We’re moving to Canvas! After careful evaluation, the university announced the selection of Canvas as the best learning management system (LMS) to meet the University of Illinois’ teaching, learning, and administrative needs.
Why are we changing?
There are a number of factors influencing this undertaking. Most importantly, the campus’ Student Success Initiative identified that the proliferation of LMS and LMS-like systems was complicated for students to navigate, and that streamlining the LMS experience would have a significant impact on the student experience. Additionally, our current hosting environment of Compass, a Blackboard product, faces an end of life by the company in 2022 and a migration is necessary. A unified LMS ecosystem will allow us to reduce costs, reduce frustrations, streamline support, and allow us to maximize resources for the future.
We engaged with many student, instructor, and administrator stakeholders, many of whom expressed enthusiasm about moving to a new system, but many shared concerns about the expected disruption and level of effort required to move to a new LMS. The project team and campus leadership are confident that Canvas will significantly improve the user experience and system functionality—our two highest-priority evaluation criteria.
From easy course setup to robust mobile apps, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about the launch of Canvas.
- Canvas is more advanced: Canvas, Compass, and Moodle offer overlapping feature sets, but Canvas offers more features and an advanced architecture. It also offers better integration of outside learning tools and mobile devices.
- Canvas offers better accessibility: Canvas uses the most modern HTML and CSS technologies, and complies with W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative and Section 508 guidelines.
- Simplified course set up: Canvas makes it quicker and easier to set up your online course content, so you spend less time clicking through menus and more time doing what’s important (like teaching!).
- Student consistency: Students are confused by having multiple LMS platforms to access courses, track assignments, and communicate with instructors. The Student Success Initiative Phase II Recommendations indicated a student preference for using only one LMS.
- Multiple LMS systems are inefficient: The University currently bears the costs of running and maintaining multiple separate LMS platforms, funding software, support staff, and hardware and security updates.
- Insightful perspective: If you want to preview your course, just switch to student view. You can even take quizzes and submit assignments in student view, and Canvas will save your scores just like a real student. You can click “Reset Student” any time to start over with a fresh test account.
- Natural evolution: Currently 11 of 14 institutions in the Big 10 Academic Alliance use Canvas.
As part of its research in adopting a unified Learning Management System for campus, the University of Illinois piloted Canvas starting in the Fall 2019 semester. Student and instructor feedback from the pilot program was overwhelmingly positive, with 94% of instructors from the pilot group agreeing or strongly agreeing that Canvas was effective in delivering and assessing the learning of students. Here’s what several instructors who were part of the pilot had to say:
Ryan Cunningham, Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, Grainger College of Engineering
“I’m looking forward to this so much,” Cunningham said of the migration. “There was so much less friction to creating assignments, communicating with students, moving due dates … it was so much easier to be accommodating to students that you would just do it without even thinking about it.”
Cunningham first used Canvas in a previous position and “was sold.” As a Computer Science faculty, he uses the application programming interface (API) to run scripts against the LMS, which wasn’t possible with Compass 2g. He noted a lot of CS instructors like to write scripts (presumably to automate common repetitive tasks), and Canvas can easily integrate these programs.
Vishal Sachdev, Clinical Assistant Professor of Business Administration, Gies College of Business, and Director of Illinois MakerLab
Sachdev has used Canvas for six to seven years in an “unofficial” pilot. He was aware of Canvas, started using it when his IT Strategy course went fully online and found it easier to use without a lot of external support.
Sachdev said students find the Canvas app much easier to use than other platforms, they can find what they need easily, and they can “complete three-quarters of their course work on their smartphones.”
He found that it also improves student-to-student interaction and his interaction with students and their content, allowing him to provide quick multimedia feedback.
Sachdev also noted that Canvas makes grading much easier. He said the iMBA program at Gies is piloting the “gamified” Yellowdig integration in Canvas, which rewards students for sharing articles, links, and ideas and critiquing each other. He reminds students that this is “crowd-sourced” information that they can use in their assignments and reports.
Billy Huff, Lecturer in the Department of Communications, College of Media
“I have not found anything missing in Canvas,” Huff said, adding that at the beginning of each semester, he shares something he learned at Canvas “boot camp” with students – that Canvas was originally designed by students to address concerns they had with other educational platforms.
“Canvas allows for Universal Design in ways that are important, such as the audio feedback for students that might be blind,” he continued. For example, he creates “Zoom Hangouts” for students, allowing them to complete their work in one of two ways: By attending the hangouts synchronously, or by watching them synchronously and providing comments.
Huff started using Canvas in 2010 in a previous position and went through migrations at two institutions he worked at before coming to Illinois.
Sharon Lee, Manager of Online Education, College of Education
“Students say they love it,” Lee said, adding that many of her doctoral students used Canvas in their teaching jobs at high schools and are already very familiar with it. “If you organize it well, students need very little help knowing what to do.”
Lee makes her week-to-week plan on a template so that students always see a familiar page. She likes Canvas’ drag-and-drop interface, said setting up modules is “more basic and clear,” and said grading is “super easy.”
While we acknowledge that switching platforms may present challenges, we are working to ensure the best possible faculty and student experience from day one by providing robust course migrations, comprehensive technical support, and extensive training.
If you have any questions or concerns about the migration, we want to hear from you.