Oct 18, 2013 03:29pm
Canvas + EvCC = BFF
Date: 
October 17, 2013 - 1:52pm

The long awaited switch to Canvas has been made and it’s been two years in the making.

Although there are always bumps when switching from system to system, most students and staff are happy – or at least satisfied with the change. Canvas classes appeared as early as last year, but EvCC officially began using Canvas over the summer.

The decision to switch was made statewide by The Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, as Washington’s contract with ANGEL expires in June 2014. Other colleges, including Edmonds, have made the switch early as well.

But, why Canvas?

A statewide system will allow for a student to take classes at multiple colleges and have all their resources in one place, said Interim Director of eLearning Alyson Indrunas. Currently, 33 out of 34 community colleges and 5 out of 6 universities are either using or switching to Canvas. The two schools not on board are WSU and Skagit Valley Community College.

Canvas also sports a variety of features that allow for greater student teacher interaction, said Indrunas. Multimedia is easier to post and access. Notifications can be sent to your Facebook, Twitter or email. Rubrics are present with every assignment. Teacher student messaging is like an instant message. Students and teachers can even record video messages with their webcams.

Canvas’ grading system is also easier for teachers to use. Before, Indrunas “wasted hours of [her] life” downloading student’s work from ANGEL. There’s also no more opening links in that weird half browser ANGEL window. ANGEL would also crash servers, whereas Canvas exists in the cloud.

“I think it’s what the future of learning managements will look like,” said Indrunas.

Many students are happy with the change to Canvas. Student Cecelia Cancel says that she actually understands Canvas, whereas ANGEL was always confusing to her. She is taking a double Geology and English class and Canvas handles the double class very well.

Joelle Moussi likes Canvas, especially the mobile friendliness that ANGEL lacked. Some students choose to use Canvas on their phones and that choice has benefited Canvas in the court of student opinion.

Student Steven Marin doesn’t think Canvas feels like anything special, but did not use ANGEL. He thinks that Canvas should be implemented at the high school level because it helps him communicate with his teachers when he has last second questions.

Political science professor Dr. Steven Horn likes the feel of Canvas more than ANGEL. However, he has some worries about interacting with his students.

“I am constantly worried that I am going to miss a student’s post where they might have a question for me,” he said. He has set up Canvas to email him when students make posts, but hasn’t found Canvas’ email systems to be reliable.  Horn followed up in an email that he still prefers Canvas to ANGEL.

Faculty member Jason Ripper, however, would discard Canvas and go back to ANGEL if he had the chance. ANGEL had a tiered discussion board system much like an Internet forum. Canvas’ discussion system looks more like a news story or a Facebook post that a student posts replies to. Ripper says that he is “rarely a fan of something that has more features … especially if it was working well in the past.” In Ripper’s online classes, 80% of students’ grade is based on the discussion board. Ripper feels that ANGEL “worked better for the purposes of a thorough discussion,” and in his classes, that’s what counts the most.  “There’s nothing I like about [Canvas],” said Ripper.

Another potential issue with Canvas is that it’s meant to be used in Google Chrome.  For some students who have always used Internet Explorer or have never downloaded a new browser before, this can be tricky. eLearning plans on doing a survey to get feedback from students on Canvas.

Horn hopes that changes and fixes are in the works for Canvas. Director of eLearning for SBCTC Connie Broughton says that could happen. Instructure, the makers of Canvas, were a small company a year ago when the decision to switch was made. It has since grown significantly but is still very open to user suggestions as they continue to develop their product. Canvas updates itself every three weeks, said Devin Knighton, Director of PR for Instructure.

Canvas was chosen based on faculty and student decisions, said Broughton. Both the approachability of Instructure and the cloud storage were big selling points for them. In the yearlong decision making process, the group looked at other eLearning systems such as Moodle, Blackboard and Desire2Learn.

The real next level of eLearning, however, will come when online students start designing online classes, said Indrunas. There’s a little bit of that in Canvas, but eLearning will always be moving forward. It may even be a testament to Canvas’ ease of use that there haven’t been as many problems. There are almost always questions at the start of each quarter for those who are new to online learning, said Indrunas. But this year, not quite so much.

Saying goodbye to ANGEL wasn’t hard for many professors. Most prefer Canvas to ANGEL. And once the school moved away from Blackboard to ANGEL two years ago, Blackboard bought ANGEL and planned to shut it down. Washington state’s contract with Blackboard expires June 30 2014. Many schools have made the switch already because Blackboard has stopped developing for ANGEL – the dead service walking. 

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