Derock Burns looks at monitor display with Canvas at Penn State website displayed and has marketing materials set out in front of him at table

Derick Burns (pictured) served as lead for the Canvas at Penn State marketing efforts, which included the creation of mass mailings, a website and informational videos.

They have been a crucial part of helping faculty, staff, and students feel that it truly is their Canvas.

From creating the “It’s your Canvas” campaign to holding events such as Canvas Day and Canvas Student Media Night, they have done it all in the realm of communications and marketing. They have been the communications component of the Canvas at Penn State project: meet Derick Burns and Margaret Moses.

Burns, who recently moved from TLT to Enterprise IT Communications, has been with Penn State since two years after the implementation of ANGEL in 2001. He said the transition from ANGEL to Canvas has been a very large project that has had such University-wide collaboration like he has never seen before.

Engagement with everyone was key to the project’s success.

“We made a focus to not just communicate to faculty,” Burns said. “This was an entire University effort, where we went after each specific audience: faculty, staff, and students.”

Initially, Burns and Moses, who joined Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology in the fall 2015 semester before the ramp-up period for Canvas was about to begin, began their communications efforts with an awareness campaign, which launched during the spring 2016 semester.

For the ramp-up phase of the learning management system (LMS) transition project, Burns and Moses helped create an initial website for Canvas at Penn State and soon after began creating announcements and other communications centered around the fact that ANGEL was going away, that the replacement LMS was Canvas, and that faculty were still able to teach in ANGEL.

Next came the conversion phase of the project.

It was during the conversion phase that the focus really began to shift toward the actual ANGEL to Canvas transition, and communications started to focus on how faculty could actually move content from one LMS to the next, Burns said. This was the time when communications were “really beefing up” that ANGEL would no longer be the University’s LMS.

The conversion phase came in the form of mass mailings to every member of the University community and events hosted to spread further awareness of Canvas, Burns said. One such event was the Canvas Student Media Night, where members of Penn State’s student media were invited last September to come and listen to leaders on the Canvas project team talk about Canvas and the transition from ANGEL. Burns said that the student media platforms had received Canvas in an overwhelmingly positive way.

Another event the communications team worked on was the Campus Canvas Countdown, which took place last November.

At the event, made possible through Zoom, various representatives from all the Penn State campuses had the opportunity to ask questions and receive updates on the project from members of the Canvas project team.

“It was an interactive way for them to have space for their faculty and staff to be able to hear right from the team, because it was very difficult logistically for us to get to all the campuses,” Moses said.

By the end of 2016, a redesigned Canvas at Penn State website was launched. Burns said that the website was redesigned with a much more end-user focus for faculty, staff, and students.

The final phase of the communications plan took on a slightly different focus.

The new focus involved how faculty can no longer teach in ANGEL come fall 2017 and was more “what do you need to know about Canvas,” Burns said.

A big factor when Burns and Moses, along with other members of the Canvas at Penn State project team, were working on the different communication campaigns was setting up meetings with stakeholders, student leaders, faculty, and staff across the Penn State campuses.

With student leaders, Moses said the purpose was not only to inform but to get feedback. Students became a huge focus of the communications efforts and feedback was used in the progression of the project.

Two other key audiences were the campus liaisons, which served as a point of contact for each Penn State campus, and the University’s learning design community. Moses said that the communications team’s goal was to constantly provide updates to keep everyone in the loop and act as a starting point for any questions or problems.

Another aspect of the communications effort that really helped make the University community feel like it was their Canvas was the use of faculty and staff bloggers on the Canvas at Penn State website. Burns said that the purpose of these bloggers was to help other faculty and staff feel more connected by hearing others’ experiences with the LMS and various solutions to common issues. The bloggers provided different perspectives tailored to different University community members, from trainers to library staff.

Interaction with so many diverse members of the University community was crucial to the success of the “It’s your Canvas” campaign, Burns said.

“We wanted you, as that individual user, to feel like, ‘There’s something here for me; it doesn’t matter what my level is,’ and that’s what the website became.”

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