Tony Anderson works at computer

Tony Anderson has been working with Penn State on its LMS conversion since late November of last year.

(This is the second in a series profiling each of 11 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.)

He has been working with the Canvas learning management system (LMS) almost since it started and he has flown across the country in order to help Penn State with its LMS conversion.

Meet Tony Anderson, project manager for the Canvas project at Penn State.

“I think I bring more than a one-sided look at Canvas,” Anderson said. “I’ve taught in it, I’ve converted, I’ve administered, I’ve trained. I’ve used Canvas from the full circle; I think that’s part of why I’m here at Penn State.”

Before coming to Penn State in November 2015, Anderson was in charge of two LMS conversions: one at Nevada State College and one at University of Texas at Austin. He said he has worked in higher education for 20 years, where he has taught ESL, English composition, linguistics, as well as being involved in international education and various higher education technology projects.

Both conversions Anderson was involved with were Blackboard to Canvas conversions, which went fairly well. An ANGEL to Canvas conversion was a really big change that he said he was excited about.

“I think Penn State’s is probably one of the most complex LMS conversions you could find in higher ed, due to the sheer number of courses and complexity of Penn State being on ANGEL for 13 years,” Anderson said.

He added that Penn State’s LMS workings are also complex because Penn State had the ability to add a lot of customized features to ANGEL.

For the Canvas conversion at Penn State, Anderson is in charge of a lot of things to ensure a smooth transition. He said he works to keep the various Canvas project teams aligned; holds weekly project team meetings; holds weekly meetings to discuss risks, issues, and changes; reports directly to the provost; and reports biweekly to the LMS Academic Transition Steering Committee, which serves as an advisory board.

In addition, Anderson meets biweekly with each of the project team leads, where he will, for example, meet one week with the marketing team and the next with the college/campus conversion team. It is also his job to meet regularly with Canvas Liaisons for each campus in order to determine the best support for each campus and how to keep ANGEL courses flowing to the migration/conversion team so they can be prepared for use in Canvas.

All that hard work that Anderson and other project team members have been doing is paying off. For the fall semester, the adoption rate was very good, with 8,476 active course sections in Canvas and 7,224 active course sections in ANGEL, according to Penn State’s Canvas transition roadmap. There are currently 84,578 distinct students enrolled in courses using Canvas, and 78,049 distinct students enrolled in courses using ANGEL.

“I’d say our numbers for fall were really great, and we hope to repeat that for spring,” Anderson said.

What really sets Canvas apart in the LMS world is that is not only built for students, but it was built by students as well.

Launched in 2011, Canvas was the result of a Brigham Young University professor’s project assignment to his students, whom he asked to find the worst piece of software and rebuild it, Anderson said. The software that two graduate students, Devlin Daley and Brian Whitmer, chose was their school’s LMS, Blackboard, and the rest is history.

“I don’t think you would find another LMS that students like more,” Anderson said.

At Penn State, several student groups have gotten involved with learning more about Penn State’s new LMS and helping students get acquainted with it. Anderson said he is currently working to meet with all of Penn State’s student government groups and is aiming to fully engage with students at not only University Park, but also at the other Penn State campuses. Feedback from meeting with student groups has been very positive, as students have shown that they really care about the future of learning with technology at Penn State.

Today, more than 2,000 universities, school districts, and institutions worldwide use Canvas as their LMS of choice. Canvas has had quite the high level of adoption for such a short period of time, Anderson said.

For faculty making the leap to Canvas, Anderson advises them to not be afraid of getting started in the transition process.

“We have a lot of resources available, and it will be a lot easier to get help early,” he said. “We’re willing and able to help anyone who needs it.”

A great resource for help with the transition is Penn State’s Canvas website, which has everything from training opportunities to the best tips for using Canvas. If any faculty members have any further questions or needs, they can contact Tony Anderson at ada9@psu.edu.

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