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Northwestern University

What to Keep, What to Retire, and How to Decide (in Canvas)

In the Fall 2021 Canvas satisfaction surveys, the Teaching & Learning Technologies (TLT) team in Northwestern IT had the concept of the “Next Normal” and post-remote teaching on our minds. We wondered what students and faculty were thinking about the various practices that had been part of remote learning. What did people want to keep, what were they ready to leave behind, and did those opinions differ between students and faculty?

We asked both students and faculty about whether they’d like to continue or discontinue a number of teaching practices. Based on the percentage of respondents saying they’d like to see a given practice continued, the practices listed rank accordingly (1=Highest number interested in keeping > 11=Lowest number interested in keeping):

Practice Faculty Priority Student Priority
Use of digital course materials (texts, etc.) 1 2
Highly structured Canvas course site 2 1
Breakout rooms / small group work 3 11
Remote Office Hours 4 5
Pre-recorded class content 5 9
Zoom polls during class or their equivalent 6 7
Zoom chat during class or its equivalent 7 10
Alternative assessment options 8 4
Digital homework systems (e.g., MyLab) 9 8
Recordings of live class sessions 10 3
Participate in a class remotely 11 6


What do you do if your classroom plans differ from the preferences expressed by students? We offer the following suggestions for working with your students in building your class structures and teaching practices:

  1. Ask your students! These survey results include students from all Northwestern schools and colleges, including both undergraduate and graduate students. Perhaps the students in your class don't care about polling during class but they would love flexible assignment deadlines. If you are open to options or still deciding on how to build out your class structures (for example, do students want to have the option to attend your office hours remotely?), talk with your students – you might be surprised.
  2. Explain what you’re doing and why. If you have already made some decisions about what will work well for you and your course and you suspect (or know, based on your conversations with them) that students would have wanted a different approach, spend time talking about the reasons behind your course structure. Students will appreciate your candor and the insight into your plan for the course and they may be more enthusiastic about that plan once they understand it.
  3. Embrace imperfection. We get it, lecture capture technology is tricky, alternative assessments might take some calibration, Canvas doesn’t always do exactly what you want it to do. But any effort you put towards bringing student-centered practices into your class will be appreciated by students. Read more about being okay with “it works most of the time” in our Next Normal Series article on lecture capture:
  4. Don’t be afraid to start small. All items in this survey question saw more than 60% of students responding that they wish to see the practice continued, so any continuation of practices gained during remote learning is likely to be greeted positively by students. Think about one way you can bring a change from the last two years back into your in-person classes and don’t worry if it doesn’t go perfectly.

Ultimately, student-centered course structures and active learning strategies create a culture of collaboration and care in your classrooms. As we saw in student nominations for the Canvas Hall of Fame, students recognize and appreciate the work that goes into creating an engaging course. When students (and all people) feel supported, they can thrive.

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