Westmont College Canvas Pilot Project 2015/2016
Nine professors and their students were set up with Canvas LMS for their 2015/2016 courses. Training sessions for the professors were set up with the reps from the Canvas offices. In addition, a discussion thread was set up for these professors to discuss the questions that came up and to work together to share solutions.
The departments involved in this pilot project were Psychology, English, Physics, Computer Science, Math and Philosophy. The participants in this pilot project had either expressed an interest in this specific product or had approached the office of Academic Technology with an interest in academic innovation.
I think Canvas is an exceptional platform for student learning and that the college should do whatever possible to make it the primary LMS on campus.
What Canvas offers that Eureka doesn’t:
- An app. For students this is gold. They can read articles, upload assignments, and view the assignment calendar all from their phone. I’ve used it many times myself to check on student submissions. But most importantly, it’s intuitive and encourages students to study where they spend most of their time.
- Extensive tech support. As someone who loves using tech resources in the classroom, I was frustrated numerous times when trying to “up” my Eureka game and finding that Eureka support position has yet to be filled. With Canvas, I can search an answer to my question almost immediately. If I’m still lost, there’s a live person to help me that Westmont doesn’t have to pay.
- Streamable content. Rather than downloading files in order to view (especially syllabi), students can access them right in the interface. This effectively ends the miscommunication that ensues when a syllabus is updated. Students always have the updated file right in front of them, which doesn’t happen when they are forced to download.
- Communication across platforms. Canvas works with two well-established and loved Westmont platforms—LiveText and Google Docs. My students have used the Google Doc feature and there’s so much potential with using Canvas and LiveText together. Talk about faculty buy-in: grading an assessment one time that uploads with one click into LiveText.
To sum up:
Students—They love it. If you want confirmation ask any of my WD students from Fall and most from Spring.
Faculty—My sense about faculty buy-in is that they are still used to a Eureka world and don’t fully understand the capabilities of Canvas. If you do decide to keep it, I would suggest that a Canvas staff offer training during Faculty Forum (or some kind of webinar) so that the initial start-up will be significantly easier. Once faculty realize that this LMS makes their job easier, they will be huge advocates.
Administration/Staffing—With Canvas support, Westmont staff requirements would be minimal. This could mean less staffing costs for the long term
Canvas brings Westmont into the 21st century and conveys that we are campus serious about thoughtful, pedagogically rigorous technology.
I have used Eureka/Moodle for many years and am using Canvas for the second time. Here are a few random thoughts.
Canvas has some strengths to be sure. It is prettier than our current version of moodle. I don't use the apps, but can understand their appeal. Good technical support is available for a price. Many of the features are more user-friendly than our current version of moodle--easier for less tech-saavy folks to use than moodle.
My biggest concern about moving to Canvas is its proprietary nature. Do we want to depend on a third party for our core mission? How much will that cost us? What will we do when they raise their rates or their support is not as good? If we ever stopped using it, all our material would be trapped in someone else's system. How long will it take to recreate a course created in Canvas on a different platform? (I hope everyone is saving some text version of any content you're putting on Canvas so that you will have it if Canvas goes away--either because we don't switch to it, or if we do, if we ever decide to change to something else.)
Moodle is open source, which means free--as in freedom. We will never lose our stuff. There are many companies that can host moodle if we want to outsource it. If we don’t like their support we can move to a new provider and keep our content. If we want a new feature, or a modification to an existing one, we can pay someone to program it for less than the license for Canvas. If the concern is looks, we can hire people to create a prettier skin for moodle--again, for less than the license for Canvas.
Students who want to work for agencies that can't afford expense software licenses would benefit from exposure to open-source resources so that they will be positioned to adopt them in the future. Furthermore, the use of open-source resources encourages students to think critically about the way corporations suck us into their profit-making.
And I would argue that if you want to be seen as cutting-edge in the technology world, using open source is a more impressive badge.
The conversation around which LMS to choose for Westmont is an important one, and I am grateful to add my feedback.
Certainly cost is a crucial factor, and I don’t want to downplay the significance of making the fiscally responsible choice.
But I do want to speak in support of Canvas being adopted as the Westmont LMS, and I want to second the rationales that Rachel mentions.
I especially want to underscore other’s comments about the value of the mobile Canvas app for students. I was fortunate enough to co-lead London Theatre Mayterm this past year, and several of our students did not bring a laptop. They only brought iPads. (I know that other off-campus programs have built in the cost of an iPad for each student into the program budget, as a way to reduce the weights associated with books and laptops in baggage.) With Canvas, nearly the full functionality of the LMS is present for students in the app, and the vast majority of the functionality of Canvas is even present for faculty members, once the Canvas app is paired with the standalone SpeedGrader app. Our students on Mayterm who were traveling without laptops were able to compose discussion posts, submit papers, and receive feedback on those papers, all through the Canvas app, by taking advantage of the ways in which the app “talks" to other mobile apps, such as Google Docs and Word for iPad.
On campus, I have found that Canvas makes possible assignments that I wouldn’t dare try in Eureka. Because of the ease of use and the ability to associate apps with Canvas, I am currently assigning a research project in my Studies in Literature class that is formulated in a way that I never attempted while working with Eureka. All students “become the experts” in a region associated with a work of literature we are reading; one group, for instance, is focusing research on Kenya, which is the setting for Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s novel Weep Not, Child. Their research, on the Gikuyu language, the Mau Mau revolution, and on systems of education in Kenya under colonial rule, is then integrated by a student curator. That curator then creates a webpage presenting that research to the class, and all students review it. I can teach the student curators how to work with the webpage creation module in Canvas in a mere 20 minutes. Then, using the associated YouTube embedding app in Canvas, they can construct a page that includes text, images, and streaming video. The pages they produced last year were simple, but entirely effective. And, significantly, after my 20-minute presentation to these student curators, I got a total of 2 questions all semester about how to put the web pages up. :) Given the number of our humanities grads who come back to me and tell me that the first job that they got that used their writing skills *also* required web editing capabilities (not surprising, since so much contemporary writing now appears first online), I think that an LMS that makes a first foray into web development both possible and easy is an important feature.
Another thing I would like to highlight about a way in which Canvas is notably superior to Eureka is in the realm of grading papers. I used Canvas’s SpeedGrader functionality on Mayterm for all my grading, and was thus able to provide detailed, sentence-level (even apostrophe-level) feedback to students, without printing papers out. Now, it is certainly the case that a narrative statement of evaluation is easily possible with Eureka, or with any other system of text entry, from email to Word docs to texts. But what Canvas’s SpeedGrader offers in terms of the ability to highlight text, to mark up text with a range of in-line commentary, to combine narrative feedback with the sort of flexibility in marginalia that I otherwise could only achieve with a pen on paper, is really impressive. On campus, I alternate between the use of Canvas’s SpeedGrader and Turnitin.com’s GradeMark systems for grading student essays. But I am more and more persuaded that for all courses except first-year Composition, that the SpeedGrader is the superior product even to Turnitin’s excellent grading module, and both modules are far more complete and sophisticated than what Eureka offers.
I also want to affirm other’s comments about the ways in which faculty might appreciate the convenience of the LiveText integration. When I have mentioned to other faculty that there might be a way to “grade a paper once and have that rubric assessment become the one time you’d have to look at that paper for program review purposes,” eyes have lit up.
Finally, I want to suggest that form isn’t just how it looks. Form is how it works. I see the clarity in the design of Canvas to be one of its most crucial features, and the principles of design that make this system more intuitive and “clean” than Eureka are more than a matter of aesthetics—they represent a fundamentally better way of addressing student needs.
Canvas is fine, but not a huge improvement over Eureka to justify the expense.
I definitely agree with the points raised by others regarding the many advantages of Canvas. I admit as a new faculty member, I have not used Eureka for any courses. However, in August I looked at and compared Eureka to Canvas in making a decision as to what system to use. I liken the process to choosing between two cars, an Edsel (for those who do not know what that is, check it out on Wiki) and a Mercedes.
Just to reiterate one particular Canvas capability, SpeedGrader is fabulous for all of my courses, as it allows for flexibility and seamless interfacing for myself and the students. This is especially important as I utilize weekly journals with large numbers of students on Canvas. I would also note that our students prefer Canvas as a platform.
As a Canvas user, I have found that I have generally not needed to contact tech support as the Canvas framework is so intuitive in its design and easy to navigate.
However, the two times I have had a question, I called the Canvas number and immediately (no “hold please”) was put in touch with tech support. They were able to answer my questions in a straightforward manner. They also made a point to follow up in an email to check on my satisfaction with their assistance.
I've been using Eureka for virtually all my courses for the last seven years. I've also now recently used Canvas for four courses. Given my experience with both LMS's, I agree with most of the comments already made that affirm the superiority of Canvas over Eureka. Though Canvas isn't better than Eureka in absolutely every respect, I consider it a significant improvement over Eureka in virtually all important respects.
In addition to what others have already said about the advantages of Canvas's SpeedGrader, the availability of a Canvas smartphone app for students, Canvas's streamable content, the availability of technical support for Canvas users, and the way Canvas interfaces with various other instructional and administrative tools, I'll add one more advantage of Canvas: ease of reorganizing the material in an existing course. Though it is relatively easy to set up a course in Eureka, I've found it to be quite cumbersome to move and rearrange assignments and other resources on Eureka when I want to revise a course at the start of a new semester (even if the revision is simply to change from a fall schedule to a spring schedule). Canvas makes it quite a bit easier to make changes to an existing course.
I have taught courses in the CS department over the years, using both Eureka and Canvas. I have seen the sparkly new interface on Canvas, and recognize its appeal both aesthetically and in the grading package in particular, its function. I also recognize that Canvas has made a conscious decision to favor simplicity over complexity. This allows them to have the sparkly aesthetic and the clean grading system. And perhaps this is as it should be. Moodle has a huge amount of flexibility that allows faculty to set up grading schemes that boggle the mind. And boggle it does! Most of our support requests once the semester is underway are some variation of "How did this student get this grade?" The "drop up to 3 quizzes except those on these dates if the moon is full" approach doesn't lend itself to clarity, much less sparkliness. But then again... it was the faculty member's choice to set up this scheme.
What is the alternative? I know someone on the IT support team for Indiana University for 2 years. IU uses Canvas, and the support requests for faculty they fielded more often than not were concluded by "That's not an option for Canvas." Complexity vs Clarity: the Canvas project favors Clarity (simplicity) not only out of philosophy, but out of necessity. The canvas development team is minuscule compared to the group of people working on Moodle. They simply don't have the resources to deal with all the edge cases, so they have made a virtue of that limitation. Moodle, by contrast, suffers from a surfeit of developers, making it more challenging to create a unified vision. You have to work harder with Moodle to present a clean interface, and much of that task falls to the faculty member.
Although I haven’t been able to use Canvas much this semester, I’ve used it all of the other semesters that it’s been available. It is an amazing LMS—It is easy to use—novices can get up and running quickly--but has a wealth of features that one can add on as one learns. It has student and faculty quick start guides, as well as more extensive user guides for students and faculty. It also has an active community of users that help those who are less experienced. The customer service people are very responsive to issues that a user is having, in terms of answering questions, problem-solving, and submitting requests for improvements to the system.
Being able to export my older courses to allow the instructors who took over my courses this year has made things easier for them when trying to set up their version of the course. The export/import function also allows people in my department to share common assignment information, requirements, and grading rubrics more easily than if we simply passed along a syllabus.
One limitation is the grading system—It simply doesn’t allow for certain kinds of grading schemes—But I’m not aware of any LMS that is more flexible than Canvas’. I can download grades from Canvas, however, put them in Excel, and do the kind of grading that I need, so that’s my work-around.
The positives that I’ve heard from the students include the calendar and the assignment due date reminders that they can receive so they stay on track with completion of course requirements. They also appreciate the what-if final grade feature, where they can plug in possible scores for remaining assignments to see what grade they can earn in the course. They talk about the look and feel of Canvas being more intuitive than other LMSs that they’ve used. With the assignments and their requirements on Canvas, I get fewer questions from students about the assignments—What they need to do, when they need to turn things in—so I think they’re using that information in a way that they don’t use a printed syllabus, and it means that I use less class time explaining assignments to them.
And students really dislike having to use two LMSs, depending on the courses that they’re taking!