Students and faculty react to implementation of Canvas

During the fall semester of 2018, Canvas, a learning management system (LMS), replaced Trunk and Tufts University Sciences Knowledgebase across the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. Tufts had been using Trunk as an LMS since 2011

At first glance, Canvas appears to be similar to Trunk, with the Tufts’ white and blue theme and the list of items on the left side of the screen. However, Canvas has some subtle advantages that Tufts community members have picked up on throughout the semester.

According to Educational Technology System and Services Director Janet Hill, Canvas has the advantage of being more intuitive and user-friendly.

“The developers of Canvas are highly committed to accessibility, usability, and good design, and that shows in the platform,” Hill said to the Daily in an email. “Many users have told us that the interface just makes sense.”

Hill noted that most of the feedback she had received from students, faculty and staff was positive.

“Students have mentioned that the Calendar and To-Do List features are particularly helpful, [as] it allows a student to see all of their assignments, due dates, and activities in one place,” Hill said. “Faculty are especially positive about the SpeedGrader tool, which allows them to view and grade submissions in one place.”

Junior Charles Billings compared Canvas to other learning management systems. “I liked Trunk, and now I use Moodle (another LMS) in my study abroad [program], [but] Canvas might be the best of them,” he said.

Junior Darren Ting mentioned that he likes Canvas because it is more organized and in his experience, his professors put more information in the system such as grades for assignments and exams.

However, not all of the feedback has been entirely positive. Junior Ethan Sorkin commented on his confusion with Canvas’ system of communication.

“Not many of my class uses Canvas, but one thing I’ve noticed is that with the assignments, discussions and chat sections, there are too many places that professors use to communicate information to the class,” Sorkin said. “It’s a lot to keep track of and I’m worried that sometimes I’ll miss something.”

Hill mentioned that some of the feedback she had directly received was negative, but she felt like these reactions were due to the implementation of something new.

“Change is always hard and time-consuming, especially for students, faculty and staff that already have so much on their plate,” Hill said.

Educational Technology Services has attempted to mitigate this issue by offering training to faculty and staff. According to Hill, these trainings have helped ease the transition to Canvas for professors.

“Users have raved about how helpful that has been,” Hill said.

Aside from some of the casual feedback they have received, Tufts Technology Services plans on distributing a survey to Tufts faculty to obtain more formal and specific feedback and suggestions. Going forward, there are ways that the Canvas implementation team is looking to improve upon the new LMS.

“We are always looking to make Canvas better for Tufts,” Hill said. “Right now, we are working on tools and features that support teaching and learning in the Health Sciences.”

In addition, the Canvas implementation team is hoping to make communication between instructors and students easier and more efficient.

“Canvas has a huge community of users at hundreds of schools — it’s one of the reasons [why] we chose to bring Canvas to Tufts,” Hill said. “We are constantly engaging with the community to learn new ways to use Canvas, develop new features, and talk about best practices.”

According to Hill, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine will begin using Canvas in March, while the Tufts University School of Medicine is planning to implement the new LMS in 2020.