Teachers are the kings and queens of “making do” with what they have. We buy notebooks, crayons, ink pens and more so our students have the supplies they need to do the job in our classrooms. It wasn’t a far stretch, then, when our school went to 1:1 iPad computing that we learned to “make do” with the free apps that were available, or to “make do” with work-arounds that were far from easy.
Having been a 1:1 teacher in a classroom lab with desktop computers, I had become a proponent of Moodle. In fact, I had officially been dubbed the “Moodle Queen” in our building. As glamorous as that sounds, what it really meant was that everyone came to me to fix their Moodle issues, and that when the Moodle server crashed and our tech guy couldn’t be found, I was the lucky sap who got to reset it.
Anyway, as the Moodle Queen, I quickly discovered that Moodle did not play nicely with the iPads. None of the things that I had been doing so seamlessly on desktop computers worked in the iPad environment. Worse yet, two years ago when we started this iPad project, I couldn’t find anything that did. Well, I’ve never been one to give up without a fight. I was determined to make the iPads work in my classroom, even if it killed me. And at times I thought it was going to.
Without a learning management system, I developed my own “system” for managing classes. I set up e-mail groups and e-mailed documents to my kids. They e-mailed their completed assignments to me. It didn’t seem like a bad system until I actually tried to grade and 120+ e-mails were clogging my inbox. I had to take each of those assignments out into a PDF annotator, mark them, e-mail them back to the kids, record them in a separate online gradebook, and then remember to delete the e-mail from my inbox. Wow, what a mess!
As each new LMS was released for iPad, I anxiously awaited one with true integration for uploading assignments. I tried them all. Time after time, I was disappointed by the results. Finally, I heard word that a colleague had begun using Canvas – a web-based LMS that is free – with great success. The first time I tried it, I was amazed at the ease with which students were able to upload assignments!
The iOS app from Canvas is very basic. It is a black and gray interface, with no graphics to speak of. I was initially disappointed by this lack of visual appeal, but have come to appreciate it. Students aren’t distracted by the “bells and whistles”, but rather use Canvas as the workhorse it is proving to be. They log in and immediately receive updates on pending assignments or feedback on graded ones. They receive a reminder if they forget to turn something in, and uploading assignments takes 4 or 5 taps and they can submit from anywhere they have wifi.
The best part of Canvas by far though, is the Speedgrader. Speedgrader is an iOS app, or can also be accessed from the web. It allows for rubric grading, comments, and annotation all without leaving the document. Moving from assignment to assignment is as simple as clicking or swiping. Even dealing with those pesky late assignments is easy. Canvas always tells me how many assignments I have to grade in each class, and updates the number of papers in any set. If I’ve already graded a set, but a student uploads the assignment late, Canvas tells me. It’s not quite the secretary I’ve always hoped for, but it’s close.
For those of you who are looking for a LMS that will work with iOS devices, I would recommend giving Canvas a try. I think they are still a small organization, because I’ve gotten the same guy for customer service every time I’ve needed help. Still, every time I’ve needed help, they have been great to respond. And before you ask – I am in no way affiliated with Canvas. I’m just a teacher who was looking for a way to teach my classes, instead of constantly having to teach them how to “work around” the difficulties we faced. Check out Canvas yourself and let me know what you think!