What is Canva and why should teachers use it?
Canva is an online tool for designing infographics, collages, flyers, and slides. It’s free and there is no need to download any software to your iPad, tablet, PC or laptop to use it.
Canva is a web application, which means you use it in your web browser. Students can use Canva to display key information in a visually compelling way. The benefits of visual content and depicting ideas and concepts through images has long been valued. In fact, enabling the students to create the content will build their digital capacity and encourage them to be more aware of the digital and social media tools used to engage audiences and to convey messages.
This year, Canva have made a number of lesson plans available to teachers showing how they could teach regular topics, while incorporating some digital creativity along the way.
These lesson plans range from Vicki Davis’ Historical Figures Fan Page (students analyse Facebook headers and create one for a historical figure ) to An Element Wedding Invitation (students create an invitation style infogram depicting the relationship between two elements which form a compound).
The major draw for me was that Canva enlisted a group of world-renowned educators to create these lesson plans. From my first glance at these lessons, it became clear to me very quickly that they are not focused on building a troop of graphic designers; rather Canva is a tool used to document and present learning. This really excited me and inspired me to learn a little bit more about using Canva so I could adopt some of these lessons into my classes.
Lessons I particularly liked
The Career Infographic lesson plan by John Spenser asks students to research a profession using the web and to create an infographic using Canva to communicate the findings with their peers. In their research, students are encouraged to interrogate the source of the information.
In my experience, when students undertook research tasks, they often did a quick Google search of a topic and copied and pasted the first piece of text from a website. We often brand today’s teens as ‘digital natives’ when in fact they may overlook essential digital competencies while using technology, such as citing sources, investigating the credibility and veracity of information found on the internet and backing up this type information by drawing on further findings which corroborate the original source.
John’s lesson plan incorporates all of these vital elements. Using Images in School Projects is a lesson which focuses particularly on awareness of copyright and licensing of digital content: This may make a nice pre-lesson to John’s career inforgraphics. To round out the activity John suggests hosting a careers day displaying the career infographics or simply posting these to a blog or on social media. I also think this is a great way to promote further study of a particular subject and could make a great TY project for Post-Primary students before they definitively pick their Leaving Certificate subjects. Students could be asked to highlight key subjects for certain careers on their inforgraphics and these could then be displayed longer term in relevant classrooms. For example, the Maths classroom may have a careers wall with posters on Engineering, Programming, Actuary, Analytics, etc.
Math Vocabulary Wizard by Monica Burns asks students to visually communicate the meaning of various mathematical terms. They must search for images which show the word in action in a real-world sense. Students could be encouraged to take their own photographs so that they must consider the relationship with maths and the world directly around them. Once they have chosen their images they can then create a visually pleasing poster with the term in large text. Monica suggests displaying the posters as part of an interactive word wall and adding a QR code to the posters to link with a class video library. The videos could be created by students to further explain the terminology and have them demonstrate solving some related math problems. Of course this lesson is not restricted to Maths, it can be used for any subject such as Science, Music, Geography etc.
Sugar Kills by William Ferriter aims to inform students on the level of sugar appropriate to their diets and to compare this to the amount found in foods regularly consumed. After educating themselves on the sugar levels in different foods, students display this in a compelling manner using Canva in an effort to raise their peers’ awareness and influence them to have a more balanced diet. This could be incorporated into a Media Studies lesson to show how advertising can be used to make the public more cognisant of health or social issues. Students could then be asked to pick other health or social issues to depict visually and display in the school, the local community or school’s social media outlets. As young people now scroll through their Facebook or Twitter feeds they are seeing more and more imagery used to imply humour, communicate a message or for other promotional reasons. The focus is on using an image and limited text as a person quickly scrolling down their feed will process an image with some brief text much more quickly than reading a text heavy poster. Lessons like Sugar Kills pushs students to analyse the digital environments they frequent and how they are influenced and can influence others using digital design tools.
Canva itself is reasonably easy to get to grips with. There are tutorials available for you and your students if you’re not the type to just give it a go and learn through experimenting. The lesson plans offer great ideas for teachers wishing to make their classes more fun and incorporate some technology into student activities. All the lessons are very much open to different topics, concepts and contexts. They have been created by teachers, not techies, and so the technology is presented as the medium to teaching a particular topic and not the topic itself.
Students loved using the software and paid attention to detail in creating the images. In most cases students tweeted their finished products to a class Twitter and others included them in a blog. The interactive word wall was the best to take off for me and linking the posters to student-made videos is a really great long-term project for any class.
All-in-all using this type of technology is a really fun and interactive way to bring the regular content to life for students with a very simple and non-complex piece of free software.