Canvas conversion in full swing

November 05, 2013
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Mary Ann Gillies may not be a pioneer in the traditional sense. But as one of the first to pilot Canvas, SFU’s new educational technology platform, the English professor and author was definitely in new territory.

Still, despite the usual start up challenges, she now feels pretty much at home in Canvas. “There’s a lot of scope for packaging and disseminating content,” she says. “I can do videos and podcasts if I want to. And you can customize the look any way you want with different course shells.”

Gillies and seven other instructors began testing Canvas in January 2013. During the summer, about one third of courses at SFU were being taught using the new platform.

“And even though many students and instructors were using it for the first time,” says Mark Bachmann, communications lead for the implementation team, “demand was down at IT help desks. That’s a good indication that it’s easy to use.”

Criminology professor Bill Glackman, one of the first WebCT users in the 1990s, is now a Canvas convert. “Its flexibility makes it challenging for some people, especially those who are unfamiliar with a linked environment,” he says, “but that’s also what makes it such a strong teaching and learning tool. When it comes to learning objectives, Canvas can do everything WebCT did, but in multiple ways.”

It also does what WebCT couldn’t do. “Students can take advantage of social networks and get class announcements by email or Twitter,” Glackman says. “It supports rubrics and makes them available to students ahead of time, and there are more than 50 plug-ins that allow significant integration with the outside world.”

Nicky Didicher, a senior English lecturer and a former WebCT “heavy user”, is currently teaching her third class using Canvas, one with 250 students. 

She says there’s plenty to like about the new platform: the clean look of the user interface; its ability to open and work in multiple courses at the same time; the peer review and collaboration functions and the way it easily links to files and external resources.

Inevitably there were glitches, but these were minor, says Didicher, occurring mostly during the conversion process or the result of having to modify practices she’d learned and used in WebCT.

Bachmann says the implementation team pays close attention to all reported issues and is determining priorities for system development based on feedback from instructors.

The pay off, once the hitches have been dealt with, goes well beyond a technical upgrade, says communication professor Martin Laba, director of academic community engagement for the Canvas directors team.

“SFU’s vision focuses on comprehensive student engagement as a crucial dimension of teaching and learning,” says Laba.

“Achieving that vision requires an educational environment that resonates with students and enhances their university experience—and the linchpin of that environment is an effective educational technology platform.”

WebCT retirement planned for April 2014

Instructors can use WebCT to deliver their courses until the end of December 2013. And WebCT content will be available on a read-only basis for the first semester of 2014.

The aim is to have the Canvas platform fully implemented and WebCT completely retired by the end of April 2014.

Instructors who haven’t yet made the transition can take advantage of the following resources: 

· For general information, visit here

· Check here for instructions on importing WebCT content into Canvas

· Check here to find the dates for orientation workshops and drop-in sessions, available on all campuses

· Learning technology specialists (LTSs) in the Teaching and Learning Centre have been assigned to provide Canvas support for each faculty. Check here to find the LTS support person for your faculty.

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