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Temple University: A Team-Centered Approach to Rapid Canvas Adoption
Tucked in the center of a vibrant, diverse, and growing community, Temple University is a public research (R1) university that is one of the nation’s largest providers of professional education. It is among the nation’s leaders for online bachelor programs.
Temple had used its previous learning management system (LMS), Blackboard, since 1999. Technology is embedded into nearly every course at the university, and administrators say the platform was not keeping pace with students’ and teachers’ ambitions for deeper learning. “So they had to chase the technology to become better, instead of the technology chasing them. If you don’t challenge yourself every day, you’re not going to get better. You won’t see gains,” said Matt Palladinetti, Temple’s director of instructional systems.
Administrators wanted to explore new options and choose a more robust, reliable, and easy-to-use LMS that would integrate with outside digital tools and the university’s other systems. Cindy Leavitt, the vice president and chief information officer, said, “Whatever we were going to change to, we needed to have broad understanding, or buy-in, for what we were going to be doing. We needed to understand the impact to all the different types of users as we were looking at our LMS.
It really felt like an all-encompassing campus project, and there was complete buy-in to move forward with Canvas. It was amazing to see. Cindy Leavitt Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Temple University
In the fall of 2017, the university’s information technology services department formed an LMS selection committee and launched a university-wide pilot. More than 1,000 students and professors participated in the pilot through face-to-face, hybrid, and online courses.
Temple tested two platforms: an updated version of Blackboard and the Canvas LMS by Instructure. When the evaluation started, opinions were split. Stability problems with the new version of Blackboard prompted Temple to stop that Blackboard evaluation and focus solely on Canvas. Focus groups and surveys showed consistently positive feedback about several features of Canvas, including better navigation, ease of use, and access to mobile applications.
The university also said it heavily weighed which company had the best strategic direction and the best long-term prospects. Soon after the pilot was complete, the committee produced a report and unanimously recommended the switch to Canvas.
What took place next was something that Leavitt called “the most incredible project I think I’ve ever been involved with, from an IT perspective.” Administrators planned an aggressive 12-month migration to Canvas. They transferred data and course information to Canvas and worked with service representatives throughout the process with help from Canvas’ Tier 1 Support. Temple faculty were able to take online courses and take part in walk-in clinics on campus at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching. “We looked at this as an opportunity not just to help faculty learn a technology, but to have conversations about pedagogy,” said Johanna Inman, Director of Instructional Technology at the Center. “Faculty believe incorporating technology into teaching and learning is important because students need these skills for academic and professional purposes.”
“While we were getting good feedback, we feared there was going to be a group—at least one really angry person—that just couldn’t believe what we had done to them, but that just didn’t happen,” said Peter Hanley, who works in the Academic Applications group.
Canvas was a true partnership. We had them with us the entire time that we did the transition. They asked us good questions, we asked them good questions, we had answers for each other. And I really felt like we were in it together. Matt Palladinetti Director of Instructional Systems, Temple University
Temple University saw the majority of its instructors teach in Canvas within two semesters of introduction. Administrators say they will pursue more personalized approaches with student learning to improve outcomes. Their objective is to do more with their new LMS, while providing a consistent experience across courses.
One example of this personalized focus is the use of Canvas Analytics. Temple instructors, particularly faculty who teach online courses, are able to gather student data and other information to identify trends. “It really easily gives you a nice visual of what students are doing. And I think it makes it easier to reach out to students and support them,” said Myers.
The switch to Canvas has already positively impacted students, including those who also had used Temple’s former LMS. “Canvas lays everything out for you right away, right in front of you,” said Hailey McCormack, a student at Temple. “I think in terms of leveling up, Canvas has been a great resource in that sense. It just really helps with furthering my education.”
Temple University knew that switching its learning management system would take time, effort, and most importantly, buy-in. Now, the benefits of migrating to something new have already become reality, and a whole learning community is ready to continue on to greater learning opportunities—together. “We really are quite happy with our selection of Canvas. Having this very stable, but also very modern and user-friendly LMS has really made a difference for us across campus,” Leavitt said. “It was absolutely worth it.”