Reflections on the Business School Canvas Rollout

Earlier this year, the University of Auckland moved to Canvas, our new Learning Management System (LMS). Compared to the previous, in-house solution (Cecil), we’ve found Canvas offers improved teaching and learning tools and features. These include better learning analytics and more organic integration with web services like Google Docs, Google Drive, Khan Academy, YouTube, Turnitin, and Flickr.

Canvas also better supports blended and online course delivery, which is increasingly important both here at the University of Auckland and worldwide. The Business School’s experience of the Canvas roll-out is similar to anecdotes and empirical research reported in the LMS literature (e.g., Bender, 2005; Wingard, 2004). These show that we tend to struggle with a new LMS initially and then, over time, begin using more advanced features to facilitate student learning.

Despite the obvious challenges of a swift implementation, staff across the Business School showed a truly inspiring level of commitment during the main Canvas rollout, with every single course – involving over 200 staff – publishing by the first day of class in Semester 1 2016.

Staff reactions to Canvas reflect a general appreciation of the new functionality and recognition of enhanced benefits for students. Associate Professor Gehan Gunasekara from the Department of Commercial Law says:
Canvas offers a lot of flexibility, especially around things like managing student groups. I haven’t had any complaints and that usually means that students like it.

Based on focus group interviews, undergraduate students’ reactions to Canvas were very positive. The students unanimously preferred Canvas and believed it was better than Cecil as it was faster, easier to use and had an improved layout. The students also liked Canvas’ reminders, communication tools, and ability to provide structured content.

One student commented:
“Canvas is really good to use and it has a discussion function that actually works” (Steve, Stage 2-3).

Another added:
“I really appreciate the grading system. All the marks are so clear – you can see your average, the class average; you can see…your grade…you don’t literally have to calculate it every time” (Mike, Stage 1).

The students did note some issues with Canvas such as the technical problems with the Canvas app on mobile devices and inconsistent use of Canvas within a course or across courses.

Stein (2004, as cited in Vignare et al., 2005) found that “the most important factor in student satisfaction and community formation is the degree of structure in a course. Students want clearly defined objectives, assignments, deadlines, and expectations for dialogue or interaction” (p. 12). One of the big issues to come out of the research into the business student experience of Canvas is that students desire consistency in the organisation of course content within and between courses.

Nabeel Albashiry and Doug Carrie recently ran a discussion workshop with interested Business School staff looking at what a minimum Canvas course might look like across the Faculty. The results have been posted on Learning Exchange. You can see them here.

As we move forward with Canvas, the focus needs to shift from implementation to utilising more of its powerful learning tools. However, a supportive environment is crucial (Albashiry & Pieters, 2011). Without suitable resources and support the process will be frustrating and inefficient for both staff and students.

Looking forward, the Innovative Learning and Teaching (ILT) team hopes to enthusiastically support pedagogical developments facilitated by Canvas, working with strategies driven by academic departments. Innovations are more sustainable and better supported when there is a clear and shared vision by the stakeholders regarding what the innovation means and how it relates to teachers’ practice (Fullan, 2007).

  • Albashiry, N.M. & Pieters, J.M. (2011). Teachers’ development perspectives in using a course management system. Int. J. Learning Technology, 6(2) 164-182.
  • Bender, B. (2005). Learner management and success in CMS environments. In P. McGee, C. Carmean, & A. Jafari (Eds.), Course management systems for learning: Beyond accidental pedagogy (pp. 107-113). Hershey: Idea Group.
  • Frey, B. (2005). Enhancing face-to-face courses with a course management system. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh.
    Retrieved from Educational Resource Information Center (ED490408).
  • Fullan, M. (2007) The New Meaning of Educational Change. Fourth Edition. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Ioannou, A., & Hannafin, R. D. (2008). Course management systems: Time for users to get what they need. TechTrends, 52(1), 46-50.
  • Vignare, K., Dziuban, C., Moskal, P., Lupy, R., Serra-Roldan, R., & Wood, S. (2005). Blended learning review of research: An annotative bibliography [Abstract].
  • Wingard, R. G. (2004). Classroom teaching changes in Web-enhanced courses: A multi-institutional study [Electronic version]. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 27(1), 26-35.


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