Hampden-Sydney College Finds Support and Chance to Innovate With Canvas
Hampden Sydney, Virginia, USA
Started Using Canvas
Number of Users
To say that Hampden-Sydney College is steeped in history might be an understatement. The small, rural, all-male college in Virginia was founded in 1775—one year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It’s the 10th oldest college in the United States.
Students at Hampden-Sydney (H-SC) go through a rigorous liberal arts curriculum, learn in small face-to-face classes, and need to pass a rhetoric proficiency exam to graduate. The college accepts just over half of its applicants, and 94% of Hampden-Sydney graduates earn their degree in four years. In addition, its six-year graduation rate is 10% higher than the national average for men.
Technology and innovation have played an important role at Hampden-Sydney. The college used a self-hosted version of Blackboard as its learning management system (LMS) for over 15 years. But as time went on, Hampden-Sydney realized that it needed a more agile, intuitive, and user-friendly system. Administrators said that because they were a smaller institution, they needed better customer support than they had received—smaller institutions have limited staff to manage the platform and train users. “We wanted more AND better functionality,” said Paige Flanagan, an academic technology librarian for Hampden-Sydney who works with pedagogical technology. “We rely on our LMS for extending the classroom beyond the traditional four walls and allowing for tests and assignments to be completed outside of the set class period.” The majority of faculty was using the LMS, but just to post their syllabi and not much else. Hampden-Sydney wanted a new option, and started that search close to home.
We are seeing more pedagogical applications within the courses due to some of the features that Canvas has. Because Canvas is so intuitive, we have been able to focus on other projects, as faculty and students have an easier time using and navigating the software.
Academic Technology Librarian & Assistant Library Director
College administrators had looked at several options over the years. They continually heard good things about Canvas LMS by Instructure and saw more institutions of higher education in Virginia switch to Canvas. They met with a colleague from a neighboring institution that had completed their first year with Canvas and discussed implementation, faculty reaction, and level of overall satisfaction.
Hampden-Sydney formed an LMS task force made up of faculty, students, and technology staff. They surveyed faculty on which features and capabilities were most important to them, and found that ease of use and the ability to access the LMS anytime and anywhere topped those lists.
Hampden-Sydney had onsite visits from Canvas and another LMS provider. The college did not go through a formal pilot. Instead, Flanagan said that each member of the LMS task force had a “sandbox” opportunity to explore Canvas. The task force hosted day-long opportunities for faculty to learn more about each platform. Canvas representatives held workshops and drop-in sessions to answer faculty questions. Flanagan said that they didn’t want the change to happen at a “snail’s pace,” so the college decided to switch to Canvas in the summer of 2016. Both company and client worked to speed up the transition so faculty and students had full use of Canvas that fall.
“Canvas was much more interested in looking to the future to make things better,” said Mike Timma, the LMS administrator on campus. “The team that we had to assist us in the process was phenomenal, and that type of service has lasted from our on-site demo all the way to the present.”
Since the accelerated change to Canvas, faculty members—with minimal training—are innovating thanks to advanced teaching options within the platform. Acceptance has been nearly unanimous, and with the cloud-based solution, Timma says, local network administrators were “beside themselves thrilled” that they didn’t have to maintain their prior LMS anymore. Canvas’ support and authentication teams helped with migrating data, files, and quizzes and feeding content from the student information system (SIS) into Canvas.
Hampden-Sydney’s LMS team said that expanding their summer online program proved easier with the tools and features in Canvas than with those in their previous LMS. They noted that Canvas support helped offset their smaller staff size. And as the college continues to learn more about Canvas, they know that they are not alone in their quest to provide the best learning environment possible for their students.
“It’s reassuring to know that Instructure has our back and is there to help,” Flanagan said. “We became acutely aware of how responsive and willing Canvas was to be of assistance when we needed it. Our questions have been answered without dancing around the issues. We were quite pleased throughout the process of adoption, migration, and implementation.”
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