5 members of Canvas training team pose for photo

Back row, from left: Brett Bixler, Jeff Puhala, and Kris Benefield. Front row, from left: Abigail Zlockie and Kim Heckman

They are the folks behind faculty and staff having the opportunities to become skilled in the new Canvas learning management system (LMS): meet the Canvas training team.

“We have sessions that cover everything about Canvas, and I think the value that we add is that our sessions are highly interactive and highly hands-on,” said Brett Bixler, Canvas project lead for training. “People walk out being able to demonstrate skills.”

Bixler is in charge of a team that works to develop and coordinate all of the Canvas training opportunities available to Penn State faculty and staff. That team includes Kris Benefield, lead of the Canvas Learning Path; Jeff Puhala, IT trainer; Abigail Zlockie, instructional designer for Canvas; and Kim Heckman, IT trainer.

As project lead, Bixler said he has been responsible for getting everything set up with the online training sessions for Canvas. His current role is to report to other units that are involved with the Canvas transition, along with working with the “Canvas three” (Puhala, Zlockie, and Heckman), who are now conducting training and working with the entire team on design modifications. He also coordinates training-on-demand sessions, where campuses or colleges request the training team to do customized sessions for their faculty and staff.

As lead of the Canvas Learning Path, Benefield said she led the project to design the learning path, part of the Canvas Learning Center, which has been a big success since it went live on Jan. 4 of this year.

As of mid-November, more than 9,000 people have used the learning center, she said.

Right now, Benefield said she is helping Zlockie transition to take on a lot of the responsibilities involved with the learning path. Benefield is also heavily involved with the website redesign of the Canvas at Penn State website.

“It’s going to be a lot more user-friendly,” she said.

The “Canvas three” share the role of doing Canvas training sessions, along with several other responsibilities. Puhala said he works 100 percent doing the Canvas training and also helps with updates to the Canvas Learning Path documentation and training materials.

In addition to her learning path responsibilities, Zlockie also develops new documentation and new training courses, which includes a new Canvas transfer course. She said the new course will focus on how faculty can transfer their course content into Canvas from either ANGEL or Microsoft Word documents.

In addition to the responsibilities she shares with Puhala and Zlockie, Heckman said she helps with testing when a new feature is rolled out for Canvas. With the testing, she gets to see how the feature will look for both faculty and students.

Overall, the trainings at Penn State have been a success, Bixler said. The biggest success, he believes, is the span of offerings available.

“We developed every single one of our training sessions for Canvas in the hands-on, online format to begin with,” Benefield said. “We’ve been able to reach all of our audiences across all parts of the University, with every offering that we have, from the beginning, which is new. A lot of times we do these things face-to-face first.”

The feedback is always positive as well, Bixler said. A lot of faculty and staff have said they appreciate the hands-on approach to the trainings, where they can work through Canvas at the computer during the sessions.

Puhala said participants appreciate the “tell, show, and do” balance. The customization of each session is also a plus, as the trainers are able to meet the needs of each college and campus, Heckman added. So far, the trainers have been out to about 25 percent of Penn State campuses.

When sessions are done at the campuses, there are typically two trainers in the room. According to Puhala, one is teaching while the other is assisting with any questions faculty and staff may have.

Coming up, the training team is offering an event called Winterfest Jan. 3 through Jan. 6 for faculty and staff, which is comprised of several Canvas-centered training sessions. There will also be two training-on-demand sessions during WinterFest — one at Smeal College of Business and the other at Penn State Worthington Scranton, Bixler said. The one at Penn State Worthington Scranton will cover the northeast portion of the campuses, and several other sessions will be available to all Penn State faculty and staff through Adobe Connect.

Bixler highly recommends that faculty get started in Canvas now.

“Even if you’re not teaching until spring 2018 in Canvas, there’s no reason why you can’t get your course transitioned over to Canvas now and make sure that it’s operational, everything’s running smoothly, so you’re not in a panic in trying to get everything to run,” he said.”

In addition to starting early, Zlockie said she recommends that faculty get acquainted with the features in Canvas.

“Take advantage of the features that are inside of Canvas that ANGEL didn’t necessarily have,” she said. “That’s a learning curve, but I think there’s a lot of great features that Canvas has as well.”

One of those features faculty are encouraged to take advantage of is the SpeedGrader tool.

According to Bixler, the SpeedGrader tool makes the grading process easier for faculty. Puhala added that the mobile application makes it even easier to grade papers.

The customizability of the LMS is a big help to faculty as well.

“There’s all these little things that you don’t even really realize — like when you create an assignment and you attach dates to it, it automatically shows up in your syllabus, it automatically shows up in the calendar,” Bixler said. “There’s a whole bunch of little itsy-bitsies that people don’t realize, but when you add them all up, they really save faculty time.”

(This is the third in a series profiling each of 11 Canvas project teams: project governance, project managementtraining, college/campus conversion, migration/conversion, Outreach conversion, service desk support, Outreach integration, technical integration, marketing/communications, and project finance.)

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