From PODS to Canvas: College Deans Move Advising Manuals Online

As part of the 2016 Teaching, Learning, and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI), CNDLS once more offered Productive Open Design Spaces (PODS), a series of design-centered workshops giving faculty and staff the time and space to collaborate with colleagues on curricular and pedagogical projects of their own design. Facilitated by the Education Design Lab, PODS comprises a four-part exploratory process discovering “what is, what if, what wows, and what works” for proposals from teams across campus. More than 40 faculty and staff worked in groups to draw connections between shared ideas, generate design criteria, present a mini pilot, and develop sustainable plans to execute their projects during the academic year.

One of these projects—proposed by Erin Force, Javier Jiménez, and Stefan Zimmers, all Assistant Deans in the College—aimed at rethinking the supports available for new student advising. “We wanted to take advantage of the mentorship that comes with PODS,” Force said recently, noting that the focus on reflection inherent to the design process was its own draw. “We also wanted space to think about the bigger picture.”

The issue, as the group saw it, was in the comprehensive advising manual provided to both students and faculty. Until this fall, the information was printed and distributed in late August, then supplemented by emailed links as the year went on—a process Force, Jiménez, and Zimmers described as confusing and overwhelming.

In their proposal, the group focused on two goals: differentiating information for peer and faculty advisors and identifying a more dynamic, user-friendly format. During the project week, they ultimately decided to work in Canvas, the digital course management system introduced to campus in May. This decision was deeply influenced by Zimmers, who was preparing to work with the platform this fall in his teaching work with the History Department. Using a test “sandbox” course available to all faculty, the group explored the platform and ultimately created two courses from the existing manual: one designed expressly for faculty, the other for students. In both cases, Canvas was a natural fit: faculty and students would already use the platform on a regular basis, updates could be made in real time, and the “conversations” tool would allow for reminders to go out to the whole group as important deadlines approached.

After taking the summer to troubleshoot and fine-tune, the College Dean’s Office left behind the spiral-bound manuals in August and instead added peer and faculty advisors to their respective inaugural Canvas courses. Initial responses have been positive, and the group has the additional benefit of seeing their efforts pay off through activity analytics showing how advisors interact with the material as the year goes on—real-time feedback impossible to measure in hardcopy form.

Force, Jiménez, and Zimmers will continue to edit content throughout the year, but Force credits PODS with providing the dedicated time for reflection—often a luxury on a busy campus like Georgetown—necessary to build an effective tool from the start. “When we started envisioning this project, we just wanted to get it done, which meant our instinct was to start building immediately,” she said. “That can be a hard instinct to fight for those of us wearing multiple hats, but PODS encouraged us to approach this project in a more thoughtful way.”

CNDLS congratulates this PODS team for their innovative work to transform the advising process! For more information about the most recent round of PODS projects, check out our blog from PODS 2016 and hear directly from participants in the recap video. If you’ve been inspired to explore Canvas, get started with your own sandbox course at If, instead, you have a different question for the CNDLS team, feel free to get in touch—we’re always happy to help!