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Rationale - Canvas Collections

Teachers need custom-built digital tools

Laurillard (2012) argues

Teachers...need custom-built digital tools to help them with their ever more complex working could make the critical difference to changing what they are able to do with their students. (p. 222)

Canvas Collections is a direct response to that need. It is also part of an on-going exploration into related questions.

Why, what and how?

  1. Why has higher education been unable to provide the necessary "custom-built digital tools"? (Or even, just effective digital tools?)
  2. How might we do a better job at providing "custom-built digital tools"?
  3. What might/should those "tools" be?

Usable short arc design tools that scale

Recent work on Canvas Collections has been exploring answers to those questions that focus on the value and nature of usable short arc design tools that scale, including if the design principles for Contextually Appropriate Scaffolding Assemblages (CASA) (Jones, 2019) might fruitfully inform the implementation of such tools?

The following tabs introduce some of the relevant thinking.

Goodyear (2009) provides two contrasting descriptions of how teachers go about design for learning.

  1. Long arc design - involves a process of thinking, discussing, and searching for course re-design possibilities over a significant, extended period of time.
  2. Short arc design - reduces that process to a few days and relies heavily on available tools.

In a higher education environment where few staff have the time or the support necessary to engage in long arc design, short arc design increasingly becomes the norm. Goodyear (2009) suggests that the best way to influence the practice of short arc design is to embed good ideas in the available tools.

The CASA idea focuses on embedding tools directly into the context into which they're used (e.g. Canvas). With an emphasis on enabling the easy adoption of good practices into short arc design.

Brooks (1996, p. 66) identified two success criteria for usable tools:

  1. So easy to use that a full Professor can use it.
  2. So productive that a full Professor will use it.

A well-designed CASA explicitly addresses a contextual need. Providing a reason to use it. A well-design CASA is being continually refined in response to observations of and feedback from the people using it.

Improving the quality of learning and teaching at scale is a key issue for contemporary higher education (Ryan et al, 2021). However, there is a lack of conceptual clarity around scale which Morel and colleagues (2019) seek to address by providing a typology of scale (summarised in the following table)

Scale conceptualisation Description
Adoption Widespread use of an innovation - market share. Limited conceptualisation of expected use.
Replication Widespread implementation with fidelity that will produce expected outcomes.
Adaptation Widespread use of an innovation that is modified in response to local needs.
Reinvention Intentional and systematic experimentation with an innovation. Innovation as catalyst for further innovation.

This work adopts the position of Clark & Dede (2009) that one-size-fits-all approaches don't work in education. No-one design is going to work with fidelity across settings and produce the expected outcomes. Instead, it is essential that designs - like Canvas Collections - are designed to support adaptation and reinvention. That they are generative - the capacity of a technology to generate unprompted change in varied and uncoordinated groups (Zittrain, 2006). Drawing on Resnick's (2020) metaphor), Collections aims to provide a:

  • Low floor - easy to get started;
  • High ceiling - enable more advanced usage, including reinvention; and,
  • Wide walls - support for multiple diverse uses (adaptation)

In exploring how to "stretch the iron triangle" we've drawn on Fawn's (2022) notion of entangled pedagogy. That the task of designing and delivering learning requires gathering and weaving together multiple tangled threads of knowledge into contextually appropriate assemblages. Hence, one approach to maximising the quality, accessibility, and cost efficiency of that task will require the effective use of digital technology to automate and augment this gathering and weaving.

The CASA design principles informing the design of Collections aim to enable this. e.g. Collections is designed to enable new representations to be developed and for a collection's representation to be changed as needed.


Brooks, F. (1996). The Computer Scientist as Toolsmith II. Communications of the ACM, 39(3), 61--68.

Clarke, J., & Dede, C. (2009). Design for Scalability: A Case Study of the River City Curriculum. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 18(4), 353--365.

Fawns, T. (2022). An Entangled Pedagogy: Looking Beyond the Pedagogy---Technology Dichotomy. Postdigital Science and Education, 4(3), 711--728.

Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology. Routledge.

Goodyear, P. (2009). Teaching, technology and educational design: The architecture of productive learning environments (pp. 1--37).

Jones, D. (2019). Exploring knowledge reuse in design for digital learning: Tweaks, H5P, CASA and constructive templates. In Y. W. Chew, K. M. Chan, & A. Alphonso (Eds.), Personalised Learning. Diverse Goals. One Heart. ASCILITE 2019 (pp. 139--148).

Morel, R. P., Coburn, C., Catterson, A. K., & Higgs, J. (2019). The Multiple Meanings of Scale: Implications for Researchers and Practitioners. Educational Researcher, 48(6), 369--377.

Ryan, T., French, S., & Kennedy, G. (2021). Beyond the Iron Triangle: Improving the quality of teaching and learning at scale. Studies in Higher Education, 46(7), 1383--1394.

Zittrain, J. L. (2006). The Generative Internet. Harvard Law Review, 119(7), 1974--2040.