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Canvas, an LMS Revolution

                                                                               by Scott James​

By now you have probably heard of the new Learning Management System (LMS) by a company named Instructure. Instructure's Canvas LMS is taking the California Community College System by storm. But you may be wondering what the big deal is. Many people are asking me several questions. Why are so many people making the switch?  Is Canvas better than Blackboard? If we do switch, will it be difficult to learn how to use Canvas? What resources will be made available to me to learn Canvas? What makes Canvas better than Blackboard? Let's dig in.  

We have a very big opportunity to leverage our buying power and create shared resources as a California Community College System. The California Community College System was given a 56.9 million dollar 5-year Online Education Initiative (OEI) grant to create a "collaborative effort among California Community Colleges (CCCs) to ensure that significantly more students are able to complete their educational goals by increasing both access to and success in high-quality online courses,"1 it became clear that it was also time to pool together some resources. One of the problems with sharing online content has always been the fragmentation the LMS. Some schools were on Blackboard, others on Sakai, Moodle, Etudes, etc. Content and course sharing is difficult, at best, when you're using different technology and organizing things differently. A primary focus of the OEI quickly became to search for a common LMS that would help promote its primary objective of increasing access and success in online courses while increasing our System's course transferability and collaboration ability. Without being able to share classes, resources, and materials in the CCC, it would be difficult and arduous to create a course exchange that supported access and success in any meaningful way. Also, since there is only one instance of Canvas that everyone shares (each college gets its own branded imprint), our Adjunct Faculty will love the transferability for their courses. The process the OEI underwent to select an LMS is best outlined by TechEDge.

TechEdge is a 55-member selection committee that participated in the RFP review using an extensive scoring rubric. The decision-making process was guided by and included the active involvement of the CCMS Committee, which is composed of the CCMS Workgroup of the OEI Steering Committee, the members of OEI's Management Team, and representatives from the eight Full Launch Pilot Colleges - the first colleges to test and deploy the CCMS tool.

The recommendation culminated in an extremely thorough decision-making process that included input from multiple sources statewide, and began with the OEI's formation of a CCMS selection process in early 2014. The selection process was designed to ensure that a partner would be chosen to address the initiative's vision for the future.

A Distance Education Coordinator's Retreat held last June helped move the process forward, soliciting meaningful information regarding the potential requirements and design of a content management system. Other input activities followed, including a series of faculty and student surveys as well as faculty input through an online discussion platform, which generated more than 3,000 comments, and deep discussions with an eight-member team of renowned higher-education distance-education leaders. This input, along with a formal release of a Request for Information in June, led to the issuing of the CCMS Request for Proposal on Oct. 27. 2

I think it is fair for me to add in my opinion that the OEI was interested in and impressed by Instructure's desire to be a partner of the CCCs, rather than a vendor. That partnership is evident in many aspects of how Instructure approaches their LMS design. A Canvas community, including a separate one for the CCCs, was created to truly help guide the direction and continued improvement of Canvas. From what I can see and from what I have heard, Instructure takes this input from teachers and directly incorporates it into use in their design going forward. In fact, teachers can log in and vote on product enhancements. The enhancement that receives the most votes gets prioritized first. That is a big deal!

In the months following the OEI's decision to select Canvas, over 90 of the 113 CCCs have evaluated Canvas and have officially elected to adopt Canvas as their LMS. Wow!

Canvas is a little bit different than what you are use to. In Blackboard you have a lot of freedom to design your class in many different ways. As a power user you've probably enjoyed the ability to do things and organize things the way you like. But in Canvas the goal is consistency and being user friendly. But with this purposely designed interface, you will have less freedom to design your site the way you have done in Blackboard. From an instructional design perspective and from a student perspective this is a great thing. But you may groan a bit if you're a power user of Blackboard when you must design your site the way Canvas intends. But that is, ultimately, a good thing for consistency.  And for you folks that have never really embraced Blackboard, Canvas has your back. They pride themselves as being the easiest LMS to use, period. Plus, they do have some neat tools that we will all love. You'll be able to print out anything that is in Canvas or save it as a PDF: a win for the folks that love paper! They have a syllabus tool that has you create your syllabus right into Canvas. As part of that tool they have a class schedule, too. And yes, when you course copy your schedule from last term to the next, it will automatically adjust your dates to fit the current term. And, of course, all of these dates are loaded into the course calendar. Boom! Oh, and did I mention that Canvas was designed to be mobile friendly. You can even grade on your iPad! Heck, you can even mark up papers with a stylus. Oh so cool. There is a lot more that you'll love too.

But with all of this, you will need to actively devote some time to learning the new system and to converting your classes into Canvas. It is going to take some time. On October 18th, 2016 your Academic Senate voted to adopt Canvas as our LMS. By the time you're reading this your Senate has also most likely passed a resolution to form a LMS transition task force. Part of the role of the task force will be to advocate for resources, support, and training for our faculty. But even though our Senate has voted to adopt Canvas, that does not mean we can get started right away. First we'll need to have the Senate's recommendation move through the collegial governance process and, ultimately, be approved by The Board. In the mean time, if you're interested in taking Canvas for a test spin, let me know and I'll create a sandbox for you.


  1. OEI
  2. TechEDge

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