Overhead view of two students working at a computer in the library

Case Western Reserve adopts Canvas as new learning management system

Program to be available for courses next semester

After more than 15 years of using Blackboard, Case Western Reserve University is changing its learning management system (LMS). University Technology’s Teaching and Learning Technologies team selected the new solution, Canvas, after an 18-month review process that included town hall meetings, hands-on demonstrations and pilot testing with faculty and students.

“This was perhaps the most thoroughly researched transition I’ve encountered in my 36 years at CWRU,” Gary Chottiner, professor of physics and member of the Faculty Senate, said.

Benefits of Canvas

While the university community can begin looking around the new system today (Oct. 24), courses will not be hosted in Canvas until next semester. Faculty can continue using Blackboard through the end of summer 2017. By the start of next fall semester, Canvas, a product of Instructure, will become the only supported LMS at CWRU.

Key features of Canvas include:

  • a more streamlined, modern look,
  • drag-and-drop tools for faculty,
  • mobile apps for faculty and students,
  • more functionality to encourage collaboration and
  • an improved grader tool.

“Our hope is that the faculty who experience trouble setting up courses and using the current LMS may find this to be an easier system to use,” Genevieve Mathieson Kilmer, senior teaching and learning designer/technologist, said.

Forty-three percent of credit-based courses at the university use Blackboard, which is similar to industry averages for institutions of Case Western Reserve’s size. The Teaching and Learning Technologies team hopes the improved user experience of Canvas will lead to an increase in the number of courses using an LMS, as many students have expressed interest in seeing more consistency in where to find course materials.

Positive feedback

Many faculty and students who piloted the program in spring 2016 were impressed with the tool’s capabilities and ease of use.

“Canvas made a very positive difference for me in planning and managing and organizing my course. In fact, I didn’t even write a syllabus outside the interface, as I found it easier and more intuitive simply to design the whole course within it,” Timothy Beal, the Florence Harkness Professor of Religion, said. “The app is also very good, clean and easily navigable. Students seemed to be using it nearly as much as the desktop version.”

Other faculty members pointed out more benefits of the system, including the ability to separate and restrict some content to specific users within a course, while making other information universal to the entire class.

“This had not been possible with Blackboard, which my course had used for eight prior semesters,” said Mark DeGuire, associate professor of materials science and engineering.

The system also was met with good reviews from students who used the program as part of courses in spring.

“Using Canvas was a refreshing experience from the outdated and clunky old learning management system, Blackboard,” Prince Ghosh, a sophomore engineering student, said. “In the semester that I used Canvas, I found it easier to keep track of my assignments and grades, and often utilized the system’s forum board for questions I had on homework and labs.”

Support and training

While the program has been met with largely positive reviews, the Teaching and Learning Technologies team recognizes it will not come without challenges, and it will be a significant change for the campus community.

To address any concerns faculty and students might have about using the new LMS, the Teaching and Learning Technologies team will offer various events leading up to the official launch of the program in 2017 to get more familiar with the system.

Two University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education session will be held in November for faculty to see demonstrations of the system.

Instructure-led web-based trainings are available immediately for faculty and staff to sign up at case.edu/utech/canvas/training/.

Additional face-to-face workshops will be scheduled soon and listed at case.edu/utech/canvas/training/.

Make sure to check The Daily often to find out more about these events.

“This is not our system—it’s the campus’s system. It’s their learning and teaching management tool, and we’re just here to support them and help them figure out how they can use it best,” Tina Oestreich, senior director of teaching and learning technologies, said. “When faculty become more comfortable using the system, I think they’re going to find they can do really interesting things with it that can really broaden the students’ learning experiences outside the classroom.”

To learn more about Canvas and request a sandbox course to begin testing the system’s functionality, visit case.edu/utech/canvas/.