Canvas UK User Group

Attended the Canvas UK User Group in Birmingham representing the University of Sunderland for the first time. I’m told that when this group started a few years ago it was half a dozen people around a table, now it’s a room of 30 from institutions all of the country. Very useful for networking and getting tips and tricks from established users – little things like the fact that you can open up content pages to allow anyone to edit them, effectively turning them into wikis, and learning about the kinds of problems other users have had, for example that notifications can’t be customised on a per course basis. An institution that migrated to Canvas a couple of years ago had a lot of complaints about that from staff, but I don’t think it will be an issue for us as we’re moving from a VLE that had no notifications system at all, so it’s an enhancement request for us rather than a loss of functionality.

By far the most useful part of the day was the access we had to technical people from Instructure and the roadmap and plans they shared with us. I knew that Crocodoc was due for replacement for example, but I didn’t realise it was happening quite so soon (next week!) and I saw the replacement tool for the first time. Looking forward to Quizzes 2, Blueprint courses and the changing functionality around muting assignments. A little disappointed to learn that the quick marks functionality from Turnitin’s Grademark isn’t going to be implemented in Speedgrader, as we’ve already had academics raising that with us. Also noted an interesting looking screenshot in the roadmap which showed Mahara loading within Canvas, similar to how the Turnitin LTI displays. We would love to have that kind of deep integration, but there were mixed messages about Mahara, with some people reporting that the latest version of the integration was still broken. The slide was in the roadmap though, so hopefully something that we can look forward.

Canvas Network Training Course

In preparation for the Participatory Arts MOOC which I am helping to develop, and which is being hosted on Canvas Network, Instructure asked us to complete this training and preparatory MOOC which, as always happens with MOOCs, I started enthusiastically in early March but was quickly lost amongst the sea of deadlines and urgent jobs.

As the university has chosen Canvas for our new VLE also, this should have given me a head start, but as things panned out I’ve ended up completing all of my onsite Canvas training first. Nevertheless, completing the MOOC was still a valuable exercise as there are some differences with Canvas Network and it did cover pedagogic issues which are specific to MOOCs, such as the types of assessment used and how to stimulate student engagement week on week.

I also earned a couple of badges, Canvas Network Groupie and Canvas Network Rock Star. These were issued through Badgr, another open badge platform which doesn’t link or share my badges to my Mozilla Backpack. I really want to like open badges, I love the concept, but the different platforms need to work with each other; I want to be able to display and collate all of my badges in one place, but the only way I am able to do that is by posting them all on my own website, here, under the Badge tag. The situation screams of the XKCD cartoon Standards.

Canvas On-Site Training

Following on from the on-boarding webinars, this was the big one – four days of intense on-site training on every aspect of Canvas. Everything. Notable items from day 1 included rubrics, discussion boards, quizzes, Big Blue Button, and the Redirect app which can be used to add items into the navigation menu. Day 2 focused on mobile, both the apps which are available and advice on how to design content with mobile consumption in mind. Day 3 was all about admin, Canvas Commons, and the LTI apps which are available from within Canvas and through Edu App Centre. Finally, on day 4 we went through many of the settings together and discussed which to enable and disable based on our needs and the advice of our trainer.

Canvas On-Boarding Webinars

Participated in a series of webinars delivered over three days which covered everything we needed to know to get started with our shiny new Canvas VLE.

The webinars were divided into three topics, admin, support and fundamentals. The admin session was an introduction to the administration of Canvas, something we haven’t really seen before, while the fundamentals sessions, the bulk of the training, covered pretty much every other aspect of the system. Together these sessions have given us a good grounding to get started with the deployment of Canvas, and will be followed up with more comprehensive onsite training in a few weeks.

Our contract with Instructure includes their Tier 1 support package which means that they will be taking all of the customer support queries from our staff and students. The support webinar was an introduction to this, covering how their systems and processes work, and how we will access their call logging system to pick up anything that can’t be resolved directly. Happily they are using JIRA, a system I know well.

Canvas and VLE Market Share

I’m finally allowed to say that Sunderland have recently chosen Canvas as our new VLE to replace the terminally ill LearningStudio. I’ve known for a while of course, but have been gagged until formalities were met and contracts signed. It’s a good decision, very forward looking; really exiting times ahead for us here.

I was having a look for their market share and I came across the latest report from EduTechnica that shows that Canvas have now overtaken Moodle to become the second most widely used LMS / VLE in the US market place, behind Blackboard which is holding on. When you look at the trends and that graph though, I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before those lines pass each other.

VLE Supplier Webinars

As our VLE replacement project comes to a conclusion, this session was designed to create some clean air between two very close suppliers by focusing on mobile usage and applications. We asked for live demonstrations of a number of scenarios such as instructors updating module content on tablets, and students reading and accessing content on their phones. Both suppliers gave strong demonstrations, but for everyone in the room who was scoring them there was a clear favourite. Which, of course, I’m not at liberty to divulge!

Canvas Demonstration

Had a live demonstration of Instructure’s Canvas from an old Northumbria colleague, who is now at the University of Hull where they have just rolled out Canvas as their new VLE. It looks like a different generation system compared with what we’re using at Sunderland at the moment, LearningStudio, and the technical and customer support Hull has received has been second to none. For example, they are using PebblePad as their ePortfolio solution and Instructure built an LTI integration to link the two systems within days, free of charge. Other available integrations are extensive, and includes Mahara and Turnitin. The ‘Commons’ feature looks very nice, it allows people to easily import and publish courses from a central Canvas repository – it could be a good way to finally get some traction on OER use.

Other nice features include a central ‘Files’ area that allows content to be reused across different course sites; the ability to publish calendars to Google Calendar, Exchange and other calendar services; an online marking system provided by Crocodoc (which Blackboard added a couple of years ago); a fully functional student view mode; the ability to record audio and video from anywhere that uses the virtual text-box editor; a quiz tool with 12 questions types, including an equation editor; and a user masquerade function which works as well as Mahara’s.

There are some issues with it as well, of course. There is currently no SITS integration which is going to cause them problems if they want to gain some serious market penetration in the UK, but I am told they are working on this with Tribal. There is also no built-in conferencing or whiteboard tool, but there are integrations available for BigBlueButton and, I believe, Blackboard Collaborate which is what we currently use through LearningStudio. Mobile access was disappointing, as they have taken an apps approach rather than responsive design. There are three different apps available for iOS and Android devices which serve different functions, one of which is for audience response, which is nice. Support for SCORM and Storyline is a potential issue as they have had problems with it at Hull that we would need to investigate further. There is no integration for Medial (Helix) at the moment, though Medial do seem to be gauging the market in preparation for working on one. Finally there is cost, which, for obvious reasons I can’t say too much about. But it is more than LearningStudio. A lot more.

Overall the demonstration and discussion was a very positive experience. Hull are the latest UK institution to adopt Canvas, joining five others, so Intructure are gaining some traction here. In the US they’re storming the market! Check out the latest market share report from Edutechnica.