Using Canvas to equip graduates for the real world

Canvas is changing the way the MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management is taught at the School of Geography and the Environment, where staff and students are keen on exploring the potential of the new VLE together.

The early adopter phase of the Canvas @ Oxford programme, launched in May 2018, is already delivering interesting examples of innovation in teaching and learning.

Dr Paul Jepson, Senior Research Fellow in the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment, and a course director in the School of Geography and the Environment, is using Canvas to support the MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management. The MSc is one of the leading interdisciplinary postgraduate programmes in conservation, equipping graduates for careers in research, policy, management and activism in the public, private and voluntary sectors.

Rethinking the course in advance

Before starting to build his programme of study in Canvas, Paul worked closely with the learning technology team to decide on an appropriate structure for the modules that comprise the MSc. A customised Learning Design workshop for the module leaders helped them to map out, and rethink, their current teaching and ensure a suitable balance between the face-to-face and digital elements of the programme. The involvement of previous students in the workshop provided the academics with valuable insights into the programme from the learners’ perspective.

paul jepson

Making the most of different tools

Paul has made use of the group Assignments tool to manage authentic tasks that align the course more closely to real practice; students receive feedback through the SpeedGrader tool. He has also been using Canvas to set regular pre-class assignments in order to make his teaching sessions more active.

The ‘hands on’ nature of the degree means that Paul has taken a very pragmatic approach to using the tools available in Canvas. Group work is an essential aspect, and he took advantage of the Collaboration tool to design an activity in which students developed a theory of change to address real-world challenges set by conservation managers in the UK, Germany and Brazil, who then provided feedback by phone or Skype. He also integrated Slack and Trello into this activity, in order to familiarise students with third-party tools that they are likely to encounter in their future workplace.

Exploring and improving Canvas together

Paul is clear about the potential of Canvas for revitalising and refreshing teaching at Oxford. "It’s been great to see how Canvas is being used by other early adopters. I was particularly inspired by a colleague from the Language Centre who developed a model which I think could upgrade the quality of our dissertation supervision. I’m also excited by the conversations we are having internally as a department, and by the ways in which our students are engaged and involved. We have created spaces for them on Canvas where they are encouraged to share tips and knowledge between themselves, and let us know about any glitches and suggestions for improvement."

It's the start of a journey, with a potentially exciting destination for teaching and learning at Oxford. Dr Paul Jepson, course director in the School of Geography and the Environment


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