Canvas helps instructor develop ‘gameful’ approach to teaching


Who doesn’t love a good game?

Whether it’s an innocent round of hide-and-seek, an immersive video game or a competitive card game, we all enjoy a challenge.

Pamela Bogart

Pamela Bogart, a lecturer IV in the English Language Institute, recognizes game-inspired play is not only fun, it can also be highly educational.

“When you play a game, you start at zero and make choices to accrue points. We want to reward students for taking risks and trying new things. By adopting features of popular game environments, we cultivate those positive learning behaviors,” she said.

Using the new learning management system Canvas, Bogart designed a game-inspired course structure for ELI 510 Academic Reading and Vocabulary Acquisition. Her goal was to create a highly engaged, student-centered learning experience for her cohort of master’s and doctoral students.

Just as there are multiple ways to win a game, ELI 510 students choose tasks most pertinent to their unique course of graduate study. Some write about what they have read while others focus on developing their ability to fluently lead a seminar discussion on a text.

“This pedagogy lends itself to the structured customization of learning with individual students and is well suited for language learning,” Bogart said. “It is an approach that rewards practice toward mastery.”

She also found Canvas provides opportunities not available in CTools.

“Canvas learning outcomes feed into rubrics and provide rich feedback to both the student and teacher on single assignments and their overall progress,” she said.

Bogart continues to revise ELI 510 based on student feedback and her own observations. Canvas analytics helped her “better understand where students most deeply engaged, what they avoided, and what led to the biggest learning outcomes.”

Most recently, she reframed the course as a journey. Students log mileage (course points) as they take trips (Canvas assignments) with multiple possible stops (options within each assignment), toward four possible destinations (Canvas outcomes, which track mastery in a course).

The destinations reflect Canvas modules and core assignment groups. Most stops earn up to 5,000 miles. Students pass the course if they complete at least 250,000 miles by the end of the term.

Bogart’s students also find value in the Canvas discussion platform.

“I like the discussion platform because I can see the trip experiences and reviews shared by other students, which gives me a view of the tools used in their trips,” said Tung-Yu Wu, a civil engineering doctoral student. “I usually find something interesting or useful from other students’ experiences. It can also save me time to learn from their tips.”

Bogart also eliminated twice-a-week, 90-minute meetings and moved the course almost completely online.

“Our students are enrolled in intense graduate programs at U-M and have very limited time to spend on elective, advanced language classes. By making it more flexibly paced and customized to each student’s goals, enrollment increased,” Bogart said.

The ELI 510 redesign was supported by an LSA Instructional Support Services Faculty Project Grant with help from the Language Resource Center, GradeCraft, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, and Information and Technology Services. Bogart found this assistance instrumental.

“Canvas is very flexible in how you configure the course modules, pages, and syllabus. These all make a big difference for the student experience and the opportunities available to an instructor,” Bogart said.

“My advice to other instructors is seek out the tech gurus in your unit. I benefited from so much wonderful advice from people on the technology and instructional design side.”


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