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The Online Classroom: Canvas and Zoom as Teaching Tools

Communication Intern, Jacqueline Ling
Communication Intern, Jacqueline Ling

This piece is written by Jacqueline Ling, a communication intern for The Wheel. She is a junior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a minor in Professional Writing at UC Davis. Outside of her academic studies, Jacqueline sequences DNA at the UCDNA Sequencing Facility, and also serves as the VP of Public Relations and Marketing for Alpha Chi Omega. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring new places and trying new foods.

As we incorporate more technology into our lives, teaching and learning have also started to transition to digital platforms. Such implementation of technology in the classroom has led to courses using various digital platforms including UC Davis Canvas and Zoom. During my sophomore year at University of California, Davis, I enrolled in Introduction to Communication (CMN10V), a completely-online course mediated by Canvas; and I have recently completed  One Health Fundamentals (PMI129Y), a hybrid course with the online portion conducted through Zoom. Canvas and Zoom each contribute to the success of online courses. Having used both platforms, I have detailed the following strengths of Canvas and Zoom based on my own experience as an online student. 


Here are some of the advantages of using Canvas to mediate online courses:

  • Organization. UC Davis Canvas offers professors and teaching staff a number of flexible strategies to organize their courses, with every page and link reflecting some need of the class. For example, each named (or renamed) course can be structured by weekly modules of the material or by the chapter/lesson. 
  • Ease of Use. A strong advantage that Canvas boasts is familiarity across the University of California, Davis campus. The user-friendliness coupled with the familiarity of the platform lead to students completing assignments more efficiently. 
  • Design. Visual learners will most likely enjoy Canvas because of the simple interface, and the flexible options for course structure. Keeping the look of a course page in mind, teaching staff can create, add, and remove pages according to the specific needs of their classes such that every page serves a purpose. 
  • Breadth. Since Canvas is fully online, courses can incorporate lessons from different professors if needed. CMN10V incorporated lessons from many professors in the Communications department, so students exploring the major could gauge their interests in this broad and diverse field. In addition, while the content taught through traditional classes is limited by time, students typically have unlimited time to learn and review the material presented via Canvas.

Zoom boasts the following advantages:

  • Interaction. Increased interaction between professors, teaching assistants, and students, encouraged by the functions of Zoom, propel students to engage more actively with the material, which can lead to productive learning sessions. The participants in the class can use video, sound, and chat options to converse and collaborate with their peers. The varied methods of communication advantage both students who like to speak up in the classroom setting, as well as those who may be shy. 
  • Back-Channel. The chat box option allows students to ask questions about the material without disrupting the flow of the class because other participants in the online meeting room can answer any inquiries or concerns. The chat back-channel also encourages collaboration and discussion of ideas among students during the class session without disrupting those who choose to close the chat box. The dynamic environment nurtures students’ variable learning styles.
  • Proximity. Screensharing allows students to see and follow the content being taught up-close. In a large lecture hall, students who sit in the back of the room tend to be less engaged because they are farther from the chalk boards and are surrounded by distractions, such as other students and their own smartphones. Zoom brings the student to the front of the classroom regardless of where they are “sitting.” 
  • Peer Discussions. Zoom “Breakout Rooms” allow students to have their own online meeting room to complete assignments. It functions the same as the larger online meeting room with the professors and teaching staff, but is smaller to encourage more interaction and cooperation among students. In my One Health Fundamentals (PMI129Y) class, this function is used every week; students are randomly split into groups and are encouraged to collaborate on an assignment before returning to the main meeting room to share their findings and conclusions about the content that was taught earlier in the session. This practice helps the teaching staff maximize their time with the class, such as by lecturing for the first half of the allotted time and then encouraging students to apply that information to their assignments. Such opportunities for additional interaction also allow professors to gauge student understanding of the material. 

Canvas and Zoom both excel as teaching tools as they employ many functions to meet the various needs of different classes. Their adaptability and user-friendliness have nurtured an insightful online learning experience for me, and I look forward to incorporating the skills I have learned through these classes into my academic and professional life. 

Post Author: Alexandria Rockey

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