Most days felt the same because I did almost everything on my computer. Classes, office hours, and club meetings were all online. I went from using some tech tools to aid my learning, such as Schoology and Khan Academy in high school, to my entire education depending on them. I liked some parts of online learning—like not having to rush between classes and being able to enroll in two classes scheduled at the same time if one was recorded. However, eLearning also came with challenges. Some of these challenges were ameliorated by EdTech, while some were exasperated by technology and user experience gaps.
Even with many students returning to in-person school, it is clear eLearning is here to stay. If I could talk to the customer experience managers at the SaaS companies whose platforms I use most as a student, I would give them this list of features I need them to change to make my experience using their platforms better.
Canvas (Not Canva)
Canvas (not to be confused with Canva) was the homepage for most of my classes. When talking to anyone other than a college student, Canvas is often confused with Canva. Canvas is a course management platform, while Canva is a graphic design platform.
Aside from the clear branding issue, Canvas is a pretty good course management platform. All of my classes except one used Canvas. It’s where I could find course announcements, Zoom links, files, quizzes, and grades. Canvas has a mobile app and a desktop version. Below is a screenshot of what the homepage looks like for one of my classes on the mobile app.
- Canvas is reasonably user-friendly. The location of files, announcements, and grades makes sense.
- The mobile app has a “To Do” list where you can see all of your upcoming assignments at once. This is not on the desktop version, but I wish it was.
- The default notification settings are set so that you receive way too many email and Canvas notifications. It would be a better experience if notification options were part of the onboarding process—so you can specify your preferences ahead of time. Instead, you have to go to your settings after the fact and turn certain notifications off.
From my observations, most students at my college use Google Workspace over Microsoft Office for writing assignments and presentations. Google Workspace is used for many purposes other than school, but as a student, I use it daily so we have to consider it in the realm of educational solutions.
- When school was primarily on Zoom, Google Docs made it easy to share documents simply by copying and pasting a link. Collaboration is also easy on Docs or Slides, because you can see what your collaborators are doing in close to real-time.
- When I have a problem with a Google service, I can usually mess around with it to get it to work because Google’s platforms are very user-friendly.
- When you create a document, it is hard to move the document to a shared folder. To move a document to one of my folders, I click the move button, then click my folder. However, when I try to move the document to a shared folder, the shared folder does not show up. Google does have instructions for moving a document to a shared folder, but they are a little less intuitive than I am accustomed to with Google.
All of my classes were on Zoom. Typically professors would share their screen as they wrote on a tablet or if it was a discussion-based class, students would take turns speaking.
- I like how easy Zoom is to use. My grandma has me download apps and reset passwords she forgets, but even she can use it. Look at how easy it is to download and set up here.
- Zoom offers many helpful features for online learning, such as screen sharing, annotation, and breakout rooms.
- To share your screen on a MacBook, you have to change your system preferences. When I first needed to do this, I searched google to see what I needed to change. Screen sharing worked for a few months, then it stopped. I double-checked my system preferences, restarted my computer, and made sure my software was up-to-date. I never fixed screen sharing on Zoom. That’s right, never.
Gradescope is a platform that allows students to upload assignments and take tests. I used it for some math, CS, and economics classes to submit problem sets. For example, this weekend, I had a problem set due for an economics class. I did the problem set then downloaded it as a PDF. Next, I opened Gradescope and submitted the PDF. The next day, a TA had graded the assignment. I could see how they graded it based on their rubric.
- I like that Gradescope allowed me to see what I got points off for if the professor made a rubric.
- Regrade requests are also simple. All you have to do is click a button that says regrade and explain why you think the problem should be regraded.
- It is cumbersome to assign pages to a question on Gradescope.
While distance learning, many professors recorded their Zoom lectures then uploaded them to Panopto, which is a video management tool that allows students to watch their professors’ recordings later or again.
- I did not hear about Panopto until I started using it last year, but it was helpful when I needed to review lectures.
- One downside of Panopto is that you can not see comments that other students left in the Zoom chat.
If you have a tablet with a stylus, Notability is great for taking notes. I use Notability to take notes for most of my classes. Unfortunately, Notability has a one-time fee of $8.99 and is only available on Apple devices.
Some students use GoodNotes instead of Notability. Students like to debate GoodNotes vs. Notability, similar to how people debate Apple vs. Android and Coke vs. Pepsi. If you are trying to decide between the two, this article might help. I do not have a strong preference. Notability is just what I chose one day, and I stuck with it.
- I like being able to draw diagrams. It is also easier to write out math formulas than to type them.
- I can also add pictures if I find something online that is helpful or take a picture of the instructor's board and add it to my notes.
- It doesn’t let you divide your notes into a folder within a folder.
- The design is a little old-looking. It reminds me of what Apple Notes looked like a few years ago.
- I can’t make different pages with different “types of paper” easily. You can get around this, but it is not easy. In one note, it usually has to be all graph paper or all plain.
EdTech Requires Thoughtful CX
My EdTech use has increased more than ever with the pandemic making me depend on distance learning tools. I used these tools during my year of online learning, but I still use them now even with live in-person classes. Being able to use these platforms easily is essential to my school experience. As students and instructors continue to use these tools, customer experience managers need to continue to improve user experience to make sure these tools are facilitators of learning, not a hindrance to learning.