Graduating to a New Level with Canvas LMS
Florida State University
A major change for FSU
Florida State University (FSU) is a highly regarded public research institution with multiple campuses, a large student enrollment, and a strong distance education program. It is a senior member of the State University System of Florida.
In 2016, the State University System decided to standardize its software platform as part of a 2025 Strategic Plan for Online Education. The purpose was to “enhance quality, access, and affordability of online courses and programs in state universities.” Students, many of whom attended school at multiple locations, said that using different online platforms caused confusion and hindered their learning.
The Board of Governors chose the Canvas learning management system (LMS) because of the ability to customize curriculum, track student progress, and potentially bring every institution in the state together on one platform. All institutions had the choice to opt in to Canvas.
For Florida State University, this would be a major change; the university had not only used the Blackboard LMS for 20 years, it had assisted in “beta testing” Blackboard before it entered the market. Faculty members were deeply entrenched with Blackboard and had even received financial incentive to go through summer trainings. “Blackboard was all we knew,” said John Braswell, an instructional technology faculty member at Florida State University, who was part of the group that launched Blackboard. “As a result, faculty expressed anxiety about the transition, but with training and support these anxieties were alleviated.”
Florida State University had put together a committee of faculty and students to evaluate transitioning to Canvas. When they received Canvas’ support of the most critical digital tools, and having a dependable system with 99.9 percent uptime, the committee unanimously agreed that Canvas would meet the university’s LMS needs.
Canvas is more modern and much better equipped to meet the needs of today's students and instructors.
Office of Distance Learning, Florida State University
Beginning with Canvas: first impressions are lasting impressions
In fall 2016, Florida State University received approval to switch to Canvas and began using its “sandbox” testing environment. New and immediate benefits of Canvas included a cleaner, more flexible, and more user-friendly platform that allowed a more consistent presentation of courses. FSU administrators then focused on implementing Canvas by spring 2018.
“We wanted to start with the end in mind,” said Dr. John L. Crow, an instructional design faculty member at Florida State University. “Where did we want to go with the look, the integrations, the courses, and the goals? It was important to have positive first impressions from stakeholders.”
Making those impressions, administrators decided, would require setting strong expectations and committing to continuous training. With more than five million “legacy” files to handle, FSU avoided automated migration and had instructors evaluate their content for accessibility, quality, and necessity. As more instructors adopted Canvas, they were able to customize the look of those courses with school and department branding.
Florida State University’s Office of Distance Learning launched “Canvas Weeks” to introduce faculty and staff to the new LMS, with development websites, orientations, training, and a Canvas support site. This outreach continued throughout implementation. “More than 100 faculty members showed up to our first training and filled the room. They are passionate about the transition,” said Braswell.
I love how easy it is to set up a course site and manage all aspects of my courses. I think students and faculty will love how much more functional and reliable Canvas is.
Professor, Florida State University
The Future: Rising to the challenge of change
By fall 2018, Florida State University had identified ways to take instructors’ use of Canvas to a higher level, including:
- Expanding proactive, universal course design that provides greater accessibility and convenience for all learners.
- Restructuring courses with Design Tools templates to have a consistent format that follows the Quality Matters Rubric. Florida State University also used Canvas Commons, a learning object repository where educators can share resources and import them into courses.
- Diving deeper into analytics by using Canvas data with an internal data platform.
Florida State University administrators say the Canvas LMS and its Canvas Student mobile application have been very successful with students because they address their needs now and as they progress in their academic careers. Crow said, “Students didn’t need any help at all with the transition. They took to Canvas like a fish to water. It was very seamless for them.”
Canvas provides a strong foundation for Florida State as the university strives for sustained excellence.
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