Ed Tech #11: Canvas Commons

What is it?

Canvas is a cloud-based Learning Management System (LMS) used by over 3,000 institutions. As an LMS, Canvas can be used for all the typical LMS tasks, like sharing files, calculating grades, hosting an online course, etc. What I’d like to focus on in this blog post is one particular feature that Canvas offers: Canvas Commons. Canvas Commons is a repository of Open Educational Resources (OER). Teachers using Canvas can easily find, import, and share educational material through Canvas Commons. Materials in the Commons use Creative Commons licenses, so teachers don’t have to be concerned about breaking copyright when they copy, remix, and use the material in their own courses (of course some CC licenses still require attribution or no derivatives, so be sure to keep those parameters in mind).

How does it work?

If you don’t already have a Canvas account through your institution, you can get a free account by visiting this website. Once you’re logged in, you’ll see a “Commons” icon in the global navigation menu on the left-hand side. Click on that icon. Once you do, you’ll see something like this:

Screen Shot of Canvas Commons Home Page

You can search for courses, modules, assignments, quizzes, etc. You can also filter by grade level (from Kindergarten up to Graduate), and filter by “latest,” “most relevant,” or “most highly rated.” If you find content you’d like to use in your course, you can click on it, and then easily import it directly into your Canvas course. Once it’s in your Canvas course, you can modify it to suit your specific learning outcomes.

If you’ve created a module, assignment, quiz, etc. that you feel is particularly well-done and you’d like to share your work with other teachers around the world, you can easily do that through Canvas Commons. For example, here’s a sample module I created for another course:

Screen Shot of Sharing to Commons in Canvas

You see that next to each section, you have the option to “Share to Commons.” Once you click on that button, you can choose a license (copyrighted, CC-BY, etc.), add a title, description, and tags, and choose a course image and set the grade level. You can also set outcomes for K-12 (Common Core and by state).

Strengths, Limitations, and Applications

It’s completely free! That is obviously one of the primary benefits of OER – when content is free of charge and copyright-free, it is easy to use and remix it for educational purposes. It gives teachers the flexibility to modify and adapt materials to suit their specific needs and learning outcomes.

Canvas Commons is useful for teachers who are already using Canvas, since all the materials you access through Commons are designed for use in Canvas. Instructors who aren’t using Canvas could theoretically use Canvas Commons materials (if they created a Canvas account), but they would probably find it simpler to look for OER elsewhere. Canvas Commons does also seem to have more K-12 resources than higher ed resources, but it’s still worth a look by faculty.

For teachers who are using Canvas, Commons is a very neat resource. A few examples of how it could be used:

  • Teachers within the same school could share their quizzes to Commons, and then import each others’ quizzes into their courses. This allows for easy collaboration between co-workers.
  • An instructor has created a new learning module. He could share it to Commons and tag it with “community review.” This will encourage other users to review and provide feedback on his learning module.
  • An instructor in a history course wants students to learn about the basics of writing a research paper before they begin a final project. She could add a Commons module on this topic, freeing her to focus on the actual subject matter of her course. No need to reinvent the wheel if another subject matter expert has already created a useful resource!

Canvas Commons makes it easy to access open resources that can be seamlessly integrated into a Canvas course. The search options make it easy to find exactly what you want, and it’s also very user-friendly. If your school uses Canvas, I recommend checking it out!

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9 Comments

  1. I hear free, OER, and don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I’m on board. This was my last blog response for the evening. I’m on my way to go check it out. I remember hearing about this in one of our class sessions earlier this year.

  2. I love that you can use this to collaborate with other teachers! As a music teacher, I am always listening to what other teachers are doing in class so I can try to tie in those topics in my music classes. This seems like a great tool to foster co-curricular teaching 🙂

  3. It seems like there’s a lot you can do through Canvas! I also like that you can get a free account if your institution doesn’t have a subscription. I love sharing materials and ideas with my coworkers and other teachers, so that would be something I think I’d use. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Canvas seems like a really great resource for so many things. I would really like to explore Canvas to see all that it has to offer. I like how this can be shared within the school. In the building I work in there are a lot of resources and most of them are emailed or shared via USB stick. This seems like such a better way to transfer units or presentations and keep them all in one centrally located place.

    1. I should clarify – as far as I know, there’s no way to JUST share the materials with teachers in your school using Canvas Commons. You can certainly just share materials between teachers at the same school using Canvas. But with Commons, you’d need to make the materials publicly available on Commons and your coworkers would then go retrieve them from the Commons.

  5. If it is the same program – Colorado State University uses it for their students to login and see grades, assignments from teachers etc – I get to login and see how she is doing. I really like it. The professors can set up their pages based on what they want on their pages. It is easy to use and manipulate through as well. I think it handles a lot of information with a great deal of flexibility. Are you currently using it? Or just reviewing it?

    1. Tracy, I imagine that CSU does use Canvas – many schools use it instead of using Blackboard (they both do the same type of thing since they are both “learning management systems”). I use Canvas a LOT since that is what my university uses – most of my days are spent helping faculty figure out how to use Canvas 😉 What I’ve reviewed in this post here is Canvas Commons, so that is a particular feature of Canvas that instructors can use, if they have/create a Canvas account.

  6. I love that this is free! I need a good discussion board for one of my units. I think Canvas is similar to Eliademy, which I have used in the past and is also free. I am going to check out Canvas. Thank you for sharing!

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