Staff look at laptop

Terry Branstetter (center) meets with his team to go over the latest projects. On his left is Brian Beiswenger and on his right is Andy Fisher.

Are you happy with the Penn State transition from ANGEL to Canvas? Meet the individuals responsible for developing and integrating tools into the new Penn State LMS: the technical integration team.

“Whenever we make a change, we know it affects thousands of students, so we need to get it right,” said Andy Fisher of Enterprise Infrastructure and Operations (EI&O), who manages the development side of the project. “We need to think what the students are doing, what they want, and what we’re going to deliver for them to make their lives easier.”

And getting it right is definitely what the team has done.

Whether it takes a couple of days or several months at a time, the developers have worked tirelessly on coming up with ideas for learning tools, developing those ideas, and then making sure that those tools are seamlessly integrated with Canvas.   The team has also worked with third party vendors to integrate other enterprise level tools that were prioritized by the Canvas Project Team.

Fisher said the developers came up with the majority of the ideas or concepts for tools, which they saw an immediate need for in the LMS. The team also worked with a lot of instructional designers and faculty to find more ideas on what the Penn State community needed.

It was no small feat with Canvas being the largest rollout of an LMS to date, according to Terry Branstetter, who provides project management support for the Canvas team for the software development work that is performed by EI&O.

“All of our students and faculty rightly deserve the system to support their diverse educational expectations,” Branstetter said. “Coordinating the several dozen technical efforts necessary to deliver on these expectations and support learning across the Penn State enterprise has been very rewarding.”

The list of integration projects for Canvas that the team has worked on is endless.

One project in particular was the integration with LionPATH.

According to Fisher, this integration was number one in terms of time-saving and value to the University. He explained that some other universities and colleges have faculty who have to go in and manually create their course and manually add their students into the course.

Speaking of time saving, the team built tools to move courses into Canvas from ANGEL, making the conversion to the LMS a lot easier. Tools were also developed to help administer and manage Canvas at scale.  These included integrations for LionPATH classes and rosters, merging of courses, sandbox and manual course creation, tools setup and management, LionPATH final grade integrations, and many others.

Two third-party learning tools the team integrated into Canvas in particular were Turnitin, an online plagiarism detection tool, and VoiceThread, a web application that allows people to have online conversations using a variety of multimedia, documents, and presentations. These were prioritized by the Canvas Project Team, and required coordination to get the appropriate university review and approval for the integrations.  The team worked with the vendors to identify how best to configure and test the integrations prior to making them available for faculty to leverage in their classes.

Over the course of the project, the integrations have saved the University more than just time.

“The big accomplishment we’ve had as a team is to enable Penn State to run Canvas at scale with a minimal number of staff that need to support it, and having a lot of automated tasks to enable faculty and the support desk to do what they need to do,” Fisher said.

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

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