Amanda Gosline/MJ
Amanda Gosline/MJ

By DAN LOYD, Staff Writer

Students returning to campus this fall will notice major changes in the way they can interact with courses online. Canvas, a new learning management system, is beginning to replace Ctools as the primary way students manage course projects on the web.

The new system went live this July with the beginning of the second summer semester, and faculty members have been encouraged to incorporate the system in to their courses. However, a full transition will not be complete until the fall of 2014.

The Council of Deans began searching for a new learning management system last fall, and selected Canvas upon the recommendations of faculty across campus.

Stein Brunvand is a professor of education technology in the College of Education, Health and Human Services who provided input into the selection of Canvas. Brunvand said Canvas was selected for a variety of reasons, but the online grading system was one of the main attractions.

“The grading component of Canvas is far superior [to Ctools]. They’ve got options where you can upload a rubric and then you can quickly assign that rubric to an assignment and perform very efficient grading,” said Brunvand. “You can also record comments if you wanted to either voice comments, or if you have web cam you can record a short video to provide feedback to students.”

Brunvand also noted that Canvas allows for easy use of multimedia, and that it integrates nicely with a wide range of mobile devices.

Despite the advantages Canvas presents to faculty and students, Brunvand recognizes that with any transition there are challenges.

“With any new tool there’s always a little bit of reluctance because you’re moving away from the familiar to something knew,” said Brunvand.

This is an adjustment recognized by U of M-Dearborn sophomore Ruvaid Vrik.

“I am used to Ctools more than anything. Canvas is going to take some getting used to and I haven’t had too much of a chance to play around with it,” said Vrik. “It seems like even the professors are having a bit of a hard time adjusting to it. In terms of getting everything where it needs to be, having everything show up the way they want it to, it’s a bit of a struggle. So I hope that gets fixed.”

Despite opportunities presented by the university to train faculty on how to best transition to the new software, Brunvand believes it will take time in order for instructors to use the technology to its full potential.

“It’s not just how can I do all the things I was doing before with Ctools, it’s how can I do them with Canvas. The question is what can I do now that I couldn’t do before that will make a better learning experience for my students?”

Some professors have been stepping up to this challenge. UM-Dearborn freshman Dalia Salloum said she has been impressed with how Canvas has been incorporated in the classroom.

“My composition class on Mondays and Wednesdays is a typical classroom setting, but on Fridays when we go in there is a virtual classroom already setup for you,” said Salloum. “So you’re sitting around the people you’re talking to online, but it’s cool because you can talk to them without having to wait for the other person, so it’s really cool.”

Ultimately, Brunvand’s advice for the transition is to be flexible, and open to change.

“It’s more about learning the importance of the technology, and how it allows you to evolve your teaching, and not getting tied to the specific name like Canvas or Ctools,” said Brunvand. “Because if it goes away there is another alternative you can switch to, so you have to be nimble.”