Canvas by Instructure

Providence College

Navigating Canvas LMS Migration with Services and Support

Providence College

Rhode Island

4,800+ Students

Adopted Canvas LMS & Canvas Studio 2021


Founded in 1917, Providence College is a Catholic, Dominican, liberal arts institution of higher education and a community committed to academic excellence.

The college has been historically recognized as a northeastern institution but is gaining national prominence, drawing students beyond New England.

With its continued growth, Providence began the search for a new learning management system (LMS) that could scale with its community.

The Challenge

For approximately 10 years, Sakai LMS was meeting Providence’s needs, but the institution worried about its ability to scale. As part of the Providence College Strategic Plan to advance the college’s national reputation, an LMS transition would not only yield growth but also support its future direction.

Having a more accessible and adaptable LMS was a top priority. “Looking at a new LMS, we felt like we needed to have something that was a little more mobile-device friendly and adaptable to the user,” said Julie Cicilline, Director of the Office of Teaching and Learning Technologies at Providence College.

Key Insights

To help scale its community, Providence College began its search for a new LMS in 2019 and chose Canvas for its scalability and adaptable user interface.

The college’s Canvas Help Team sought internal and external expertise on how to successfully select and migrate to Canvas.

Working closely with Tier 1 Services for 24/7 Canvas support, Providence College partnered with K16 Solutions to migrate its course content.

Providence received positive feedback from both new and existing faculty throughout the staged migration and began using Canvas exclusively in Fall 2023.

The Solution

Providence began reviewing LMSs in 2019 and was leaning toward a decision when the pandemic hit and put a pin in decision-making for roughly a year. “When we were able to get approval to start the process up again, we felt like we needed to move a little faster,” Julie said. Ready to make the leap, the college chose to migrate to Canvas LMS.

Navigating Implementation as a Smaller Institution

Because Providence College had a small group of staff between teaching and learning and information technology (3-4 people), the team pulled in expertise where necessary to help with the LMS decision-making.

“We have an LMS Review Task Force, an LMS advisory board, and a steering committee that oversees anything having to do with learning spaces and instructional technology,” Julie said.

Before the implementation, the team held meetings with other schools that either had gone through or were actively going through an LMS transition – specifically from Sakai to Canvas – and tried to take as much advice as possible

“It was very beneficial talking to those other institutions regarding their implementations and figuring out not only what they were doing but also recognizing that we weren’t alone,” said Adam Hauerwas, Academic Support & Integration Specialist at Providence College.

Having a small core team, Julie and Adam partnered with the Providence community to help facilitate the recommendations they received during implementation.

“Our web design team reviewed things at implementation when we were putting together what the skin was going to look like,” Julie said. “We had a marketing communications specialist review what Canvas instructional designers put together for our template.

Support From The Start

Anticipating some reluctance to change, it was important for Providence’s Canvas Help team to have a long runway to switch from one system to another, as well as substantial support for its users.

“We should definitely thank the administration for funding that long runway and committing to maintaining both platforms simultaneously because it gave our limited staff the breathing room to be able to make that transition over time, and not have to do a forklift upgrade,” Adam said.

With almost two years of runway, the team began migrating users in groups (i.e. early adopters, second adopters, etc.) and partnered with K16 Solutions to convert their courses.

“We initially did select handfuls of courses and then ultimately at the end, we migrated our entire last year of curricular Sakai content. And K16 Solutions was a wonderful partner to work with,” Adam said.

Providence also utilized Tier 1 Services (24/7 support via call, chat, or email) from the onset of the LMS migration and found

it to be a huge help. “Originally it was something we were only going to have for the initial year, but we’re recognizing that it’s really a great service for our faculty and students,” Julie said. “We’ve added it to the second year of our contract and we’re hoping internally that we’re able to add it for future years.”

The Canvas Help team would encourage faculty members to use Tier 1 Services for help with adoption, which also allowed the team to learn more on the backend. “We receive the transcript… so we have an idea of what’s being said to our faculty,” Julie said. “We can jump in if we need to. We can follow up if we need to or we can learn what we need to. That’s been a great piece for us.”

Providence contracted for virtual training as well, but decided to provide faculty with in-person training as the first year with Canvas progressed. “We requested additional funding for onsite training a couple of times over the year, and that was excellent,” she said. “It helped our faculty to be able to have one of the learning specialists come in, someone that knew Canvas very well, to answer questions while we aided in that process. We hope to do more on-site visits from Canvas’ Principal Learning Specialists in the future.”

Alongside services, the Canvas Help team at Providence focused on managing user expectations. “Sometimes it was managing faculty expectations, [with us saying] ‘We haven’t figured out that piece yet. Come back and see us in a month,’” Julie said. “It’s not a switch you can turn on and off. It’s a full process and we had to recognize it took years to develop the existing LMS we were switching from. Some of the workflows had to be rethought.”

Providence College utilized multiple Canvas LMS Services. In addition to Tier 1 Services (24/7 support), the college leveraged consulting hours, instructional design time, virtual and on-site training, and help with strategic planning.

The Results

By doing a staged migration, users adopted Canvas when they were ready, and questions or concerns were spread out over time. Almost all feedback was positive.

“The people who wanted Canvas or who used it at other institutions kind of breathed a sigh of relief,” Julie said. And for new, incoming faculty, the team feels there is far less uptraining to teach at Providence College.

“We’ve gotten very positive feedback from the new faculty,” Adam said. “At new faculty orientation, we asked how many people had used Canvas, and almost every hand went up.”

Overall, the Canvas Help team believes the migration went well. In Fall 2023, courses were only available in the Canvas LMS.

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