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University News

Canvas slated to replace MyCourses

Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, September 25, 2011

Clarification appended.

Canvas will replace MyCourses as the University’s online learning management system next fall. Computing and Information Services has been searching for an alternative to MyCourses for over a year.

Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron will announce the change in an email to faculty today. Some faculty members are currently piloting the system in their classes, with more planned to test it in the spring, and Alpert Medical School has adopted Canvas as of this fall. MyCourses will be available through spring 2013 for those who elect to use it.

The organization of Canvas distinguishes it from MyCourses, said Jonah Kagan ’13, a member of the Academic Technology Steering Committee, which worked with CIS to find a replacement for MyCourses. Rather than clicking several times to view a single homework assignment for a class, students using Canvas can see all information they need aggregated on a single page.

The interface is similar to a Facebook news feed, with recent stories ­— such as a changed due date or a student comment on a class reading —  on top of the main page. This feature promotes out-of-classroom discussion in a way MyCourses could not, Kagan said.

Drop-down menus allow students to directly access their courses, active assignments or grades, and Canvas automatically creates an assignment calendar that can be exported to applications like Google Calendar. Students can also customize their accounts to receive Canvas notifications via Facebook, Twitter, email or text message.

The University decided to evaluate its learning management system last year after MyCourses’s parent company, Blackboard, announced that it would end support for the platform after October 2012, The Herald reported last November. But Butch Rovan, associate professor of music and chair of the committee, also said students and faculty often complained that MyCourses was “clunky.” The switch to Canvas represents “a really necessary upgrade to kind of move into the 21st century,” he added.

After analyzing over 1,000 faculty and student survey responses and listening to feedback from focus groups, CIS opted for the Canvas platform. When the committee tested different systems in front of groups of students in the Sharpe Refectory last spring, the response to Canvas was overwhelmingly positive, Kagan said.

In many ways, the new system will be like “a blank canvas,” facilitating the addition of new tools as they emerge as well as having multimedia capabilities, Bergeron said.

From a faculty perspective, a main concern is the ability to migrate a course page from MyCourses to Canvas, Rovan said.

“We’re really looking to … make the migration really work as well as possible,” Rovan said. “We still have a ways to go, and that’s why we’re doing this early, early testing.”

Efforts are underway to make all course syllabi accessible through Canvas and the University is hoping to eventually integrate other tools, like Banner.

Because it is a new product, CIS did not find Canvas until relatively late in the search, Bergeron said. Launched in 2010, Canvas was founded by graduate students at Brigham Young University who, in a course about start-up companies, were asked to list the worst products they used on a regular basis. They named their learning management system and, after doing some research, decided to bring a new one to market.

CIS was very receptive to student input during the search process, Kagan said. After hearing about the project last year, Kagan — who has a background in computer science — contacted the committee. He presented his own suggestions and then joined the committee during spring semester. The only student member, Kagan said he saw his role on the committee as “representing the largest user group of the software.”

The University started using the current learning management system in 2002, when it was known as WebCT. WebCT was renamed MyCourses in 2006.

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article stated that efforts were underway to integrate course syllabi and tools like Banner into Canvas. While steps are being taken to integrate syllabi and the University does hope to see integration of other tools, active integration efforts for these other tools are not currently underway.

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