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Case Study

Simplicity Makes for Smooth Migration at College Committed to Excellence


Omaha, Nebraska, USA

Started Using Canvas


Number of Users


Clarkson College

Clarkson College is a private college located in Omaha, Nebraska. Established in 1888 as the state’s first nursing program, Clarkson underwent a variety of changes and a major academic expansion to become the accredited, nonprofit college you see today. Clarkson offers diplomas, certificates, and degrees in numerous health sciences. Its mission is “preparing students to professionally provide high quality, ethical, and compassionate health care services.” With an 18:1 student-to-teacher ratio, instructors can prepare their future graduates for entry-level and advanced employment.

Part of Clarkson’s pedagogical growth included the early introduction of online education, and implementing a learning management system (LMS) to enhance that initiative. Most recently, Clarkson had used Pearson eCollege for nearly a decade, but now with that company getting out of the LMS business, Clarkson had to look for a new learning management system that could handle a major migration process and mesh well with its current strategy for online education.

I keep telling people that for the past nine years we've been using a flip phone. It's time to move on to a smartphone. Many of the features we use in Canvas will be equivalent to using a smartphone. User experience has been one of the best things.


Director, Center for Teaching Excellence

Dr. Ricardo Varguez, director for the Center of Teaching Excellence at Clarkson, was part of the search committee of faculty and IT staffwho started to evaluate several LMS options. Varguez says the committee eliminated Blackboard from the discussion “because we knew other institutions were running away from them” and also stopped considering Moodle because Clarkson had a small IT staff that wanted to spend its time on salient projects instead of making updates and other tasks when you self-host an LMS.

Desire2Learn (D2L) told the committee that it had a robust migration process, but Clarkson’s IT staffsaid it took too many steps in D2L to upload one file and that the task of migrating all of their content suddenly seemed daunting. “I have a PhD in Instructional Design and it was obvious D2L was missing out on what is conducive to learning with their design and simplicity” Varguez said, adding that going through the process of migrating content into Canvas was much smoother. Canvas is also SCORM compliant and can integrate many other e-learning tools, which was yet another factor in their decision.

At the end of 2016, the committee voted near-unanimously to only pilot Canvas and eventually decided to make the switch and move forward with Canvas. An elegant design proved more valuable than promises of features. Varguez said, “I’m a big, big advocate of simplicity. In an educational setting students should focus on the course and content, not on the bells and whistles.”

Administrators launched phase one of its migration to Canvas which included online courses to students in multiple programs. They told students that Clarkson was switching to Canvas “to enhance the user experience by offering a more robust, efficient, and easy-to-use online education platform” that can improve “teaching and learning on and offcampus.”

Clarkson continues to increase the number of courses using Canvas ahead of its planned full implementation in fall of 2017. To help with the change, administrators have automatically enrolled impacted students in Canvas training. To help faculty, Varguez said the key to help them overcome the pain of changing to a new LMS is to “test it first and ensure that you have already migrated content into Canvas so you can be informed when you talk with them and prepare them.”

Canvas has meant flexibility for faculty when they set up their courses, design their pages, and focus on instruction in modules that are more appealing. It has also helped connect them to students. Canvas has allowed instructors of purely internet courses and distance education to post pictures on their profiles, which Varguez says “puts the human aspect to the online classroom.”

Those classrooms are also simpler to manage. Instead of trying to take on the task of hosting, updating, and maintaining the learning management system themselves, Clarkson College’s employees recommended that the school buy Tier 1 Canvas Support, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Varguez says, “We bought the Tier 1 support because we just want to provide the best experience for our students.”

Varguez says that Canvas will be critical to assessment—providing the opportunity to track student outcomes and link them to rubrics. As Clarkson’s staff continues to use Canvas, Varguez said it will become a bigger asset, “We can move forward with our online education mission. Now we’re going to have a modern, intuitive LMS to add to our institution.” A solution based in simplicity for an institution that has embraced growth and change.

Key Findings

  1. Rapid response from Canvas support team crucial to Clarkson College during adoption
  2. Clarkson identifies Canvas SpeedGrader as key differentiator from other learning management systems
  3. Canvas conversations and discussions promote interaction among Clarkson students and instructor
  4. Syllabus/Calendar streamlines workflow for faculty
  5. Faculty take advantage of simple content migration from one course to another

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