Canvas LMS

Oconomowoc Area School District

Exploring a New Approach to Assignments with Canvas LMS

Oconomowoc Area School District


5,500 Students

Adopted Canvas: 2020


Located 40 minutes west of Milwaukee and made up of over 5,000 students, Oconomowoc Area School District’s (OASD) mission is to “empower a community of learners and leaders.” At InstructureCon, our annual user conference connecting thousands of educators, OASD’s Director of Instructional Technology, Michele Koper, and Instructional Technology Coaches, Tracy Garon and Emily Cornell shared how they moved from Google Classroom to Canvas LMS.

The Challenge

The Oconomowoc Area School District needed a more robust solution for assignment creation. In the summer of 2020, OASD began imagining a new strategy to give teachers and students more valuable options for assignments, assessments, and feedback. Previously, their teachers and students relied heavily on Google Docs in Google Classroom. Teachers delivered assignments in Docs, and students submitted their work in a copy version of that document. While this process was familiar, it gave teachers limited ways to present assignments and students little choice in expressing their learning.

“When we were shifting from Google Classroom to Canvas [LMS], there were many things to learn…Canvas [LMS] has a lot more assignment options than Google Classroom. So, when we first started with Canvas [LMS], that was a bit of a challenge for our staff to really think about all of these other bells and whistles in Canvas [LMS],” Koper said.

Technology teams across the district worked to show educators the range of options available for assignment submission and the value these practices could bring.

Key Insights

Canvas LMS gives teachers and students various submission options for assignments and feedback.

The ability to submit assignments in Canvas LMS through various file types – including website URLs – allows students and teachers to work in familiar environments like Google Docs and Slides.

Teachers have a range of assignment types in Canvas LMS to provide students with diverse learning opportunities.

The Student Annotation tool allows students to engage with course materials in a way that promotes best practices in deeper learning, analysis, and retention.

The Solution

“...We needed to start changing the conversation and the way we thought about how we were using our digital technology and learning management system with our students…And Canvas [LMS] really has provided everybody with multiple ways of representing [their work],” Koper said.

According to Koper, Canvas LMS accomplished this by giving teachers more options to share information with students and giving students choices when giving evidence of their learning.

The Right Submission For The Right Assignment

Every assignment is unique. Canvas LMS’s design helps teachers and students keep track of all assignments. Cornell and Garon presented various submissions types that Oconomowoc has used in Canvas LMS:

  • “No submission”
    • Best used for assignments when teachers are not collecting any content or grading.
  • “On paper”
    • When students complete assignments on pen and paper and are not expected to submit their work in Canvas LMS, but will still receive teacher feedback.
  • “Online”
    • Teachers can select text entry, website URLs, student annotations, file uploads, or media recordings for online assignment submission type. Each comes with its own benefits.
    • “When we look at Media Recording, it’s really cool that students can either submit a voice recording or video all within Canvas LMS,” Garon said.
    • “Another submission type that we use frequently is File Upload. This is incredibly helpful when you are looking to have an assignment submitted and you really want either an image or a picture of written out work. This was really important to us during distance learning, but we’ve also found great benefit in the classroom, too,” Cornell said.
  • “External tool”
    • Teachers can use this option in Canvas LMS to allow students to complete their work in tools like Newsela + Flipgrid to differentiate their learning experiences.

For times when educators would like students to read an article or watch a video and then write on what they have learned, Koper outlined the following scenario. Teachers created the assignment in Canvas LMS, selected the ‘File Upload’ submission type, and included the required reading or video. In the instructions, teachers direct students to create a Google Doc where they reflect on what they have learned. When students have completed their assignment, they can download the Doc from their Drive and submit it with their assignment in Canvas LMS. Using this strategy, teachers can see this static final draft and provide feedback with Speedgrader.

Meeting Students Where They Are

For times when teachers want to see students' real-time writing progress, Canvas LMS has the right assignment submission feature.

Koper explained that teachers could create assignments in Canvas LMS and choose the “website URL” as the submission type. Students can then share the link to the Google Doc they are working in, and teachers can comment and leave feedback using Speedgrader on the live document.

A shift from Google Classroom to Canvas LMS doesn’t have to mean abandoning Google products. Learn more about how Google and Canvas LMS are better together.

The Results

By moving from Google Classroom to Canvas LMS, Oconomowoc’s Instructional Technology Team and educators have gained many new paths for assignment submission while maintaining the Google products familiar to their students and teachers.

“With these different scenarios, we’ve provided teachers ways to think differently about Canvas LMS and Google and to improve efficiency when providing students with different ways to learn and show their learning,” Koper said.

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