DCPS makes Canvas and Microsoft Teams mandatory for distance learning


Winston Botts

DCPS has enlisted the help of multiple online platforms to facilitate distance learning this school year. Using Canvas and Microsoft Teams as an alternative to in-person school has presented numerous changes in both teaching and learning at DCPS.

Despite Canvas becoming the standard for distance learning in DCPS, teachers at Wilson have varying degrees of experience with the website. Some teachers began using Canvas before distance learning. “I started using Canvas in 2018, but in a very limited capacity. I was just trying to learn about it because [the DCPS Career and Technical Education Office] said it would be important in the future,” Angela Benjamin, a physics and engineering teacher, said. 

According to Benjamin, DCPS had introduced Canvas as a learning management system (LMS) long before the COVID-19 pandemic. Benjamin said that DCPS also purchased Microsoft Teams a few years prior to 2020. However due to the transition to online schooling, Canvas and Microsoft Teams have become the entirety of teachers’ curriculums rather than just a supplement to them. 

Leaning into Canvas and Teams this heavily means considerable changes to educators’ use of the platforms, causing problems for teachers who relied less on the platforms in the past. “Training is available but the learning curve is steep and time is very dear,” Benjamin said. This dilemma poses significant challenges for teachers. “It is very challenging. We have to use it and learn it at the same time. It is like taking the final exam on the first day of school.” 

English teacher Jenna Postler believes that Canvas is mostly beneficial. “Canvas is a great hub for student work and feedback. It’s helpful to see all work in one place and Canvas provides some stability for students in terms of always knowing where to turn something in. The Speed Grader function is a great tool for providing feedback for students. It’s also easy to integrate and build rubrics in Canvas, which provides an additional level of student feedback,” Postler said. 

However Postler does believe that replacing Zoom with Microsoft Teams was a step backward. “I lament the loss of Zoom. Last spring, I was able to use small groups within Zoom to facilitate group work and collaboration painlessly. Even my least tech-savvy students were able to work together. I’m spending so much time trying to figure out how to replicate the ease and fluidity of that experience and to train myself on Teams,” she said.

Students have also had to adjust to Canvas and Microsoft Teams. For many students, their first year attending Wilson has begun online with Canvas and Microsoft Teams instead of a physical classroom. Freshman Jesse Malhotra is one such student, and says that becoming acclimated to a new school from home has proven challenging. “[Entering a new school is] really difficult because I don’t know anyone in my classes so I don’t have anyone to talk to after school or during school.”

Aside from causing him to miss out on some of the social aspects of freshman year, Malhotra thinks that Canvas and Microsoft Teams both work quite well compared to distance learning platforms at his previous school. “[Canvas is] a pretty good system and is better than the other programs I have used,” he said. Malhotra also likes Microsoft Teams, “It works well. In the spring when I was in Virginia they used black board collaborate and it was very hard to use but this is way more user friendly.” 

Other students have had no issues at all with Microsoft Teams and Canvas. “[Teams and Canvas are] pretty good. I haven’t had any problems,” senior Cormac Bianchi said. He also thinks that being a senior may make distance learning easier because “Having less classes helps.”

Mandating the use of Canvas and Microsoft Teams has proven both its merits and flaws for teachers and students, but is set to remain the standard for distance learning at DCPS indefinitely. “Probably there is a better way [to teach online], but this is what we have to use now. All of the teachers are working hard to bring their subjects to life for our students. Ideas are everywhere online. But expertise is what is needed and only time and diligence will improve that,” Benjamin said.