But here's the thing: it doesn't really feel like "my" course at all. Below I've listed some of the design frustrations I am feeling as an instructor not able to control the Canvas space to make it feel like my own... and just imagine what it's like for the students: they are even more straitjacketed than the instructors in terms of being able to have any sense of ownership or agency when it comes to the design of the learning space.
I cannot control the screen real estate. I only get to make my own choices in a small part of the screen space ... in a 1200x800 browser window (my usual size), 800x600 is my space: just half of the screen. Worse, it's the bottom right of the screen, so that when people scan top to down and left to right, they see the useless space that I do not control first, and only get to "my" part of the page later. Here's my little box:
And that's assuming, of course, that I can get students to completely skip the homepage; on that so-called homepage, less than 40% of the space is mine. It's a very little box indeed:
I cannot be fully open to the Internet. Yes, I can make the course outward-facing, fully open for anyone to view without a log-in of any kind, and that's great. But for some bizarre reason, I cannot just create navigation links that go directly to the Internet: yes, I can add new links to the left navigation (although it's tedious: I have to install a new "tool" for every single external link and likewise for every course tool I want to rename), but if that link goes to the real Internet, students must go through an additional warning click to get out. What's up with that? Does Canvas not trust me to share a link with the students that leads them to the outside Internet? Even after you click on the "Mindset Cats" link, for example, you then have to click again in order to actually get out of the Canvas box:
I guess I should consider myself lucky that an emergency alarm does not go off when they venture outside the Canvas space...
Finally, I cannot control the overall look and feel. Don't get me wrong: I'm not a web designer, not at all. I just use themes and templates to configure my web spaces, but I do use themes and templates enthusiastically: how things look really does make a difference to me! Plus, I know it is not just me: as soon as my students start their class blogs, they start designing them to match their own interests and personalities — choosing different fonts, layouts, background images, widgets. It's wonderful! Even better: they learn from one another as the do that, seeing something that they like at another person's blog, and then figuring out how to do that same thing or something like it at their own blog.
But in Canvas (and in every other LMS I have used), there is no such process going on: everything looks the same. And the system is designed to make everything look the same: it's not a bug... it's a feature. I've tried to add a some kind of distinctive image to my "little box" on the dashboard, but all I can do (apparently?) is pick the color. There's a purple one, and a green one... sing along!
Digital diversity. I know people will advance the argument that students want or need things to all look the "same" ... but I don't think that makes sense. Aren't we supposed to be encouraging students to LEARN NEW THINGS...? To develop new digital skills? To appreciate the variety and diversity of the Internet as a space for sharing and interaction? Along with human variety and diversity too (not an unrelated problem, but that's a topic for a separate post...). It's a sad commentary indeed when students can find more variety going from one university food service location to another than they will find as they go from class to class in the LMS.
I've been teaching fully online classes since 2002, using very distinctive and unusual web spaces built with a wide variety of tools, and students have never said that that they wished I used the LMS instead. Sure, they have suggestions for how I could do a better job of building the class space (and thanks to their suggestions, the class space gets better and better every year), but not once, ever, has any student ever said in a course evaluation that they would have preferred the standard LMS instead of the shifting configuration of blogs and wikis and social networking spaces that make up my class.
Of course, no post is complete without a cat! And even though I am now using this #elemess hashtag just for fun (thanks to George Station), my point here is a serious one — really! Just take a minute to read the article that inspired this particular cat: How to Spark Curiosity in Children Through Embracing Uncertainty by Linda Flanagan.
So, I say: bring on the mess in the LMS! Or, even better, go wild with OUCreate (our Domain of One's Own installation) where the spaces that OU faculty and staff and students can create for themselves will look wonderfully different from one another. I just hope that faculty will spend as little time investing in Canvas as possible... and as much time as they can spare in exploring the possibilities that OUCreate (and other online playgrounds) can offer, while encouraging their students to do the same.