Beginning in fall 2017, Yale will officially replace learning management system Classes*v2 with Canvas.
Following the review of a pilot program last fall in which 71 classes tested the course management software as a possible substitute for the aging Classes*v2, the Learning Management System Steering Committee — composed of administrators, professors and graduate students —recommended in February that the University switch to Canvas. The committee then presented the recommendation to the deans of Yale’s graduate and professional schools and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences department chairs, giving them the opportunity to weigh in and provide their own suggestions. The FAS Senate expressed approval for the switch at its April meeting, and University Provost Benjamin Polak accepted the recommendation soon after.
“All software transitions require change, but I think it will be fantastic to have this learning management system for the University and the kind of innovation it will make possible in our classrooms,” said Deputy Provost for Teaching and Learning Scott Strobel. “There is the opportunity to bring new teaching tools to campus, and I am excited about what it will do for teaching for at Yale.”
Strobel, who chairs the LMS Steering Committee, said the 2016–17 academic year will serve as a transition period, during which lecturers and professors will have the option of using either Classes*v2 or Canvas. During this time, the Center for Teaching and Learning will hold a number of public events and workshops so that faculty can work with the new system and ensure that the transition proceeds as smoothly as possible, according to Lucas Swineford, executive director of the Office of Dissemination and Online Education.
Instructional Technology Manager at the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning Pilar Abuin said Yale is currently collaborating with peer institutions that use Canvas, sharing tools and code in an open-source community, much in the same way that contributed to the initial growth of Classes*v2. She highlighted Canvas’s easy integration of cloud and web-based tools as one of its strengths, noting that its extended functionality is part of its appeal. As functionality and needs are identified by the campus community, she said, meeting those demands will be easier than ever.
“The way that Canvas allows faculty to organize their course material makes it very efficient for the students and allows faculty to focus more time on their teaching, as it should,” Swineford said. “That is really the critical part of it.”
Still, Canvas does not immediately come with all the tools professors will need. Center for Teaching and Learning Executive Director Jennifer Frederick said the “out-of-the-box” version of Canvas does not come customized for Yale’s campus needs, as it lacks features such as a photo roster and tools to communicate with students via email. These weaknesses were already apparent when the LMS Steering Committee made its initial recommendation to switch to Canvas in February, but Frederick noted that these amenities will be added when the campus implements the system. Canvas’s constantly developing nature allows Yale to provide input and steer its growth, she said.
The impetus for the change came from the uncertainty surrounding the viability of and decreasing satisfaction with Classes*v2, especially as many peer institutions have decided to use Canvas. Many universities integral to the development and advancement of Classes*v2, including Stanford, the University of Michigan and Indiana University, have since moved to Canvas. Other Ivy League schools currently using Canvas include Harvard, Brown and Dartmouth.
Students previously interviewed by the News when the initial recommendation was made agreed that they preferred Canvas over Classes*v2, citing the latter’s lack of user-friendliness.
“Canvas provides an opportunity for people to think in new ways about how they are teaching and providing access to course materials for students,” Frederick said. “Instead of having everything separated out into a folder for readings and assignments with links to other places, it can all be pooled together in a nice chronological way so everything you need is packaged together and right there.”
Canvas has been selected by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction as its statewide LMS as well as the LMS for the California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative.