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Canvas vs Carmen

Story: Jaret Waters, Design: Akane Ohara, Image: The Ohio State University

Checking grades, downloading PowerPoints, taking quizzes, posting discussion questions and reviewing syllabi—in nearly every aspect of the academic experience at Ohio State, Carmen serves as a fundamental tool for students and faculty alike. However, this vast versatility does not exclude it from the continual forces of change and progress at work in the Home of the Buckeyes.

Over the course of the past year, Ohio State has initiated the adoption of a new learning management system to serve as the new Carmen platform, replacing the Desire2Learn (D2L) platform. This new system, known as Canvas, is slated to completely replace D2L by Jan. 2017.

Ohio State first implemented D2L in 2005. Despite the improvements it offered in comparison to the previous platform, D2L inevitably proved to be ineffective in progressing at a rate that would accommodate the university’s needs. For instance, Susan Clark, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Finance, referenced the inflexibility of D2L as one of its primary shortcomings, specifically citing “Carmageddon”—the university-wide crash of Carmen in the autumn term of 2014.

“In June 2015, a Learning Management System Evaluation Committee was brought together to evaluate the learning management systems available, as there had been tremendous growth in the available features offered over the last decade,” says Liv Gjestvang, Associate Vice President of Learning Technology in the Office of Distance Education and eLearning.

After recognizing the need for a change, the university proceeded to assess D2L, Blackboard and Canvas, the three leading platforms that could support a university as large as Ohio State. After the evaluation committee determined that Blackboard would not be suitable, the university conducted extensive pilot testing throughout the autumn semester of 2015 to determine which of the remaining two would be most suitable for both teachers and students. By the end of the semester, 93 percent of teachers and 52 percent of students preferred Canvas to D2L.

“Our faculty were drawn to the clean, modern interface in Canvas,” Gjestvang says. “They love SpeedGrader and the ease of providing feedback with tools like video and audio recordings as well as rubrics; they also liked the unified calendar feature. Students liked the mobile app, the interface and collaboration opportunities with other students.”

Clark reports being “a little apprehensive” upon hearing about the intended changes because of the potential difficulty presented by such a transition. To be able to manage the impending change, Clark attended some workshops offered by the university during the spring and summer with the intention of using her summer to completely switch over to Canvas.

“The students are going to be introduced to Canvas in some of their classes this fall,” Clark says. “Why not be one of those classes? I felt that the students would be more forgiving of me not knowing exactly how something works in Canvas now than they will be by January.”

Clark worked throughout the summer to become acquainted with the new system and adjust all of her classes to it. Despite the workshops she had attended, the majority of her understanding of Canvas came from the process of “trial-and-error”. This proactive trend in adopting Canvas was widely prevalent among professors across the university, even though the university had anticipated that 30 percent of autumn classes would be conducted through Canvas. In actuality, about 70 percent of courses were, leading to some unexpected issues.

“The number of courses being published in Canvas right before the start of the semester triggered Canvas’ throttling mechanism, which is designed to protect all universities using Canvas from a situation where one school uses all of the available bandwidth,” Gjestvang says. “This caused intermittent problems with course creation and enrollments.”

For Clark, this influx of other faculty adopting Canvas not only meant that the system could not logistically support it, but also that the resources available to aid in the process were in short supply.

“I truly think that in the business school, we need more support and resources in the technology side of our department, like instructional developers,” Clark says. “There are only three, and they have other responsibilities. I think more support there might help ease their load.”

For these instructional developers, however, the difficulty came in their delayed receival of control within the new system.

“The transition has not been without headaches,” says Christiana Cordiano, an eLearning instruction developer. “The new Carmen Courses page had some bugs that need worked out and they have been. For me personally, the delay in receiving Administrator-level access has caused some of those. We develop workarounds, but when the admin-level privileges rollout happens in October, it will be welcome.”

Overall, however, both faculty and students are acclimating well to the change. The Office of Distance Education and eLearning reports feedback from Twitter has indicated that student satisfaction has improved, especially given that Canvas provides a better mobile experience than D2L. Additionally, from an administrative standpoint, the increased flexibility of Canvas allows professors to continue adopting innovative methods of teaching.

“I think that they’ve made a big investment in this because it’s going to be expandable,” Clark says. “We’re not going to have the problems that we had a couple years ago. I think some people are resistant to change, but in the long run it’s going to be better.”

Looking forward, Gjestvang advises students and faculty to visit the Canvas Adoption site to utilize resources to become better acquainted with the new system. Teachers can attend additional workshops for more direct, hands-on experience, while students can begin familiarizing themselves with the Canvas mobile app for Android and iOS in order to facilitate the smoothest transition possible into the coming semester.

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