UTA’s new Learning Management System (LMS), Canvas, is being tested before going campus-wide.
Testing has been introduced to 41 different courses this semester. Thirty courses are live and 11 more will be live in March. There are about 1,700 students using it this semester.
The university’s contract with Blackboard expires in December, however it is expected to be phased out by summer, said Maria Martinez-Cosio, associate vice provost for Faculty Affairs. The transition was announced in November.
Each college at the university has at least one Canvas champion, said Christy Spivey, associate clinical professor of economics. Canvas champions are faculty members that have received prior training with Canvas to assist professors that are currently using the program.
The pilot courses are decided by the champions, who searched for faculty members within their college willing to switch.
Spivey is the champion for the College of Business and has familiarized herself with Canvas since her early training course last semester.
“I believe [Canvas] is more user-friendly, and it has a good app that is a lot better than the Blackboard app,” she said.
Martinez-Cosio said the transition is being done for student success and that every student should be on Canvas even if they don’t have a course using it.
“Many of our students use their phones to, you know, keep track of their assignments, to write assignments, to post assignments,” she said. “[President Vistasp Karbhari] wanted something that would grow with the university.”
Martinez-Cosio said when UTA reached out to other universities about Canvas, the program provided resources and training on how to use it, but students found it so easy to navigate that they did not need the sessions.
Computer science sophomore Samarpan Gautam is using both Blackboard and Canvas this semester and said the only problem is navigating between both programs. Gautam said this is only the second semester he has used Blackboard, while he has been familiar with Canvas since high school.
“I think one of the biggest ups Canvas has on Blackboard is the app,” Gautam said. “The app is much easier to use than the Blackboard app, and a lot of the documents that get uploaded to Blackboard, it doesn’t get formatted to where it will come up on the phone very easily.”
Peggy Semingson, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, said in an email that this is the first time she has used Canvas.
“It’s really important to continue learning about the tool, even after the semester has started, to refine one’s ability to fully use all the features in ways that benefit student learning,” Semingson said.
There are training modules, communication tools and a Canvas 24/7 support hotline in case help is needed, Semingson said. She used Canvas’ offered training course to prepare for teaching her students how to use it.
“The Center for Distance Education and the Canvas Team at UTA has a strong set of resources for students inside the course shell, so I didn’t have to create any technical tutorials for students,” she said.
Finance associate professor David Rakowski said in an email he has used Canvas before through his children’s school district, and the biggest issue he has encountered in the past was inconsistent course designs by different teachers.
“UTA is addressing [the issue] by having [the Center for Distance Education] design common templates that will give all UTA courses a consistent appearance and feel across classes and instructors,” he said.
After spring break, Spivey’s course will begin, and she will be adding it as a pilot course.
“This is obviously a big project for the university, and I feel like, you know, they’re doing the best they can to roll this out in a fashion that will be good for everyone,” she said. “I hope that in the end, that everyone is happy with the way that the transition occurs.”