Canvas by Instructure

Heriot-Watt Case Study

Heriot-Watt move from Blackboard to Canvas to increase student engagement and support Responsive Blended Learning


UK, Dubai, Malaysia

30,000 Users

Adopted Canvas 2020


Heriot-Watt is a global university focused on delivering innovative, worldwide education. Since 1821 the community of scholars that founded the institution have been ‘developing transformational solutions to specific global problems.’ With campuses in the UK as well as Dubai and Malaysia, Heriot-Watt specialises in STEM subjects, producing leaders in engineering, business and science.

The Challenge

Following the introduction of Responsive Blended Learning across Heriot-Watt University, the need for a fresh, updated VLE, with greater consistency across navigation, was identified to help support the move to online and blended learning and meet Heriot-Watt’s ambitions for the future. Heriot-Watt’s top drivers included ensuring a smooth integration between the Student Information System (SIS) and the VLE, achieving a level of consistency across all campuses and having more methods of delivering feedback. Staff and student satisfaction were key and both groups were involved in the transition process.

Key Insights

Staff at Heriot-Watt have enthusiastically adopted Canvas, with students being equally engaged.

The introduction of Responsive Blended Learning, and the support of Canvas in delivering this, has proved very successful.

Feedback from Heriot-Watt's Digital Capabilities survey highlights Canvas as a favourite learning tool, adding that students appreciate the consistency between courses.

The Solution

Heriot-Watt chose Canvas as the appropriate technology to support the implementation of the Learning and Teaching Strategy to deliver inspiring learning for all students. After selecting Canvas, Heriot-Watt engaged with other institutions using the platform to draw on sector experience and maximise positive outcomes. The University has benefitted from Canvas tools that support student engagement, receiving positive feedback on assessment tools and feedback functionality within the Canvas Speedgrader. Canvas Discussions is also a great way for promoting engagement as students can reply in threads, comments can be moderated by academics, and responses can also be hidden until a student posts their own response, encouraging everyone to participate.

Collaboration is Key

To ensure a successful Canvas implementation, Heriot-Watt prioritised collaboration across teams within the University. A strong partnership between the Information Services Team (IS) and the Learning and Teaching Academy (LTA) ensured appropriate technological implementation informed by effective learning and teaching practice and pedagogy. Collaboration between the Canvas Project Team and the Schools across the University was also crucial to ensuring that the implementation of Canvas met the needs of staff and students. Heriot-Watt used K16 to help migrate content from their previous VLE, Blackboard, to Canvas, carrying out the entire implementation during the lockdown. The smooth transition across campuses in different time zones, while staff adapted to delivering courses completely online due to Covid-19, is a testament to the hard work, dedication and collaboration across several teams

Driving Adoption

Ensuring staff and student buy-in was identified as vital to Canvas implementation so Heriot-Watt worked hard to ensure staff and students were included and engaged at every step of the process. Firstly, the Canvas Academic Reference Group (CARG) comprising of representatives from all Schools, academic programmes and Student Associations, chaired by the Canvas Academic Lead from the LTA gave staff and student a direct route to influence decisions and policy. CARG also advised on the design and use of Canvas course sites and ensured that training and guidance were fit-for purpose to meet everyone’s needs. A series of townhall meetings were held in the University’s Schools which were co-presented by the Canvas Academic Lead and representatives from the Information Services team. These sessions were useful in identifying key needs, issues and answering questions. They also enabled rapid response and direct communication, helping build trust with staff. Thirdly, engagement through the University senior management group ensured senior buy-in and support. A key success was the ongoing communication via CARG enabling both academic and professional services staff to buy-in and feel they had options to shape the implementation of Canvas throughout the process.

Student adoption was supported through targeted communications for new and existing students, a peer-led training project and use of the Canvas Student Guides. With Canvas being easy to use, few students required additional training and were happy with the consistent and up-to-date guidance displayed in the Canvas Student Guides.

The Results

The biggest change across the University has been consistency in the use of VLE, making it easier for students and staff to access relevant learning resources. Staff are also keen to maximise the features of a VLE to improve teaching and learning. Heriot-Watt aim to maintain the consistency they have implemented globally by introducing VLE benchmarks which provide a baseline for the use of Canvas. They also plan to continue support the adoption of Canvas features which are pedagogically appropriate and will help the University to achieve its vision of delivering inspiring learning.

Download Case Study

Discover More Topics: