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Canvas: A Want, Not A Need
Joshua Fang '19 Associate Editor
February 28, 2018

Four years ago, according to Academic Dean Ivory Hills, Deerfield’s faculty decided by vote that all academic classes must have an online page with a syllabus and several weeks of assignments. Deerfield has since standardized its learning management system with an online program called Canvas, calling teachers to move their online pages to this platform. Now, in line with this precedent set years ago, Dr. Hills is asking all teachers to use Canvas to post a syllabus and several weeks of assignments.

This requirement should be done away with. Teachers should not be required to use Canvas; rather, they should be able to draw from their own expertise to shape their classes’ learning.

Credit: Hannah Kang

For example, some Deerfield teachers feel that having students go online to know what chapters to read for their homework would be unnecessarily distracting, creating an environment not at all conducive to studying. It is true that teachers often print out papers to hand to students in addition to posting assignments online.

However, some teachers may want to keep students completely away from distractions, and if so, they should have the right to make that decision. Requiring teachers to use Canvas infringes upon their ability to tailor their classes’ learning. The ultimate goal in any class at an academic institution should be learning; any other concerns are secondary.

Some Canvas proponents support this standard for the sake of uniformity. As any Deerfield student will tell you, there is a vast disparity in the extent to which Canvas is used across Deerfield’s classes. Like with all other technology used in the classroom, the platform’s effectiveness depends on a variety of factors. Canvas is used to great success in many classes across Deerfield, but no blanket requirements can or should be made. Teachers should not be compelled to use certain technologies or learning management systems simply for the sake of consistency.

Others may cite convenience — having a system such as Canvas allows students to easily check their homework without needing a notebook or assignment sheet. In fact, asking students to take several seconds to write down homework in class is a basic requirement that all students should be able to handle. Isn’t Deerfield meant to prepare us for the “real world”? If we can’t expect students to remember to write down their homework, how will they ever be able to stay organized and manage more important responsibilities?

After all, learning management systems like Canvas are simply one of many instruments teachers may use to further students’ learning, the same as any other materials used in class. Dr. Hills stated, “The Academy benefits from having teachers pursue their passion of student education using the techniques that they feel comfortable with. That genuinely benefits us.” So why must all teachers use Canvas?

Dr. Hills described the current Canvas requirement as simply maintaining the precedent set several years ago by faculty vote. “It wasn’t a unanimous vote, so this is why it’s complicated,” Dr. Hills explained. “But the school decided that every class should have a Canvas page, and there should be a syllabus and at least several weeks of assignments.” However, this policy was influenced largely at the time by the outbreak of the avian flu; there was concern as to how faculty would continue to teach if students were not able to return to school after break. Teachers hoped that this standardized online system would alleviate some of this pressure.

We no longer have a need for such a policy. The opinion of a large proportion of Deerfield’s faculty from years past should not make unilateral decisions for the faculty in the future.

There is a presumed tension here between the importance of maintaining consistency in teaching standards, and enabling teachers to shape their own classroom learning environments. But these two ideals don’t have to be in conflict; rather, they should go hand in hand. Allowing teachers to use technologies as they please would enable them to shape their classroom learning environments and teach more effectively. It would improve the students’ ability to learn from a wide range of methods and practice important organizational skills. Trust our teachers to tailor our learning, for this range of styles is what makes Deerfield special.