Canvas to replace CTools by fall 2016

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 - 6:09pm

Say goodbye to CTools.

In an e-mail Wednesday afternoon, University Provost Martha E. Pollack and Laura M. Patterson, associate vice president and chief information officer, announced that beginning with the fall 2016 semester, all new course sites will be hosted by Canvas.

Canvas, piloted during the 2014-2015 academic year, is a digital course management system with discussion boards, classroom notifications and a platform for submitting assignments, among other features.

The pilot included more than 10,000 students, 150 instructors and 130 courses. Of that group, 92 percent of faculty and 100 percent of student focus group participants either preferred Canvas to CTools or were neutral to the change.

In a press release, Wallace Hopp, professor of industrial and operations engineering and Business School associate dean for learning and design, said his transition to Canvas went smoothly.

I love the fact that it’s becoming a standard in our industry. I’m talking to some of the other top business schools and they’re on Canvas, making it very easy for us to share best practices,” he said. “I converted over to Canvas this year and I’m really pleased. I am facilitating a flipped classroom delivery and have set-up digital videos and online assessments through Canvas. It’s worked flawlessly for me.”

The flipped classroom is a model in which lectures are delivered online and are watched outside of class, allowing professors to spend in-class hours troubleshooting with students as they work through assignments and projects.

This semester, more than 1,700 University courses and 28,700 students are using Canvas. For the rest of the academic year, instructors will be able to choose between either system.

However, students have expressed frustration with the simultaneous use of CTools and Canvas, a grievance Pollack acknowledged in the e-mail and in a September interview with The Michigan Daily.

“I can appreciate the challenge,” she said in September. “On the other hand, we’re such a big University that we can’t really just flip a switch and do it all at once. When you go through system changes there’s just always a little period of some added challenge.”

Pollack accepted a recommendation from the group who oversaw the pilot program — the Digital Innovation Advisory Group’s Digital Ecosystem Subcommittee — to expedite the full transition to Canvas by fall 2016.

The University of Michigan’s Dearborn campus, as well as close to 700 other schools across the country, currently use Canvas.

In an interview Wednesday morning before the transition was announced, Comparative Literature Prof. Silke-Maria Weineck, chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, said she thought the transition process had been well handled and that faculty were generally optimistic about it.  

“There’s been a lot of consultation, so we think that’s been done well,” Weineck said. “There’s been a lot of faculty input, there’s been a careful pilot program to identify possible programs, so fingers-crossed. There are always transition costs.”

Public Health Prof. David Mendez, chair of the Digital Ecosystem Subcommittee, said in the release that faculty should take advantage of the resources available to aid their transition.

“I encourage faculty to experiment with Canvas and to engage with colleagues who have used it,” he said. “Talk to your local IT support or instructional designers who can help you get the most out of Canvas. Once people start using Canvas, they realize the transition is not that hard and the rewards far exceed the cost of moving to a new system. I encourage our colleagues not to wait too long to get started.”

The University’s ITS Service Center is offering Convert2Canvas assistance, available to instructors upon request. The service moves material for faculty from CTools to Canvas within a few days.

Existing course sites on CTools will be available through August 2017, at which point they will be archived and available to faculty upon request. CTools sites not used for courses — such as those created for student organizations, research and other projects — will remain active for now.