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The multi-year transition to Canvas from Sakai has provided ITS Educational Technologies and the Center for Faculty Excellence with an uncommon opportunity to jointly train faculty.

The basis for this collaboration — training faculty on the new learning management system via the Canvas Course Design Snapshot series — is a little different because it leverages an experience that all UNC-Chapel Hill faculty share — the transition from Sakai to Canvas.

This collaboration is also sparking ideas for further collaboration.

“We don’t change learning management systems very often, so it’s somewhat unique,” said Bob Henshaw, who serves as the ITS liaison to the Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE).

Canvas trainers teach faculty members about Canvas in a classroom.
Marissa Stewart of the Center for Faculty Excellence and Marla Sullivan of ITS Educational Technologies simultaneously train faculty members on how to best use Canvas.

Faculty can enlist help immediately

To prepare faculty for the transition to Canvas, CFE and Educational Technologies began jointly providing the Canvas Snapshot series in May 2023. Nearly 150 faculty members have attended since then. In these sessions, Marissa Stewart, Interim Associate Director for Teaching & Learning at the CFE, leads the training. Educational Technologies’ LMS support specialists Kate Moss and Marla Sullivan are in the back of the classroom ready to answer tech questions.

Stewart introduces Canvas and its advantages from a pedagogical lens. She talks about ways to use specific functions and features. When Snapshot attendees have technical questions, faculty members can immediately enlist help instead of having to schedule a later consultation with Educational Technologies (EdTech). Attendees can go talk with Moss and Sullivan in the back of the room or the EdTech staffers walk over to them.

For some questions, Moss and Sullivan talk one-on-one with attendees. If an answer to a technical question would benefit the entire group, they broadcast the answer to all attendees. With that technical help, faculty members can execute on the spot some Canvas features that Stewart discussed moments earlier.

After Stewart’s two hours of active instruction, “we actually stay for an additional hour, just in case somebody else has questions,” Moss said.

‘Full-on partnership’

Because faculty members attending the Snapshot sessions are at different points in their transition from Sakai to Canvas, it has been very helpful to have Moss and Sullivan on hand to answer individual questions, said Henshaw, who helps facilitate the Snapshot series. Faculty get many of their course design and technical questions answered in the same session.

“This is a full-on partnership,” Moss said. This joint training enables CFE and EdTech specialists to play their different and vital roles together in the same room. It’s “a really cool jelling together of the thought process,” she added.

Faculty are preparing for the deadline to teach all courses in Canvas following the Spring 2024 semester.

Mix of in-person and virtual

Two ITS Educational Technologies staffers talk while a Center for Faculty Excellence representative trains faculty members in the front of a classroom.
Marla Sullivan and Kate Moss of ITS Educational Technologies work at the back of the classroom until Marissa Stewart of the Center for Faculty Excellence is ready for them to help train attendees
Participants have provided mostly positive feedback for the Canvas Snapshot series. Sure, no one enjoys taking the time to learn a new learning management system. But Snapshot attendees said they appreciate having their questions answered in the moment both from the EdTech team members and in the full-group conversation.

Most of the Canvas Snapshot sessions are in person, but CFE and EdTech offer some sessions via Zoom. The next Canvas Snapshot session is January 4, 10 a.m. – noon, on Zoom. At last look, about 50 people had registered. Registration is required.

Before the joint training launched, EdTech hosted virtual training, recorded Zoom sessions and office hours on how to get started with Canvas. EdTech still offers those video tutorials and guides and personal consultations.

Migration to Canvas creates opportunity

The longstanding partnership between the CFE and EdTech is based on the belief that UNC instructors should know not only how to use campus-supported technologies, but also how to use them most effectively. This two-pronged goal already informs much of the two organizations’ approach to faculty support.

For every use of instructional technology, there is a teaching technique and learning objective driving it. Part of the CFE’s mission is to help UNC instructors think about technology use in the context of their larger course goals, Stewart said. The campus migration to Canvas represents an opportunity for instructors to revisit decisions about how their courses are structured and presented to students through the learning management system.

“Rather than just copy over their courses from Sakai to Canvas, many instructors are interested in using this time to question some of their earlier decisions,” Stewart said. “In some cases, the way Canvas works is also encouraging them to approach things a little differently.”

The transition to Canvas, she said, also provides “a great opportunity for faculty to consider how they can create a supportive learning environment based on how students interact with their instructors, course content and their fellow students outside of a classroom environment.”

Additional ideas for collaboration

The joint training has sparked ideas for additional ways that CFE and EdTech can collaborate on Canvas.

For one, “we’ve already begun discussing a lunch and learn series that would focus on lesser-known features of Canvas,” Henshaw said. “CFE staff would focus on the pedagogical rationale and best practices for using a Canvas tool, while EdTech staff would talk about how to access and set up the tool in Canvas.”

Marissa Stewart of the Center for Faculty Excellence listens to an attendee at a training session.
Marissa Stewart of the Center for Faculty Excellence assists a faculty member during Canvas training

“We’re big believers,” he added, “that we can accomplish more by collaborating across campus than we can on our own and are always open to discussing opportunities to work together with other organizations.”

The CFE, said Moss of EdTech, “has been a delight to work with and we are very grateful for this partnership and to be able to provide this service to faculty.”

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