In November 2012 we spoke with Nicky Didicher, a senior lecturer in the Department of English, about her plan to teach a pilot course in Canvas in January 2013. Recently we checked back to see how she was finding the new learning management system (LMS).
Perhaps not surprisingly for someone who has used and felt at home in WebCT for a number of years, she admits to a certain amount of ambivalence. For now, she’s prepared to say that Canvas is “slightly better” than WebCT. “It just has different pluses and minuses.”
What she likes about Canvas
The “pluses” Didicher lists reflect Canvas’s simplicity and ease of use. Among her likes:
- The clean look of the user interface
- The ability to open and work in multiple courses simultaneously
- The ease of linking to files and external resources
Her students have also commented positively on the look of Canvas and the ability it gives them to view all courses in one place and to see their marks as a cumulative percentage.
The challenges she is facing
The “minuses,” for Didicher, tend to be connected to cases in which Canvas requires her to modify practices that she developed and used in WebCT. For example, unlike WebCT, Canvas provides only a single discussion board. That restricts Didicher’s ability to create multiple discussion groups as she has in the past. Another example is the peer review function in Canvas. Didicher likes the function, which allows students to give feedback on one another’s assignments. However, the tool works only with completed assignments, and she would like her students to be able to comment on draft versions.
For SFU’s Canvas implementation team, the feedback from Didicher and other instructors involved in the pilot project has been valuable in determining priorities for system development. The team recently identified options that will allow instructors and students to organize their discussions in more sophisticated ways, and other capabilities are being added on a regular basis.
The conversion process
What about the process of moving her course content from WebCT to Canvas? Didicher’s PowerPoint files transferred smoothly, but a glitch caused the apostrophes in her HTML content to disappear. More significantly, a glossary she created in WebCT to provide definitions of highlighted words in her course material couldn’t be converted. Fortunately, she says she has received excellent support from the learning technology specialists in the Teaching and Learning Centre.
The implementation team will be hiring additional support staff during the summer semester to help instructors who plan to use Canvas for their courses in fall 2013.
Given the adjustments that she has had to make, Didicher is glad that she had the chance to test Canvas in a class of 11 students before moving her large courses of 250+ students over in the fall semester.
“I’m by no means technology-friendly,” says Didicher, despite her experience with learning management systems. “I use technology for pedagogical reasons, not personal reasons. [But] if I have to do a slight amount of learning in order to make the classroom experience better, that’s okay.”
One-on-one Canvas help for instructors: Contact Learn Tech in the Teaching and Learning Centre
Canvas support website for instructors and students: www.sfu.ca/canvas