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Category: Teaching with Technology

We live in a world where information is often conveyed visually through infographics and the like, and while creating those graphics used to be the purview of professionals, Canva puts it within the reach of anyone. The secret is Canva’s template and drag-and-drop editing system. Imagine that I want my students to pick an ecosystem and create an infographic about how it works. Instead of starting from scratch, they can browse over 250,000 free, attractive, and professional examples in Canva’s library; find a design they like; and then swap out elements for their own. Afterward, they can customize the view by moving elements around and changing fonts, colors, shapes, or anything else in the graphic.

The free account is sufficient for most student projects; it even includes access to hundreds of thousands of free photos and graphics to use in the work. Instructors who find themselves using Canva quite often can sign up for the pro account to get access to over 610,000 templates and more than 100 million free photos and graphics. Plus, K–12 educators can get a free version that lies somewhere between the functionality of the free and pro versions. There is also a collaboration feature that allows teams to work on designs together.

Canva offers over 100 categories of designs that are sized and configured for different purposes, from Instagram posts to book covers. There are also subjects within each category, such as education, business, and marketing, though it is often helpful to look beyond the primary subject when searching for templates. The subject designation is based on the text and imagery in the template, but those will be replaced anyway, so there is no reason why the user can’t look in other subject areas if they don’t find the perfect template in the one closest to their topic. Users can even resize designs in one category, such as an Instagram post, to fit another category, such as a YouTube video. So, in reality, someone can use nearly any template as the starting point for nearly any purpose.

Canva is a true Swiss Army knife for creating digital content. Here are some lesser-known uses for education.

Infographics: Presenting concepts and data visually is becoming nearly as important a skill as being able to communicate by text. Instructors can help students develop this skill by having them include in their assignment an infographic that summarizes the key points of their topic.

Presentations: Most people default to a common PowerPoint template when making visuals for a presentation, but Canva has far more attractive and professional templates that move the user beyond the “death by bullet point” format of most presentations. These templates often come with multiple slide variations that add interest to the visuals.

Video introductions: If you make a lot of videos, you might consider creating a standard introduction to motivate your viewer and put your branding on the work. There are hundreds of five- to 10-second video templates that use imagery and motion, from abstract shapes coming and going to content-specific motion images, such as a book being leafed through. The user can add a title, a byline, a name, and other elements to segue into their videos.

Posters, flyers, and brochures: Canvas is not often thought of as a source for print material, but its templates will radically improve the attractiveness of posters, fliers, brochures, and other content produces for symposiums, meetings, and other events. Canva also has a built-in function for ordering print copies of the product. It even prints T-shirts, hoodies, and coffee mugs. Thus, a department or student group can use it to create custom clothing for their group.

E-newsletters: Today it is common for departments, colleges, student organizations, and others to host e-newsletters about member achievements and upcoming events. Too often these are just long, text-heavy emails, but Canva allows users to create attractive, multipage e-newsletters that mimic professionally developed versions.

Worksheets: Worksheets are an underused way to scaffold student assignments by ensuring that students are on the right track. Not only can instructors use the worksheet templates as the starting point for their own worksheets, but they can then use the Teacher Made site to convert the result into a PDF with fillable form fields. This makes the worksheet much easier to fill out in a digital format.

Certificates: Departments often create awards that can be made into certificates in Canva. I had fun creating a series of badges in Canva for one of my classes. I used food names for the badges, such as Clever Cucumber—containing an image of the food with eyes, mortarboard and tassel, and glasses added—and then a Smart Salad certificate for anyone who achieved all of them.

Videos: Video production is a relatively new addition to the Canva menu. I have always liked the digital storytelling format of imagery with narration for both my own video production and student work. I have had students in my medical ethics course illustrate a topic, such as informed consent, by creating a video that describes a hypothetical scenario related to that topic. They find Creative Commons licensed images of doctors and patients and combine these with a voice-over narration to describe the situation and the ethical issues that it raises. This helps them see how the topics apply to clinical practice.

When making a digital storytelling video, it is best to start by recording the narration since it determines pacing (images follow narration) and then combine the audio with imagery in a video editor such as Camtasia. But for a novice, a simple alternative is to upload the images to a blank presentation in Canva and then record a video screencast of the presentation while narrating it. The result can be downloaded as an MP4 video file or given to others as a link for them to play on the Canva site. The user can also run their webcam during the presentation to record themselves in a small circle within the viewing area. It even has a function for adding notes to the side of each slide that are not part of the recording. Take a look at Richard Byrne’s tutorial on how to record video presentations in Canva.

Live presentations: Canva has a little-known live presentation feature that can serve as a simple alternative to the more common web conferencing systems. The user pulls up their presentation within Canva and sends participants a link with a six-digit code to get in. There is also a chat function. While it lacks functions like transferring presenter mode to a participant, this simplicity can eliminate the problems that often come with additional functionality. (How often have presenters had to ask people to silence their microphones or turn off their video during a presentation?) Plus, the simple interface makes it easier for people to participate on their mobile devices such as tables and smartphones.

As faculty, too often we default to text documents when communicating digitally, but the world has learned how visuals amplify a message to make it more powerful and memorable. I suggest trying one at a time, and you will soon be creating content and doing things you would never have thought were within your reach.