd says, “Canvas is clearly better this year than last year. It’s got new features, and things have been streamlined, for instance, we can now customize the course navigation.” And if she just needs to figure out how to do something, other users are close by. “If I’m having trouble figuring out how to use a feature, I can ask a question of the Canvas community.”

See a public version of Karen Gourd’s Canvas course.