The district transitions to Canvas after 3 years of using Schoology
by Callia Peterson ’22
When teachers heard the news of a full transition from Schoology to Canvas, some were excited, some remained indifferent, and many were annoyed.
During the first week back to school, students heard a variety of opinions from their teachers on the mandatory transition to Canvas that is set to take place in stages within the next year. With efforts to provide more uniformity for students and parents, the district is enforcing restrictions on different Learning Management Systems (LMS), such as Google Classroom and Moodle, already. Next year, they will stop funding for Schoology and expect all teachers to use Canvas.
Denise Lutz, director of Technology for the district said, “We really want to create one place for all kids to [check their assignments] and all parents to check in on grades and assignments, without having some people use Schoology, some people use [another LMS] and some people not use anything. We really needed to build that one stop shop.”
MAKING THE DECISION
Lutz assembled a committee of teachers to look at several different LMS programs and choose the one that would best serve students, parents and teachers.
According to Lutz, the committee looked at the features of these products, and narrowed it down to the two top contenders: Schoology and Canvas. Both vendors met with the group of evaluators to show off their products. Following the presentations, the committee looked at features such as the cost, support packages, trends from K through 12 sources and higher education, as well as overall look.
“After weighing out all those parts and pieces, Canvas was definitely in the lead,” Lutz said.
Micheal Donelson, an FLC teacher and early adopter of Canvas, was a member of the committee. He explained that the teachers did not see many differences between the two systems. However, the price was a lot more attractive for Canvas.
“I think largely, the dollar amount is what determined the difference,” Donelson said. “It was about $20,000 different.”
Donelson also noted that the committee tried to negotiate with Schoology to get them to keep the district as customers. But, they were not eager to comply.
“They didn’t budge. In fact they didn’t do a very good job of presenting themselves,” Donelson said. “I mean, they were there at the same time as their competitor, so you would think they would have come in and given us the star treatment to try to keep our business. But they didn’t.”
Lutz also agreed that the cost was significantly better for Canvas but said that was not the only factor that went into the decision.
“Definitely Canvas’ three-year costs were significantly lower than Schoology,” Lutz said. “So it was definitely a plus on their side—not that cost is a deciding factor.”
Even if costs rise in the future, Lutz believes the district will accommodate the additional expense if Canvas works well over the next three years.
“If everybody is using things effectively, then we negotiated the cost, and we’ll deal with that,” Lutz said. “That is not a single factor. It is not going to cause us to cut off ties with Canvas.”
In addition to the cost, Lutz was eager to solve the problems with communication for Schoology. Only three people in the district were able to reach out for help from the Schoology support team when a teacher had a question or problem with the system. Canvas has a much more efficient support system.
“Anytime anybody had a question or a problem, or something didn’t work, it had to funnel through these three people. Then we would have to make a phone call to schoology, who would in turn, probably create a ticket, and then we’d have to wait for somebody to respond to that ticket,” Lutz said. “It got to be pretty frustrating.”
Additionally Lutz said the systems used at other K-12 districts and in a variety of universities also played a role in the final decision.
Frank Tuttle, head of the science department and a leader in helping with Canvas complications, agreed that the growing number of districts and universities using Canvas could have impacted the decision.
“Not that Ohio State drives everything, but more and more universities are using Canvas,” Tuttle said. “The fact we have Ohio State in our backyard doesn’t hurt.”
Finally, the overall look of Canvas is very different from Schoology.
“Schoology has a much more social media, Facebook, kind of feel,” Tuttle said. “Versus Canvas is very clean, very minimalistic.”
Tuttle also said that although teachers will no longer be able to customize their courses as much as in Schoology, the look of Canvas really provides the uniform look Lutz and other supporters want to achieve.
“Schoology had a lot of customization,” Tuttle said. “I think one of the biggest reasons they made [the decision to switch] was because of the commonality of interface for all users. Whether you’re at elementary, middle or high school, the interface doesn’t change as you go through.”
A YEAR IN TRANSITION
Once the decision to switch to Canvas was made, Lutz asked for volunteers to adopt the new LMS early.
“We knew we wouldn’t be able to jump full force. It’s just too short of a time frame, because we actually had to build the environment.” Lutz said. “So, we asked for early adopters who’d be willing to give it a shot.”
Almost 200 teachers opted in.
The adopters spent the summer preparing. They went to face to face training, worked on an independent study course, and moved files either from Google or from Schoology to start building units.
Scott Wittenburg, a photography teacher, volunteered to get a head start.
“I volunteered because I knew it was coming, I wanted to have a heads up on it and be ready to go,” Wittenburg said. “I figured if I’m going to use it, I want to be able to use it and not wait. So I spent a lot of the summer [getting ready].”
Diane Kahle, a computer science teacher, and Tuttle not only became early adopters, but also took a leadership role in assisting other teachers using Canvas.
Before pursuing classroom teaching, Tuttle held a position in the district where he was in charge of technology for the high school. So this new leadership role fit him perfectly.
“I’m a tech geek,” Tuttle said. “I don’t know if I have the time but I certainly have an aptitude for it. Hopefully I can help people.”
Donelson also signed on early.
“Right now, we’re just all newbies playing around trying to make the thing work,” Donelson said. “But once we get all the kinks worked out, I think it’ll make it easier for people next year. They won’t have to go through all that headache because we already figured it out.”
Despite the benefits of starting the new LMS with a smaller user base, students will spend the year working between Schoology and Canvas until the full transition next school year.
“I feel like everyone in the school has been using different platforms and right now they all just need to make the switch to Canvas or stick to Schoology,” sophomore Lauren Buehrle said. “It’s getting too confusing.”
Some students have expressed frustration with the transition to Canvas since iPads are also being introduced at the same time.
“It’s just annoying when they throw us the iPad, which was already a big change, and you have to start using this new platform and Schoology at the same time,” senior Grace Schooley said. “It’s just kind of a double whammy.”
Amid frustration, sophomore Anna Leach stays optimistic.
“[Canvas] has been working fine for our class so I think its okay,” Leach said. “ I think that eventually everyone will get used to it if all the teachers switch over.”
ENCOURAGING THE SWITCH
Before the school year began, Lutz informed teachers that they would not be permitted to use Google Classroom or other websites, such as Moodle, that the district cannot control.
However, at the beginning of the school year, Google Classroom was left unblocked. Many teachers began to set up their courses using Google Classroom but were blindsided after the district decided to block the website a few weeks into the school year.
Many teachers argued that Google Classroom could work with Canvas and did not act as a separate LMS.
“The argument there was that it was another LMS,” Donelson said. “But it’s a tool that can be used within Canvas and within Schoology. So I don’t think it’s really a replacement. There’s some functionality that Canvas doesn’t have that Google Classroom can provide.”
Google Classroom organizes assignments and grades differently than Canvas. For example, when students turn in papers, they can receive feedback from their teachers and access the same paper for revisions on Google Classroom. However, in Canvas, those papers become static documents that students can only edit on top of, but not fix.
“We’re an official Google school, so I don’t understand why they wouldn’t allow us to use Google Classroom,” Donelson said. “And largely Language Arts teachers, because we’re the ones that are doing more of the live editing in written documents, where [this has] probably not affected the other departments as significantly.”
Due to a vigorous campaign by teachers to use Google Classroom, the district unblocked the website as of Sept. 12.
Aside from Google Classroom, Lutz has had to restrict other websites such as AP Physics and Physical Science teacher Curt Bixel’s Moodle site.
“In order to save his website when the district switched to Schoology, he funded his Moodle website out of his own pocket. Today, he has thousands of quiz questions and several visual features on his website that are difficult to transfer into Canvas and are devastating to him to get rid of.
Over the summer Bixel invested over 100 unpaid hours into transferring quiz questions from his Moodle site into Canvas in order to meet the district’s demands for him to switch.
“Unfortunately, the most difficult part of most migrations from one LMS to another is the quiz questions,” Bixel said. “I’ve got over 2000 questions. So, you know, if you multiply 2000 times the three minutes it takes to [fix one question], you’ve got quite an amount of time.”
Due to the amount of questions and the tedious task of rebuilding his course piece by piece, Bixel was only able to produce a visually clear and functional browser for his AP Physics students. He has yet to finish the transition for his Physical Science course.
Since the district has blocked his Moodle site from student access, he cannot provide a digital resource for his Physical Science class.
“I ran out of time over the summer and I haven’t gotten started with my Physical Science,” Bixel said. “My Physical Science class is mostly pen and paper since it’s the only thing I can provide for them right now.”
Bixel is hopeful that the issue of transferring quiz questions can be resolved and make his transition experience a lot easier.
“You take [the questions] out of Moodle and they’re in great shape. But you put them through Canvas’ migration engine, and it tries to figure out the quiz and [loses the photos],” Bixel said. “If Canvas fixes that, and my questions all come in, instead of 240 hours it might be 20 hours to get my course up.”
Lutz argued that the restrictions on Google Classroom and Moodle are important to protect students’ privacy rights. Since the district does not pay for or manage these other programs, Lutz said that puts students’ privacy and intellectual property rights in violation of federal law.
“I have no way to monitor [those companies], to guarantee protection of [students’] privacy [and keep] student records safe and private,” Lutz said. “If there would be a security breach with that company that we don’t manage, that would be a compromise of things that by law need to be kept under control. That’s federal law.”
Lutz said she wants to have several conversations with teachers and other interested parties about the opportunities presented in Canvas and move everybody toward the same goal of one LMS.
“We don’t like to be completely harsh and to cut people off,” Lutz said. “We’re just really trying to move toward that one system that we manage and we maintain, and really ensure the privacy of our students.”
THE FULL TRANSITION
On Sept 20, Lutz will meet with the teachers leading the early Canvas adopters from each school, including Tuttle and Kahle. They will discuss what they have observed so far this year and formulate a plan of action for the next several months.
Starting in October, the remaining teachers will slowly move over to Canvas with “more concentrated and deliberate professional learning” so they can finish their transition by the end of June 2020.
“I really have a lot of faith in our staff,” Lutz said. “They’re great people. They understand that we want what’s best for the kids. I think they’re willing to put in the effort to make a system that will be great.”
Wittenburg encourages his colleagues and students to focus on working toward the transition instead of complaining about it.
“You have to be patient,” Wittenburg said. “This is going to be our LMS unless something changes. So you’ve got to accept it, eat it up, suck it up and just do the best you can.
Similarly, Tuttle advises teachers to not let frustration slow down their progress.
“Patience and flexibility is always helpful, and knowing that sometimes we don’t have all the answers,” Tuttle said. “Change is never easy. There’s always growing pains. But we’ll get through it and be successful. We’ve got amazing staff and we’ve got amazing students.”