State pushes online uniformity

District begins talks to adopt initiative’s transition from D2L to Canvas

By Lorenzo Morotti, Associate Editor

The California Community College Chancellor’s Office is offering its campuses a chance to transition from other online learning platforms to Canvas for free through its Online Education Initiative (OEI).

Vice Chancellor for Communications Paul Feist said OEI is providing Canvas’ online services at no cost to colleges that decide to sign up until the 2018-19 academic year.

After 2019, Feist said the state plans to absorb approximately two-thirds of the cost for colleges that have adopted Canvas as the state’s primary platform for online learning.

He said the Chancellor’s Office offering Canvas for free is part of OEI’s push to unify California’s 113 community college campuses using an online learning tool that will provide students with 24/7 technical support, tutoring, resource tools and an “course exchange program” that allows students to enroll into courses offered at other colleges from their respective home campus. Students will also be able to use Canvas from their mobile devices or tablets.

“It is premature to think that we are going to switch (from Desire 2 Learn) yet,” Contra Costa Community College Director of Communications Tim Leong said. “I cannot say that the district will decide to switch over (to Canvas) because the discussion has only begun to be mulled over in conversations at the district.

“But what we do know about Canvas as a tool for students is that it is clearly a more robust online learning system compared with D2L.”

Three years into its contract with D2L, Leong said the district has only recently started discussing if it should switch over to Canvas, and requires evaluating feedback of faculty and students at Contra Costa College, Los Medanos College and Diablo Valley College before a decision can be made.

“I think the benefits outweigh the pain of the initial move of having to learn a new online learning platform,” CCC Interim President Mojdeh Mehdizadeh said. “It will be wonderful for our students to have an online tool (Canvas) that is being used across the state.”

On Friday, the district sent out an email to faculty explaining it will be sponsoring workshops and forums for students and faculty, at each of its three campuses, to test the Canvas software and provide the district with feedback so it can come to a decision.

According to the email, CCC will have its Canvas workshop on Oct. 14 from 9 a.m. to noon in LA-107.

“The bottom line is that D2L is far from perfect,” District Distance Education Committee Chairperson Judith Flum said. “D2L charges for every little service and is not helpful — but Canvas is the opposite.”

Associated Student Union Director of Recruitment and Training Luanna Waters said Flum is scheduled to attend its Oct. 21 meeting in LA-204 at 2:15 p.m. to inform the ASU Board about the benefits and detriments of moving over to Canvas.

“I want to see the difference between the programs myself,” ASU President Nakari Syon said. Syon also said he encourages students to attend the workshop on Oct. 14 and the ASU meeting on Oct. 21 to help the district come to a decision for or against Canvas.

“This decision will not only affect students now, but students in the future,” he said. “The student body must acknowledge this potential change and give it light — because right now it’s in the shade.”

Mehdizadeh, however, said once the students and faculty use Canvas they will see that joining the OEI is beneficial for everyone involved. 

But if it does not, then it would be one of few colleges in the state to miss trying Canvas out for free until 2019.

“There are a lot of benefits going with a statewide system,” she said. “It will provide training opportunities and conversion tools for faculty who are unsure about (Canvas) and 24/7 support and tutoring for students.”

Leong said based off the input from academic senates, the Distance Education Committee, information technologies, college presidents and students — the district will come to a decision by early November, could sign up by January and begin the 14-month implementation process in April 2016.   

Feist said, “(Canvas) was selected as the common course management system by OEI to provide its services to embark the initiative to improve access and quality of online education for students statewide.”  He said the state is projected to spend $10 million over the first two initial years covering the cost for colleges that join the OEI.

“The later years will be more expensive,” he said, “running from $2 million to $7.5 million (annually) depending on the number of colleges involved (with OEI).”

He said the push is only possible due to Gov. Jerry Brown’s special education initiative to increase student’s ability to complete educational goals through online support.

Leong said that if the district decides to join the OEI and move forward with the migration from D2L, which the district is paying $380,000 for annually, to Canvas it would not have to completely stop using D2L.

Flum said during the 14-month long transition period, professors and students will still be able to use D2L until June 30, 2017, when its contract with the district expires.

“If the district hops on the April cycle then we will transition while using both systems,” she said. “And we would be completely off D2L when the (Canvas trial) ends (in 2018-19) and not have to pay D2L for an additional yearly cost.”

Never looking back

Three years ago, the district selected D2L to be used at its three campuses instead of Canvas, which at the time was a close second,  Mehdizadeh said.

Political sciences professor Leonard McNeil said at this point in time, the district should have foreseen that the state was working on creating a unified online platform before selecting D2L.

“(The district) decided to drop over $400,000 a year at the same time legislators in Sacramento were having a discussion about implementing a online system for all its 113 community colleges — Canvas,” McNeil said. “Why commit to something like that when you know you’re just going to have to change?”

Leong said the district decided against Canvas because it was still developing its reputation, unlike D2L, Moogle or Blackboard.

Technology Systems Manager James Eyestone said D2L was not his first choice.

“I would have picked Canvas,” Eyestone said. “We now know how the support (D2L) offered behaved and how reliable it was during peak times — at the start of the first two semesters it was down for a week.”