AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District is looking to make sure students are prepared for college by embracing digital technology inside and outside the classroom, beginning with Anderson High School, where they’ve been piloting the Canvas system.

Canvas is used at colleges and universities across the country for coursework, assignments, access to grades and interactive instruction.

“It’s a learning positioning system, much like a GPS for your car, but it’s for students,” explained Sammi Harrison, the principal at Anderson. “We are piloting that in terms of how it’s created for every classroom. The beauty of it is that it helps us meet kids where they are, digitally.”

The Anderson vertical team began training Tuesday for AISD's BLEND pilot. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

As many as 20 Anderson teachers have been using the Canvas digital instruction platform for about a year. On Tuesday, those teachers led initial training sessions on the learning management system, or LMS, at AHS for their colleagues employed at schools that make up the Anderson vertical team. These schools include Anderson High School, Murchison Middle School, as well as Doss, Davis, Pillow, Summitt and Hill Elementary schools. Beginning this month, the BLEND program will be piloted at each of these campuses.

The district has enhanced the functionality for AISD and re-branded the Canvas application to be known as BLEND. It possesses all of the features of Canvas, but also includes a parent portal where parents can access their child’s grades and assignments through their own login, as well.

“It also allows kids to have a blended learning experience where they can do some of the learning on their own, and then come in for the more engaging and hands-on kinds of experiences, rather than using class time to read and you know, get basic information,” added Principal Harrison.

The program allows classroom instruction and interaction to take place through digital devices. “Teachers can post videos or share things interactively that kids can look at on a phone or a tablet, or a computer at home so that then the classroom time really is freed up to actually have those deep discussions or those interactions,” added Harrison.

Anderson High School sophomore Cooper Tyler says the Canvas program has kept him organized this school year. He uses the Canvas iPhone application in three of his classes.

“It’s actually really helpful because sometimes if I don’t understand a lecture or whatever, I just go to files and look through and they have the slideshows that they teach us that day,” he said. “It allows you to view assignments and, like, talk to your teacher and see all of the files over the entire year.”

His mother, Valerie Tyler, says she’s confident the program will prepare him for college.

“This platform is widely used on university, college campuses around the nation. It was designed to be a tool that faculty members on college campuses could use to communicate and educate their students,” she said. “Anderson has always been at the forefront of preparing their students for college journeys. So, I’m really excited that this is going to be something — a learning tool, a communication tool, an organizational tool — that my kids will already have in their pocket.”

However, she says she realizes the classroom may become more challenging because it follows a college model.

“I think in an hour-and-a-half class period, it’s sometimes nice to have that down time where maybe the teacher says ‘take 30 minutes to read over this.’ But, it’s a more efficient use of their time.”

Tyler showed KXAN his coursework on his Canvas app. (KXAN Photo/Chris Nelson)

Her son notices the difference. “We just get right into it and it’s like an immediate thing. There’s no reteaching, just hit the ground running,” he said.

Tyler says she realizes this is the future of learning for her four kids. “They are such digital learners now and they’re such digital natives. It’s good that we are being forward-thinking. This is a platform unlike anything they’ve ever seen before. They’ll be able to look at their calendar, they’ll be able to look at their grades. But, they’ll also receive assignments and be graded through and be educated through the platform, in addition to the human that’s in their classroom.”

The BLEND program will soon implement the parent portal. The district hopes to begin training parents next month.

“As a parent or as a student, as a teacher, we only go one place and we can now all communicate in a neighborhood digitally,” said Tyler. “We’re all in this digital neighborhood working together for the greater good of the children. So, I’m excited about that.”

Last year, AISD adopted Canvas for the entire district, for its full use to become accessible at every school campus fall 2017.

For more information about the program, visit the AISD website.