Posted on Tuesday, September 4, 2018

In a major initiative to improve student success and provide students and faculty with resilient and flexible tools to teach, learn and communicate, Virginia’s Community Colleges will begin transitioning to a new learning management system (LMS) in the current academic year.

Canvas, created by Instructure, is used by more than 3,000 universities, school districts, and institutions around the world. This new LMS will replace Blackboard, which has been used at the 23 colleges for the past 16 years.

Faculty members who served on the VCCS panel that assessed the system’s LMS needs were impressed with Canvas.

“Canvas offers many features that are very appealing to faculty, such as the ability to drag and drop content,” said Jen Schaefer, associate professor of English at Lord Fairfax Community College. “There are robust tools that will help simplify online teaching, like the embedded Arc software that allows for the creation of screencasts, with auto-captions, housed directly in Canvas. This alleviates several steps in sharing and housing multimedia.”

“Importantly, Canvas has wonderful training and support, which should help with the migration and learning curve in the LMS conversion,” added Schaefer. “After that transition, I expect most faculty will be pleased with the platform and happy that we made the leap to Canvas.

“As an experienced user of Canvas I’d like to add that upon being trained, I think that faculty will be happy with the new LMS format,” noted Lorie Hartt, associate professor of information systems technology at Blue Ridge Community College. “With the changing needs of the modern classroom and increased use of digital materials, the use of an LMS will become an even more important tool in managing course content in one location. It can enhance a traditional classroom format and is an essential tool for delivering hybrid and virtual courses.”

“The decision to change LMS platforms was not made lightly,” said Sharon Morrissey, VCCS vice-chancellor for academic services and research. “A broad-based committee, including representatives from faculty and staff at our colleges, worked with the System Office for a year to determine the right course for VCCS as our contract with Blackboard was about to expire.”

The VCCS’s Enterprise Portfolio Investment Council (EPIC) approved the transition to the Canvas LMS in June.

“Canvas offers many advantages over other LMS platforms,” said Glenn DuBois, chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges. “We are keenly aware this will be a significant adjustment for students and faculty members alike, but we’re confident that – once everyone is familiar with the new and more intuitive system — all will agree this is the right move to make.”

Approximately three-quarters of all courses taught at Virginia’s Community Colleges, including all online courses, are currently managed on the Blackboard platform. All course content now on Blackboard eventually will be migrated to Canvas. (See below for more on the transition timetable.)

WHAT IS CANVAS?

The new Canvas platform includes familiar academic tools such as announcements, grading, discussion boards, quizzes and rubrics. But it adds state-of-the-art student tracking, analytics and interactive video learning.

Canvas is accessible from all browsers and mobile devices. Its interface is easy to use for students and faculty and provides an environment that encourages peer-to-peer use of learning materials across courses, departments, and colleges.

“The Canvas platform gives VCCS an opportunity to rethink how we deliver education and engage our students,” said Morrissey. “With this new platform, the role of an LMS shifts from simply managing course content to a digital learning environment that can maximize opportunities for student success.”

In addition to the LMS, VCCS has purchased Instructure’s video repository, Arc. This next-generation online video learning platform will allow faculty and students to collaborate through video and audio media in new ways.
Recognizing the magnitude of the transition, the conversion will be phased in during the current academic year, and the process will require teamwork.

EARLY ROLLOUT COLLEGES:

Seven colleges stepped up to participate in the VCCS early rollout of Canvas in the fall 2018 semester:
• Germanna Community College
• J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College
• John Tyler Community College
• Northern Virginia Community College
• Tidewater Community College
• Virginia Western Community College
• Wytheville Community College

At each of the early rollout colleges, five to ten faculty members have migrated their courses to the new Canvas LMS. Participants were handpicked based on their innovative teaching styles and their ability to be flexible and handle the unknown.

“We know these early adopters will learn valuable lessons about how best to implement the new LMS,” said Sheri Prupis, VCCS’s new director for teaching and learning technologies. “These faculty members will share their experiences and help pave the way for a successful wider rollout of Canvas.”
The rollout expands in the spring semester which begins in January, when small faculty teams from all of Virginia’s Community Colleges will transition their courses to Canvas.

Starting with summer courses in May 2019, all courses currently in Blackboard must be transitioned to Canvas. The VCCS contract with Blackboard ends in June 2019.

Eventually, all courses offered at Virginia’s Community Colleges will have a presence in Canvas.

To meet the unique needs of each of our 23 colleges, instructional technology departments are developing plans to help their faculty with the transition, including face-to-face classes, webinars, and live help labs.

“We know a project of this scope will have a major impact on our entire enterprise, and we are grateful for the flexibility and extra effort that will be required during the changeover,” DuBois added.

In the coming weeks and months, you’ll see more stories about the transition on the VCCS website blog and via the Chancellor’s Syllabus. And, a document addressing frequently asked questions will be created and regularly updated as the process unfolds. Stay tuned!

Featured image: John Tyler Community College is one of seven colleges in the VCCS system that will participate in the early rollout of the Canvas Learning Management System.

jbabb@vccs.edu'

Jim Babb

Jim Babb works for Virginia's Community Colleges in the Office of Strategic Communications.

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