Change Is Good: Using Canvas to Reinvent the Learning Experience

At Kingston, we embrace technologies that cater to a diverse and changing student base, and we’re committed to radically changing the classroom experience. This time last year, reflecting Kingston’s innovative approach to digital learning, I was tasked with evaluating our technology strategy and reassessing the type of learning we want to deliver.

At the centre of our digital strategy has been the decision to replace our legacy system Blackboard with cloud-native Canvas. Feedback from students was that Blackboard didn’t meet their needs—it wasn’t flexible or user-friendly enough, nor did it support self-directed or mobile learning in the way that they needed it to.

We have one of the most diverse student populations, supporting distance learners, international students, students whose first language (or even second) is not English, and many who have different approaches to learning. With Canvas, students are no longer tied to the lecture theatre—instead they can engage in learning whenever and wherever they happen to be. Canvas is proving crucial in empowering our students to learn in their own ways, investigating and solving real-world problems, rather than ingesting and regurgitating material.

For us it’s key that technology is fully integrated with pedagogy. Teaching should lead technology adoption, not the other way around. Students, teachers and managers all had a hand in choosing, evaluating and using Canvas, and it was adopted so we could more readily enhance and support our traditional teaching and learning experience, not replace it.

Central to this enhanced learning experience, and perhaps the biggest appeal of Canvas, has been the intuitive nature of the product. With digitally savvy students, used to the clear and responsive interface of social networks or shopping sites, ensuring that they have a clear and instinctive experience is vital. As a cloud-native system, Canvas is not only familiar and simple but also flexible and versatile. Users can take a number of approaches to tasks, which helps them learn in a way that they're comfortable with—and helps us cater to any number of different and changing learning approaches. Gone is our rigid and inflexible experience; instead we have a system which enhances learning and empowers our students.

In a nutshell, Canvas has been an enabler. It works reliably and seamlessly and supports our student-centred teaching approaches. It’s helped us to interact with students better and deliver a collaborative and responsive learning experience. My advice to staff at other institutions is that change doesn’t have to be hard. For us, taking the leap to overhaul our VLE was a big one. But it’s been easier to change than to try to “retrofit” an existing solution to support a new vision. At Kingston, we’re thinking to the future. How do we support today’s learners in becoming tomorrow’s valuable employees and confident digital citizens? Embracing the cloud-native and flexible Canvas is a vital component in achieving that goal.

Keep Learning, 
Professor Linda Price, PFHEA
Head of Technology Enhanced Learning
Kingston University