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Case Study

Switching to Canvas Eliminated This Research University's Third-Party-Hosted LMS Problems

Charlotte, NC

28,721 Students

Started 2016

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte prides itself on being a large public university with the small college feel that comes from a connected campus. The university had used Moodle as its third-party-hosted learning management system (LMS) since 2009, but had begun to experience technical problems with uptime, response time, and a system failure that impacted teachers and students. Because Moodle would upgrade in large batches, downtime was common throughout campus. “With slow response times and page loads in Moodle, it became untenable every time there was an update. We once spent an entire summer having to put out fires,” said JeffMeier, who is technical systems lead for the university’s LMS and related academic technologies.

Faculty, administrators, students, and IT staffrealized it was time to find a more reliable, cloud-based system that could accommodate the university’s diverse, changing needs and support its instructional mission of facilitating face-to-face, hybrid, and online courses with an enterprise-level academic technology.

We decided to go to a cloud-based LMS, and Amazon Web Services is a big deal. Previously when we had problems, our downtimes extended into hours, even a whole day. Response time went out the window. That doesn’t happen with Canvas.

Jeff Meier

Center for Teaching and Learning, UNC Charlotte

The university observed, tested, and evaluated four LMS companies. After asking other large universities about their experiences with these companies, UNC Charlotte decided to pilot Canvas. With the help of the Canvas support team, UNC Charlotte’s Center for Teaching and Learning staffwent through a complete technical buildout. “We were offto the races pretty quickly. The SIS integration was finished in three days, and Instructure’s tech team got the pilot going in two weeks—including Christmas break!” Meier said. Instructors began using Canvas in 100 courses for 3,000 students, and staffsought continual feedback from both instructors and students through satisfaction surveys.

As the pilot expanded, working with Canvas presented new possibilities for innovation through change. “From a technical side, you can enable an external tool in Canvas in less than two minutes. Moodle was two weeks. The process provided an extra security measure and protects us from potential problems.” Meier also noted the Tier One support from Instructure’s 24/7 help desk expedited response time for hundreds of students and faculty, freeing up IT staff for other projects, thus simultaneously alleviating two of the major drawbacks of the former LMS. In short, UNC Charlotte found switching to the cloud to be comfortable, convenient, and extremely beneficial.

With the pilot deemed a success, UNC Charlotte chose to adopt Canvas in the spring of 2016 and encouraged faculty to transition to the new LMS immediately. An evaluation report included adaptability, system reliability, reduced support problems, ease of use, new integrations, and user-friendliness for mobile devices as advantages over Moodle. It also cited the ability of Canvas to scale up resources during peak times of the academic year.

Meier says students have found new success by having the flexibility to do their assignments “on the fly” and submit them through their mobile devices. Instructors are seeing the value of Canvas as they set up their more attractive, robust courses in less time, using intuitive features that make their jobs easier.

While UNC Charlotte previously had to dedicate and sometimes redirect staffresources to managing, supporting, and maintaining its former LMS, often in a reactive mode, Meier says that Canvas doesn’t require the same kind of “care and feeding.” Meier says that, more importantly, the change has allowed members of his staffto redirect some of their workload to additional priority initiatives: “Canvas helped them broaden their horizons and get away from the keyboard.”

Choosing the cloud-based reliability of Canvas has already helped UNC Charlotte achieve institutional goals, and Meier says initiating change through Canvas can offer additional benefits: “I would advise other colleges to think long term about how they want to drive their missions and realize that Canvas is not one-size-fits-all; the flexibility of this LMS has allowed us to drill down to the real challenges.”

Adoption at UNC Charlotte continues at a rapid pace, and campus-wide implementation will finish in mid-2017. As Meier says, “The floodgates have opened.”

Key Findings

  1. The Canvas SpeedGrader saves UNC Charlotte instructors an average of five hours per week, per course.
  2. Canvas provides enhanced reliability, improved online and distance education, and seamless integrations.
  3. Documentation within the Canvas Community was key to a smooth transition.
  4. The majority of faculty and students preferred Canvas in satisfaction surveys.
  5. Navigation in Canvas is more efficient and pedagogical.

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