Article: A Fresh Canvas

*Editor's note: This article is from The Hawk Newspaper of St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is republished with permission.

Students and faculty piloting Canvas, the university’s newly adopted learning management system, this semester are responding enthusiastically to the new system.

“I actually like it a lot more than Blackboard,” said Calley Maloney ’18, who uses Canvas in two of her classes. “It makes it a lot easier to follow. It’s just pretty much better and well organized.”

After 20 years, the university will end its contract with Blackboard on June 30. Academic Technology and Distributed Learning (ATDL) is under the wire to fully implement the new system by the start of the first summer courses, according to Karen Pinto, digital media technologist in ATDL and team leader for the university’s Canvas adoption.

Pinto said while everyone is working hard, the team still faces some obstacles.

“I would say some of the biggest challenges we’re facing is the aggressive timeline,” Pinto said. “The contract was signed at the end of July and our project became part of our responsibility in August. So, they basically gave us less than a year to run a pilot and learn the new system.”

 

“It’s just more convenient for the teacher and the student. So, I think it’s a good step they are going in to change it.”

— Calley Maloney, Student

 

To help get the campus community trained to use the new system, the university appointed at least one ambassador for each department, plus 84 early adopters, whose jobs are to serve as the “liaison between their academic department and the Canvas implementation team. They share their Canvas experiences, and generally promote the adoption of Canvas with faculty peers in their department,” explained Francis DiSanti, Chief Information Officer, in an email to faculty, students and staff last December.

Robert Daniel, Ph.D., assistant professor of modern and classical languages, tested Canvas around seven years ago and loved it, but is pressed for time to understand and test its many features before Blackboard goes away.

“It’s taking time and I haven’t figured out all the tools yet, so it’s going reasonably well, but I wish I had more time,” Daniel said.

Paul Patterson, Ph.D., associate professor of English, is the Canvas ambassador for the English department.

“My role as an ambassador was to take the early training offered by the university for the ambassadors and then use Canvas in my courses this semester to serve two roles,” Patterson said. “One, start using it so students can get a sense of it and so faculty can see what it looks like. And also, as we transition into it as a university, I can help other people who start to use it and be there as a support for them.”

 

“I became an early adopter because I’ve heard so many great things about the service and loved the interface.”

— Rachel Sullivan, Assistant Professor

 

The early adopters are teaching 200 courses in Canvas this spring. Rachael Sullivan, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication studies, an early adopter, was already a fan of the Canvas system.

“I wanted something that works like the Internet works, and Blackboard isn’t that,” Sullivan said. “I became an early adopter because I’ve heard so many great things about the service and loved the interface.”

For many early adopters, Canvas outshines the old Blackboard system.

“It’s much better organized,” Maloney said. “It’s also keeping track of your grades better. It’s much more organized and easier to see where you are in the course.”

The biggest challenge for early adopters and their students is having to navigate between the old and new systems. Despite the 200 courses taught in Canvas as part of the pilot, most courses are still active on Blackboard.

“I decided I was not going to double my workload and so basically when someone goes to my Blackboard site for the courses I’m teaching this semester, it says click here to go to Canvas,” Daniel said.

For students like Maloney, with some courses in Canvas and some in Blackboard, keeping up with assignments and grades can be more difficult.

“I would rather have just all five on the same,” Maloney said. “I’m guessing it will be different after they implement it next year but it’s annoying because I have to go onto Blackboard and then sign in again to get into Canvas. It’s a little more of a hassle.”

Overall, though, Maloney said she sees the switch to Canvas as a step in the right direction.

“It’s just more convenient for the teacher and the student,” Maloney said. “So, I think it’s a good step they are going in to change it.”