Jon Garfinkel
December 7, 2016

When it was first announced that the University of Iowa was planning to pilot Canvas as part of Unizin, Jon Garfinkel, finance professor at the Tippie College of Business, realized this could be just the opportunity he needed to try flipping his new undergrad course. He had started flipping his MBA courses a while ago, when he observed the rise of free and low-cost college-level learning opportunities, like edX and Coursera. He knew doing nothing wasn’t an option, that something needed to change.

The flipped classroom requires students to listen to lectures at home and work on assignments during class time. This approach to teaching gives students more in-class assistance with homework and lets them listen to the online lectures multiple times when their schedule allows. Garfinkel said his flipped classroom emphasized learning through experience with real-time, real-world examples and group-oriented problems.

“Face-to-face time with faculty in a physical classroom setting is an important part of learning with, through, and about others – which is why I decided to flip my classroom in the first place,” said Garfinkel. “Our previous LMS just didn’t have the best functionality for a large enrollment flipped course, so I was very excited to try out my ideas in the Canvas pilot. Several applications in Canvas are crucial to the way I run my class.”

This way of learning can be challenging for some students who have only experienced the traditional classroom. It requires faculty to provide clear expectations about the structure of the course and when lectures should be viewed. One of the immediate benefits of switching to Canvas (ICON) was the ability to provide a calendar view on the homepage of the course. Students could quickly see which lecture was assigned before upcoming classes and when online quizzes were due.

Group work is also an important part of Garfinkel’s finance class. Students are sorted into groups to work on activities and assignments during classroom time. In the past, Garfinkel allowed his students to self-select into groups, but that wasn’t always effective. The random group assignments feature in Canvas helps him quickly place students into diverse, randomized groups.

“In the real world, you don’t get to pick your coworkers,” said Garfinkel. “Random group membership makes a big difference in exposing students to different thought processes, perspectives, values and judgements.”

Garfinkel says other features of Canvas have also made his flipped classroom more efficient. The ability to stream lecture videos instead of having students download them helps him protect his intellectual property. The quiz feature allows students to take some online quizzes multiple times in order to get the best grade possible. The results, he says, have exceeded his expectations.

“My students have done very well in the flipped classroom setting,” said Garfinkel. “In-class and real-world exercises provide the experiential learning that will help them after they’ve graduated. It also provides a different way for students to learn and learn from each other.”

In July 2014, Unizin decided to support Canvas over other LMS providers because of the forward-thinking functionality it offers to support innovative teaching and learning practices. The Consortium also values Canvas’ commitment to open standards and open source software.  

At Unizin, we know that teaching must evolve to keep up with the needs of next-generation learners – that’s why we provide products and services that support flipped classrooms and other emerging teaching practices. Experimenting with digital course material delivery and data dashboards are other ways universities and their instructors are adapting to meet the changing landscape of higher education.