Kate and Terry pose for photo

Kate Domico and Terry O’Heron are the co-chairs of the Canvas project team.

(This is the first in a series profiling each of nine Canvas project teams: project governance, project management, training, college/campus conversion, migration/conversion, Outreach conversion, service desk support, Outreach integration, technical integration, marketing/communications, and project finance.)

They work hard behind the scenes to make sure the ANGEL to Canvas learning management system (LMS) transition at Penn State is successful: meet the Canvas project governance team.

The two individuals who oversee the implementation of Canvas are Terry O’Heron and Kate Domico. O’Heron, co-chair of the project, is director of operations at Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT). Domico, the other co-chair of the project, is executive director of Learning Design and Public Media in Penn State Outreach and Online Education, as well as general manager of WPSU TV/FM. Their job is make sure that Penn State has all the resources it needs to be successful with the LMS transition by June 30, 2017.

“ANGEL has been the learning management system at Penn State since 2001, so this was 15 years in the making,” said Domico.

As part of their project governance role, O’Heron and Domico said they not only oversee the implementation of Canvas, but they also oversee implementation of the project’s charter and plan. The Canvas project charter is a “road map” that has detailed the vision of the project, roles and responsibilities of the project team and a strategy for implementation of Canvas at Penn State. Domico said she also works with instructional designers in Outreach, who help support World Campus course design and course operations.

“One of the wonderful byproducts of this transition has been the galvanizing of the instructional design community,” Domico said. “We’re working together more collaboratively than ever before, it’s energizing, and we’re getting a ton of work done.”

Other responsibilities that O’Heron and Domico share include assembling a lot of meetings and co-chairing the LMS Academic Transition Steering Committee. According to O’Heron, the committee, which was formed in August 2015 and meets twice a month, is made up of about 40 individuals from all over Penn State, including instructional designers, faculty, educational technologists, and two student representatives.

At the committee meetings, the technology aspects of the LMS implementation are also discussed, thanks to a technology advisory subcommittee, along with other important matters regarding Canvas.

“We talk about policy that might need to be addressed due to this transition from ANGEL to Canvas,” Domico said. “We discuss project status, and there’s many other subcommittees that form in an ad hoc fashion to address other strategic and tactical needs of this pretty massive transition.”

Their current task is getting a handle on both the number of courses at Penn State and the number that will need assistance moving to Canvas. According to Domico, not all courses had been in ANGEL — approximately 77 percent of courses had been using the ANGEL platform.

“There’s no mandate that a faculty member has to use the learning management system,” Domico said. “But we are hoping that Canvas proves easy enough to use and provides enough benefits through its functionality that faculty will be encouraged to adopt it.”

Before Penn State got to the point of choosing to transition from ANGEL to Canvas, several LMS pilots were conducted.

“We’ve done six pilots since 2010,” said O’Heron. “Blackboard bought ANGEL in 2009, hence there was a charge for a new committee back then, the e-Learning Strategic Committee, and that was charged to look at alternatives to replace ANGEL.”

O’Heron was chair of the committee and said he has been involved with ANGEL since 2004. The committee did a request for proposals to replace ANGEL as Penn State’s LMS and Blackboard was piloted first, followed by Desire2Learn, Moodle, Canvas for the first time, Blackboard once more in summer 2014, and then Canvas again in spring 2015.

According to O’Heron, Canvas proved to be more intuitive and mobile, especially with the addition of helpful third-party learning tools. The SpeedGrader tool made it much easier for faculty to grade assignments and give written, audio, or video feedback to their students. Plus, the final pilot report showed that faculty and students’ levels of satisfaction were much higher with Canvas.

Domico said, “One of the advantages of Canvas is that they are very active in developing new feature sets, new functionality, and every three weeks, they push out an update with fixes and new features.”

In July 2015, the recommendation to move forward with Canvas was presented to the Penn State Board of Trustees, according to Domico. Approval was sought in September 2015 and the Canvas contract was signed on September 30, 2015.

Ever since, the Canvas transition project has been moving along very smoothly, Domico said.

According to O’Heron, approximately 84,500 students have at least one course in Canvas for the current semester, and 72,950 students are taking courses in ANGEL, with these numbers representing students who are taking courses in both LMS platforms. Currently, there are 12,900 active course sections. Sixty-two percent of those are in Canvas, while 38 percent are in ANGEL.

When asked what one piece of advice they would give to faculty who are transitioning to Canvas, Domico said, “Go early, and we’ve heard that building new in Canvas is a better option and actually less time consuming than trying to migrate existing ANGEL content.”

Domico said that a common analogy she hears regarding the building new versus migration decision is that of moving between houses.

“When you move from one house to another, the movers may put the boxes in the house, but they may not be in the right room,” said Domico. “So you could have your kitchenware in your bedroom. Similarly, when you migrate content from ANGEL to Canvas, it might not be in the right order, so you have to go in and move things around anyway.”

O’Heron added, “Plus it [building new] is an opportunity to improve your course design.”

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