Getting the most out of the Learning Management System
In 2011, the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) assessed the capacities of various learning management systems (LMS) to support the particular needs of their students and their goal of expanding online learning opportunities. The process of, and reasons for, choosing Canvas, an open source LMS from Instructure, are detailed in an earlier Pocket of Innovation, Introducing a new learning management system at the Ontario College of Art and Design University.
The process of integrating the LMS, begun in September 2012, has had an impact on student access and communication, course development and design, faculty training, and student assessment.
In the 2013 fall semester, well over 90% of courses at OCAD U were using Canvas to, at a minimum, post the course outline and other basic information. Many faculty were making much greater use of the system, with 68% of courses using the grade book for example. Faculty were also taking advantage of the LMS to integrate online resources, communication, discussion, and activities into their teaching; over 60% of faculty participated in face-to-face training on using the LMS for teaching and learning in the first year of implementation.
Student Input: In 2012-2013, students in the Faculty of Design were asked about their experiences with Canvas. Student verbatim responses were categorized, as illustrated below, with the majority of assessments positive concerning the organization and content of Canvas. Among the positive comments were:
- Communication or organization is great.
- Canvas is good/great/awesome overall.
- The grading helps me academically.
- The assignments are great.
Some of the difficulties students encountered, such as bugs and uploading, could be addressed technologically, but the greatest areas of concern were the need for faculty training and consistent use of the LMS across courses. The results of this survey were used to design a new approach to faculty training.
Online Course Development: About 15 courses are currently being offered through online or hybrid delivery in the Faculty of Art, the Faculty of Design, Graduate Studies, and for large enrolment Liberal Arts & Sciences courses, such as Global Visual and Material Culture and Introduction to Psychology. Each course uses the online approach and components of Canvas that best suit the needs of the students and the content.
In the Community Practice course in the Faculty of Art, students learn in a face-to-face classroom, followed by extensive field practice. During their time in the field, they report on what they are learning, on the nature of their experience, and how they are applying their classroom-based learning. Through the online communication, they stay connected with their academic learning, other students, and their professor.
In the Faculty of Design, flexible modules were created that can be used in the Professional Practice courses offered in any of the six different programs in the Faculty, including Advertising, Graphic Design, Environmental Design, Industrial Design, Material Art and Design, and Illustration. Nine modules are complete, with three more in development. Students can complete them on their own, with each module taking about an hour; the modules were designed so they can be integrated, in whole or in part, into face-to-face classes. Quizzes are incorporated which can be used for student self-assessment or integrated into the grading scheme.
Both faculty and outside experts were involved in the development of the modules, with, for example, a lawyer contributing to the content of the module on Licensing and Contracts. Other modules cover topics essential to graduates, such as Starting a Business, Running a Business, Project Management, Intellectual Property, and Business Ethics and Etiquette.
In addition to offering courses, online learning has also been used for issues such as health and safety and the use of shop equipment. For example, all first-year students are introduced to OCAD U shops for using wood, metal, and plastic. Previously, safe use of, and behaviour around, equipment was taught by a technician who would come to each class. For current use, online modules, featuring videos, were produced showing materials, safety and usage rules and procedures, and in-shop etiquette. These videos are useful not only for student training, but also as examples for faculty of how online learning can provide just-in-time, relevant, and pedagogically sound resources for studio processes. These online resources can be more effective than one-time-only class demonstrations as the students can watch them whenever and as often as they choose.
Faculty Training and Orientation: Training for faculty on effective use of the learning management system is provided to interested faculty at the start of each semester. In the year following adoption of the Canvas LMS, students were asked to identify courses in which Canvas was particularly well used by the professors. These faculty members and their effective use of Canvas were then acknowledged at a campus-wide event. Selected faculty were also invited to demonstrate their use of Canvas as part of faculty orientation and training sessions – providing concrete, adaptable examples of best practice. The projects include:
- The use of online tutorials in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences courses with quizzing features that help integrate student learning in the online and classroom contexts.
- Inter-textu(r)al hybridity: Images for Teaching and Learning in the Art and Design Education Lab courses.
- Use of learning modules, rubrics, and discussions in Graphic Design courses.
Assessment: Canvas is used to facilitate student assessment through the integrated software, Speed Grader, in which prepared comments can be stored in the rubric and added to the students’ papers by clicking on the comment. The faculty can also provide individual feedback and have private discussions with each student.
The peer review function in Canvas randomly assigns students to assess submitted assignments; each assessor must have submitted his or her comments before seeing the remarks of the other peer assessors.
Outcomes and Benefits
OCAD U adopted the open source version of Canvas and invested in building specific aspects of the LMS that the university needs. These expansions are then made freely available for other Canvas users to adopt and adapt. The use and modification of open source software reaffirms the creative nature of OCAD U and its mission as the ‘university of the imagination.’
The large-scale adoption of Canvas throughout the university was accomplished with reasonable cost, and with predominantly positive feedback from students and faculty. Up to a million views a month of the system indicate very high traffic levels.
Challenges and Enhancements
The faculty benefit from encouragement and training to recognize and take advantage of the possibilities of online and technology-enabled learning.
Based on student input, OCAD U plans on building more professional development and training based on the use of learning outcomes and rubrics. They are in the early stages of developing a standardized course template which will bring more consistency and respond to student needs for easily accessible assignments, deadlines, and other information.
In September of 2014, all students entering first year at OCAD U will be required to have a laptop, preferably one of the recommended and supported models. For a fee of about $250 annually, they will be given software, including Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Office, as well as unlimited access to Lynda.com, which offers video tutorials on over 100 software titles. The software is provided at deeply discounted prices and the support includes software installs, troubleshooting, and repairs.
Each program lists its recommended laptop – tablets are not acceptable because of the software requirements. Many of the programs have been using laptops for the last few years – this wider initiative extends the laptop requirement to about 3,500 students in 2014, and eventually to all students as the first-year students move through their programs.
Through this initiative, and with the ongoing integration of Canvas into teaching and learning, OCAD U moves towards its goal of ensuring that all graduates are digitally literate.
For Further Information
Manager, Academic Computing
Ontario College of Art and Design University
Manager, Faculty and Curriculum Development Centre
Centre for Innovation in Art and Design
Ontario College of Art and Design University