By Jonathan Lashley,
Deputy Director of Texts and Technologies
Over the next year, Clemson will transition from Blackboard–the current enterprise learning management system (LMS)–to Canvas. Over 150 faculty and more than 3,000 students have already experienced the benefits of Canvas by participating in a popular pilot of the platform. Some of these benefits include cloud-based system stability, 24/7 customer support, robust application support, intuitive user interfaces and mobile productivity apps.
A faculty and student-led initiative
Though Clemson Online has facilitated the pilot since 2014, the call to investigate Blackboard alternative began among students and faculty. In 2012, Clemson’s Academic Technology Council conducted a survey of 345 university faculty members and found that over 65 percent of respondents were interested in exploring Blackboard alternatives. Since then, those who have made the switch to Canvas have often lauded the ways in which Canvas better complements their teaching and learning.
Cassie Quigley, an assistant professor of science education, has found Canvas to be much easier to use. “Blackboard required a lot of clicks to get anywhere,” she said. “Canvas just seems more intuitive.”
Andrea Granbery, an elementary education student, shared a similar perspective. “Canvas is simpler than Blackboard. It seems very straightforward and there are not a lot of excess things all over the page. It’s just very easy to understand what you are looking at.”
The simplicity of Canvas does not limit its potential for educators, however. “Nothing is required in Canvas, there are just lots of options. And within those options, there’s lots of helpful structure. If you want to add examples of student work, or a video tutorial, there are options you can use, but you don’t have to use all of those features,” said Quigley.
As Dale Layfield, an associate professor of agricultural sciences, sees it, “Canvas is the answer I believe a lot of us have been looking for over the years. It’s going to make things a lot more pleasant for us as faculty, but also hopefully for students.”
Keeping in line with the interdepartmental history of this initiative, a comprehensive task force of staff, faculty, and students, recently assembled to oversee the university’s transition to Canvas. This group of university representatives will continue to work directly with Instructure, the company behind Canvas, in ensuring that the migration of courses, training of faculty and support of users is successfully realized before Blackboard is decommissioned in summer 2017. Click here for more information about the task force and its membership.
The ongoing Canvas pilot graduated to “open beta” status on Aug. 1, 2016. Since that time, the number of courses being offered in Canvas has more than doubled as daring faculty sign on to teach with and provide feedback on a platform that is still being integrated with university and third party systems. Though teaching in Canvas is optional at this time, all faculty are encouraged to log in and experiment with its resources by visiting clemson.instructure.com and signing in with their university credentials.
Migrating pre-existing courses couldn’t be easier as Canvas can import and reorganize content that is exported from Blackboard. Those faculty who are interested in redeveloping their courses in Canvas are welcome to migrate content at their leisure. Alternatively, Clemson Online staff are also available to assist faculty in transforming Blackboard content into Canvas courses. To request this service, visit clemson.edu/migration.
Canvas will formally roll out on January 1, 2017 in anticipation of Blackboard’s decommissioning after Spring Semester. Clemson Online is working with Instructure to ensure that all active Spring Semester courses that are already developed for Blackboard will also be available to teach in Canvas.
“The goal here is to automate the migration process as much as possible for faculty so that they may better focus their attention on getting acquainted with Canvas during a semester of concurrent system use in spring,” Said Jonathan Lashley, Deputy Director of Texts and Technologies at Clemson Online. “They are not required to teach in Canvas during Spring Semester, but I encourage faculty to at least explore how their courses vary across both platforms.”
After the migration of active spring courses is complete, attention will redirect to the coming Summer and Fall Semester courses. Be on the lookout for more information and requests regarding automated course migration in September.
Training and support
The LMS Transition Task Force has developed a website dedicated to the Canvas transition at clemson.edu/canvas. This site provides regular updates from the task force, documents project milestones, promotes training events, publishes user resources, and act as a communication hub for all things Canvas.
As faculty and students get acquainted with Canvas, a number of resources are available to assist:
1. Instructure representatives are available to consult via phone, email, and live chat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Depending on the time of day, users will be served by Canvas support staff located in either Utah or England. Making use of an LMS vendor’s award-winning support is a novel approach at Clemson, and users may access this just-in-time service through the help menu located in the lower-left corner of the Canvas Interface.
2. CCIT’s IT Help ticketing system has a queue dedicated to Canvas support. Faculty and staff may continue to seek LMS assistance by submitting tickets straight to firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Clemson Online technologists and instructional designers are available to migrate course content, transform active courses, and facilitate training opportunities for users. A regularly updated list of their events may be found at clemson.edu/online/events, and special requests may be directed to email@example.com.
4. Canvas is its community. One of most attractive features of Canvas is the active, diverse network of universities that support one another at community.canvaslms.com. There, users may find and contribute information about Canvas features, tips, tricks and applications. Similarly, Canvas Commons is available within Canvas and acts as a learning objects repository through which faculty may find, share and submit sample courses, modules, assignments and other materials.
There is a lot of work to do between now and next Summer, but, with a little help from the Clemson Community, the LMS Transition Taskforce is confident that faculty and students will draw a lot of inspiration and excitement from the Canvas platform. Users are encouraged to consult the Clemson Canvas website, clemson.edu/canvas, regularly and provide as much feedback as possible during the transition.