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There are a lot of nerds at Instructure, and that's a good thing. They build Canvas and keep it running 24/7/365. They answer puzzling questions, hack together mad ideas, and ponder difficult educational and technical challenges. And they get their inspiration from some pretty far-out places. Like the sci-fi TV masterpiece, Doctor Who, for example.

ArmadilloJust like the Tardis, a Canvas course can be
bigger on the inside.

In the season five finale, the Doctor plants a memory in Amy Pond's head that's set to trigger on her wedding day when she hears the expression, "Something old, something new ...." This episode, and the whole premise of Doctor Who (with its bending of the space-time continuum), reminds me of blended learning. Most blended courses replace a portion of face-to-face classroom time with out-of-class (usually online) activities, thus merging something old with something new. While this decreases synchronous, face-to-face learning, it extends and expands out-of-class learning, allowing teachers to manipulate learning time and learning space (just like our good Doctor, the Time Lord).

It makes sense to organize out-of-class learning activities in an online environment like Canvas, because it offers so many tools to increase the flexibility of asynchronous activities without sacrificing human interactions. Here are seven ideas for blending or “going Doctor Who” with Canvas.

1. Set the blended rhythm with Modules. Canvas Modules provide a structure for sequencing class activities—whether online or face-to-face. Modules may not provide the prettiest home page layout, but they do a great job of helping students understand the rhythm and requirements of a blended course by laying out the sequence of activities (kind of like a syllabus).

Module headers are a simple way to communicate the rhythm of a blended course.
Module headers are a simple way to communicate the rhythm of a blended course.

2. Record and upload lectures or demonstrations. Blended courses typically reduce face-to-face time, but that doesn’t mean the end for lectures and demonstrations. Keeping in mind John Medina’s 10 Minute Brain Rule, teachers can quickly and easily create lectures and demonstrations in Canvas for online consumption using the Canvas media recorder or uploader. You can use video nearly anywhere, and so can your students.

3. Enhance face-to-face sessions with collaborative tools. Canvas’ Collaborations tool lets students or teachers create a new, live-edited document that can be used in conjunction with face-to-face classroom activities. For example, collaborative note-taking or real-time document authoring.

4. Gather evidence anywhere with Mobile. Not all onsite activities take place in the classroom; sometimes students take learning on the road. Field trips and lab activities provide ideal opportunities for students to use Canvas’ free mobile apps to merge onsite with online. Using the apps, they can record audio or video on their mobile devices and upload the recordings as Discussion posts or Assignment submissions.

5. Peer review online. As an English major, I can’t tell you how many minutes I spent physically in a classroom, by myself, silently reading and marking up a classmate’s paper. But with Canvas, you don’t have to be physically present to collect, redistribute, or do peer-reviews. Using the peer review feature in Assignments, students can apply the same rubrics and online annotation tools that teachers use (and they can do it from anywhere). Or, they can use Collaborations to facilitate the same sharing and online commenting via Google Docs.

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The Doctor saying, "Always bring a banana to a party" is kind of like, "Always bring a rubric to a peer review." Think about it.

6. Let teams get together virtually. Canvas gives each Group its own space to share files, collaborate on documents or pages, create their own calendar events, and engage in private discussions. Groups can even video conference in real-time for live planning or preparation. If you’re used to giving students time to meet as a team face-to-face, encourage them to do that online (after an initial face-to-face meeting to make connections).

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7. Make the most of face-to-face time with pre-assessments. Use Canvas’ Quizzes tool to create repeatable practice quizzes that act as pre-assessments before a face-to-face meeting. That way, students can self-assess their learning and you can gain insights into their understanding, so face-to-face time is focused on critical topics.

There's one other aspect of Doctor Who that reminds me of blended learning: the classic face-off between humans and robots. Having worked with a number of teachers over the years, I've met quite a few who are naturally concerned that fully online courses will be a poor substitute for what happens in the face-to-face classroom, and that they'll eventually be replaced by robots. While I don't believe that's true, I have found that blended courses can be an easier transition when you use technology to add power and flexibility, bending time and space without sacrificing what's best about being human.