UW Adopts New Learning Management System

August 26, 2013

Citing factors such as ease of use by students and faculty, flexibility, innovative instructional features and accessibility, the University of Wyoming has adopted Canvas by Instructure as UW’s single learning management system (LMS). The new LMS (www.uwyo.edu/WyoCourses) will replace less-user-friendly systems now in use and will be the sole campus learning platform beginning in fall 2014.

“Learning management systems are great tools for augmenting and extending on-site classes," says Meg Van Baalen-Wood, a member of the steering committee that recommended the new LMS. “Teachers use the LMS to communicate with their students, present assignments, post grades, facilitate class discussions and promote the use of audio and video features, among other functions. You can do almost anything through the LMS that you can do in the classroom. In fact, for fully online classes, it can, and does, replace the physical classroom."

In July 2012, UW Academic Affairs appointed a steering committee to research the needs of UW faculty and students, and recommend a single learning management system.

“It became obvious that our existing learning platforms were no longer adequate and that a flexible, more robust LMS was required to meet the needs of our students,” says Carol Frost, UW associate provost. She says the Canvas system was selected following a collaborative, comprehensive review process led by the UW Outreach School, the Ellbogen Center for Teaching and Learning (ECTL), and Information Technology.

The steering committee members were Christi Boggs, Outreach Credit Programs assistant lecturer; Jen Chavez, Information Technology Applications and Database Services director; Larry Jansen, Online UW program coordinator; and Van Baalen-Wood, ECTL faculty associate and Department of English associate lecturer.

The committee arranged for demonstrations from four selected candidate systems and invited feedback from instructors, staff and students. They determined that Canvas provides an efficient learning tool for students while providing more support and functionality to faculty. All of the committee members were impressed by the system’s ease of use and modern web-based capabilities.

“Students can participate in discussions; work in collaborative groups; submit assignments and take tests or quizzes; and view or retrieve course materials such as syllabi, lecture notes, videos, documents and, in some cases, even the course textbooks directly from the LMS,” says Van Baalen-Wood. “These capabilities vastly reduce the need to create and carry printed materials. Typically, students and teachers can participate in these activities anywhere they have access to the Internet. And, with Canvas's free mobile app, users can also work in their courses directly from their mobile devices such as tablets and phones.”

In evaluating comments of Canvas users at other universities, the committee found that:

-- A large majority of faculty agreed that using Canvas made teaching more efficient, especially with regards to assignment submission and grading.

-- Canvas facilitated faculty experimentation, leading to innovation in their teaching.

-- Both students and faculty favored Canvas over other LMSs they had used before.

-- Canvas increased collaboration among students, facilitating their use of student groups, wiki pages, peer review, and chat and video features for study groups.

-- Instructors took advantage of Canvas's audio and video feedback features, which were received positively by students.

-- Some instructors used Canvas to hold virtual office hours, increasing participation and engagement of students.

While the committee's primary foci were on functionality and ease of use, Frost says cost also was an important factor. She says Canvas can deliver more desired features than UW’s current, more expensive LMS system at a much lower cost. Student fees to support the system will be reduced and savings can be directed toward other uses.

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