I am excited to be presenting my approach of a Flipped-LMS at Simon Fraser University’s DEMOFest 2015 on November 24th.

Here is the description of my session:

Flipping the LMS: Benefits and Lessons Learned of Using an Alternative Front-end to Canvas

Let’s be honest, as course facilitators we want to deliver the best possible online learner experience but at the same time make our own experience as convenient as possible. LMSs, such as Canvas, provide some great pedagogical elements but often fall short when it comes to such things as streamlined course updates, content reuse, easy customization, and providing a truly open platform. The solution? Flip the LMS!

A flipped-LMS is an approach where an open platform, chosen by an instructor, provides an alternative (and preferably collaborative) front-end to their institutional LMS. In this presentation Paul will demonstrate how this approach can produce significant improvements to both the student and instructor experience. Elements from Paul’s personal toolkit to be highlighted will include Canvas (naturally), the open source flat-file CMS Grav, and GitHub Desktop.

Presentation Slides

A flipped-LMS approach is where an open platform, in the control of instructors and students, serves as an alternative front-end to the institutional LMS.

With this approach, instructors can create better outcomes and experiences for students and themselves today. Deep-links to any needed LMS elements (i.e. assignment submissions, discussion forums, grades, etc.) with flow-through for user authentication is the only back-end requirement.

Explore an example flipped-LMS implementation, created for my Simon Fraser University CMPT 363 course and built with the open source CMS Grav + Instructure’s Canvas LMS at http://paulhibbitts.net/cmpt-363-163/.

Desired qualities of a flipped-LMS approach:

  • Open (Platform + Data)
  • Collaborative
  • Choice (Instructor/Student)
  • Pliable
  • Networked

A flipped-LMS is an approach where an open platform, chosen by an instructor, provides an alternative front-end to their institutional LMS. Deep links (i.e. direct links) are provided to any required LMS elements such as discussions, assignments, grades, etc.

A flipped-LMS also enables a”flip” of ownership of the course experience to the hands of instructors and students.

A live example of a flipped-LMS approach, using the CMS Grav and Canvas LMS, is at: http://paulhibbitts.net/cmpt-363-163/.

Flipped-LMS Approach Decision Flowchart

Figure 1. Basic flowchart to illustrate a flipped-LMS decision pathway (http://bit.ly/201zVj0)

A flipped-LMS is where an open platform, in the control of instructors and students, is an alternative (and ideally collaborative) front-end to the institutional LMS..

Embracing Participatory Culture in Education (via alexeyza.com)

A Five-Step Process For Conducting User Research

In this article I will describe the workflow details for my Fall 2015 Simon Fraser University CMPT-363 course companion, which meets the requirements first outlined in the LinkedIn article Online Course Companions: Workflow Requirements for (us) Instructors.

The one element that makes everything possible is the open source CMS Grav, which in addition to empowering me to provide a great user experience for my students, uses a non-database approach in which content and code are stored separately as text files (often referred to as a flat-file CMS). Within content text files it is possible to use plain text, Markdown and HTML. Grav also supports modular content, which means content can be displayed in multiple areas and contexts but only needs to be stored once. Think content blobs vs. chunks.


  • MacBook Air (primary work platform)
  • Surface Pro 3 (secondary work platform)
  • Samsung Galaxy S5
  • ASUS Nexus 7 Tablet


Workflow (Mac or Windows)

  • Edit one or more course companion files in a text editor (e.g. Atom or any other of your choice)
  • Preview locally within a Browser using MAMP (optional step)
  • Review and commit changes to course companion GitHub repository via GitHub Desktop

Atom Text Editor Figure 1. Adding a new article link in the Atom text editor (modular content that will be displayed in multiple areas of the site).

GitHub Desktop Figure 2. Previewing and then committing changes to the GitHub repository.

Once the changes have been pushed to the GitHub repository then Deploy can be configured to automatically get a notification and update the course companion site via SFTP. Priceless.

If I need to make a quick update with any mobile device I can do so via the GitHub website, and these will later be synced down to all my GitHub Desktop clients. These changes would also be automatically updated on the course companion site by Deploy via SFTP.

Let’s talk about two critical issues: time and trackability. In terms of time, I can now make simple changes to the course companion in a fraction of time (e.g. 30 seconds) that would be required by many database-driven LMS’s such as Canvas or Moodle. This is really important, as the faster (and easier for that matter) course companion updates are the more likely that us instructors will continue to make improvements throughout the term. Having each and every change made to the course companion be trackable, and essentially reversible, not only helps minimize possible errors but helps decrease the anxiety that often comes along with frequent (and not easily reversible, esp. with regards to code changes) site updates by the instructor.

Awesomeness on Top of Awesomeness If the above is not enough benefit for this workflow, here comes the kicker: since all changes are flowed through GitHub, the entire course companion is not just in the open but also truly collaborative. Students can suggest changes, which are then previewed by the instructor and immediately applied or be the start of a further dialog with a student. In other words, a course companion (aka learning platform) that students and instructors can both contribute to and improve over time. And this is not just about content, but also code (i.e. functionality of the site) if your students are familiar with common Web languages, as my Simon Fraser University Computing Science students are. In fact, I’ve now come to the conclusion that this should be a baseline requirement for any learning platform of mine from now onwards.

CMPT-363 Course Companion Screenshot Figure 3. A course companion page with a “Edit this page on GitHub” link to seamlessly initiate the process of submitting changes via GitHub.

Well, there you have it. If you are interested in learning more about this workflow, or about my experiences of using Grav CMS as a means to support a flipped-LMS approach (in my case with the Canvas LMS), please get in touch.