SANTA FE — Students in Elsie Espinoza’s fifth-grade class in Deming can now open a video to review any lesson or instruction she’s given in case they missed it the first time or just need to hear something again.
Espinoza delivers lessons virtually because her school is in the remote learning mode. But now she can videotape those lessons as she gives them and store them on the Canvas learning management system for playback whenever needed.
That’s one of Espinoza’s favorite features of Canvas, the software suite provided at no cost this fall by New Mexico’s Public Education Department to all public schools. To date, 87 districts and charters have adopted Canvas. That translates to 10,116 teachers and 131,587 students.
“Since Canvas provides a lot of space for videos, we can upload every lesson,” Espinoza said. “Honestly, I think it’s improved learning.”
The Public Education Department spent about $3 million in July to license the Canvas software as a strategy to improve remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Successful remote learning requires more than putting a teacher in front of a camera and kids in front of computers,” PED Secretary Ryan Stewart said. “The whole structure of education has to change, and that requires new digital tools like Canvas. PED is committed to providing these tools during this pandemic when many districts are teaching remotely.”
PED chose Canvas because it gives New Mexico students early exposure to software widely used in colleges and universities.
When schools first closed in the spring due to COVID, many students were not engaging with the paper packets of lessons and assignments teachers were sending home.
“They didn’t have the component of the teacher helping them. With Canvas, they’re doing a lot better,” Espinoza said.
The software suite allows teachers to post videos, organize learning into modules, link modules to assignments, set up discussions and even divide students into groups for collaboration, all while integrating with other digital teaching tools.
In Santa Fe, Julia Morey-Di Ruggiero incorporates a voice recording in the Canvas spelling quizzes she gives her third- and fourth-grade students.
“I give the word, then tell them to write the word. It takes a whole lot less time to give a spelling test than it would in a regular setting. And kids can hit replay and hear it again if they need to,” she said.
As with all new technology, there was a learning curve for users. After offering districts free access to Canvas, PED quickly set up professional development webinars over the summer to bring educators up to speed. In all, PED offered 45 web-based training sessions that reached 1,016 participants.
“Once you get the hang of it it’s pretty easy,” Espinoza said.
Students and parents had to learn to use the software, too. Cheri Reynolds, a third-grade teacher in Deming, said she used the videoconferencing tool Zoom to walk them through it. Today, she said her students log in every morning and watch a pre-lesson. When it’s time, they click on a Zoom button she’s incorporated into her Canvas home page and the live lesson begins. After that, they go to the assignments module and find the assignment they will do to practice the lesson.
“They had to build up their technology skills, but they’ve really done that,” Reynolds said. During one recent group exercise in breakout rooms, she watched students in every group using advanced tools to annotate text and share screens to demonstrate a skill.
“They were doing a great job. It was amazing to watch,” she said. “Most by now have it all down. They’re good.”
It appears Canvas, like other digital technologies that are transforming the learning experience, will have staying power in New Mexico classrooms even after the pandemic.
“Even when we move back into the classroom setting, I’ll continue to use this,” Reynolds said. “The modules, the drop box, the calendar to help them keep track of assignments — these tools are making learning more effective,” she said.