Making the Change to an Innovative LMS for Innovative Education
Deer Valley Unified School District
In addition to serving 34,000 preK-12 students at 38 schools in northern Phoenix, the Deer Valley Unified School District reaches 1,500 students annually through the Deer Valley Online Learning Program. In 2013, as the district prepared to launch a 1:1 initiative in select high schools, they realized their learning platform may not be up to the task.
Self-hosted on district servers, Deer Valley’s legacy LMS required cumbersome manual updates. And while the vendor charged extra for their mobile app, they didn’t offer extra technical support for faculty and staff—leaving the district to bear the burden of operating a help desk for all of their users. IT staffrealized they needed to switch to an LMS that could keep pace with the district’s innovative vision, while fulfilling their mission “to provide extraordinary educational opportunities to every learner.”
Canvas was the catalyst for the reboot of our online program and redesign of our online courses.
M.Ed., Manager of Instructional Technology & Innovative Programs
Soon after joining Deer Valley in 2013 as the new Manager of Instructional Technology & Innovative Programs, Kristy Hirschberg assembled a committee to begin evaluating prospective learning management systems. In 2015, after testing and comparing offerings from six providers, the committee selected Canvas because it offered:
- Cloud hosting with automatic updates and continual improvements
- Mobile apps for iOS and Android included at no extra charge
- Tier 1 Support provided by Canvas for all users
- A simple, user-friendly interface and an equally friendly staff
As they prepared to make the switch to Canvas, Hirschberg and her staffknew the biggest changes would come in year one. They had to migrate eight years of content and immediately train 1,600 teachers. While they were at it, they decided to audit their IT staff, as well as the content and design of more than 160 text-only courses. As Hirschberg said, “If you’re going to rip offthe Band-Aid, you might as well get it all.”
To get district teachers up to speed, Deer Valley online staff provided self-paced training courses, reference materials, and a Canvas tips course for professional development sessions. They also rebuilt 60 courses in their online curriculum with a focus on leveraging Canvas to scaffold the SAMR model, which provides a framework to help teachers assess the effectiveness of education technology.
Hirschberg identified two main things—handing over user support to Instructure and creating a teacher-leader committee with representatives from each high school—as being instrumental in making the district’s transition to Canvas a success. She said, “We work with many vendors and Canvas provides the best support hands down.”
Canvas went live in the summer of 2015 with a pilot group of approximately 2,000 students who quickly took advantage of the mobile app, a first for Deer Valley. As Canvas was rolled out district-wide in the fall and spring, teachers noticed their students were asking fewer technical questions. Additionally, teachers and students reported faster two-way communication thanks to the Canvas mobile app and notification settings.
With Deer Valley students now able to use their 1:1 devices to their full potential, teachers are able to take advantage of online, blended, and flipped teaching methods. And speaking of potential, following the switch to Canvas, students in the Deer Valley Online Learning Program began passing their classes at higher rates over previous years.
As Deer Valley continues to implement their innovative vision for teaching and learning, Hirschberg said her staffis enthusiastic about using more of the unique features in Canvas to increase engagement through assignments that promote parent, family, and community participation. Ultimately, Hirschberg wants to humanize online courses and to provide connections between young online learners and the real world.
With a modern LMS in place, Deer Valley is now better able to fulfill their mission to provide extraordinary learning opportunities for every student—and to leverage their “bricks and clicks” infrastructure to improve student achievement.
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