See ya CECIL Kia ora Canvas

June 2016


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Dr Kevin MorrisJUDE BARBACK talks to Dr Kevin Morris about the University of Auckland’s transition to a new cloud-based learning management system.

"I’m exhausted,” laughs Dr Kevin Morris, the University of Auckland’s Director of Learning and Teaching. His fatigue is understandable, given the university’s mammoth project of moving to a new learning management system (LMS) for its 33,000 students and 5,000 staff. While most institutions would opt for a gradual roll-out, the University of Auckland decided to implement the new system completely in the first semester this year.

Although it’s early days for Canvas, the University’s new cloud-based LMS, it appears the transition has been successful.

Saying ‘hello’ to Canvas, however, meant saying ‘goodbye’ to CECIL, the Uuniversity’s homegrown LMS, of which they’d grown rather fond over the years. I remember using CECIL during my uni days, which says something about its age.

“It did us proud for a long time,” says Morris, “We were ahead of the curve. However, we faced huge shifts in technology in terms of what’s available and providing flexibility for the future.”

With many of the staff who created CECIL still at the university, they could easily change and tweak things. Morris says they are still becoming familiar with the large commercial system in its place.

Once the university had accepted it was time to leave their beloved CECIL in LMS history, they embarked on a process of changing to a new system.

The university agreed from the outset that they needed a LMS that would integrate seamlessly with external tools and applications that faculty use, while also working across operating systems and devices that students expect to use in conducting their learning.

Four systems were considered, including “all the usual suspects”, says Morris.

“In LMS land, they all do 80 per cent of what you want it to do. Where we felt Canvas had the edge was its architecture for the future – we had to address the future-proofing question.”

The student community agreed. The selection process involved getting the wider university community involved. Screen capture scenarios and mock websites using Canvas were made available to all staff and students, who were then invited to review and provide feedback via a survey.

Students were given the opportunity to ‘play’ with the four products, after which Canvas emerged as the winner.

Canvas’s open environment was a key aspect that appealed to the university. It has open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and an open LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) environment, with over 300 apps that can be plugged in to give even greater scope. This allows the opportunity to easily integrate a huge range of tools for teaching and learning, without requiring IT support.

Morris says the LMS also has great learning analytics.

“It allows us to track how people are using the systems. If we posted a video, we can see how many people viewed it – if no one clicks on it, we need to look at why this was.”

He says student reaction has been great.

“It looks and feels like Facebook, so it is what they’re used to,” says Morris.

It was important that the new LMS supported anytime, anyplace, any device learning, particularly as students often bring more than one device with them. Today’s student flits between accessing timetables on their smartphone, uploading video submissions for assessment via their tablet and writing assignments on their laptop.

Faculty also want to use a variety of technology tools and applications in their teaching, and they don’t want to be constrained by the university’s learning platform.

Staff members have also adapted well to the change to Canvas. They’ve taken a ‘sandbox’ approach, allowing staff to have a play and simulate what they want to do before they export it.

Morris also takes heart that Canvas is used by many of their partner universities around the world, including Ivy League universities, putting them in good company.


Moving to Moodlerooms

Earlier this year UCOL’s e-learning team member Cheryl Tyler shared with e-learning professionals from around the world the challenges and opportunities that came with guiding UCOL staff and students through their recent transition from Moodle to Moodlerooms.

Over 75 e-learning professionals from a variety of educational institutions and corporate organisations attended the international conference Blackboard Education on Tour in March this year, hosted by the Philippines eLearning Society.

Moodlerooms is an enhancement of the supported LMS Moodle. It allows access to additional features including advanced reporting, grading and conduit for student integration, and is cloud-based – reducing several hardware and technical challenges.

Cheryl Tyler describes Moodlerooms as a “natural progression” from Moodle. She says it provides the means to future-proof UCOL’s supported learning management.

“The best feature is the responsive design, called SNAP, where the look of the page changes depending on the device being used,” says Ms Tyler. “It allows the lecturing staff to better suit the needs of the students by improving their course site and make it more accessible and interactive.

“We look forward to working more with staff to improve their knowledge and use of Moodlerooms to enhance student engagement and their own abilities when it comes to teaching with technology.”

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