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Canvas is frustrating. How do we fix it?

I don’t hate Canvas. 

Although a small part of me dies every time I see an “Assignment Created” notification on my phone, the ability to use Canvas across multiple devices and receive push notifications when professors post is incredibly helpful. 

I use Canvas’ dashboard and calendar features every day to keep up with due dates and plan times to work on homework. After unseating Blackboard as the leading educational learning management system in 2018, Canvas has become a paramount component of a college education.

But professors make Canvas confusing, frustrating and far less helpful than it’s designed to be. 

My daily, futile search for my homework opens a can of worms. Depending on the professor, the class and the assignment, my homework could be anywhere in any of Canvas’ several tabs. 

Sometimes, my homework is hiding in “Discussions,” which, for whatever reason, do not count as assignments. Other times, it’s mentioned in passing under an announcement or tucked inside of a module. 

Though my dashboard shows due dates for assignments and discussion board posts, I have to dig into my syllabus and/or announcements to figure out due dates for readings. 

For some classes, my homework and deadlines are on another website entirely. By the end of the day, I have opened so many different tabs of Canvas I lose track of which tab goes along with which class.

To complete one discussion board post, I need to:

One, log into my class’s Canvas page. 

Two, create a new tab with the discussion board instructions. 

Three, create a new tab with the reading I’m supposed to be discussing. 

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Four, create a new tab in Google Docs in which to type my post (because Canvas’ word processor is mediocre at best.) 

And five, create another tab with my syllabus so I can review how my professor likes us to format our assignments. 

When multiple readings or assignments are involved, the five tabs expands into a wildfire of 10, 15 or even 20 tabs – not including my ever-present Gmail and Spotify tabs. 

There are also little things about Canvas itself that are inconvenient. When videos and external links fail to work; when its word processor won’t let you indent texts; when Canvas emails you that your assignment has been graded but makes you go to the website to figure out what your grade actually is; when you can’t figure out the details of the assignments on your dashboard without going to an entirely different tab. 

I can live with these little annoyances. No software program is perfect, and it doesn’t ruin my day to work around these limitations.

What frustrates me is how Canvas fails to live up to its selling point as being the software that streamlines your daily task load by putting everything you need on one website. With so many different places to put assignments, different Canvas pages needed to complete an assignment, and different ways of formatting used by different professors, it doesn’t feel like Canvas is one cohesive learning space.

So how do we fix this?

Making Canvas more organized isn’t a matter of redesigning the software or calling for major interface changes. I mean, I’m a Creative Writing major. Any suggestions I make about software might as well be a joke. 

I don’t blame professors for Canvas’ disorganization problem; though each of my professors have a different way of organizing assignments, all of them clearly communicate where my assignments are and answer my questions if I am unsure. 

The real problem is that there is no apparent university-wide standard for how Canvas sites should be organized.

While little fixes – such as including readings and formatting instructions on discussion board posts so you don’t have to open additional tabs – can make Canvas less of a headache, creating a general, campus-wide standard for how Canvas should be utilized could make students’ lives much easier. 

For instance, if professors were asked to post an announcement each week with the week’s homework and readings, post all homework under “Assignments” and post all grades on Canvas, the lethargy of searching four million tabs for daily homework assignments could be avoided, or at the very least mitigated. 

The transition to an online-centric classroom has not been easy for students and professors, and some consistency and guidance would fix a lot of the confusion and frustration that plagues the classroom.

Canvas is the best educational management software system available on the market right now. Let’s start using it more efficiently.