Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Creating a Digital Home Space

Main content start

When we walk into a classroom, we typically expect to see a few things: tables, chairs, whiteboards, screens. But what happens when we need to teach in a space that doesn't have chairs? Or a table? Or a whiteboard? Students and instructors that walk into face-to-face classrooms generally have a shared set of expectations about what to do: the students will usually sit in the chairs at the tables while the instructor will usually write some information on a whiteboard or project information from a screen.

Teaching online, we get to construct what the "chairs" look like, building the space where students sit. We also get to decide how we share the kind of content we might draw on a whiteboard or distribute through a paper handout. There are, in fact, lots of different ways that we can construct where students can "sit" and where they can find the materials that we might otherwise project on a screen or print on paper.

At Stanford, a learning management system (LMS) like Canvas is a good choice for a digital home space. Why? 

  • Students already have accounts and any work that they submit through Canvas is protected by institutional Single Sign-On. This ensures greater data privacy for our students' work and helps students learn one less new thing (in a time when they are learning lots of new things!).
  • You do not have to build any of the digital infrastructure. Places for storing, exchanging, and uploading files is already built in for you.
  • Students will know that Canvas is a place that they typically go to in order to find course material since it is  a tool that is widely used across the institutions.

Want to learn more about building a digital home space? Check out these resources:

What about Zoom?

Zoom is a video-conferencing platform for which Stanford owns a license. Zoom allows you to engage in live Web conversations with your students using audio, video, and text-based chat features. Zoom can be embedded directly into Canvas as a way to create a "live room" in your digital home space. 

Unlike a video-conferencing program like Skype or Google Hangouts, you do not need a unique username or account to use Zoom. Instead, your SUNet ID and password will allow you to generate a link (much like you might for a Google Document) and a phone number that you can share with anyone. Participants can then follow the web link or call the phone number to join in on a live conversation.

You can access Stanford Zoom in three different ways: 

  1. Download the Stanford Zoom application from the Stanford UIT website.
  2. Visit and log-in with your SUNet ID and password. From there, you can download the essential software application and create future meeting links.
  3. Integrate Zoom into your Canvas site. If you use Canvas extensively, you can follow the Stanford Canvas team’s instructions for creating a direct link for Zoom that directly integrates into your Canvas course site.
  4. See our guide for holding your class session on Zoom for more information.

Identifying Key Tools and Functions within Canvas

If you are new to using Canvas, you may appreciate some orientation to key Canvas tools and functions. 

  • Assignments: Instructors can create space for students to upload submissions, from informal reflections to formal written assignments and projects. Instructors can select the grading approach within the assignment. Assignments are best for instructors who wish for the students’ work to only be viewed and assessed by the instructor.
  • Announcements: Instructors can send mass e-mails or messages to the whole class community via the Announcements tool. The benefit to using Announcements over e-mail is that instructors do not need to collect individual student e-mail addresses and that the messages are archived in the course Canvas site.
  • Chat: The whole class, instructors and students alike, can engage in a “real time” text-based, instant messaging conversation. Messages received in Chat remain archived and can be read outside of synchronous time too. This can be a nice way for instructors and students to communicate nimbly without needing to use voice-based chat and without needing to use any outside apps or resources.
  • Discussions: Instructors can create threaded, written discussion forums for instructors to engage in written (or audio/video) dialogue with each other and respond to written prompts.
  • Files: Instructors can post key course documents, like the syllabus, readings, assignment sheets, and activity descriptions in this space.
  • Modules: Instructors can organize course content into several chunks or groups of learning content. The pieces of information that students will access, including the syllabus, assignment sheets, activity descriptions, and outside links and resources, can be grouped together in the order that students might access those resources during a synchronous or asynchronous class session. Modules can give students access to readings, activity descriptions, outside links, and assignment submission links all in one place.
  • Pages: Instructors can create content for students to read or access that is not already created in a separate website or in a Word Document or other kind of document. The settings for Pages can also be changed so that the page can be edited by both instructors and students to create a class Wiki. 

For more information about the differences between organizing Canvas course pages in Modules, Pages, or Files, check out this video by Jenae Cohn

For more information about getting set up in Canvas broadly speaking, check out PWR’s Frequently Asked Questions about Canvas page on TeachingWriting.

If you are interested in Canvas "add-ons" currently being piloted at Stanford, like Harmonize for discussions or for reading annotation, request an install from the Stanford Canvas support team: