Training options abound to help Emory faculty transition to Canvas learning management system

Published 12-05-2016

by Maureen McGavin

Dana Bryant, an instructional technologist with Teaching & Learning Technologies, leads faculty members through a Canvas class in the Woodruff Library. Photo courtesy Emory Libraries and Information Technology (LITS).

Emory’s Canvas transition team, charged with helping faculty convert from Blackboard to the Canvas learning management system, is gearing up for another wave of classes and individual sessions in the spring.

“Now is a good time to think about when you’re going to move over to Canvas,” says Lee Clontz, head of the Canvas transition team and manager of Teaching & Learning Technologies in Emory Libraries and Information Technology Services (LITS).

The team has been leading a steady slate of Canvas classes for faculty in the Woodruff Library. The classes will continue into summer 2017. Faculty can visit Emory’s Canvas webpage to view the classes calendar or to schedule an individual appointment.

Empty course shells for spring 2017 semester classes are now available in Canvas. “If faculty are ready to build their spring courses, we’re here to help,” Clontz says. “Even if they’re not teaching in the spring, now is the ideal time to learn and prepare. For the majority of courses, it’s a straightforward transition, and there is a lot of expertise available to help faculty make the move.”

In additional to classes, workshops and consultations, the transition team will provide customized training and workshops for departments that request them.

Faculty can use either Blackboard or Canvas to teach courses in the spring, but course shells will be created only in Canvas starting in summer 2017. The university’s contract with Blackboard expires Aug. 31, 2017, and at that point, the old system will be inaccessible.

A third of the way there

Clontz says about a third of Emory’s fall semester courses have been running in Canvas, “which is not bad at all, considering this is our first semester after implementation,” he says. “We’re looking forward to seeing that number rise as we move into and through the spring semester.”

Individual departments and schools are managing the migration to Canvas in different ways. Some programs are moving all courses, or groups of courses, in clusters, while others are leaving the decision to individual faculty, Clontz says. (See a graph of each school’s Canvas transition progress.)

Candler School of Theology has one of the highest Canvas conversion rates at Emory – faculty have moved 60 percent of the school’s courses into the new system.

“We’re hoping to have everyone converted throughout the spring,” says Roxanne Russell, director of online learning. “We also had a mandate this year for all first-year students to have their courses in Canvas, so they wouldn’t have to learn both systems.”

Russell, who moved over all of Candler’s online courses, helps the faculty transfer their courses from Blackboard to Canvas.

“We have had really positive feedback from our faculty,” Russell says. “The only negative comments are from people who are dreading the move.” The Canvas team will visit Candler’s December faculty meeting to answer questions and provide individual help if needed.

Great features, support

Sheila Tefft, a senior lecturer in the English department writing program, tested one course with students in the Canvas pilot program during the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters. She is running two classes in Canvas this semester and plans to have all of her courses moved from Blackboard in the spring.

“I like it,” she says of Canvas. “It gets easier the more you use it. It’s a progression of your skills.”

Canvas has several features she appreciates, such as the peer editing function. With this capability, Tefft can pair off students to read and comment on each other’s work in Canvas, and she can read those comments as well. “Before Emory adopted Canvas, I was using Google Docs to do something similar, and it wasn’t working as smoothly,” Tefft says.

Tefft also likes the 24/7 support that Emory included in its package from Canvas. “Students can call, chat, or email anytime for support, or use the help guide. It’s really nice,” she says. “I could be working on a Sunday night and run into an issue, and I don’t have to wait until Monday to troubleshoot.”

“The main takeaway is it’s really painless to learn how to use Canvas,” Russell adds. “It can feel overwhelming, learning something new, but this has a short learning curve.”

Faculty help with Canvas

The Canvas transition team offers a number of ways to help faculty transfer their courses from Blackboard to Canvas:

Online training: Training guides, instructional videos and other resources are available at the team’s Training & Resources website.

In-person classes: Faculty can take Canvas 101, Canvas Assignments, Migrating Courses, even Graphic Design Tips and Tricks for those who want to go a step further. Sign up for classes, held in the Woodruff Library, at the Canvas training calendar page.

Individual session: Those who have specific questions can schedule a one-on-one appointment with a Canvas team member or send an email to to set up a session.

Department session: The Canvas team can meet with departments to give an overview or provide help desk-style assistance; see the Canvas training webpage for more details or email for questions about training options not already offered.

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