Inaugural Teaching Well with Canvas Cohort Launches

Author: Steve Varela


The Canvas learning management system (lms) is an online learning environment that can engage students in exciting new ways, while providing convenient access to course content on their devices. However, despite its ability to enhance teaching and learning, Canvas is not always used to its fullest potential in functionality and with the variety of tools available.

The Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT) team, therefore, wanted to provide Notre Dame instructors with an opportunity to learn how to use and maximize Canvas for teaching, learning and research. At the same time, we wanted to offer an experience that would bring faculty, guest presenters, and staff from TLT and Notre Dame Learning together as a community of practice. 

As a result, we launched a new, professional development initiative called Teaching Well with Canvas in January 2022 for instructors to learn how to build, teach, implement, and transfer a Canvas-delivered course from scratch. Whether faculty were new to teaching using Canvas, or already had some experience, facilitators would guide them from beginning to end, so they had an online environment ready to use for the launch of their next class–suitable and optimized for multiple modalities such as face-to-face and/or blended teaching formats.

The overall goals for Teaching Well with Canvas were to:

  • Maximize use of Canvas and its tools for teaching and learning;
  • Enhance course design with interactions for student engagement;
  • Implement evidence-based best practices for teaching using Canvas from a  design-thinking approach;
  • Increase student satisfaction in the online environment;
  • Measure data to show course improvement and achieved learning outcomes;
  • Use Canvas as a data source for improved teaching, research, and publication;
  • Foster faculty buy-in for using Canvas as an institutional teaching tool;
  • Implement universal design by increasing accessibility and meeting ADA compliance in the online environment.

Content for the experience was written by the Director of Teaching and Learning Technologies, Steve Varela, and Brianna Stines, Learning Designer from ND Learning.  It was grounded in best practices focused on the pedagogical and technical needs of teaching with an LMS. Stines explains that, “Thinking about the design of a course and pedagogical strategies alongside the capabilities of the LMS frames your course build with student needs in mind. Opposed to purely technical training, asking the right questions about students’ motivations, backgrounds, and learning goals, among other things, helps to promote a sense of community and belonging and enriches the student experience.”

The design was also directed by survey feedback we received from students during Fall 2021 about their use of Canvas. Many students stated they wanted:

  • more use of Canvas, but in a structured way
  • consistent communication with faculty about assignments/class and interaction with each other
  • timely feedback/grades from faculty
  • clear indicators of progress/learning /success
  • access and availability of materials outside of class time

Keeping this feedback in mind, we decided that Teaching Well with Canvas would be facilitated in-person (or if a pivot was needed, synchronously through Zoom), as well as having asynchronous content available in a cohort course shell.

The inaugural cohort consisted of 31 participants of varying classifications, technology skills, and from diverse campus departments and programs.  

Guest presentations were provided by colleagues from ND Learning and Hesburgh Library on additional topics including using ePortfolios as alternative assessment and teaching inclusively with Canvas. Experts from TLT also offered several sessions focused on specific tools and functionality. Additionally, the TLT team provided one-on-one consultations upon request.

Teaching Well with Canvas will be offered prior to each semester as we continue to develop our cohorts into larger communities of practice. Communities of practice provide a new model for connecting people in the spirit of learning, knowledge sharing, and collaboration. Rachel Parroquin, a participating faculty member from the Romance Languages and Literatures department affirms this approach: “By going through it together, we benefit from each others' questions which sometimes include things we had not yet considered.  It's also good to know who else is going through the transition simultaneously so we feel more supported in the process… it [is] helpful to meet with colleagues from across campus with whom we don't typically interact.”

And this is our goal, to bring together groups across campus who value effective teaching and learning practices with technology!

For more information on the Teaching Well with Canvas Faculty cohort, contact Steve Varela,