Blackboard to Canvas. What’s In It for You?

Posted: March 27, 2017 12:00:00 AM CDT

Blackboard to Canvas. What’s In It for You?

It’s almost impossible to talk about Canvas without comparing it to Blackboard. Bb is the LMS I have known for the longest time. Although none of my graduate degrees were online, I had the opportunity to take many online courses in the University of Nebraska system and as a result, I became comfortable learning online and very appreciative of the flexibility and the choice of taking either online or face to face courses during my journey through graduate school. While I was a graduate student, I took a job as an Instructional Design Technologist at UNL and I began to learn a different side of Blackboard. I worked with faculty from the College of Business Administration and several other colleges to ensure excellent learning experiences for both faculty and students.  This included providing training in online technologies, instructional design and learning  theories and working closely with many people and units across the university involved in online learning efforts. I learned Bb from both student and professional’s point of view.

When I became a faculty at UNK my role using Blackboard shifted once again. I began this love-hate relationship with Blackboard once I started teaching courses at UNK. I had already used Blackboard in my face to face classes as a graduate teaching assistant for several years and I really liked it. What I love about Bb is that I am very familiar and comfortable with it. I can figure things out and I can teach and manage my courses easily and troubleshoot the system on my own.  I can even predict problems and sometimes stop them from happening. However, for the past several years, I started to realize how limited Blackboard really is and how slowly it changes or evolves.   I consider myself an expert in online learning and I am constantly learning and following the research, trends and the evolution of teaching and learning, online technologies and all the moving parts that go along with the intriguing, dynamic and powerful process of teaching and learning online.  

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in one of the kind professional development with the Penn State World Campus and the Online Learning Consortium. Imagine learning from the best there is in the field and exchange ideas with the world leaders in online learning. Among the many intriguing and complex discussions we had, a simple message was that if we are doing the very same things for five years, we are already behind. While this doesn’t mean we should change LMS every five years, it means that we need to embrace innovation and change for the sake of our students and keep up with the needs and demands of learners regardless of teaching approach or method.  I am excited about this opportunity to learn new ways to innovate the learning environment for my students using a cutting edge online technology such as Canvas. Changing LMS is no small task and requires a great deal of time and commitment from everyone involved. The result is innovation for the institution, faculty and most importantly, for our students who want and expect the best experience with educational technology in college.

Based on my limited experience teaching with Canvas this spring, I’ll share my thoughts on the following items.

It’s about Learning Design Instead of Instructional Design
Instructional design is no longer the center of the educational process; learning design is. Instructional design became a big concept in the early stages of online learning when it was important to know how to move materials from face to face courses to the online format. It was about the instructional materials. Blackboard was perfect and supported this process very well. However, education, regardless of the format or approach, has evolved due to very complex systems such as social media and advances in online technologies. Instruction is no longer the focus of education, instead, learning is. With Canvas, the way we manipulate our materials and the way we can make these materials available to learners is phenomenal compared to what we know and currently do with Blackboard. For example, we can build online learning experiences around assignments, modules or content pages and once we have the teaching materials in Canvas, the sky is the limit.

The flexibility afforded in Canvas, can cause confusion and frustration for those new to the system. We have had little flexibility in Blackboard. Yes, Canvas is different, but like everything else, once we understand it, we can appreciate the possibilities it can bring to the learning process.

We have Choices!
The Canvas system allows multiple and flexible course design for instructors, but learners also enjoy some important choices when it comes to communication channels. For example, learners can decide how they want to be notified about course updates and how they want to receive communication from the instructor. My current Canvas students are actually getting my emails and course announcements because they were able to choose how they wanted to receive the information.  It has been my experience that graduate online students prefer to use the email associated with their jobs, and our undergraduate students have their preferred email address as well (more often than not, a Gmail account). The Loper email is not always students first choice to communicate no matter how much instructors emphasize the importance of checking their school email account.

I often receive communication back when I post something new to my Canvas course. Sometimes it’s a question, sometimes it’s a note, something like: I can’t find or see the file you mentioned was just posted in the course.

Ops! Don’t forget to click the darn “publish” button when you post your new file/video.  This is something I forgot to do many times during the first several weeks of class. I didn’t have to do this before. Canvas is different!

Can I Help You?
We know we have an outstanding Canvas support system in place at UNK to guide us through this transition.  This means we can reach out to Jane, Don and Shahla whenever we have questions or are having panic moments. But there is more. The Canvas help system in TERRIFIC!  All you have to do is go to Canvas and click the “Live Chat” option.  I always cringe at the thought of calling help desks of any kind because either the wait time is long or the customer service is poor. The canvas representatives are not only readily available and polite, they are also knowledgeable, courteous and will stay with you until the problem is solved. You’ll even receive a follow up! As a new Canvas user, I have used the “Live Chat” option several times and my experience has been very positive.  I use the live chat because it fits my style and it’s my preferred way to reach out since I tend to do these kinds of things after hours, however I think it’s safe to say the same quality service is available whether you choose to call or chat online.  I recommend UNK faculty to also try the Canvas support during their transition to Canvas. It has helped me; It will help you too! You will not be disappointed.

Don’t Avoid it! Don’t Delay it!
Most of us have become so familiar with Blackboard that we feel pretty comfortable getting our fall or spring courses cleaned up or ready for the new semester the week, day or even the night before classes start.  DON’T TRY IT with Canvas!!  It won’t work and you’ll panic.  From my own experience in the spring pilot, I can assure you there is a learning curve for all of us regardless of our level of comfort with technology or experience with Blackboard. Canvas has a great, flexible, 21st century look and feel that is easy to use. However, we all will need time to learn the new features and how Canvas operates so we can have a good start and ensure that our students will have a seamless transition.  

According to recent data, students seem to have less of a learning curve in Canvas, but we have to do our part as instructors to ensure our courses are in good shape and ready for the learners to get on and hit the ground running. 

I invite you to go to your Canvas account and start exploring and experimenting.  It’s never too soon to avoid unnecessary frustrations that can slow both faculty and students down at the beginning of a new semester or school year.  

If you have not done so, please read the email message from Dr. Karl Borden listed at the bottom of this email.  He provides excellent ideas and valuable tips to help anyone with their first stab at Canvas.

Happy transition to Canvas!

By: Dr. Martonia Gaskill

Category: Information Technology Services, Instructional Technology

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