“Support from colleagues is key to easing the anxiety of implementing new pedagogical tools.” That’s Lauren Williams' take on adapting to procedural change. And, change is exactly what’s in the offing when Blackboard, the learning management system used by Virginia’s Community Colleges (VCCS) for nearly 20 years, is replaced by Canvas this summer.
Williams, who is Faculty Senate president, wanted to assist colleagues during the transition. In addition to working with eCampus Coordinator Jason Vance to facilitate training, she came up with the Canvas Mentors initiative and received a Faculty Innovator Grant through Thomas Nelson's Educational Foundation to fund it. The mentors project aims to build faculty relationships around teaching and learning and create a more extensive support network for pedagogical change.
“Moving to Canvas is not just a new learning management system to replace what we had before,” Williams said, “it’s an opportunity to reflect on how we deliver instruction, to think about all the ways we’d like to engage students in the work of our courses, and then seeing how we might leverage this tool to help us achieve those goals.”
Twenty Thomas Nelson faculty are currently teaching with Canvas as part of a pilot this spring. For Assistant Professor of English Dali Padon the transition has been pleasant.
“Canvas was truly easy to grasp. With just a bit of an open mind and willingness to tweak the habits that Blackboard has taught us, Canvas should make everyone's lives easier,” noted Padon, citing the ARC interactive video tool, Speedgrader, and the ability to cross-list courses as favorite features. “The ARC tool is amazing. I can upload my narrated slideshows to ARC and then Canvas will generate captions that are almost 100 percent correct. With minor revisions, I have closed-captioned videos for my online students,” she said.
Computer Science Chair Sally Schaffner agreed. “Overall I find Canvas easier to deal with than Blackboard. The ability to link across pages, files, assignments, modules, etc. is especially useful. I have gotten positive feedback from the students as well,” she said.
Unlike his colleagues, Communications Professor Bill Ventura was initially hesitant. “I will admit that at first, I was not looking forward to the change just for the sake of the amount of work involved. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by the ease of use that Canvas has built into many areas.”
Williams is pleased with the faculty’s positive response. And she notes that more information will soon be available about how they can best prepare students for the Canvas transition. She said early feedback from students in spring pilot courses has also been positive. Students indicate that Canvas is easy to use and training provided by their instructors has been helpful in getting acclimated. In addition, area K-12 systems use Canvas, so some students arrive at Thomas Nelson already familiar with the system.