Surya Jones, a guest blogger for The Wheel, wrote the following piece on her experience using Canvas while studying abroad.
Baguettes and wine. Tea and crumpets. Fish and chips. Canvas and Moodle?
For many students in higher education, studying abroad is a wonderful part of their college experience and a formative aspect of their educational journey. Many go off to international/foreign universities to pursue educational opportunities abroad, both inside the classroom and out. Few experiences will compare to learning about centuries-old paintings or political systems while simultaneously visiting the places they began.
But studying abroad isn’t made up only of grand museums and imposing parliaments. Students also find these programs so transformative because of the academic and social challenges they overcome. As a student who has studied and interned in three different countries, I can attest to the metamorphic difficulty that is study abroad. As a UC Davis student overseas, I have had to adjust to new professors, class configurations and manners of teaching while also learning to navigate entirely new cultures. Likewise, my faculty and I have both had to adjust to a new instructional infrastructure, particularly the course portals / learning management systems.
How does the study abroad shift in location and technology affect teaching? My most recent study abroad program, the collaborative Political Science program between UC Davis and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), brought Professor Robert Huckfeldt, UC Davis political science professor of forty years, to England to teach one of our four courses. Professor Huckfeldt’s successful use of Canvas throughout the program allowed him to recreate a familiar, UC Davis-style class thousands of miles away.
I sat down with Professor Huckfeldt to talk about his experience and how he succeeded in using the learning management system, Canvas, while teaching abroad.
Using Canvas Abroad: A library away from home
Unsure of the extent to which he would be able to access the London School of Economics university library, Professor Huckfeldt found the resources he uploaded into Canvas to be indispensable when teaching the course. As this exchange program keeps the same ten week quarter we have at the UC Davis home campus, Professor Huckfeldt had little time to get accustomed to the library at the LSE campus, much less prepare to have his students use materials from it or the LSE learning management system, Moodle. UC Davis Canvas allowed him to upload “a library worth of information” and thus, it saved him time and ensured that he was able to provide a learning experience similar to the one he would in Davis.
Furthermore, Canvas provided Professor Huckfeldt a familiar instructional infrastructure for him and his students, saving time that he needed when teaching in a fast-paced quarter. “It takes two weeks to find the restroom,” Professor Huckfeldt jokes, “and another two weeks to find out where the drinking fountain is. By the time you figured it all out, the quarter’s halfway gone and you’re in trouble.” It was simply more efficient to stick with Canvas, a system familiar to both students and their professor.
Can You Hear Me Now? Keeping in touch with students
UC Davis Canvas enabled Professor Huckfeldt to stay in contact with students by way of uploading further documents, including posting lectures and readings, all of which are easily accessible for students who are notified by email when new materials are posted. By contrast, Moodle and its uploads were handled by the program organizer and not directly by the LSE professors or their teaching assistants. Professor Huckfeldt explained his autonomous use of was a way of “communicating . . . [the] structure and content [of] the course.”
Students’ Perspective:Benefits of Canvas
Many of the students in the program valued having Canvas abroad, particularly because of familiarity and ease of use. Junior Jamey Hammond appreciated the connection between Canvas and her email: “I like how our email is connected to Canvas when teachers send out class announcements and stuff. ” All of the materials that Professor Huckfeldt added were sent straight to us so we didn’t need to constantly wonder or check the site.
Instructional technology has made it easier to take this educational show on the road, so to speak. The ability to pre-upload files and communicate with students easily helps faculty to emulate the stateside classroom. As a result, students can better explore their new intellectual and physical environment.
Instructors, if the opportunity arises, consider traveling with your students to the far reaches of the world with no fear of having to rebuild your classroom from scratch. You can just upload the necessary materials and bring your class with you. Take Professor Huckfeldt’s advice: “have no fear: go ahead and forge forward using Canvas for overseas courses.”