Starting with a potential replacement of Classes*v2, the University is looking to bring outside technologies back to campus.
Beginning this fall, 40 to 50 courses across the University will pilot Canvas, a learning management system that may replace Classes*v2. While Canvas has already supported several distance-education programs — including those in Yale College Summer Session, the Doctor of Nursing Practice program, other initiatives in the School of Forestry and the School of Management and some classroom courses — the fall pilot will provide more comprehensive feedback for its suitability to on-campus courses. If the pilot is successful, the University would likely convert to the new platform gradually, over the span of roughly two years.
“The level of satisfaction [with Classes*v2] is modest — it’s okay,” Deputy Provost for Teaching & Learning Scott Strobel said. “But people find it to be awkward and kind of clunky. Some of the things [that some Yale professors] want to do with a learning management system they can’t do, so they tend to go outside [Classes*v2].”
The newly formed Learning Management System steering committee, composed of nearly two dozen faculty, staff and students from across campus and chaired by Strobel, will oversee the pilot study and issue a recommendation regarding Canvas in spring 2016. If, after consulting with pilot participants and support providers, the committee does not recommend a switch to Canvas, the University will continue to explore alternatives to Classes*v2 while keeping the current system in place.
The impetus for the pilot comes from several different directions, including developments at Yale and in the broader landscape of educational technologies. For one, the Sakai software that underlies Classes*v2, which Strobel said was first implemented over a decade ago, is beginning to show its age.
Jennifer Frederick, executive director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, said Classes*v2 is an open source management system that relies on its users to develop new, customized functions. However, since there is a growing number of institutions withdrawing or considering withdrawing from the system, including Harvard and Stanford, she said the community will become less supported and less vibrant.
Simplifying to one system would make it easier for professors to reuse material in different contexts, Strobel said, noting that some professors use different learning programs to teach similar courses across various University programs like Yale Summer Session. Canvas may also carry benefits such as more frequent software updates, off-hours technical assistance and enhanced stability.
Executive Director of the Office of Dissemination and Online Education Lucas Swineford, who is also a member of the committee, said feedback from both students and faculty has been positive where Canvas is currently in place.
This is the second year in which Canvas has supported small network online courses, the SOM’s first online programs. Now, the SOM will join the broader campus pilot to evaluate Canvas’s suitability for other SOM programs, including degree-granting ones, according to Alan Usas, the SOM’s director of information technology and Chief Information Officer and a member of the LMS steering committee.
“So far, Canvas appears to be easier for both students and faculty to use and provides a more contemporary user experience,” Usas said. “At many of SOM’s peer [business schools], Canvas has already proven itself, and I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t be successful here.”
Of four professors interviewed, two said Classes*v2 offers adequate service, but all four identified imperfections in the system. English professor Wai Chee Dimmock said she uses an outside platform to complement Classes*v2, as the other system allows for more “interactivity and collaboration” among students. Still, she said she is largely satisfied with the “basic functionality” of Classes*v2.
But music professor Craig Wright, a member of the LMS steering committee and chair of the University committee on online education, described Classes*v2 as “clunky and outdated,” adding that he hopes to teach a course as part of the pilot this fall.
All eight students interviewed said they were relatively satisfied with current performance of Classes*v2. Isaiah Cruz ’17 said that while Classes*v2 “gets the job done,” he would like to try a new system. Mojmir Stehlik ’18, who does not think upgrading the system should be a priority, said Classes*v2 has room for improvement, but that costs should be carefully considered.
According to its website, Canvas is used by more than 1,200 colleges, universities and school districts.