Faculty group endorses continued deployment of Canvas pilot


The Digital Innovation Advisory Group’s Digital Ecosystem Subcommittee, a faculty advisory committee, will help plan the transition from CTools to a new learning-management system called Canvas.

In a report issued this month, the faculty committee concluded there are no major barriers preventing U-M from adopting Canvas. DIAG did identify some points of concern — including issues with high-enrollment courses and multi-section classes — that they advised be addressed prior to a full-scale rollout. 

Before making its recommendation, DIAG reviewed several sources of information, including the fall pilot evaluation results and testimonials from other schools moving to Canvas. The system is used by more than 600 schools around the country.

UM-Dearborn representatives met with DIAG to discuss their move from CTools to Canvas in 2013.

“The UM-Dearborn faculty and students with whom we spoke told us it was a smooth transition. Students were not troubled by moving to a new LMS,” said David Mendez, associate professor of health management and policy and DIAG subcommittee chair.

“The piece of information most informative from their feedback was the need for clear transition planning and a reliable set of tools to migrate materials from the existing LMS into a new LMS.”

During the fall semester, 23 courses, 33 instructors, and more than 3,000 students piloted Canvas. The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching evaluated the experience of student and instructor participants. The evaluation showed 75 percent of faculty and 58 percent of students prefer using Canvas over CTools.

Faculty members who preferred Canvas said it was more intuitive, offered better integrated tools, and was easier to customize. Tools like SpeedGrader, Files, and Calendar were most frequently cited as effective aspects of Canvas. Faculty also found Canvas analytics helpful for tracking video views or the time students spend taking a quiz.

“I wanted to check out SpeedGrader ever since I saw screenshots of it years ago. It ended up being my favorite feature of Canvas. I used it for both of my classes,” said Mika LaVaque-Manty, associate professor of political science. “I have GSIs and am mindful of their workload. SpeedGrader made grading much more efficient and it was also easier for my students to get feedback on their work.”  

The university currently is running an expanded Canvas pilot, consisting of 123 instructors teaching 112 winter term courses in 15 schools and colleges. Nearly 7,000 students are piloting Canvas in classes ranging in size up to 2,150 students.

“I always thought CTools lacked a certain amount of flexibility when it came to uploading of a lot materials like videos, documents, and resources. It had some nice defaults but was cumbersome to use quickly,” said Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, associate professor of social work, who is teaching a course in Canvas this term.

“I think the advantage of Canvas is the flexibility in site design. The drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to quickly upload things in the right place. It has saved me a lot of time.”

The Canvas pilot team is engaging with every academic unit to define the local pace of adoption. Each school and college chose unit contacts to help determine which courses participate in the pilot and help support the instructors who are piloting.

Since 2002, CTools has supported a variety of features used by faculty and staff, including courses and project sites. In its report, DIAG said, “While CTools has been effective as a course content repository, many feel the product no longer meets the needs of an effective pedagogy in the digital age.”

Since Canvas still is being piloted, no immediate plans have been made for the retirement of CTools. Information and Technology Services is committed to finding solutions to meet the needs of all current CTools users before the system is decommissioned.

“The university has realized tremendous value from its investment in CTools, but there are new platforms, like Canvas, that can provide more cohesive learning experiences and collaborative opportunities,” said Sean DeMonner, executive director of ITS Teaching and Learning. “CTools course sites will remain available through at least April 2016, and perhaps longer based on input from faculty advisory groups.”

Over the next few months, the pilot team will be looking for faculty volunteers to test and evaluate CTools-to-Canvas migration tools and support materials. Contact lms-pilot-team@umich.edu to participate.



  1. Celeste ntuli
    on September 29, 2015 at 3:44 pm


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