This article was originally published in ZU News.
Azusa Pacific has used the Learning Management System (LMS) Sakai for several years, but this is the last semester that the whole university will be using it. Starting this summer, three schools will be transitioning to another LMS, Canvas.
The transition is headed by the Office of Innovative Teaching and Technology (ITT). Mike Truong, the Executive Director of ITT, said there are several reasons for the switch.
“There are a number of reasons why we’re transitioning. The main one is that Sakai is just a dated technology. It’s been around for over a decade. A decade ago technology was just not what it is today. It was before the iPhone was invented,” Truong said. “More than that, the ways you can interact in Sakai were pretty limited. There’s no app for Sakai. You can’t drag and drop things in Sakai like we’re used to.”
Truong said that Canvas will force professors to rethink the way they teach with its new opportunities. He said that this will help since APU is and has been heavily invested in online learning for years.
“This process started about five years ago when I first came to APU. Nothing tangible happened then, I just submitted a recommendation for the campus to switch,” Truong said. “It wasn’t really until two years ago that the campus started mobilizing to make this transition.”
APU looked at several different potential replacements for Sakai, testing them among students and faculty.
“A committee was formed about a year and a half ago with faculty members, staff members, students and members from our office. We spent a year looking at the different systems, evaluating them, bringing in different vendors,” Truong said. “It was through that process that we decided on Canvas. It involved about 400 people. I think it was a comprehensive and campus-wide approach to making that decision.”
While the decision has been made to switch to Canvas, the implementation won’t actually take effect until this summer and later for different schools within APU. According to Truong, Provost Mark Stanton wanted a slower rollout for better results.
“He wanted a year and a half to a two year rollout. So we’re starting this summer with three schools: the School of Business Management, the School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences and the School of Theology. Those will launch Canvas this summer. The next two schools, the College of Music and Arts and the School of Nursing will launch it in the fall. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the library will launch it next spring. Lastly, the School of Education will launch it next summer, ending the staggered approach.”
While it was the provost’s decision to have a slow rollout, each dean of the respective schools decided when they wanted to implement Canvas.
Throughout this semester, ITT is offering training to faculty to teach them how to use Canvas. Ann Kwinn, the Director of Instructional Strategy for ITT will help lead the training.
“You can take a face-to-face class, or an online course or a blended course. We have to address the faculty’s need to serve you in all of those ways,” Kwinn said. “We also have to accommodate the faculty, so we offer different ways for them to learn about Canvas in all the ways they need for those different modalities. We have face-to-face trainings here in our office, we have face-to-face trainings in the different departments, we have a self-study course with simulations that students and faculty can take and we have live online sessions as well.”
While most faculty likely have little previous experience with Canvas, a large amount of students have likely already used it.
“Canvas is used in the kindergarten through 12th grade space, so some students may already be familiar with it through that,” Kwinn said. “Canvas is known for good support and sharing.”
In addition, most public state colleges and universities in California already use Canvas, so there are many transfers who are familiar with it.
One of these transfers is Hannah Mitchell, a junior studio art major, who transferred to APU from Westmont in the fall. Mitchell said she enjoyed using Canvas at Westmont.
“I really liked Canvas. It gives you your dashboard that has all of your classes there and it’s really easy to see the assignments you need to do. It’s easy to upload your assignments as well,” Mitchell said. “I think Sakai is really messy and difficult to navigate, kind of poorly designed. I’m glad that we’re getting Canvas. I like it better.”
One of the other positives that Truong noted about Canvas is that it is almost the same price as Sakai, with much more to offer.
“Canvas doesn’t actually cost that much more than Sakai. It’s less than what we we’re paying for our last LMS, I think it was called e-college. We paid much more for that than we’re paying for either Sakai or Canvas,” Truong said. “Cost was a big consideration in our decision in which way we wanted to go. For a little bit more cost, it’s giving us a lot more for faculty and students. All the employees of APU will also be using Canvas for their training and development. So in some ways, it’s like we’re getting two systems in one which is a great deal.”
In addition to holding training events for faculty throughout the semester, ITT will also have an event for students regarding Canvas.
“On March 14 on West Campus, we’ll have a Canvas pop-up event. We’ll be out there giving out information and swag, promoting Canvas with games and prizes,” Truong said. “We want to create excitement about this new LMS. It’s a good way to get the word out about Canvas. We’re going to try to do another event on East Campus next fall.”