By: Kayla Wright

Canvas was created in 2008 by Instructure and open-sourced in 2011. Approximately 300 schools are using it. Steve Griffith, mobile application design and development coordinator, is trying to get Algonquin on board and away from the current Blackboard.

To: All College Faculty, Staff, and Students
What: Blackboard Learning Management System
From: IIRTS Communications.

Look familiar?

We’ve all had to deal with the annoying emails telling us that, once again, Blackboard has failed us – but it’s okay, because it’s now fixed. That is, until the next time Blackboard shuts down in the middle of an important test.

To the rescue – possibly – is Steve Griffith, mobile application design and development program coordinator, with something that will fix all of our Blackboard problems: an entirely new learning management system called Canvas.

Canvas was founded in 2008 by Instructure and open-source launched in 2011 with approximately 300 colleges and universities using it. It was started by “a couple of guys out in Utah who went to university and were forced to use Blackboard and WebCT and couldn’t stand it,” said Griffith.

So they decided to build something that would help both students and professors do whatever it is they need to do.
“Canvas is designed from a user experience stand-point. Blackboard was built by computer scientists to run efficiently in the back-end 15 years ago when they first built it,” said Griffith. “There was no thought to what teachers and students do.”

This year Griffith got permission to run a paid pilot project for one year using Canvas.He tried out a free version online about a year ago and loved it.

“The very first time I went on there – with no tutorials, no reading, no instruction – I created an account and within 40 minutes I had created a course, posted course material, created an assignment, enrolled students, set up a marking rubric, all that stuff. With no instruction whatsoever,” Griffith said. “Doing the same thing in Blackboard takes hours.”

Since he began using Canvas for his program, “The feedback has been very positive,” Griffith said.

Canvas has something called a “flip classroom,” which is basically doing class work at home – and vice versa. Students are able to do their work in their own time and then in class is when you do the assignments with the teacher there to assist you.

“So the people who get it, they finish it in no time and the people who don’t, the teacher can spend the one-on-one time in the classroom with those students,” said Griffith.

It also works well with online content and is compatible with YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Skype.

Web conferencing is built into the system for teachers who want to have online office hours.

Canvas’ calendar is done automatically – and it’s colour coded. “When I create the assignment it’s automatically added to the grade book, it automatically shows up in the calendar (and in) the syllabus,” said Griffith.

Blackboard has a calendar but it requires a professor to implement everything separately.

There’s a discussion board where professors and students can create their own threads and an inbox which is integrated with their Algonquin student email address.

Users also get notifications, which they can customize for how they want to receive them – including by email and text message, whenever something is done and/or added on Canvas. In addition, the homepage for the whole site contains recent activity to keep everything up-to-date.

Bug fixes are made to the system every three weeks for everyone who is using it, whereas Blackboard only has one update a year.

“Blackboard does do a fair number of these things, but it doesn’t do it in a user-friendly way and it doesn’t do it efficiently,” said Griffith. “As a student retention tool, which is a big thing here, this has an edge over Blackboard.”

Griffith adds that he is eager to have Canvas approved by the college and says he already has a lot of positive support from students, teachers and program coordinators across campus.
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