Minimally Invasive Assessment and the New Canvas Suite

Instructure has a new announcement about Canvas, and it’s in an area close to my heart. They are rolling out a suite of tools that allow instructors to capture learning data from in-class activities.

But Mike, you say, the LMS is evil, and more LMS is eviler. Why you gotta be Satan’s Cheerleader?

Well, here’s my take on that. The LMS is not evil. What is evil is making the learning environment of your class serve the needs of the learning management system rather than serve the needs of the students.

One area where the LMS has traditionally distorted practice is in the devaluing of in-class work. The LMS treats the homework you turn in nowadays as an artifact demonstrating competency. It’s matched to outcomes. It shows up in your outcomes mapping, institutional assessment, the whole bit.

That great comment you made in class, though, the one that demonstrated passion, engagement, and understanding of a core concept? The LMS couldn’t care less. And as the use of analytics becomes more and more prominent, the risk of distortion of practice becomes more acute.

That’s what we’re fighting against. Or at least what I’m fighting against.

Let me give you an example. My wife is an art teacher in a K-3 setting. You think you have a lot of students? You know how many my wife has?


Six hundred and thirty students. And here’s the kicker — if she wants the district to support offering these kids art class, she’s going to have to explain how her instruction is helping kids progress, both in the state standards and in areas that overlap with the Common Core.

Luckily, there’s a lot of overlap. When you bisect a page with a horizon line, that’s understanding ratios. When you make your own “in the style of Van Gogh” picture of your classroom in fingerpaint and marker, that meshes well with the Common Core standards on understanding authorial style. When you talk about what The Scream conveys, that’s getting at elements of authorial intent.

Nicole would love to capture the incredible amount of learning that goes on in the classroom — both to demonstrate its value, as well as to make sure that in juggling 630 kids she is not letting some slip through the cracks. She’d love to have a discussion with second graders about American Gothic and be able to know which students she has never seen tackle authorial intent, and see how they do when asked. She’d love to wander around a room of kindergarteners drawing horizon lines and record whether or not they got the concept of “equal halves”.

So when I told her about the new Canvas product suite, which includes a tool which gives you slide-left/slide-right style assessment of students for in-class use, she was ecstatic. She could have her mobile phone out, walk around the room talking to the students, and at the same time do quick, unobtrusive assessments of the students. And what she likes about that vision is she doesn’t have to change a thing about how her classroom works to implement the reporting and analysis.

We can argue whether we should be using behavioral objectives or conceptual ones, whether we should be using Bloom or Dee Fink — but at the end of the day no matter what we choose to track, we need the tracking to stay out of the way of everything else. We’ve seen what happens when we say the only assessment that counts is a test, and it’s not pretty.

I’ve never bought into Mitra’s concept of “Minimally Invasive Education“. While it has some value, at its core it’s a TED-talk vision of the world where we are one technology-drop away from curing hunger. Meh.

But Minimally-Invasive Assessment? Assessment that flows with the activities that help students learn rather than against them? That’s something I can get behind. Kudos to Canvas for getting behind it as well.


9 thoughts on “Minimally Invasive Assessment and the New Canvas Suite

  1. Not really – Nicole, for example, would like to look at student work table to table and assess it — that’s not verbal. But it does require fluid integration. Same with participation — how much more meaningful would it be to assess participation in group activities with the swipe tool from class to class — on something like “Student collaborates with others in a respectful way”, again not verbal necessarily.

    I could be clearer though — the difference here is that the artifact of learning in this case is ephemeral. So you can do vocal work at home as a recording, but you have an artifact. For much of class there is evidence of learning but no artifact.

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