Canvas System Change Proposal
A project management endeavor that sought to design and propose a system change to Canvas, a popular Learning Management System. This was a proposal for a built-in forum on Canvas designed for efficiency and to increase students' engagement on the site.
Team: Sophia Danly, Sally Huynh, Ell Park, Alexandra Shlosman, Rohan Hemrajani
Project role: Project manager, researcher, UX designer
Canvas is a robust LMS (Learning Management System) that provides a myriad of different tools for instructors to host courses in a virtual environment. However, it falls short when it comes to facilitating student discussion and providing a space for productive, 2-way instructor-student interaction. The platform does not possess a built-in forum for students to discuss class material with each other and to receive clarification from their instructors. This leaves many educational institutions to delegate a separate third-party forum platform for the students and teaching staff to use. Since this adds a layer of navigation for students, it can be an inconvenience for them to access the third-party site, which can explain why the forums for some courses are sparse, with few posts throughout and lackluster student engagement. This can be a detriment to students' academic experience, especially in the era of remote learning, where forums are one of students' few opportunities for interpersonal interaction. Thus, an integrated forum in the Canvas platform would create more convenience for its users. Adding a gamification feature to the forum could also increase student engagement via incentivization.
Our solution is a forum, Sermo, that can be integrated within Canvas and provides multiple functionalities to inspire student engagement. Engagement can manifest differently, but the ultimate goal is to incentivize students to respond to others’ posts in a helpful manner. This is achieved through gamification, or in this context, turning the mundane activity of posting on a forum into a rewardable endeavor. On our forum, every time a student gains "upvotes" on their post or replies, as well as whenever they ask or answer a question, they receive points that they can spend to customize their avatar. Another way to inspire user engagement is that specific posts can be “followed”, or a user can sign up to receive email notifications about certain posts on the forum when they receive a new response.
Furthermore, to achieve the important quality of usability, we have implemented features to enhance ease of use. This includes a search feature for posts and category tagging for posts, which make them easier to search. Additionally, the search feature allows users to filter multiple types of posts at a time, such as filtering for posts that are both unanswered and unread, which is not possible in the more popular forum choices. The forum also enables instructors to link directly to a filtered list of all posts tagged with a specific assignment directly from the assignment page on Canvas, further reducing the amount of navigation a student must perform to receive relevant information. Finally, we have utilized machine learning to display similar questions that have already been asked as a student begins creating their own post, providing them a call-to-action to engage with existing material first.
Post and reply feature
A user is able to post on the forum. Any user - student or instructor - is able to reply to this post. Users are also able to reply to others’ replies within a post.
Customizable avatar: In our forum, each user has an avatar and a shop where they can buy items to customize their avatar. They buy items with points that they earn from asking questions, answering questions, and receiving upvotes on either of these types of posts.
Instructors can create different categories to tag posts with. Additionally, instructors can tag or adjust the tags on students’ posts.
Search and filter feature
Users can search for posts by typing in a search bar, as well as specify the category tag they would like to search within. Furthermore, users can select multiple filters for their search query.
The forum must be able to link posts with specific category tags to assignment pages in Canvas. This will manifest as a forum section on Canvas assignment pages that will bring the user to all the relevant posts on the forum. This will be a toggleable feature that can be turned on or off at the instructor’s discretion; it will automatically be turned on when the forum is integrated. The location of this toggleable feature will be in the same settings that are used to create assignment pages on Canvas.
Grouping by similar posts
When a student begins to create their post, the forum will automatically suggest similar posts as they type, displaying a call-to-action to direct them to relevant postings.
A student or instructor can sign up to get notifications from a specific post, as well as customize how often they receive notifications for that post
Given that an instructor can access student information, such as their ID and email, we want to ensure that the forum has robust security and encryption.
We want to ensure our system can be run on any Operating System and accessed with any browser.
Although the potential number of users will be consistent with other course-specific forums, we want to ensure we account for increased user engagement or more users on the forum at a given point in time.
Ultimately, we want the forum to be intuitive and easy for users to interact with, as an important aspect of our system is that it generates more user engagement.
The project must be within the allocated budget, with priority given to gamification features.
The project must be completed within the allotted time, utilizing a 2-week agile structure. Each feature must be completed within its deadline. This model will allow for rapid prototyping where features can be tested and re-designed as needed, as well as allow development to fail fast if the feasibility of a feature comes into question.
The design of the forum should be malleable enough for any institution to make it look consistent with the colors on their Canvas. Thus, certain design liberties must not be taken, as it should be able to seamlessly mesh with any customized version of Canvas.
Gamification features must be implemented to provide incentive for user engagement, but not so much as to detract from the primary goal of the course in which the forum is being used - for students to learn. An acknowledgement of this constraint would see gamification features not evolve beyond the current planned implementation.
The forum must be designed such that all features remain working and consistent when integrated with Canvas. Systems respond differently when integrating 3rd-party software and can sometimes prevent the 3rd-party software from working as intended, such as not generating unique URLs for all the different pages users can navigate to within the 3rd-party software, making it impossible to link to specific items. Thus, Canvas’ ability to integrate 3rd party software must be closely ascertained to ensure all features of our forum will remain working.
Mockup of a student profile page on Sermo. The colors should change depending on the college's colors. Since this was designed by UCI students, a caricature of UCI's mascot, Peter the Anteater, is used to demonstrate a mock avatar.
Mockup of the Store page on Sermo, where users can redeem points for items with which they can customize their avatar.
Mockup of a user's Inventory page on Sermo, where users can view their redeemed items and customize their avatar.