Professors begin to use canvas, meld to platform

By Lorenzo Morotti, Associate Editor

Professors have the option to teach any of their courses using Desire 2 Learn or Canvas until the district makes the permanent switch to Canvas, an online learning management system, for the 2017 fall semester.

“Everyone in the district has to migrate (to Canvas) by fall 2017,” Contra Costa College President Mojdeh Mehdizadeh said. “We will not have Desire 2 Learn. Our contract with them will expire June 2017.”

College Distance Education Coordinator Judith Flum said 79 professors have been to at least one training session since the college began its Canvas trial this past summer.

The district has not completely switched over from Desire 2 Learn so professors are not required to teach using Canvas, but one professor has gone fully online with Canvas, Flum said.

CCC English professor Robin Brooke Eubanks is not only the first professor in the district to teach all her three courses on Canvas this semester, but she is the first professor on campus to teach an English course fully online, Flum said.

“(CCC) tried to get an online English class before, but there was a gap between the requirements of English courses and the learning management systems available 15 years ago,” Eubanks said. “Plagiarism software had not caught up yet.”

But she said the software that the state has provided through Canvas gives professors the tools to catch plagiarism, help students avoid plagiarism and provide students with an online platform they can connect to wherever they go.

“I’ve never used Desire 2 Learn,” Eubanks said. “But Canvas is user friendly and students seem to enjoy it because it provides more accessibility from their cell phones. It’s more open-ended in its format with customization options and because it comes with more collaborative tools for students.

“It works more like a social media site than a learning management system,” she said. “Students will have an easier time adjusting because they have more skill with social media.”

Mehdizadeh said teaching online is different than in a traditional classroom.

“It requires that faculty have an understanding of how to teach in an online environment,” she said. “And (Eubanks) has been one of those champions working to get other faculty in her department to get used to online teaching.”

She said Flum would be setting up a series of training sessions for faculty teaching general education courses through @one. Mehdizadeh said professors would be provided a $450 stipend for participating.

“It will be considered hands-on teaching and learning experience for online pedagogy,” Mehdizadeh said.

Another professor with valuable experience with learning management systems is CCC medical assisting instructor Susan Reno.

“I have experience with Moodle, Blackboard and Desire 2 Learn as a student and instructor (D2L),” Reno said. “Canvas is above all the rest. It’s intuitive layout and it’s easy to learn.”

Reno said she uses Canvas to not only teach nursing courses at CCC, but she is using the online learning platform as a doctoral student writing her dissertation.

“Canvas is fantastic,” she said. “Professors and students are allowed to be more mobile. This is especially helpful for adjunct professors without offices and for students who work. It offers a lot of what Desire 2 Learn does, but it is more intuitive and accessible.”

Canvas, created by Instructure, Inc., is a learning management system that the California Community College Chancellor’s Office plans to implement at each of its 113 campuses through its Online Education Initiative (OEI).

“The fact the state selected (Canvas) for all 113 colleges is huge,” Mehdizadeh said. “It was selected by members of these community colleges — it’s our system.”

After approval by each of its campuses’ College Councils last year, the Contra Costa Community College District Governing Board approved the request to join OEI and switch from Desire 2 Learn to Canvas on Jan. 27.

Mehdizadeh said the $40,000 annual cost the district paid Desire 2 Learn will go into creating more training sessions, staff and provide needed funding for distance education districtwide.

“A major endeavor over the last couple of years is to have an online version of all general education courses,” Mehdizadeh said, “so students who find it difficult to get to campus have an opportunity to still enroll (at CCC).”

Reno said increasing the number of online courses will help students, who have to work during the day, cannot afford transportation to campus, or who are raising children, to get the education they deserve.

But this is only one benefit from switching to Canvas from Desire 2 Learn.

Flum said, “We got Canvas, and joined OEI, because the state promised to pay the cost for the first two years, and then at a discounted price after.”

State Vice Chancellor for Communications Paul Feist said the state will provide Canvas’ online services to colleges who joined its OEI by June 2016 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.”

Flum said, “That money (saved) will be used to implement more distance education training programs and courses at the three colleges in the district.”

But she said the college is not fully integrated into the OEI, as it still cannot join the course exchange program until spring 2018 at the earliest.

The course exchange program allows students enrolled at their “home” college to take an online course from any college as part of the OEI course exchange statewide.

“We can’t join the course exchange yet,” Flum said. “The next request for the proposal at the district will be for a proctoring service that students taking online courses at CCC from other campuses would go through.”

While the district will not be joining the course exchange any time soon, professors are excited to begin using Canvas, while some are intimidated by the streamlined pace online teaching demands.

Both Reno and Eubanks said professors who are unfamiliar with online teaching should sign up for the training sessions as soon as possible.

“You don’t want to fight technology,” Eubanks said. “You have to understand how to teach online to make sure the students use the platform the way it was meant to be used.”