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BC High’s Digital Migration: Exploring the Blank Canvas that Awaits

Daniel Scrivener, News Editor

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By now, BC High’s students have surely recognized the school’s technological shift from WhippleHill’s student portal to the new Canvas by Instructure. This move mirrors Boston College’s adoption of the new platform several years ago. Everyone who has come to rely on Internet-based services for managing their academic lives at BC High appears to sense the severity of the change—already, campus has been rife with discussion regarding the advantages and disadvantages of both systems.

Proponents of Canvas tend to laud its modern approach to mobile computing; Instructure has deployed an iOS app for their platform, whereas WhippleHill resides only on the web. The mobile app runs smoothly enough, and although its features lack in comparison with the web app, its user interface organizes sections of the website in an appropriate manner. A to-do list replaces the assignments page from WhippleHill with a color-coded and chronological display. Discussion pages also appear streamlined, and the platform allows users to attach files to assignments without use of the onCampus Attach service. Instructure’s attempt to consolidate features in one location manifests throughout the platform, aiming at greater convenience for students.

At the same time, various concerns arise with the migration to Canvas—some have suggested that its new features complicate rather than simplify student life. One particular facet of this debate focuses on live grading, which Canvas has enabled. Students can access their most recent class grades at any time, which also provides teachers a transparent method for providing feedback to students. In an environment where students are already highly grade-conscious, the accessibility can, however, enable unhealthy behavior. Several teachers have recognized the angst of students who fear for their GPA, worrying that the constant notifications regarding completed assignments will cause undue stress. Parents also receive such notifications, and they might become inspired to advocate for their child’s academic performance rather than allowing students to assume responsibility for their own actions. The system also limits teachers’ flexibility when assigning grades; its gradebook becomes the only method by which teachers can record academic progress.

Only a month has passed since we began the 2017-2018 academic year, and Canvas’ role in our community has yet to be tested thoroughly. Nonetheless, the various concerns surrounding the adoption of Canvas remain valid, and we must attend to the grievances of those who require assistance with the new platform. Hopefully, Canvas will eventually become as seamless and unobtrusive of a daily tool as WhippleHill once was. If not, BC High will likely learn to live with minor injustices in order to harness Canvas’ broader capabilities.

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BC High’s Digital Migration: Exploring the Blank Canvas that Awaits