Friday, August 5, 2011

Powerpoint Presentation from InstructureCon 2011

I figured I better post something from InstructureCon 2011 before people stopped believing I'm still on this site.

So I present, for your viewing pleasure, the powerpoint intro to our presentation. If I get any feed back I'll do a narrated version.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

InstructureCon 2011

We (Chris and Ben) attended the very first InstrcutureCon on Aug. 1st and 2nd. It was a very well run conference. I tip my hat to Cade and Sunny for putting together a great conference. Those in attendance might not have realized it was their first attempt at organizing a conference. Well done! (Even though Sunny was always on my back about being in sessions at the wrong time.)

Here is my top 10 things I liked about the conference.

10. The opportunity to present. Chris and I ran a session about learning outcomes. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn (maybe a little), but it was great to share with the Canvas community. The questions that were asked and some of the contacts we made were fantastic!

9. It is nice to know we aren’t alone. When we started using Canvas in the Summer of 2010 we were fairly isolated. I never would have thought that we would be at a conference 1 year later with over 200 people in attendance.

8. Demonstration of the new Canvas app for iOS 5. This is an app specifically for students using Canvas. It is very impressive and will be rolled out shortly after Apple releases iOS 5 this fall.

7.OER Glue- I met a guy from OER Glue who probably has just the solution for our challenge at Westminster for searching for open education reseources

6.Canvas support. I’ll be honest Canvas support has needed a boost. They have grown so fast that their support team has been overworked and understaffed. I attended a session by David Szoke who joined the support team a month ago and I was very impressed!

5. Cory Stokes and Kevin Reeves- What can I say? These guys are amazing and it is cool for a small school guy like me to be able to get information from them. It is cool to see their enthusiasm for Canvas. I love to see others as excited about LMS features as I am!

4. If it aint Bracken, don’t fix it. Bracken is the migration expert at Instructure. He had a session about migrating content and it convinced me that a campus-wide migration is possible and not that intimidating. I also liked him because he quoted me and the Canvas Guys blog!

3. Product development cycle. There were a couple sessions about the Canvas development cycle. Zach Wily presented how they handle bugs and Brian Whitmer discussed the process for adding new features. What is really cool to me is their new product testing tool that they use. They are able to create new features and patches every other week rather than monthly because of it. I don't know any other LMS that can develop and release as rapidly as these guys.

2. Awesome bag. Seriously, who gives out an Ogio bag as part of attending a conference?! Overall this conference is a tremendous value. Canvas only charged $175 (early bird) for attending the conference and that provides lots of food, an amazing bag and comfortable conference rooms. I'm not sure how they did this with only two event sponsors. BBworld cost over $500, had probably 50 sponsors and their bag sucked.

1. Lunch with CEO Josh Coates. I was lucky enough to sit at the table where Josh was sitting. I got to ask him some questions I’ve wanted to ask him for a long time. For example, I asked him about his WWII collection including his tank. He has a tank that is fully functional. He talked about how he will take it out with Boy Scouts and shoot it. He also has a very cool collection of guns including ones manufactured by IBM and Oldsmobile. I also asked him a question that I already knew the answer to, but I had to ask it. “What if somebody wants to buy Instructure?” His answer was pretty solid. I could tell he meant it, he doesn’t want to sell, especially not to Blackboard. He was very adamant about that. He knows that Blackboard would kill what they have. He also said that they have a goal is to get to half a billion dollars in value and then hopefully be able to go public. He was also very surprised and excited by all the growth during the last year. He was very kind to visit with us and very down-to-Earth. I can see why he has been successful. I can see why his employees enjoy working with him.

The quote of the conference has to come from somebody else sitting at my table for lunch. I'm not sure his name, but he was from New Mexico and he said something like this: “We are on a state contract with Blackboard which has been awful, but there has been one good thing to come from it. It has helped us to bond with all the other schools in New Mexico because we have had to band together to deal with all the problems with Blackboard”. So, I guess Blackboard isn't all that bad.

Friday, July 29, 2011

How to migrate to a new LMS:

Migrating to an LMS is a challenge. I've been through two transitions, but both at small schools. I can imagine the difficulty a larger school would have. 

I was speaking with an Instructure representative this week and it was brought up how long the process is for selecting and migrating to a new LMS. Selecting an LMS isn't like typical software purchases. Taking on a project like this (or selling it for that matter) is not easy.
While I was at BBWorld I was asked about our process for changing so I thought that this would be a good way to share it. I warn you that this is a long list, but it illustrates all the hurdles along the way. 
This list is probably missing some stuff, so feel free to comment and I'll add changes and fixes. Also, if you are going through a transition at your school feel free to leave a comment on how your process is working out and which product your are switching to.
  1. Have a clear leader/champion who will follow the process all the way through.
  2. Meet with appropriate groups to get buy in on the process and determine available resources for the project (faculty stipends, LMS budget, IT staff and available hardware).
  3. Announce the process to all faculty. Solicit participants for the search committee and pilot group.
  4. Select the group of faculty, staff, students and administration that will be part of the search/pilot committee. Keep in mind that you don’t want the group to be entirely made up of high-end users and early adopters.
  5. Create a list of features and catagorize them as essential, important, and good to have. Create a rubric for evaluating tools. Write list of questions for each LMS company to answer (RFP). It might be appropriate to use a survey get feedback from students and faculty as to which features are most important.
  6. Have the leader and 2-3 people (Instructional Designer, IT admin, Faculty representative) meet with as many vendors as possible to get demonstrations. I would guess that the following LMS products should be evaluated: Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Instructure Canvas, Moodle, Sakai, and a publisher system such as Pearson or Epsilon). It might also be appropriate to at least discuss the benefits and costs of open-source products. Consider out-of-the box systems such as Brainhoney or SharePoint LMS. This process might take several months and involve in-depth research and vigorous debate.
  7. The leader should narrow down the options to the top 2-3 systems (based on feedback) and create a proposal for the search committee including the evaluation rubric, LMS choices and proposed timeline and milestones.
  8. Meet with the search committee and get feedback on the proposal and create the pilot group.
  9. Request and setup a sandbox for the 2-3 LMS’s being evaluated.
  10. Make revisions to the proposal and send back to search committee.
  11. Meet with pilot group.
    1. set expectations including time commitments and compensation (if any).
    2. determine who is piloting each LMS. Have at least 3 faculty evaluating each LMS and be sure that there is a good mix of courses created from scratch and migrated from the prior LMS.
    3. set minimum criteria for all pilot courses such as syllabus, discussion board, submission, rubrics, gradebook, etc.
  12. Begin working with pilot faculty to create courses and begin teaching with the tool.
  13. Have an Instructional Designer create the exact same course in each LMS being evaluated. Provide opportunities for faculty and students to see demonstrations of each system.
  14. Meet with pilot group at the beginning of the semester and have them evaluate course migration and course creation process.
  15. Set up formal demonstrations for the each LMS being evaluated. Invite entire search committee to attend each demonstration and have them fill out the rubric for each tool.
  16. Hold LMS open-houses in computer labs, library and/or faculty technology center and get feedback from students and faculty.
  17. Meet with pilot students and faculty as needed during the semester to provide proper support.
  18. Contact other schools who use the LMS products being evaluated and get feedback about important issues.
  19. Meet at the end of the semester to collect feedback (qualitative and quantitative) from student and faculty experiences.
  20. Compile all data and feedback. Create a summary.
  21. Present findings to the search committee. Allow for: feedback on process, product debates, additional presentations from LMS companies, and/or student testimonials.
  22. Have committee make a recommendation.
  23. Create a recommendation/proposal for administration to give final approval.

Transition phase:

  1. Announce the change to faculty and students. Describe the migration process and timeline.
  2. Create a new team(s) of people who will be involved with the implementation. Should include faculty early adopters, faculty technology-neophytes, training staff, IT/SIS staff, registrars office and other necessary individuals.
  3. Meet with groups to discuss:
    1. Benchmark/milestone reporting
    2. Promotion/marketing plan
    3. Training plan
    4. SIS integration
  4. Have IT staff begin technical implementation. This can be much shorter if you are using a hosted solution, but there will still need to be some key questions that need to be answered.
  5. Have LMS system administrators and IT staff collect list of questions to be answered by the group(s). These types of questions might be:
    1. What is the heirachy structure for the school?
    2. Will there be separate domains of implementation (for separate campuses or programs)?
    3. How should courses be created (automatically via SIS, manually, faculty request)?
    4. How will courses be migrated (by faculty, by staff at faculty request, all courses moved)?
    5. What should the default new course contain?
    6. Are there specific features that should be turned off (such as student photos or bios)?
    7. What is the timeline for course creation and student enrollment?
    8. What policies and procedures should be created?
    9. When should system upgrades be completed?
  6. Collect answer to all of the implementation questions from appropriate groups and implement.
  7. Create promotional materials to prepare students and faculty for the change.
  8. Develop training plan and begin creating documentation, workshops, webinars, and online courses. Remember to create materials for faculty AND students.
  9. Hold training sessions at a variety of times. Be sure that faculty have plenty of time to get trained before the following semester.
  10. For at least one semester have both LMS platforms available for use, but set a drop-dead date and clearly communicate dates.
Advice and random thoughts:
  • Remember all stake holders throughout the process including students.
  • Get top-down process approval before beginning the process.
  • Set up an incentive plan. It could be stipends for faculty who are early-adopters. It could also be non-financial items such as equipment for teaching (small video/still camera, headset/microphone, iPod/iPad, or presentation remote). It could also be special services such as having an IT/training staff member attend class and introduce their students to the new LMS or a personal transition/migration hour with technical staff.
  • Be sure to have a plan to promote the new LMS and communicate clearly with all involved. For example, it might be appropriate to have a few minutes in each department faculty meeting.
  • Have success stories and positive reasons for the change (focus on the good new features, not the crummy old system).
  • Make a decision based on what is the best fit for the future. It is easy to get caught up on trying to match exactly what your current system does.
  • The expense should not be a deciding factor in the choice, although an increase in cost might be the reason to begin the evaluation.
  • When considering cost, remember that the LMS is very similar to any building on campus- students will probably end up spending more time in the LMS than they do a typical building on campus. The cost is justifiable.
  • The LMS has become the most important technology at most universities. Yes, people use their email all the time, but try having your LMS down for an evening during the last week of a semester.
  • Collect as much data as you can throughout the process. Prepare to share your experience with others going through the process.

Monday, July 18, 2011

BBWorld 2011

It has been a long time since I have written an entry for CanvasGuy. This is because my primary roll at Westminster has changed. I am no longer working with our project based programs, instead I am working with the campus as a whole which means I’ve spent more time working with ANGEL (Blackboard).

Don’t get me wrong, I am still a huge fan of Canvas, but I am not in a position to use it regularly so I don’t have much to offer as far as new experiences and news. That is, until last week.

Last week was BBworld 2011 (Blackboard annual users conferences). At the last minute I was given permission to attend so that we can learn more about our transition from ANGEL. While we were there Instructure made an un-sponsored appearance. They rented out a bar and caused quite the stir. They had Darth Vader and Chewbacha with lightsabers, so of course they attracted a big crowd (the free drinks probably helped as well).

I enjoyed mingling with many of my friends at Instructure (shout out to: Brian, Sunny, Heather, and Matt). The atmosphere was fun and lively. There was a lot of excitement in the air. I was very impressed with the bold move to do what they did. My colleague from Westminster, Nichole, was with me and ended up winning the drawing for one of the lightsabers.

The best part of the evening came when we went back to the Blackboard party with lightsaber and free tee-shirts (that say “OMG, I cheated on Blackboard in Vegas”). Nichole was instantly inundated with people asking where she got the lightsaber. Another lightsaber showed up from the other  winner at the Instructure party and she is actually an employee of Blackboard.

During the fake sword fights and picture taking one of the Blackboard VP’s came up to us and talked to us about Instructure. He asked something to the effect of “do you think that this is a classless thing to do? If we showed up at competitor’s conference and did what they did we would be vilified.” My response to that was “The big boys can’t get away with it, but a small upstart can”. Perhaps that isn’t fair, but some companies become so big that they can’t use tactics like that. Big companies like Blackboard, Microsoft or Google become part of the “evil empire” just because they are perceived to be too big. Who wouldn’t cheer for the small band of rebels who fight the big empire? Everybody that I talked to had an opinion about Canvas and was very interested to see how they evolve over the next year and wished them a lot of success.

I tip my hat to Instructure for being gutsy enough to do what they did. Only time will tell if it was worth it. Till then, I’ll chalk this one up as a small victory for the rebellion.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Common Questions about Canvas

As more and more schools begin to investigate Instructure, we seem to get called frequently to answer questions that most schools want answers to before they commit to Canvas. I enjoy these conversations that I've had with people all over the country. It is nice in particular to get more people involved in the Canvas community. 

So, I have considered posting answers to all of the common questions we get here, each one as a different post. However, I'm a busy guy and have decided to share the Google Doc that I created that has the list of questions and answers to 13 (and counting) common questions I get about Canvas.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Faculty Training Ideas

I recently got a request from Trivi Nallamshetty at Edison State College about how to train faculty. So, I thought this is a good opportunity to explain how we have done our faculty training.

Keep in mind, we have trained about 20 faculty most of them in small groups of 5 or less. So, doing this on a large scale might require an entirely different approach.

We have two different approaches, one for faculty who will be developing curriculum and another for those who are using pre-created courses focusing on how to grade using learning outcomes. The second session is as much about policy as it is about Canvas.

"How to be a Studnet" Session (usually less than an hour):

Despite Instructure's insistence that they designed Canvas to look identical for students and faculty, there are substantial differences when it comes to grading. So, I find it incredibly valuable to go through the exact same training that students go through. Here are the highlights:
  1. Login
  2. Go to Profile and add email/change preferences.
  3. Point out navigation areas including the feedback button and the calendar.
  4. Navigate to a "practice course" we have already set up with a fake assignment in it.
  5. Navigate around the course- usually done as a 5 minute self guided experience.
  6. Submit an assignment (again, usually this is done without instruction)
  7. We then do two things at once, one person will grade the assignments behind the scenes and another instructor will cover messaging and will go through the process of sending messages to each other.
  8. Students read/watch received feedback on their assignment (we use a rubric so they know how it works). They then see how to resubmit if necessary.
  9. We do not do anything with testing/quizzing, but that is where I would talk about it if we were.
"Creating a Course" Session (usually less than an hour):
Note; I've only done this once, and it was for a group of graduate students who were going to be creating an online course. I spent about 1 hour doing this training, but they picked it up quickly. I did about 15 minutes of demonstration and then they were off and running.
  1. Depending on the way your Campus is set up either the faculty have to do the "add a course" or they need a course created for them.
  2. Talk about course design, and what is going to go into the course. Discuss items such as:
    1. Home Page
    2. Assignments
    3. Testing
    4. Instruction/content pages
    5. Syllabus
    6. Files/pictures
  3. Step by step we go through the creation wizard. I prefer if the faculty are actually creating content that they will really use, so it can slow things down if they don't know what they are wanting to make.
  4. Demonstrate how to create parts of a course. My preferred instructional method is to have them watch me do it all once (no notes, and no following along, just watch). Obviously there are a lot of items that can be demonstrated, but try to keep it to just a few tasks. The tasks I cover are how to:
    1. Change the home page.
    2. Add a syllabus
    3. Add pages that contain embedded pictures and YouTube videos.
    4. Add assignments (don't get into rubrics yet)
    5. Use modules
    6. Upload files/pictures
    7. Create announcement
  5. Let faculty create these parts of their course. This can take 15-45 minutes. Usually thereare plenty of one-on-one question/answers as they try to do everything. If they don't finish in this time, tell them to work on it later.
  6. Review what they have learned to do.
"How to Teach using Canvas" session (time depends on school needs)
This is where it becomes unique for Westminster. We require that our faculty who are using this for our project-based programs grade in a specific way. There are probably a few universal items that are good to talk about. We have found it best to have a pre-populated practice course for each faculty in training. They are already enrolled in the course and the Canvas instructor is enrolled as a student who has submitted an assignment.
  1. Faculty login to Canvas and notice the various locations where they are notified about assignments that need to be graded.
  2. Grade an assignment- we use pre-populated rubrics that we require them to use.
  3. Send video feedback- this depends on the computer lab training is happening in.
  4. Two things then happen at the same time- the instructor goes into each course and responds to the grade they were given and resubmits an assignment. Meanwhile the faculty are then taken to the gradebook and shown how it works.
  5. Faculty are given the chance to re-grade the students submission and most importantly be able to distinguish in the gradebook the difference between a submitted assignment and a resubmitted assignment.
  6. Optional items that we usually don't cover are creating announcements and discussion forums.
  7. Lastly we go to the settings area and show them how to add students and look up data about each student. We also discuss how to change the navigation and pull up reports.
That is about it. I'm guessing this is a pretty ho-hum post for most people. Well, training isn't always the most glamorous, but it makes a big difference in the overall experience that faculty have. Lastly, here are some overall generic thoughts I have on the issue with training:

  • Attitude is everything. Instructors need to create a positive environment and make this as fun as possible.
  • Do not get hung up in comparing the old LMS with Canvas. It doesn't compare very well. Encourage faculty during the training to create a course from scratch and not just re-create the course that they made in the previous LMS.
  • There is never enough time for training. We usually try to keep training sessions to less than 2 hours. Faculty will not remember very much from the training session, it is important to give them an assignment to complete within the next two days and follow up with each faculty individually to see how they are doing.
  • Keep training groups small if possible. If you have to teach 30 people at a time, split them up into small groups and have them collaborate with each other. I prefer to keep groups around 5-10 faculty so that they get the individual attention they all need.
  • I don't like to give faculty manuals to use during training sessions. They end up using that instead of following along and their retention of information goes down. If you have to give them documentation do it after the session.
  • There is more information to cover than what I've listed out. We have chosen to let faculty discover them on their own, or offer advanced courses in the future. If you try to do too much at one time it becomes overwhelming (as if it isn't already).
That is it, good luck with this. I have heard that Instructure is working on getting a wiki up. I'll be sure to try to get this information posted there when it is available.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

ITC Elearning 2011

The Canvas Guys (Ben and Chris) got to go to Florida last weekend and participate in the ITC elearning conference. It was a lot of fun. We presented on using Instructure Canvas to measure learning outcomes. Our presentation went well and we learned a lot from some of the sessions we attended. I particularly enjoyed the keynote by Dr. David Wiley. If you are not familiar with his work, you should look him up and get to know him.

There were two parts to our presentation. Chris presented on the reasoning behind learning outcomes and I presented on how to use Canvas to collect meaningful data.

I've decided to post the Prezi that I used for this. It might not make a lot of sense without my explanation, but maybe it will be useful to somebody. It starts by showing what we use to do in ANGEL and then how simple it is to do in Canvas. Again, no promise that this will make sense, but here it is anyway.

Monday, February 7, 2011

7 Cheers and 7 Critiques

I just read an interesting blog post by Joshua Kim at Inside Higher Ed: Instructure's Canvas LMS: 7 Cheers & 7 Critiques.

Mr Kim has some interesting points, although I think there were several instances where his "cheers" and "critiques" were backward or just said without enough experience to be able to make some of the statements that were made.

An example of this is his cheer #2 (User Interface) and critique #2 (Feature Set). I have found the user interface to be useful and sufficient, but this is an area where I can see Instructure still improving upon. I've worked with faculty who say there are still too many clicks to get to where they need to grade. The home screen needs to have more direct links to parts of their course. It also needs to be more user-customizable. I have had more than one learner come up to me and ask if they can change the "style" of the site. I'm sure in time these features will become a part of Canvas, but for now I'd put it in the critique side.

Critique #2 mentions the feature set which seems unfounded to me. True, Canvas doesn't have as many features as the LMS giants (thank goodness!), which is by design. This is actually a good thing. This is part of their plan to be disruptive in this market. As an instructional designer, and an instructor I welcome the lack of certain features and the appearance of new ones. This provides me with an opportunity to re-think my course and design it with new features. Of course all the basic features are there, which is what 95% (I admit that is a guess) of faculty use anyway. 

Critique 3- Disruption: Mr. Kim worries "that the approach is insufficiently disruptive".  I'm not too sure, how much he has worked in higher education and facilitated a change from one LMS to another. In my employment I would say that any transition to a new LMS is very disruptive and the uniqueness of Canvas certainly puts it at the top of the list. Keep in mind that my school (Westminster) is still an ANGEL campus and it will take years to finalize a change to a different LMS. By looking at the available LMS's out there I don't think there is another product as "disruptive" as Canvas.

Critique 7- Leadership. Mr. Kim writes "I wonder if Coates has enough people around him who will disagree with his ideas and plans?" I'm not sure that Kim should have broached this subject this unless he has spent sufficient time with the leadership team at Instructure. I don't know that I can claim to be the most knowledgeable about there team, but I've spent a lot of time talking business with them and also engaging in convivial conversation. I can say without a doubt in my mind that he has some fantastic people around him. The two co-founders in particular care deeply about the product and will certainly stand up for what is best for the LMS. The business development team (Heather Kane specifically) likewise is strong and is not afraid to give a no when a no is required.

There are certainly more issues I could agree and disagree with, and I applaud Kim for taking a critical look at this tool, but those who read it should read it with a bit of caution because those critiques and cheers look much different after using it for a year.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Open Source Day

Today is the beginning of something big for Instructure. They have announced that they are going to go open-source. Along with that their website and logo have been upgraded. I am particularly excited to see they have a blog. I hope they update it on a regular basis.

So, there are a lot of things to comment on, but I'll try to keep it simple and to the point. The truth is I don't know how this "open source" is going to change the game. I think that it will bring about a change, although it will be gradual.

"The Journal" has an article about it. It is a great article explaining a lot about the company. However, I have to say there is one line that had me laughing: On the second page in the third paragraph it says "Their No. 1 answer was Blackboard, which is what Brigham Young uses." Ha ha ha, I'm pretty sure that Brigham Young despite his vast amount of posterity is not using blackboard.

Feel free to chime in and let us know what you think the result of the open-source announcement will be. Here is what I think will happen:
  • Instructure will get more national attention as an alternative to Moodle.
  • Desire2Learn will spend a bit more time with their attorneys.
  • The Blackboard CEO is going to check their pocket books to see if they have enough money to put an end to this Canvas-movement. Blackboard will continue to lose clients to Instructure.
  • Canvas is going to need to increase support staff, there are going to be a lot of people trying to check out the "free" version and realizing they need a bit of help. IMPORTANT NOTE: open-source does NOT mean FREE.
I'm excited to see how this will change the LMS environment. Like their add says "Change is good."

Youtube Commercial- Change is good

This morning an inside source has sent me a link to the Canvas commercial. It is pretty good, and I enjoyed recognizing some of the people in it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

UEN Training- Best Practices

I've been asked to share about 15 minutes worth of Canvas "Best Practices" at a UEN Canvas Training session today at the University of Utah. I created a short presentation in Prezi to share some of my ideas. I doubt I'll get through the entire presentation, so I thought I'd share it here. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Instructure and Development

I was asked if I could speak with a potential client of Instructure today about the topic of their ability to deliver on development items and to meet deadlines.

So, I thought I'd go ahead and write up my comments here on the subject so that future Instructure investigators can hear about my experience.

The story starts about a year ago when we realized that ANGEL wasn't providing us the data that we needed. We began investigating various LMS options and concluded that Instructure would be the best based off of the development customizations that they agreed to do. In particular we wanted the ability to track student competency across multiple courses and to be able collect documentation about faculty contact sessions so that we could prove satisfactory academic progress reports for financial aid.

We had a meeting with several of the developers and their Director of Business Development (Heather Kane). Because of our unique requests for specific reports we went through and listed all the modifications that we needed. Then they went through the list and determined which are features they should add to Canvas for all their clients and then the ones that were specific for us. They came back with this list and a price quote which I thought was very fair. We agreed on specifics and delivery dates.

During the development process we didn't hear a lot from them other than the occasional "we just finished this part, could you test it out". However, before final delivery they had completed all the required tasks and we were allowed some time to try it out and give feedback on what they did so they could get it correct within the deadline.

Overall the development process went about as well as I could have hoped for. Like all new projects there have been a few minor tweaks to what they did for us as we began implementing it, but they have been very good to work with.

I don't want to embarrass anybody (or leave anybody out), but some of their developers were particularly good to work with. I really enjoyed working with Bracken Mosbacker and Zach Wiley. They were quick to deliver what we needed and wanted to get us exactly what we asked for.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reaction to D2L vs UEN lawsuit article

So, I just read this article from the SL Trib: UEN Sued Over Contract Award.

For those to lazy to read the article, it basically says that Desire2Learn (D2L) thinks that Instructure couldn't possibly get the award because they are too small and there are alegations that an Instructure employee who use to work for UEN might have had influence over the decision.

This is a load of crap. Sorry for being crude, but seriously, I HATE it when companies are bad losers.

When Westminster College agreed to use Canvas as our LMS for the Project-Based programs, the competing company could not believe that they lost to Instructure. They went straight to the President of the College and complained (seriously!?!). This company brought up Instructure being too young, or not experienced enough were brought up, but fortunately the decision was made with plenty of input and the issue was quickly put to rest.

When new companies start, they have to get their first big contract somewhere, perhaps D2L needs to remember when they landed their first big contract. Everybody has to start somewhere. To me, this sounds like Desire2Learn is just cranky because they are still upset about the legal issues they had with Blackboard. Perhaps the attourney is on retainer, so they were thinking "Hey, since we are paying for this anyway, lets sue UEN! Money! Money! Money!"

I do not represent Westminster or any other group (including Instructure) when I say this, but I think Instructure is on the right path! After talking with them and seeing what their product can do it is hard to say no to them. They have the vision right, and are doing things right. Sure, they have some room to grow, but they are way ahead of everybody else because they aren't using crappy tech from the 90's and they aren't stuck with huge institutions who wont allow them to change anything.

Ok, one more conspiracy theory then I'll try to get off my soap box. D2L prides themselves as the anti-Blackboard. They have probably gotten a lot of business because schools right now don't like Blackboard (for too many reasons to bring up now). I call this the "anything is better than Blackboard" erra of the LMS. So, with D2L enjoying the success of being #2 (pun-intended) they don't want anybody else moving in on their territory. Small start-ups like Instructure are a direct threat to them. So, they are going to do the same basic strategy that Blackboard did to them for years; tie them up in expensive legal battles hoping that the cost of the legal fees alone will be enough to crush the competition.

Sorry D2L, you are barking up the wrong tree. Your lawsuit is going to just bring more attention to Instructure. This might be the best thing to happen to Instructure! The one thing Instructure needs is more publicity- and this just might be the biggest opportunity they get.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Another Round of Canvas Orientation for New Students

Today we had another round of residencies. This weekend was our Project-Based MBA student one. During our residency weekends we have an hour and a half session about how to use our campus technology. These sessions have evolved during the last couple years, but I am happy with where they are now.

Today our newest member of the Division of New Learning Technology Team did the presentation. Her name is Emily and perhaps some day she might become a "Canvas Guy". Anyway, the presentation she did went great. The first few times we did our Canvas training for students there have been a few bumps, but today there weren't any. Ok, we did have one student who had a name change that we weren't aware of which made us need to update her name in her account- but no big deal right?!

So, I thought I'd share the tasks that we go over with our students the first time we run them through Canvas:
  1. Brief Prezi with overview of tools and a funny video about drinking from a fire-hose. Then they login to the computer and we talk about all the campus stuff like file storage, passwords, and email.
  2. Log in to Canvas
  3. Set up profile
  4. Enter a fake course we created (which has an assignment and some tutorials about using Canvas).
  5. Go to the modules and navigate to an assignment. Click on a link that takes them to our campus wiki and follow some directions to submit a document.
  6. Submit the document they created
  7. The presenter then goes on to have students go to the campus email and set up forwarding. While this is happening the teaching assistant feverishly grades the students using the speed grader and the rubric tool. We fail the students so they have to re-submit.
  8. Students come back to Canvas and see that they have been graded. They look at the feedback they got and resubmit.
  9. Lastly we review how to send a message.
That is it, you might think that is a lot of stuff, but we have found it useful. We don't get very many questions from students during the semester about how to submit like we did with ANGEL.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lunch with Instructure

One of the best parts about working at Westminster is the proximity that we have to Instructure head quarters. My colleague Chris Hoffman and I went to lunch with Heather Kane and our new representative Matt McGhie. Chris and I both really like our reps. They are great to work with and are very concerned that we have a good experience.

Mostly we talked about some of the concerns we have had- most of which revolve around enrolling students and the communication tools. It was great how eager they were to listen and help out.

By the way, we learned a valuable lesson today. When we started enrolling students we enrolled them by using a CSV. We were given instructions on how to use it and we have gotten pretty good at it. However, we have been having some weird no-name problems. Turns out that we just didn't know that they added a new first name and last name column. Solves everything! Whoo hoo! Good to know.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Looking for the inside scoop on Instructure Canvas?

You have come to the right place.

I've been using Canvas since the Summer of 2010. You might think that is not enough to make me an expert. You might be right. However, I am not aware of anybody besides the developers who have spent more time in Canvas then I have. I will also give kudos to my colleague Chris Hoffman who has spent almost as much time as me.

I've used Canvas in several capacities. First, I did it to teach a course during the Summer. I've also helped set up Westminster College's project based BBA and MBA programs. The reason why we chose Canvas for this is because of their learning outcome tools.

If you are interested in learning more about our experience please stay tuned to this blog, or feel free to contact me at