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Foothill College

Getting Proactive with Impact

Foothill College

Los Altos Hills, CA

16,000 Users

Adopted Canvas: 2020


Foothill College is a community college in Los Altos Hills, California offering over 70 Associate degree programs, 107 certificate programs and a Bachelor’s degree program. Foothill College educates over 16,000 students with face-to-face, online and hybrid programs.

Before the pandemic hit, the institution had an online Learning Management System (LMS) in place for several years, but they were new overall to Canvas. Over the course of 2020, their strategy changed to accommodate all the new realities the pandemic demanded. Like nearly all places of learning, Foothill College had to temporarily shut their physical doors to in-person education, and do everything in its power to ensure academic continuity by rapidly creating engagement and practical support and communication with the help of Canvas.

The Challenge

Foothill College quickly realized that with the shift to full online learning during the pandemic, they had an urgent need to connect and communicate with both staff and students about what the days and months ahead would look like. In a matter of one week, the amount of faculty using Canvas on a regular basis doubled. No longer an issue of adoption, it was important for Lene Whitley-Putz, the Dean of Online Learning, and Jolie Theall, Instructional Designer and Frontline Canvas Administrator, to fully leverage Canvas as a catalyst for connection, outbound communication, information exchange, practical support and real time insights.

The Solutions

In an instant, the world was changing - the team sprung to action to put clarity, continuity and communication to work through the tools at hand.

Key Insights

Establish Continuity: Keep the learning environment fully functional during rapid and disruptive change through Canvas and its tool set

Catalyze Confidence Amongst Peers: Use individual comments, insights and questions to build community, “welcome” users and build user confidence through practical knowledge sharing

Dynamic Communication & Insightful Data: Draw upon messaging tools and channels, as well as collecting data along the way, allowed for a targeted and evolving strategy that addressed questions universally and swiftly, identified areas that needed focus and kept everyone “together” through technology, even when they were a fully remote campus

Establish Continuity

Foothill College used Canvas to ensure academic continuity by introducing proactive in-app messaging and effective support. With its advanced targeting options, Foothill could make sure that every segment of their student and faculty body was receiving relevant information about LMS functionalities, COVID-19 regulations, and course resources. Foothill used proactive and informative messaging throughout Canvas in order to communicate with their users and increase the adoption. Helping faculty and students navigate through the functionalities of Canvas and third-party tools was essential and helped Jolie and Lene focus on supporting everyone at their time of need.

Foothill chose to use engaging visuals and short videos in some of their messages as well to provide rich, dynamic content for faculty and students to engage with. This approach increased engagement and encouraged users to start utilizing all the available tools to their full potential. Foothill was able to ensure academic continuity and even leverage this time to enhance their LMS and EdTech usage within its community.

“Being able to do a strategic ‘scalpel precision’ message in real time is amazing,” said Jolie Theall, Instructional Designer and Frontline Canvas Administrator.

Catalyze Confidence Amongst Peer Groups

A major concern for Jolie, Lene and their team was that students wouldn’t feel confident using the LMS. With an unexpected switch to full online learning, many students, especially new freshmen, or transfer students, weren’t able to gain experience with using the LMS and could struggle to navigate through basic functionalities. However, Lene and Jolie devised a plan that would not only help students with adopting the LMS, but also instill a sense of community and welcome.

After the initial campaign of peer-to-peer messages, the student body quickly realized that this was a great way to communicate and encourage online learning. Jolie and Lene wanted to harness this popularity and use it as a vessel of communicating key features of the LMS and reminding faculty and students of best practices.

Jolie came up with the campaign called “Tuesday Tips” where students and faculty would share pieces of advice or best practices and encourage other users to start utilizing the LMS to its full potential.

These messages became very popular and were another way of keeping up community spirit. These messages would often include a short video clip along with some text before or after the video to provide more context and calls-to-action.

Dynamic Communication

In addition to having some encouraging and community building messages, there was also the need for very strategic, timely messages to be going out throughout the year to reflect all the news and, occasionally, tech glitches. During critical moments like these, where troubleshooting was in play, it was critical for Foothill to communicate to all users, identifying the problem and how long it would take to resolve. Effective and timely communication would quell panic and decrease the amount of support tickets being submitted.

In-app instant messaging allowed Jolie to address these moments and deliver clear guidance and direction users should take in the meantime.

With each message, Jolie could narrow the targeting so that the messages were showing up only to those users for whom it was relevant. For example, if there was a problem that affected non-active users within a particular course, with Canvas, Jolie could actually precisely target that specific group of users and avoid oversaturating all the other users with information and messaging that didn’t affect them.

Being able to do a strategic pop-up message with scalpel precision is amazing!
 –Jolie Theall, Instructional Designer & Frontline Canvas Administrator

Jolie and Lene also capitalized on the feedback-collecting feature. This allowed users to give feedback in the form of thumbs up or down or open-ended comments right inside the tool. Combined with the insights gained through reports, they had a birds-eye view of how the communication and support was functioning within the institution’s ecosystem. This data also gave Lene and Jolie a chance to assess what was working within their messaging strategy and smartly address the things that were not.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

The speed of “change” during the pandemic quickly reframed immediate priorities. Instead of focusing all their efforts in increasing tool adoption across the board and monitoring how to introduce new functionality, Foothill College had to switch to a more reactionary strategy to ensure that all the essential resources and tools were working correctly and supporting users through their increased usage of the LMS.

“We weren’t in a normal term, so we were just trying to get people comfortable using Canvas and comfortable coming to professional development…It was all hands-on deck and everybody row! The was much more urgent, but also much more practical” –Lene Whitley-Putz, Dean of Online Learning

With Impact, Lene and Jolie were able to easily identify trouble spots their LMS students and faculty were experiencing. By viewing course reports, tool adoption reports and insights about message and support performance, the team was able to keep pivoting and delivering content that would strengthen user understanding of the LMS.

In addition, the reports helped the team understand whether their eorts to support and communicate with their users was working, or whether they needed to switch their approach in real time.

“All three [messaging, support and reports] they go together, right? That’s the beauty. We need the support portal; we need the messaging portal, and we need the analytic tools to see how we are doing in that.” –Lene Whitley-Putz, Dean of Online Learning

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Providing 24/7 Contextual Support

Foothill College was originally only using LMS-based messaging tools, but when the needs of the institution changed, the product support team helped them understand what other tools and features they could leverage to optimize their LMS adoption.

For example, in early days, their support center was located in the left bar of their LMS and there were a lot of links to external resources which forced users to take a lot of steps and clicks to find the information they needed. The navigation for faculty and students to quickly source answers was dicult. To solve this, the support center was then integrated into the tool.

The Canvas Support Center works contextually, so if a student or faculty member click on the support center on a specific page, the first thing they will see is all the support articles related to functionality or actions related to what they’re doing on that given page. For example, if a student were to be on a page where they must submit an assignment, and they were to open the support center, the first thing they would see is all the resources relating to submitting an assignment.

This saves time and guides users to instant information without having to navigate away from where they are in the system.

In addition, insights and reports collect data about the locations within Canvas that were getting the most support escalation, and the support articles with the most clicks.

This information helped the team identify weaknesses within their LMS and create more resources for pages where students and faculty keep running into repeat problems, proactively decreasing support escalations and cutting resolution times.

The Results

With user adoption being driven through communication, clarity and connection during a time of extraordinary change, Foothill’s focus on online learning continues. Looking ahead, Foothill plans to focus on enhancing their LMS experience with the introduction of new tools and more specialized training. Foothill can be sure that they are communicating with the right users at the right time and providing easy access to relevant support through the Canvas Support Center.

As Foothill moves forward, they plan to continue to create campaigns which will allow them to attribute the success of messages and support items to an increase in tool adoption and monitor the impact that their targeted content has on user behaviors across the Canvas LMS.

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