UI to replace Illinois Compass with Canvas as learning system

By Sophie Casaburi, Contributing Writer

The University of Illinois announced on Feb. 23 that it will transition from Illinois Compass, a Blackboard product, to Canvas, an alternate learning management system. 

The migration will begin in Summer 2021 and be completed in June 2022, when the University’s contract with Blackboard expires. The decision follows a two-year-long pilot program in which over 3,000 students and faculty across nine University colleges used Canvas for their classes.

“Based on the fact what we had a pretty positive experience with the pilot, we had positive feedback from some of the surveys we did, plus we believed that there’s some real benefits going forward with adopting Canvas, we said that this is the right thing for a campus to do and we made the decision to make the formal change,” said Kevin Pitts, vice provost for Undergraduate Education.

The University is currently preparing for the first set of courses to migrate to Canvas and has created groups to aid faculty and students during the migration process.

“The Provost just charged an advisory group … to oversee the overall migration,” said Michel Bellini, director of the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning. The group includes faculty and students across the University’s colleges.

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Working groups are also being created to manage different aspects of the migration. Specific groups include one dedicated to the migration of course content from one LMS to Canvas, one dedicated to faculty and student support and one dedicated to essential training throughout the summer and beyond to help faculty navigate a new learning environment, said Bellini.

According to Pitts, a “decent number” of courses are expected to migrate to Canvas for the upcoming Fall semester. Still, it is up to each faculty member when they migrate, as long it is before the end of June 2022.

“What I expect to see (for the Fall 2021 semester) is a mix of courses still in Moodle and Compass, with new courses being in Canvas,” said Bellini. “So, for a while, I’m afraid it’s going to be even more complicated for students, at least during the transition. Students will essentially be exposed to three main (learning management systems): Canvas, Compass and Moodle, simply because I don’t think we can move all of the courses into Canvas by (this) Fall.” 

Canvas will include new features, including a 24/7 help desk, a single calendar for all assignments, mobile-friendly usage and potentially faster access to class content after registration, said Drew MacGregor, director of enterprise applications and development for Technology Services.

“We think it’s little things like (these) that make it easier for the instructor, benefit the students and help students become more successful,” MacGregor said.

A common complaint from students is the use of many LMSs across campus. According to Pitts, it is estimated that over 20 different systems are in use on campus today.

During his first semester of freshman year, Henry Borsuk, sophomore in Engineering and member of the Canvas Advisory Committee, used 12 websites for four classes.

Using so many LMSs proved difficult to organize, and other students have struggled as well.

Borsuk said that he had heard stories of students flunking out due to coming from a background that did not use technologies heavily. 

However, despite complaints and stories of poor student performance, it is not required for courses using another LMS to migrate to Canvas. 

“It’s kind of not the culture at Illinois for us to tell everybody they have to use the same system. Folks will say there may be a disciplinary reason,” Pitts said. “Lon-Capa is really good for chemistry, for example. We’re hopeful that more faculty will adopt Canvas … we’ll never get to where the whole campus is using the same system, but we’re hopeful that we’ll get closer to that.”

It is currently unclear how many total courses will migrate to Canvas. However, communication between faculty, student feedback, Canvas’ enhanced features, decreased costs and life after COVID-19 are all potential factors that can influence an instructor’s decision to migrate, Pitts said.

“Actually a lot of departments asked for Canvas, which is very promising … it is possible that more professors and their classes (will) switch over to Canvas,” said Borsuk.

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