The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
History lecturer Jonathan Marwil considers teaching a holy profession and the classroom a holy place. He rarely uses technology in the classroom such as PowerPoint as he feels it is one of the most boring ways of teaching. He himself does not own a cell phone. He said he lives in a simpler world and sees how cell phones impede the world of his students. For most students and professors, Canvas provides an easy mode of communication between and among each other, in Marwil’s class, he relies on email and if students need him, they know where to find him.
Instead of using online portals, chooses to interact with his students in person. He says the profession of teaching has been complicated by the use of technology and is confident in his courses’ success without it. Most of the courses he teaches are discussion-based and he believes his students learn best by interacting and teaching one another in person.
“I teach one course which is a lecture course, every other course I teach, I come to teach it by discussion, I don’t do much lecturing, and students tend to love that kind of course,” Marwil said. “I want discussion to happen within the four walls of the classroom rather than the walls of the web; (students) teach each other in class. History is a subject in which there aren’t any answers, just questions.”
For students at many universities, logging onto Canvas is an essential part of their day. The Canvas tool, for most courses, has all of the information students need, including syllabi, assignments, and grades, bridging ridges the relationship between students and teachers by creating a resource in which students can submit and receive feedback and collaborate with one another through discussion posts. For most students, this tool is invaluable. However, some University of Michigan professors feel their course and their students benefit from not using Canvas.
English professor John Whittier-Ferguson chooses to use Google Drive over Canvas because Google Drive allows students to access their classwork beyond their time at the University. In an email interview, Whittier-Ferguson said using Google Drive allows him to easily change things throughout the term and leave comments for students on work that remains owned by the student.
“The overhead of every (educational) platform I've checked out (CTools, Canvas, Blackboard) gets in the way of my working with students on their writing and also gets in the way of my sharing materials with them through my syllabi,” Whittier-Ferguson wrote. “For the work I do with students, I see nothing at all that would recommend any proprietary education company platform over my minimalist, free, easily accessed approach.”
Whittier-Ferguson feels not using Canvas makes things easier for students, as it allows them to gain access to course materials without logging in and makes it easier for him to communicate with his students. He also finds the other educational platforms slower, more cumbersome and more complex.
“I don’t need postings,” Marwil said. “I can contact students through Wolverine Access and they can contact me. I live in a simpler world, that’s why I don’t use Canvas, and when the world gets complicated, I will adjust to it.”
Marwil has seen success with his style of teaching. He said he rarely has a student ask why he doesn’t use Canvas. Both Marwil and his students consider him a harsh grader but despite his grading, he said his students give him positive teaching evaluations and he considers that a testament to his teaching style.
“It’s not that my classes are simple — they are not — but I have a certain simplicity and understanding about what teaching is about,” Marwil said. “It’s not rocket science and I think people who make it rocket science don’t know what they are doing. You should be able to walk into a classroom with a book and teach.”
LSA freshman Andrew Armstrong, one of Marwil’s students, said he enjoys the course and feels the course is enriched without the use of Canvas as it keeps students on their toes.
“I sometimes will look at Canvas and feel like I can slack a little,” Marwil said. “When you are not using Canvas, you can’t slack on assignments and you have to give it your all because you don’t know your grade.”
Like Armstrong, LSA sophomore Lillie Heyman likes the alternative communication systems in her Gender and the Law class, taught by Asian Languages and Cultures professor Allison Alexy. The class uses Canvas, but most course information is located on a separate website.
“I really like the website, I think it is much easier to navigate,” Heyman said. “I think that her website is much more organized and information is much more accessible, however, since every other class is on Canvas, my whole course load is not in one central location… (Also) the website is way more aesthetically pleasing, which is important to me.”