Following its announcement over the summer, Mississippi State University is currently piloting a new learning management system called Canvas by Instructure. All courses will switch from Blackboard to Canvas in the spring.
Lead Instructional Tech Specialist Tina Green has worked at MSU since 1999, and during her time here, she has been involved with many of the transitions between learning management systems.
"We have 61 pilots, and I have been a part of every pilot we had," Green said. "I’ve never had piloters more excited to use a product, and I’ve never had piloters catch on so quickly."
The pilot group includes courses from all eight colleges at MSU. The chosen instructors began training with Canvas over the summer.
Department Head of Communications John Forde is piloting Canvas to his students in Principles of Public Relations. Over the summer, Forde missed training due to a family emergency; however, he found Canvas was easy to learn, despite having gaps in training.
"There was a three-week gap between when I went to one training and the next training," Forde said. "I was planning to go to all of it and get my class all set. I just turned it on and ‘click-boom.’ I made notes on my cellphone, and I don’t know if I have even had to go back to them because it is so intuitive."
While those in the pilot program are already trained on how to use Canvas, professors, instructors and graduate assistants can attend the “Getting Started with Canvas by Instructure Learning Management System” workshops in McArthur hall. Green leads these hands-on workshops by showing faculty members the different functions of Canvas, while they mimic her from the perspective of a student or in the view they will see as instructors.
Green said 208 people, both students and faculty, are trained as of Friday.
These workshops started Sept. 12 and will continue until Sept. 28. The specific times and dates are on the event’s page.
Graduate Assistant Gabby Steele earned her diploma from MSU last spring and is pursuing her master’s in business administration.
Steele attended the workshop for her assistantship because she assists with a Principles of Marketing course. As a graduate at MSU, Steele said she is more experienced with Blackboard. However, she finds the transition from the current learning management system to Canvas is more user-friendly.
"I feel like the transition is really easy, especially when you come to trainings like this where you can kind of play around with it and see some of the capabilities and advanced features," Green said.
With all of the technical components, professors and instructors are able to publish and unpublish their materials for students once their materials are ready; however, everything for the semester could be posted at once. On the first day of Forde’s public relations course, he released all 14 chapters.
"I think the only concern is you can produce so much content, you want to be sure that students don’t get overwhelmed," Forde said. "It probably worked out better and I will probably do this in upcoming semesters where I don’t release 14 chapters a semester. The really cool thing is it is so easy to publish and unpublish. Students cannot see it until it is published."
As faculty members prepare for the transition from Blackboard to Canvas, they are able to view their pages under the student view.
"As far as I can tell, the quizzes and tests are easy to follow for my students," Forde said. "There’s a student view for faculty, and I use it to take the quizzes."
Junior communication major Kelsi Goudeau is in Forde’s course and has used Canvas before. She transferred from Southwest Mississippi Community College, where Canvas is the primary learning management system.
"I’ve only ever used Canvas, so for me, it was more of a transition from Canvas to Blackboard," Goudeau said. "I honestly don’t see many disadvantages with Canvas. I love the features and really love how you can see everyone that is in your class, and it has an easy layout for grades."
According to Green, Canvas offers a more user-friendly layout, easier communication between students and instructors, and allows written, video or audio comments between students and instructors on assignments.
Canvas is the primary learning management system for Southwest Community College, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, the University of Southern Mississippi and many other schools. This allows the transition from Blackboard to Canvas to be very smooth for many students, Goudeau said.
"Blackboard, to me, is more complicated,” Goudeau said. “Canvas is very easy to maneuver and operate. I never asked anyone at SMCC for help using Canvas, and I have had to reach out to multiple people for help with Blackboard."