Professors given chance to prepare for Canvas

By Lorenzo Morotti, Associate Editor

Drama department Chairperson Carlos-Manuel Chavarria is one of about 20 professors at Contra Costa College asked to participate in a training webinar before the district switches over to Canvas from Desire2Learn by the 2017 spring semester.

“When I was hired at the college about two years ago (the online learning platform) was Desire2Learn. It was hard to learn, but it was possible through trial and error. With Canvas I want to be ready,” Chavarria said.

“I like technology a lot, but, like anyone, I have to try and figure out how to use it in the classroom. If you teach online, or a hybrid course, you need to know how the new system works.”

Distance Education Coordinator Judy Flum said the options available for faculty who want to learn how to use Canvas, but who were not included in the first email, are:

1) Three on-campus workshops in L-107 on Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, May 18 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and May 27 from 10 a.m. to noon.

2) A “self-paced” online training course on, provided by @One organization, that is accessible anytime.

3) A Canvas “boot camp” in the Library and Learning Resource Center on Aug. 8 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“Any (faculty member) can attend the Canvas workshops on campus, or sign up for the summer sessions,” she said. “But the (Canvas) webinars are only available to 20 professors who have already signed up.”

Flum said the April 4 email sent to Chavarria and other professors who have experience teaching online or hybrid courses is to schedule the two-part, three-hour-long webinar led by Instructure Inc. support representatives.

“There are various dates in April, May and even June,” she said. “But the training must take place within 90 days.”

Art professor Bonnie Holt said she just completed the first portion of the Canvas webinar and said while the online learning platform is not without its own problems, it is a “huge improvement” compared to Desire2Learn.

She said the biggest problems with Desire2Learn are the email system only informed students that they had an email without displaying the content of the message, and its lack of a 24/7 support center.

“My biggest problem with D2L is that we got little feedback from the company’s support desk. It has become less and less as the contract comes to an end,” Holt said. “But we can depend on Canvas 24/7. We no longer have to rely on Technology Systems Manager James Eyestone to get help for every little thing.”

She and Chavarria both agree that the most beneficial aspect of Canvas is that students will be able to access the program on their smartphones or tablets.

“Students can gain access to emails or assignments from their cellphone or (tablet),” Holt said. “They no longer have to log into a desktop. This is a huge improvement because everything can be linked to your (mobile device). It is a new way to communicate between the professor and students.”

Academic Senate member, and administration of justice professor Rick Ramos said he endorsed Canvas because it allows courses to be moved over to the next semester without having to manually reset dates, and it has a user-friendly grader and a simple  communication functionality.

Chavarria said the ability for students to access Canvas on their cellphones will help professors take advantage of technology instead of it being a disturbance during class.

“Cellphone use in class has been a problem,” he said, “especially when students are on their phones a lot. It is hard trying to make students keep (cellphones) away, so why not include this technology in the learning process?”

Ramos said he is especially impressed that Canvas allows students throughout the state to take courses offered at CCC through an online course exchange program through the California Community College Chancellor’s Office’s Online Education Initiative (OEI).

“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,” he said. “And Canvas is a lot easier to use than D2L.”

The switch from Desire2Learn to Canvas has been approved at all three campuses by the Contra Costa Community College District Governing Board on Jan. 27.

The district has adopted Canvas as its primary online learning platform free of charge through OEI.

State Vice Chancellor for Communications Paul Feist said OEI will provide Canvas’ online services to colleges at no cost until the 2018-19 academic year.

Statewide OEI Program Director Steve Klein said, “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.”

Feist said the state is projected to spend $10 million over the first two years and then will pay $10 per student enrolled at the college to help compensate costs for the district.