One of the first courses taught using Canvas was called "Writing 301". It was created September 8, 2009 and was taught at Irvine Valley College by Amelia Parkin. Amy and our six other pilot instructors were very helpful – and very patient - as we ironed out some early kinks in our product, then-code-named “Normandy."
Since then, Canvas has grown a lot in features, flexibility, and reliability. The interface saw a complete rework, and the full product was released as open source. The feedback has been unbelievably positive, and people really appreciate the simplicity and openness of Canvas. Even during that initial semester students could control what notifications they received and where they got them – in their inbox, on their phone, etc. It’s always been easy to get information out of Canvas.
Users have loved this, but in addition to getting information out, we’ve wanted to make it easier to get messages back in to the system. We’ve wanted to do more to encourage communication, so we recently enabled inbound email replies. This means that users can reply to Canvas alerts right from their GMail, Hotmail, or whatever email tool they use. When they get an alert about a private message, or a new post in a forum, they can reply right from their inbox and their message will automatically be added back into the Canvas conversation. It may sound like a trivial thing, but it means users can participate in their courses wherever they are, on whatever device they’ve got, without having to log in and navigate around the site.
As far as I know, this is the first time a learning management system has supported this kind of functionality. Students all but expect it after using Facebook and other social products, and we don’t want to prevent communication from happening. This is one more way Canvas leverages the rest of the web to help improve education.