Venturing Away From Veracross

Teachers and students learn to manage Canvas, new learning software


Photo: Callie Hollis

Bruce Timmons sits in his empty classroom while students are remote due to COVID-19. Canvas played an essential role in allowing students to learn from home.

Different daily schedules, no x-block, no Tuesday dress, socially distanced halls, up staircases and down staircases, eating lunch in new places and masks. So many things have changed in our daily lives, both on and off campus.

And in addition to all those changes, students, faculty and staff at St. George’s are all having to adapt to the introduction of Canvas into our community.

Canvas is a learning management system used by professors, teachers, and students at schools and universities all over the world. Canvas allows teachers to post assignments and grades, make class announcements, and conduct online discussions.

Previously, St. George’s scheduling platform was Veracross, which had some, but not all of the same features as Canvas. St. George’s has kept Veracross for attendance and communication with families, but students are using Canvas as their primary learning management platform.

The change might take some getting used to.

“Everybody’s gonna have to work into it,” said junior Chloe Lewis, who is learning from home full time this year. ”We know Veracross really well. Canvas just has more options and you can upload files, so I can upload my homework a lot easier virtually, because I can’t turn it in physically or anything, which is really helpful.”

The ability to submit assignments through Canvas is perceived as a major benefit not only for students, but teachers, too.

“I like the idea that it allows students to submit work to me by uploading files,” pre-calculus teacher Mr. Bruce Timmons said. “That becomes easier when I’m dealing with offline students. It collects the work in one spot, rather than me trying to fish through my emails.”

Ms. Crista Smothers and Mr. Mike Smothers, both technologically savvy Collierville campus teachers, have been creating resources and leading teachers through the process of adapting to the program.

“We like digging in and figuring out problems,” Ms. Smothers said. “So we volunteered to help train teachers.”

While learning Canvas hasn’t been easy for every teacher, one thing Mr. Timmons has seen as an immediate benefit is the increase in student access to grades.

“Previously, I saw the movement and activity of students and concern about their grades being very clustered around when grades were going to become visible to their parents,” Mr. Timmons said. “Now, grades are available all the time, so I feel like the makeup work is smoothed out. It keeps the students from being further behind.”

Junior Craig Allen agrees.

“I like the fact that we can always see our grades,” Allen said. “I like to see them all the time now because I don’t get surprised by stuff anymore.”

Not every student feels the same way, however. Senior Dean Campbell said he worries that too much access to grades can be hard on some students.

“I like it to an extent. I think it’s good where I can just check where I’m at,” Campbell said. “But for my friends and other people who take grades as more of a reflection of their self-worth and take them more seriously and don’t really take them like I do, it becomes a lot harder and mentally taxing.”

Campbell is not alone in encountering challenges with Canvas.

“Not all of the teachers use it, which is kind of a problem, but when everybody’s using it, it’s really nice,” Lewis said of her experience with Canvas so far. “It’s small things that happened on Veracross too. It’s just teachers not putting in the homework ahead of time or something.”

Allen pointed to the same challenges, but expressed confidence that teachers would be able to figure out the new system eventually.

“Teachers have been struggling recently with Canvas,” Allen said. “I think that once they get used to it, then it’ll be alright.”

Ms. Smothers acknowledged that teachers aren’t using Canvas perfectly yet.

“Yes, it’s a learning curve. Yes, there are things we are still figuring out,” Ms. Smothers said. “But as far as being able to provide the content to my students, I think it’s a huge benefit that we’ve got that system now.”