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Faculty and the Transition to Canvas

By David Simpson

Faculty are facing changes as the University trades learning management systems, replacing the outdated Blackboard LMS with Canvas. With change come questions.

What will be gained from adopting a new system? And what is Canvas, anyway?

Canvas is a highly regarded platform that is used at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, the University of Michigan, Virginia Tech and many other institutions, including K-12 schools. It was developed by Instructure, an educational technology company based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

"Canvas provides an intuitive user and mobile app experience, innovative functionality, and prompt 24/7 phone and chat support," said Rusty Waterfield, associate vice president for University services and chief information officer.

ODU faculty member Helen Crompton has used Canvas in the past.

"I am thrilled we are going to Canvas," said Dr. Crompton, an associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning. "It offers so many ways to lighten the load for the faculty member."

She finds Canvas's incorporated systems especially useful.

"For example, at the touch of a button it sends out emails to those students that have not submitted assignments, and congratulations to those students that have completed the activities."

We're well underway with the transition. Three faculty forums on the migration of courses from Blackboard to Canvas were presented in November by Information Technology Services, the Center for Learning and Teaching, and the Center for Faculty Development. (Watch a video of the first session.) The migration will take place in December.

Early adopters, already trained, are getting ready to teach with Canvas starting in January. The rest of the faculty will be trained in the spring before teaching with it in the summer and fall. Now the learning begins. All instructors have access to the ODU Canvas site, canvas.odu.edu. There, they can take the course "Growing With Canvas" and learn how to customize and organize their academic courses, create activities and assessments, and more. Further training is also available at the site. In the spring, Instructure will train faculty in each college.

What's more, CLT will offer numerous workshops about Canvas topics starting in January, as well as clinics in which instructors can get answers to their questions.

Once faculty adopt Canvas, they can turn for support to ITS, for technological trouble, and CLT, for pedagogical issues. That's in addition to Canvas's own phone and chat options.

Professor of History Annette Finley-Croswhite praised "the fabulous support that Information Technology Services, in particular, is providing" and said she is staying positive about the transition.

Dr. Finley-Croswhite, who also directs the Center for Faculty Development, told of a friend at another university who recently experienced the transition to Canvas:

"She reports that while the learning curve was time-consuming, it was well worth it because the grading features in Canvas are more highly developed, thus allowing the instructor to offer more extensive feedback without taking too much time. And that feedback is much better for student success."

Crompton, too, is upbeat about the change.

"I have used Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, D2L, etc.," she said. "Canvas is my favorite."

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