Kalani Craig

Students Engage with, Influence Living Syllabus

Spotlight, May 2015

Professor Kalani Craig has used Canvas tools to her advantage for active learning in her intensive writing course, Crisis & Culture in the Ancient and Medieval Mediterranean, which she has taught for the Hutton Honors College.

“I want to integrate what they’re doing inside the classroom with what they’re doing outside the classroom,” Craig said. “Canvas makes it easier for me to do that.”

Using the Pages tool, Craig has created a “living syllabus” that changes throughout the semester and is shaped by students. The syllabus, which is set to the course homepage, starts off with typical, static content. However, resources, activities done in class, and many other items are added throughout the semester.

For example, Craig does a mapping exercise for the third crusade, the results of which are posted on the living syllabus. When she started doing this, she took pictures of a Google map projected onto a whiteboard and drawn on by students, which was then added to the Canvas page. Today, the mapping activity is even more integrated with Canvas. Resources posted to the living syllabus/homepage allow students to interact with the map and GIS tools on their laptops both in class and at home.

In addition, students’ interests–what they read or watch, for example–inform theme groups, which are added to the syllabus and which the students then write about all semester long.

The living syllabus also acts as a time saver; the Pages tool allows for instantaneous updates, and after adding notes to a Canvas page, Craig simply asks her students to refresh so that they can see the changes in real-time. Students then also have access to class notes outside of class via Canvas.

“The Canvas homepage really becomes a sort of central clearing house,” Craig said.

She said her use of a living syllabus for a Canvas homepage could be applied in disciplines outside her own due to two basic components: one, an instructional strategy that focuses “in-class activities on documenting solutions to major disciplinary roadblocks,” and two, integrating these efforts with out-of-class work, thus creating the living syllabus that gradually changes over the course of a semester.

Whether posting links to websites the course uses, adding collaborative documents developed in class, or posting photos of whiteboard creations, Craig says she is modeling for her students to help them understand how work done in-class is related to work done outside of class.

"I want them to think of those in-class activities as a resource,” Craig said.

She has found a number of other Canvas tools to be helpful to active learning, as well, including the multimedia tools and the peer review capability for assignments.

At the start of a semester, Craig requires students to record short introduction videos of themselves using Canvas’ built-in tools and to post these to a discussion forum. Students also respond to two other students in the forum.

“That actually made it much easier to get into discussion the first day of class…. The comfort that gives them with each other makes the kinds of things I do in my classroom—the interactive mapping, all that other stuff—much, much more effective,” Craig said.

She also gives multimedia comments for assignments and allows students to use Canvas’ multimedia recording tools for peer reviews. These efforts have led to increased discussion participation in her smaller, 25-person classes, and Craig said she looks forward to testing whether these practices will have a similar effect in an upcoming 75-person course of hers. 

“The single most important thing I’ve changed in my teaching as a result of using Canvas has been the integration of multimedia into work that happens outside of the classroom,” Craig said.



A Photo of Kalani Craig

Kalani Craig is a Clinical Assistant Professor of History for Indiana University’s Department of History.