Last semester, when teaching 300 student online in a gate-way biology course, I discovered the power of using Canvas Gradebook to quickly contact my students about missing assignments as well as poor or strong performance on a particular assignment. More importantly, I found that students responded very quickly to these messages because they came from me.
For instance, many students (86/300) did poorly on a quiz over very difficult material. I used Canvas Messaging to identify student that had earned a failing score (less than 3 out of 5 pts).
I wrote a general message to these students to let them know my concerns, and I provided a list of seven concrete steps to take to improve their understanding of the material, including attending my weekly Zoom reviews.
Canvas sent this message out individually, and I was very surprised that I received many responses almost immediately. Several students also shared with me the reasons why they did not do well. Some had not had time to study, some found the material difficult, some told me they would start attending my reviews or work with my undergraduate teaching assistants, and other expressed how they were struggling to stay engaged with their online courses.
What was important was that each of these responses allowed me to write them back and provide a more personal pep talk. The following quiz went much better and 80% (69/86) of these students earned a higher score. I was delighted to see how this simple tool enabled me to make meaningful connection with these students that had a positive impact on not only their grades, but also their overall engagement with the online course.
Below is a quote from a Fall 2020 OCQ comment:
She reached out to me once when I did not do very well on a quiz. This was nice to see and I don’t feel like I’ve had many professors do that. Really made me realize that she wants us all to succeed in the course.”
This semester, I am using this tool more frequently in both of my large lecture courses. Where it is really helpful is sending out message for missing assignment. I am also careful to make sure that the Subject Title on the message is not negative, such as “Scored less than X.” Now, I try to use more neutral Subject Titles, such as “Exam 1 grade concerns.”
Over the past 15 years, I have used many different tools to reach out to students that are struggling in my gateway course. Most of these tools involved “in person” interactions. I was very worried that I would lose this ability to develop meaningful connections with my students while teaching asynchronously online. For me, the Canvas messaging tool is a simple online system that provides an opportunity to initiate the casual “before and after lecture” conversations where students generally feel more comfortable sharing their concerns, asking additional questions, and giving me feedback on what they found interesting. Having the messaging embedded within a particular course may be the reason students reply so quickly.
However, I want to point out the using Canvas messaging is not a substitute for the Student Engagement Roster. This powerful assessment tool is essential for documenting a student’s performance, level of engagement, and growth throughout a course. Furthermore, it also provides a direct link to a student’s advisor which is critical for at risk students.