The beginning of the two-semester transition period from Classes*v2 to Canvas has been met with a mix of confusion, satisfaction and ambivalence from the student body.
Last April, the University announced that it would change its learning management system from Classes*v2 — which is more than half a decade old and has been criticized for its outdated, clunky design — to Canvas, following the LMS Steering Committee’s recommendation in February. Seventy-one classes piloted Canvas over the course of last year, to generally positive reviews. This fall, lecturers and professors were given the option to choose between Canvas and Classes*v2 for the 2016–17 academic year, before the University officially switches to Canvas in fall 2017. Roughly 40 percent of courses elected to use Canvas this year.
Comparing the two platforms, students and professors interviewed gave overall better reviews for Canvas, although some expressed frustration with the inconsistency of systems across their classes.
“Canvas courses seemed more standardized in terms of layout, while Classes*v2 seemed disorganized and outdated,” Tomoe Mizutani ’20 said. She added that Canvas is more intuitive and easier to navigate, especially from the home page.
Brennan Carman ’20 agreed, saying that Classes*v2 needed to be changed due to its user-unfriendly nature, especially toward the visually impaired. Deputy Provost for Teaching and Learning Scott Strobel noted that Classes*v2 in fact does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, furthering the necessity for change.
Professors were complimentary of Canvas, too. Psychology and psychiatry professor Tyrone Cannon said Canvas has more flexibility than Classes*v2, with convenient ways to link course materials together.
School of Art graphic design lecturer Jessica Helfand ’82 ART ’89 praised Canvas for its usefulness in seminar classes.
“It provides a kind of connective tissue between classes,” she said. “This is particularly useful in a seminar setting, where discussion can seep into the evening hours when everyone can look online at everyone’s contribution.”
Claudia De Grandi, a postdoctoral associate in physics who taught a pilot Canvas-based course last year, noted Canvas’ usefulness in large lecture classes as well, saying that the fast, less clunky gradebook functions and the upcoming assignments calendar of Canvas serve as helpful reminders for students in a large class. However, she did note some room for improvement, especially as Canvas tends to send out multiple notifications and emails which hinder clear communication between the instructor and students.
Strobel said that as the usage of Canvas widens across campus this year, comments and feedback will be addressed to improve Canvas and teaching at Yale in general.
But some students did not notice a strong difference between the two platforms. Wenzhen Zhao ’20 said that although Canvas may be a little easier to use, both systems function similarly.
And some students and professors expressed outright frustration with the transition process. For students, the greatest inconvenience came from not knowing whether to find certain courses and resources on Classes*v2 or on Canvas, and thus having to frequently go back and forth between two completely different learning management systems.
Carman said that especially during shopping period, rapidly adding and dropping courses or checking out syllabi was complicated due to the addition of the new system. In addition, multiple freshmen complained about the difficulty of having to learn two platforms coming into a online-heavy environment that not all students might have been exposed to in high school.
Responding to these concerns, Strobel encouraged the students to seek help from the Center for Teaching and Learning and to take advantage of the Canvas@Yale website designed to provide tutorials and workshops for students and faculty.
“The long-term goal is to improve teaching at Yale, making it something that we as an institution do as well as we possibly can — and this improvement in teaching will make that possible,” Strobel said.
More than 1,200 colleges, universities and school districts use Canvas, according to its website.