Academic Senate endorses state’s desire to switch to Canvas

District evaluates input to join Online Education Initiative’s pilot program


Cody Casares / The Advocate

Online Education Initiative Statewide Program Director Steve Klein explains the district’s options with OEI at the Canvas demo last Wednesday in LLRC-107.

By Lorenzo Morotti, Associate Editor

The District Distance Education Committee (DDEC) organized demonstrations at its three campuses last week to inform people about the state’s offer for its colleges to pilot Canvas for free until 2018-19 by joining its Online Education Initiative (OEI).

Representatives from Instructure, developers of Canvas’ online learning system, and California Community College Chancellor’s Office gave a presentation at Contra Costa College in LLRC-107 last Wednesday amid their districtwide tour.

On Monday, CCC’s Academic Senate unanimously endorsed that Contra Costa Community College District Governing Board vote to join OEI’s pilot program before the January deadline after reviewing the results from an online faculty distance education survey.

At the meeting, DDEC co-chairperson and CCC’s Distance Education Coordinator Judy Flum presented the results of an online learning management survey that 40 professors answered.

According to the survey about 60 percent of professors who have experience with Desire 2 Learn thought switching over to Canvas is something they would support, while 25 percent said they see little advantage and 11 percent said they are unsure.

“As an instructor, I support the change from our current online learning system to Canvas,” Academic Senate President Beth Goehring said. “It has such unique and responsive tools for faculty and students.”

LAVA Division representative on the Academic Senate Rick Ramos was at CCC and Los Medanos College for OEI and Instructure’s demonstrations.

Ramos said he was impressed by many of Canvas’ features, but being able to move courses over to the next semester easily without having to manually reset dates, its user friendly grader, the option to join a statewide course exchange program and its communication functionality are what supported his endorsement.

CCC’s Academic Senate is the first among the three within the district to endorse the possibility of eventually severing from its current online learning system — Desire 2 Learn.

“We all hate the way email works with D2L,” Ramos said. “The (Canvas) grader notifies you what assignment you have not graded because sometimes you get tired while grading and miss a couple. CCC struggles with FTES (state funding per 15 units). But OEI course exchange gives us the opportunity to teach courses to students from across the state and bring in needed revenue — And (Canvas) is a lot easier to use than D2L.”

At CCC’s Canvas demonstration, Interim President Mojdeh Mehdizadeh gave a brief history about how Canvas was a close second to D2L when the district made its decision to select one vendor four years ago and what has changed since then to a “small but mighty group” of 10 professors and faculty before opening the floor to OEI representatives.

“We were worried about the communication system and went with what appeared to be a more traditional (internal) email system (with D2L),” Mehdizadeh said. “Interestingly enough, looking back now and assessing where we are today, the piece that we disliked the absolute most about our selection with D2L is the email and communication system.”

D2L’s internal email system allows students to link their personal email accounts with its specialized internal system, but the notifications simply told you have an email instead of also presenting the message.

The district paid $365,000 this last fiscal year CCCCD Director of Financial Services Jonah Nicolas said.

“Four years ago (Mehdizadeh) talked about the district having to decide about learning management system,” OEI Chief Academic Officer Jory Hadsell said at the demonstration. “But we are in a very different place right now in terms of (state) resources that are available for distance education.

“I have been with involved with distance education since 1998 and we have never had this type of (money available). So the paradigm has shifted and it is time to reassess options.”

OEI Statewide Program Director Steve Klein said after 2018-19 the state will absorb about two-thirds of the cost depending how many colleges have joined the initiative and when.

“(OEI) anticipates that continued funding from the state will be at about $10 per student for years after 2018-19,” Klein said. “If funding stays at $10 a year per student then the state will pay two thirds of the cost.

“When we say (Canvas) is free or at no cost to colleges there is a cost — just that the (OEI) project is able to cover those costs.”

State Vice Chancellor of Communication Paul Feist said that OEI is possible because of Gov. Jerry Brown’s special education initiative to increase student’s ability to complete educational goals through online support.

Feist said the state is projected to spend $10 million over the first two initial years of covering Canvas’ cost. 

“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).”

District Director of Communication Tim Leong said before the Governing Board can make a decision, it must speak with its Consultation Council that is comprised of college presidents, distance education chairpersons and academic senate presidents from LMC, Diablo Valley College and CCC.  

Leong and Mehdizadeh said the Governing Board is scheduled to meet with the Consultation Council on Nov. 10. 

Academic senates at DVC and LMC have yet to endorse its distance education committee’s support of the OEI pilot program, DVC drama professor and DDEC co-Chairperson Becky Opsata and LMC Education Technology Trainer Courtney DiPutado said. But both said DVC’s and LMC’s demonstrations had a much higher turnout than CCC’s, with 35 and 25 respectively.

At all three colleges, however, there were no current students in attendance at the demonstrations.

DVC Dean of Library, Education Technology and Learning Support Richard Robinson said while there were no students at the event, he and Opsata tired to get the information to as many people on campus through the Traveling Roadshow, Academic Senate meetings, and ASU meetings.

Flum and DiPutado said CCC and LMC distance education reps have scheduled meetings in October to visit the ASU and further discuss what the OEI offering.

CCC’s ASU Director of Recruitment and Training Luanna Waters said Flum is scheduled for its Wednesday meeting at 2:15 p.m. in LA-204.

DiPudato said a mass email was sent out to faculty at LMC, but students were not notified about the demonstration. 

LMC’s Distance Education Committee wants to involve more faculty and student input at its meeting on Nov 2. before it makes a recommendation for its Academic Senate to endorse joining OEI, DiPutado said.

“I think the decision has to be made by the entire college community,” Robinson said. “This includes faculty, management and to some extent students.

“Students tend to rotate through (community colleges) quickly, but they have to realize that this is not just a change to another learning management system. It may seem like a short-term change, but if the district does not want to be on an island by itself then it should strongly support OEI. I do not know what the future may hold, but I know it should be a shared decision.”

Leong said in the contract between the District and OEI, it states that students opinions are not required considering that it is difficult even to get faculty to show up.  

“It is challenging to try to do something like this in the time frame that we have,” Leong said. “Particularly with faculty whose schedules are all over the map.”

Both CCC and LMC have videos of the OEI and Canvas demonstrations uploaded on YouTube for students and faculty who were unable to make it to the demonstrations.

Robinson said DVC’s IT department had trouble with the video’s audio and as of press time Tuesday has not been able to upload a video of its demonstration.

An anonymous comment to question eight of CCC’s online survey said, “(CCC’s) YouTube video has garbled sound. So I did my best to figure (OEI) from watching (the video).”

Discussions continue to develop leading up to the district decision on Dec. 9.