I’ve been professoring online since 2018, primarily on Canvas LMS. However, I have to admit that I’ve ignored many of Canvas’ built-in tools. Three years in, it’s probably time to start leveraging Canvas’ LMS New Analytics tools to better serve my students.
ISTE Standard for Educators 7: Analyst
ISTE Standard for Educators #7 advocates for us professors to be analysts. We are supposed to “understand and use data to drive their instruction and support students in achieving their learning goals.”
I appreciate that this standard is learner-focused. We’re to utilize data to help our students achieve their learning goals and their instruction. It’s important to stay in a learner-focused posture. Part of my hesitancy to utilize some of Canvas’ tools is that all of the data collected by Canvas feels a little…dirty? It makes me feel like I’m spying on students. Recent news articles show the danger in divorcing LMS tools from our goals and professionals ethics.
Ethical Discomfort with Data Collection?
I’m a professor, and I’m also an attorney. As an attorney, one question I’ve been trained to ask continuously is Who is the client? Our students are our clients. What I mean by that is that we owe them certain duties and transparency. That applies to our usage of learning analytics data. Our use of Canvas’ New Analytics should be learner-focused and learner-edifying, not Big Brothery or opaque.
Fortunately, there is also an ISTE standard to help guide us in our usage of Canvas New Analytics. ISTE Standard for Students 2d advises that “students manage their personal data to maintain digital privacy and security and are aware of data-collection technology used to track their navigation online.” ISTE adherents believe students have rights and power related to their own data. It would be hypocritical to utilize data without sharing that practice with students.
As my colleague Yanira reminded me last week, these analytics can empower students. We as professors can (and should) share with students information about what is tracked, how we utilize it, and how students can leverage Canvas’ analytics and data for their own benefit.
Realizing that transparency can remedy my concerns, I’m now more comfortable digging into Canvas’ New Analytics tools.
Utilizing Canvas New Analytics
There are four ways I’ve utilized Canvas’ New Analytics within the last couple of weeks of teaching online graduate students in the Canvas LMS.
Tell My Peers About Canvas’ Features
I mentioned in the intro that I ignore most of the Canvas features I don’t regularly use. Many of my peers may be the same. If they’re unaware of Canvas’ tools but could leverage those tools and possibly even enjoy the data approach to things, it’s important to share that information to improve my peers’ teaching and their own ability to help students meet their goals.
Inform Students and Let Them Know About Canvas’ Features
If I ignore a lot of what Canvas has to offer, I wonder whether my students do, as well. I think for transparency’s sake, I will let students know that I can see login information, page views, and other information, and also know that’s not the whole story. It’s a starting point for my curiosity – a clue to see where I can help or what’s unclear. My colleague Katie mentioned that students might enjoy knowing more about Canvas features themselves, such as the “What-If” ability to enter in sample grades to see how it would impact one’s course grade.
Quickly Identify Struggling Students
It’s a best practice at my school for professors to reach out to students who aren’t logging in very much to Canvas or have not turned in assignments. We do this manually by scanning through the grade book to find Late work or by looking at Canvas’ older analytics features to see things like page views or time logged in for students.
However, New Analytics allows professors to quickly run reports to pinpoint students with missing assignments or other criteria. I’ve enjoyed running these reports better than manually scrolling through the grade book because (1) it’s quick, and (2) I may miss things by eyeballing the grade book.
New Analytics also has a feature that allows you to email groups of students meeting certain criteria such as missing assignments, grades, and more. I have to admit that after I run the reports above, I have been manually emailing students directly instead of using this feature. The reason is I was worried about accidentally allowing students to see who was emailed. I was afraid of violating FERPA and students’ confidence. However, after reading through the linked explanation, it seems a safe thing to do as students are BCC’d only. I’m still a little nervous, though!
Quickly Identify Bad Assignments
My high school economics teacher, Mr. Weems, told me that if a teacher can’t explain something in a way that the students understand, that’s the teacher’s fault and not the students’ fault. It’s been decades since he made that offhand comment, but boy, did it stick with me.
If all of my students are struggling with an assignment, I see that as a failure on my part. Even if a concept is difficult, the information could be explained differently, more often, scaffolded, or the assignment itself could be modified.
Canvas New Analytics allows professors to chart student grades and filter by assignment, section, and other criteria. How useful is that! If everyone has a dip, as Mr. Weems said, that’s on me, not them.
This feature benefits current students by allowing me to try again in terms of explaining material in a way students grok. It benefits future students by showing me which assignments or modules need some fine-tuning.
Utilizing big data at its worst can dehumanize all parties involved. However, the ISTE Standards for Educators and Students encourage us to take proactive roles in understanding and controlling how our data are used. Canvas’ New Analytics provides several useful tools for professors and students. Usage of this tool requires ethical deliberation and transparency.
Instructure (2020). How do I compare the course average chart graph with an assignment, section, or student filter in new analytics? Instructor Guide.
Instructure (2020). How do I send a message to all students based on specific course participation criteria in new analytics? Instructor Guide.
Instructure (2020). How do I view and download reports in new analytics? Instructor Guide.
Instructure (2020). What is new analytics? Canvas Basics Guide.
Romano, W. (2021, February 22). Hidden canvas analytics violate student privacy, shift power to professors. The Badger Herald.
Singer, N. & Krolik, A. (2021, May 9). Online cheating charges upend dartmouth medical school. The New York Times.