Canvas v D2L round 1: Assignments

This is the first in a series of brief posts documenting my semester-long experiment with a new Instructional Management System (IMS). This IMS is called Canvas. It’s from Instructure. I wrote about it last spring. Individual instructors can use it for free.

D2L (or Desire 2 Learn) is the adopted IMS in our state college and university system. I have hated it for years and have complained loudly to faculty and students about its bad design.

I learned of Canvas and decided I could either complain for another year or do something about it. I am doing something about it.

First, the caveats…

When you go outside of the adopted IMS, please note that you’re on your own w/r/t FERPA. I have alerted my students that if I use Canvas to post their grades, their data will be stored outside of the institution, and that if they are uncomfortable with that, they should let me know and I will not use that feature of Canvas. (In previous semesters, I have not posted grades in D2L, so technically it’s a wash for them.) No student has indicated this to me so far.

Caveats out of the way, it’s time for round 1.

Round 1: Assignments

From a design and usability perspective, let’s think about how students use an IMS. They go there, I imagine, with one of two questions 85% of the time. The most common one (sadly) is probably What is my grade? More on that in a later round. The second most common has got to be What is due next week?

D2L has no Assignments area.

I’ll say that again. D2L has no Assignments area.

There is no choice that answers the question, What is due next week?

Can you read those choices? If you want to know what is due, what do you choose? It turns out you need to choose Content.

When you do, you get a screen that looks like this:

See those due dates, for example the one for Homework 2.1, about halfway down the image?

I typed those due dates into the titles of the links. There is no system for keeping track of due dates in D2L.

Now let’s look at Canvas. Remember that you are a student and you want to know what’s due next week. You see this menu:

You click Assignments. You see this:

See those due dates? They are part of the structure of Canvas. Assignments have a special place, and they have due dates (or not, depending on what the instructor wants to do).

But this isn’t really the best organization of things. You don’t want to have to pan through all of the categories of assignments to find the one thing that is due this week. No you would rather see things laid out in calendar format. Well, my friend, you’re in luck:

Round 1 goes to Canvas for sure.

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8 responses to “Canvas v D2L round 1: Assignments

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  2. Canvas certainly has closer integration between due dates and assignments but it is not missing in D2L. If you want an “Assignments” areas in D2L, just create a module and call it Assignments. You can link to any other area of D2L if needed.

    As for viewing assignments chronologically, it can be done relatively easily in D2L. For any item you put in Content you can post it to the calendar using the Restrictions tab. Just give the content item a start and/or end date and the option to add the date(s) to the calendar becomes available. The course site’s Calendar then becomes the place to find assignments by date!

    It’s not a perfect fix, however, because when you set an end date on an assignment it will no longer be visible to students when that date arrives. Oops, looks like D2L needs another check box to “allow students to see content item after due date.” Canvas is certainly more elegant in its implementation.

    Due dates are great for synchronous courses but are a real problem when teaching asynchronously. Thinking about this has me wanting a way to set due dates based on a number of days or weeks since the student started rather than a fixed date.

    Each time I find a solution it seems to simply raise another question!

    I look forward to reading more about Canvas!

    MattD

  3. If you want an “Assignments” areas in D2L, just create a module and call it Assignments. You can link to any other area of D2L if needed.

    Sure. Clever workaround. But that module still doesn’t appear on the first screen when students log in to their courses. They still have to think to click “Content” when what they want to find out about is Assignments.

    And in Canvas, if you don’t want a due date, you don’t have to put one on. Problem solved with asynchronous courses.

    For any item you put in Content you can post it to the calendar using the Restrictions tab[...]It’s not a perfect fix, however, because when you set an end date on an assignment it will no longer be visible to students when that date arrives.

    Again, clever workaround (almost). My point is not that it’s impossible to do these things. Instead my point is that Canvas is a tool that has been designed for the ways people use the web. The designers have thought through the things students will want to find there, and they have incorporated these things from the ground up.

    It’s a better tool.

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  6. Like the article because I was curious about canvas… but D2L’s assignment feature that you mention is their calendar. All upcoming due assignments show up on the homepage automatically and for a full list you go to the calendar. Plus if you enter on the calendar you can make it a content topic and visa versa.

    I hear canvas is a great alternative, I’m looking forward to hearing more about it.

  7. I have used Canvas and BB and just began using D2L. I was hoping D2L would grow on me, but it is awful! There is no comparison. D2L leaves out so many important features that Canvas and BB possess.

  8. My college just got D2L, and it seems buggy to me. Some pdf’s upload to my class site fine, a few don’t. Most links work fine, one doesn’t.

    I was excited about having students put their photos on their profiles, for me to learn their names better, but the photos are so small, I can’t tell who they’re of anyway.

    I put lots of time in this summer learning how to use it, and uploading my materials. Now I’m not using it.

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