Posted on Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Instructional designers are working with faculty members as the Canvas LMS is rolled-out for early adopters. Courtesy: Tidewater Community College.

Faculty members selected for the early rollout of Canvas, the VCCS’s new Learning Management System (LMS), report the new system is intuitive and user friendly. They also recommend that their colleagues take full advantage of early opportunities to learn the new ropes.

“Canvas has a very clean interface,” said Rong Zhu, instructional designer for Northern Virginia Community College’s Extended Learning Institute. “It is intuitive and less confusing, compared to Blackboard. I think faculty will like the new LMS after they become familiar with it.”

Small teams of instructors on seven VCCS campuses are spearheading the early rollout of Canvas during the 2018 fall semester. The new LMS will replace Blackboard, the online platform that VCCS has used for the past 16 years to deliver, track and administer instructional programs.

“We’re convinced that Canvas offers a better solution to improve student success and will provide students and faculty with resilient and flexible tools to teach, learn and communicate,” said Sharon Morrissey, VCCS vice-chancellor for academic services and research.

“I know some faculty members are nervous about the transition, especially folks who are not so tech savvy,” said Alison Napier, early adopter and art history instructor at Tidewater Community College. “My mentor from the instructional technology department has been very helpful. Making the move to Canvas is no big deal; give it a chance.”

The new LMS rollout expands in the spring semester which begins in January, when small faculty teams from all of Virginia’s Community Colleges will transition their courses to Canvas.

Starting with summer courses in May 2019, all courses currently in Blackboard must be transitioned to Canvas. The VCCS contract with Blackboard ends in June 2019.

“We will, of course, roll out robust training on several fronts, including live and recorded webinars, and face-to-face training,” said Sheri Prupis, VCCS’s director for teaching and learning technologies. “At least one 3-hour training workshop will be run at every college from October 17th through November 14th, with more sessions to be scheduled during the spring term.”

“And at the urging of our early adopters, we’re making Canvas available right now to all VCCS faculty and staff. We encourage everyone to go online and become familiar with the architecture of the new LMS before you face the pressure of a new semester.”

Here’s how faculty access Canvas:
• Go to:
• You’ll be redirected to; simply enter your username and password.
• Course Access: You will have access to a sandbox (practice course) to begin familiarizing yourself with Canvas. Once you log into Canvas, you will see a sandbox course tile.

Additional resources to get started:
• First Look
• Course Basics
• The Student Experience

“At the appropriate time, leadership at each of our 23 colleges will provide guidance on when to actually migrate your course work to Canvas. For now, take advantage of some practice time in a no-pressure environment,” added Prupis.

Early Pros and Cons

“We know this is a big adjustment,” said Prupis. “Our early adopters tell us Canvas includes better calendars, speed grading, and student tracking functions. We also know that some faculty are having to adjust to Canvas’s architecture for organizing courses. And we know there are some features faculty clearly want, such as a plagiarism checking tool for writing assignments. The VCCS has identified a contract vehicle so that colleges can purchase plagiarism checking software for the spring term.”

Some additional advice from early adopter Martha Sullivan, administrative officer for dental hygiene at Virginia Western Community College: “Just remember you’re not in Blackboard anymore. The transition will take some time on the front end, but it’s not too bad once you get started. Go to every workshop you can, take notes and watch the videos.”

“The biggest takeaway from the early adopters is that we need to change our mindset,” said Prupis. “Don’t focus on how you did a task in Blackboard. Instead, ask how you want to reimagine education, how you want to engage with your students, and how to accomplish those goals in Canvas.”'

Jim Babb

Jim Babb works for Virginia's Community Colleges in the Office of Strategic Communications.

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