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Case Study

Change to Canvas Expands Teaching Possibilities at University

Seattle, WA

4,000 Students

Started 2016

Seattle Pacific University

Seattle Pacific University, a private Christian liberal arts university in Seattle, Washington, has the vision of “engaging the culture and changing the world.” Seattle Pacific aims to accomplish this through top-notch blended and distance teaching and learning. The university had used its former learning management system (LMS) for over a decade, though mostly as a document repository.

Dr. Rolin Moe, the director of academic innovation at Seattle Pacific, said that teachers and academic technology staff were increasingly frustrated with their former LMS at a time when they wanted to “promote the emergence of digital tools and pedagogies to support formative assessment.” Few people used the LMS, online communication suffered, and the vendor did not fulfill teacher requests to improve usability.

“We wanted a baseline from where we could grow teaching and learning. Our former LMS did not provide such a thing.” Moe said their previous LMS was not fitting their needs anymore because it didn’t improve the learning experience. “We had evolved. We needed something new, something dynamic, something that could grow with us rather than hold us back.”

What was effective and efficient about Canvas was the way that the system could stay of the way and really allow teaching and learning to flourish.


Director of Academic Innovation, Seattle Pacific University

Seattle Pacific conducted a “state of the school” survey and formed expectations of an LMS. Data, faculty, IT, senior administrators, and student academic services set out to find a new LMS that would match Seattle Pacific’s strategy and spark a community around it. “We knew change would be difficult but necessary, and we had buy-in,” Moe said.

The university tested the Canvas LMS by Instructure. Users said Canvas was intuitive, flexible, and easy to use, and had a pedagogical, rather than technical, learning curve and a strong LTI foundation with building blocks. Because of Canvas’ service agreement with other Washington state colleges and universities, Seattle Pacific received rave Canvas reviews from its in-state peer institutions whose IT staffs now had more time to focus on important tasks instead of system maintenance.

“When Seattle Pacific University thinks about distance learning, we think about it in terms of three ‘E’s. Is it efficient? Is it essential? And is it effective? In thinking about a learning management system, we wanted something that was going to meet all of those spaces... and we kept coming back to Canvas,” Moe said.

With a committed user base, streamlined proposal process, focus on training, desire to jump in quickly, and smooth course migration, Seattle Pacific switched to Canvas in just 11 months, with a campus-wide rollout in the summer of 2016.

Innovation and Outcomes

In 2017, Seattle Pacific was the only private university in the Pacific Northwest, and just one of three institutions in Washington State, to make the annual Best National Universities list for U.S. News & World Report. This elite university has always emphasized turning information into knowledge into wisdom, and Canvas is ready to grow with it.

Moe said Canvas is a responsive system that represents a chance for teachers to start over, build new content, and use an LMS the way they wanted. These opportunities are supported by newfound interactivity with different university groups and teachers’ reinforced dedication to building bonds with students. “Those relationships don't have to stop the minute the bell rings when you're working with a platform like Canvas,” Moe said.

“What we have with this learning management system is an opportunity to do the things that we've believed in for the 125 years of this institution, and not just do them in the physical space, but now in the virtual one as well.”


Key Findings

  1. Seattle Pacific migrated from Blackboard to Canvas in 11 months
  2. Teacher LMS usage up 10% with Canvas
  3. Rave reviews from peers encouraged Seattle Pacific to choose Canvas

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