The new year will bring with it a brand new learning management system called Canvas. Many schools statewide including South Puget Sound Community College are in the process of phasing in Canvas and phasing out the Angel Learning Management Suite.
A Learning Management Suite is used for online courses, and as a supplement to face-to-face courses.
Canvas is currently being tested out in a few classes this quarter before it will be implemented campus-wide in the winter.
SPSCC professor Randy Riness is currently testing out the Canvas system in two of his classes, Structured Query Language, SQL, and Extensible Markup Language, XML.
Riness said “The general feeling was that [Angel] was showing its age, and so last year [Washington] did evaluations of four different packages. Canvas was rated the best, so we’re moving to that.” According to Riness, he appreciates the “grades” feature of Canvas, as it’s one that he’s not able to provide at his own on-campus site.
However, Riness is also skeptical of Canvas, at least when it’s not being used for an all-online course. “I’m not sure that just being able to submit things anytime you want is enough reason to use Canvas. If it’s a face-
to-face class, you’re expected to be on campus anyway, and if you’re here, you have access to the network where you can submit stuff,” Riness said.
SPSCC’s eLearning Technical Support Manager, Rick McKinnon, said he believes the move to Canvas is for the better because the support team of Instructure, the company behind Canvas, is more responsive and also use exceptional support materials.
“They’ve really thought about how people use their tools and what kind of information they need to be successful, and so that makes everything a lot easier,” said McKinnon.
Instructure is also adding improvements to Canvas such as a new feature they’ve just added which allows faculty to edit a student’s Word document in Canvas, rather than in Word.
“That’s a big, big time saver,” said McKinnon. Not needing another program or application (app) to edit a student’s paper and having the ability to make comments right on the paper is “pretty radical” according McKinnon.
Canvas also provides built-in video capabilities. Instructors can make announcements, comment on work, and have back and forth discussions with students all through videos and according to McKinnon, “that’s remarkable.”
So far, students seem to be gravitating quite readily towards Canvas.
Student Andrew Noreen has used Angel for three quarters and just began using Canvas.
Noreen said, “Canvas has a smoother, and more refined look, but I don’t feel there is a big difference in my ability to navigate either site successfully.”
Student Shannon McCormick is working towards a degree in computer programming. She has taken many online classes with Angel and is impressed with the way Canvas is set up. “I am visual so I tend to like it when instructors have video lectures or walkthrough tutorials that I can rewind as much as I need to so I really understand the content,” she said.
The school charges from $4 to $8 per credit for the use of Angel. There is currently no charge for Canvas, but when Angel is phased out, the per-credit charges will apply to Canvas.
After logging onto Angel it welcomes you with a hyperlinked list of your courses. A menu bar of links helps you navigate around the site. The “Course” tab acts as a virtual lobby, providing usage statistics to the left, and links to messaging options to the right. “Calendar” gives you the current month of your class as the default, with the option of looking at a specific day, week, or the entire year.
The most crucial page is the “Lessons” page that will take you to the homework drop box, the course syllabus, or to other pages, depending on what your teacher thinks is crucial. There are also links to “Grades,” “Reports,” a link to the college’s library page and a few others.
Professor Hugh Benson said he appreciates the ease of accessibility that Angel gives him to campus email and his student rosters.
Bernie said, “With Angel, I not only have immediate access to the student roster—I can also use it to take daily attendance. And because my Angel Inbox only includes messages from registered students in the course, I can easily focus on those messages without searching for them in my general Inbox.”
However, the Angel system is not completely infallible, and if campus servers are down or a power outage occurs, the Angel system is rendered temporarily unavailable. There are also size and timeout limitations for file uploads. If a file takes too long to upload, the upload gets cancelled.
“Many students have complained to me that they could not get Angel to accept uploaded files for them and that it will often crash on them unexpectedly,” said Benson.
Last month, Angel was updated to version 8. The big new change to Angel: it is now compatible with all browsers, including Chrome and Safari.
The Canvas lobby focuses more on recent activity and upcoming assignments that are due. Canvas’ menu bar is split in two: the larger left half features tabs for “Courses,” “Assignments,” “Grades” and “Calendar.” The smaller menu bar to the right features your name, “Inbox,” “Settings,” “Help”, and “Logout” (which Angel, arguably, makes a little more challenging to find).
One of the main differences between Angel and Canvas is Angel has its own set of dedicated servers, while Canvas is handled locally by each college that uses it. This makes Canvas more reliable in terms of uploading, and during unexpected events like power outages.
McKinnon said Angel “was just not designed to handle that much traffic, really, and so at heavy usage times it did bog down.”
For faculty who have yet to transfer their courses from Angel to Canvas, visit the school’s Canvas support site, canvasatspscc.weebly.com, for information on how to transfer courses from Angel to Canvas, and for links to other tutorials. You can also email Rick McKinnon at firstname.lastname@example.org.