In this case study Kyra Smith, Higher Degrees Administrator in the Department of Education, shares her experience of moving from WebLearn to Canvas. The clear and user-friendly design of the new VLE is what sparked her department’s initial interest. Reflecting on the process of moving to Canvas, Kyra emphasizes the importance of planning.
Now that the department has been using the VLE for almost a year, she is glad they have taken the leap: staff find updating information in Canvas extremely easy while students like that they can access materials through the mobile app. On top of that, Canvas integrates well with other teaching tools such as Oxford Reading Lists Online (ORLO) and Panopto, making it the go-to place for students.
Kyra's top benefits of using Canvas
- User-friendly and clear layout.
- Integrates well with other teaching and learning tools at Oxford.
- Mobile app makes content accessible on the go.
- Announcement tool reduces email messages.
Deciding to move to Canvas
The programmes Kyra works with have used WebLearn extensively – but not always successfully. The Department reinvented its approach around three times in an attempt to make sites more accessible and user-friendly but felt somewhat restricted by the framework of WebLearn itself. WebLearn did what it had to, but according to Kyra, the interface just was not what students expect a VLE to look like. Both staff and students found the proliferation of menus slightly confusing.
When Kyra’s Department heard that the University was in the process of rolling out a new VLE they knew they had to get involved immediately.
When we heard that the University was in the process of rolling out a new VLE we jumped at the chance to get involved.
Support from the Canvas team
After taking the decision to move to Canvas, Kyra had to explain her complicated fleet of courses and their various needs to the Canvas team. Once everyone was on the same page, Kyra found it incredibly useful to get the team’s input and talk through ideas.
As is the case for every new platform, some of the issues that occur when users start working with it cannot be anticipated. In 0th week, when the Department of Education began using Canvas, Kyra found the Canvas team’s support particularly reassuring. She remembers they were “always extremely fast and extremely responsive”.
The team was keeping me up-to-date with any changes, answering my questions, and helping out where needed.
Accessible presentation of course handbooks
Presenting student handbooks in an accessible way had been an issue in WebLearn. Kyra and the Canvas team worked on improving the presentation in Canvas to make handbooks and courses most accessibly to students: for the MSc Education, for example, students choose from a range of core and elective courses, which are different depending on their pathway. It is difficult to communicate these complexities effectively, but with the modular nature of Canvas itself and the final visual design of the home pages, Kyra is confident that they now have an easily accessible structure. On top of that, “it looks really good”.
Popular Canvas features and integration with other tools
There are quite a few Canvas features that are popular in the Department of Education. The personalised dashboard for students is really helpful as it gives them a lot of information at a glance. The integration with mobile devices makes Canvas much more accessible for staff and students. Kyra’s Department is using the Calendar tool extensively and have found its modular nature, plus integration with calendar apps, really good for their students.
They also like the integration with Oxford Reading Lists Online (ORLO), and the integration with Panopto is really appreciated by both staff and students. They now use announcements instead of mailing lists. The fact that students can adjust their notification settings means they have a lot more control over the sort of information they get, and when.
It is really straightforward to make a page look good, and academic staff find it easy to update information and to add resources.
Most of the students in the Department of Education are on one-year courses, so they have no point of comparison, but the feedback from DPhil students who remember WebLearn has been extremely positive: Canvas looks much cleaner in general, and they love the dashboard and the way Announcements are used.
Everyone is much more engaged with Canvas.
Kyra and her team feel like they have received a notable decrease in student questions by email. They are putting it down to Canvas presenting information so much more accessibly, and students feeling confident in the quality of that information. Overall everyone is much more engaged with Canvas.
- Do it! Take the time to plan: before you get stuck in, it’s always worth giving thought to how you want to structure and present the information you’re providing.
- Don’t be afraid to start small: right now, we are primarily using Panopto, Announcements and ORLO, but Canvas has lots of options for additional interactive elements (collaborative groups, discussion areas etc.). It’s okay just to work on what you know you definitely need and will use. You can always play with bells and whistles later.
- Try to think how you might use the various tools in Canvas and apply them as consistently as possible: for example, one of our rules is that general information, e.g. a guest lecture, will be an announcement, but information that requires response or action will come into the inbox, so students know that if there’s a message in their inbox it’s important and they have to do something.
- Make the most of the help available. The Canvas team is really responsive and happy to talk you through Canvas tools and other possibilities the new VLE has to offer.