UWRF ready to bid adieu to D2L and hello to Canvas within 3 semesters

Posted November 28, 2017

In addition to learning the names of students, getting to know other professors, and becoming familiar with the campus, getting acquainted with the Desire2Learn online classroom is one of the tougher challenges that new professors face when they begin teaching at UWRF, according to one of them.

For Abigail Jackson, an assistant professor of psychology, who is currently in the process of completing her first semester of teaching, D2L presented some major differences from Blackboard, the learning management system she used previously.

“The main thing that I notice about D2L, specifically compared to Blackboard, is with entering grades,” Jackson said. “I can actually do formulas on my Excel spreadsheet, and I’ve just found I haven’t really been able to get it to upload properly in D2L, which I wasn’t having a problem doing in Blackboard, so now I’m manually entering the grades into D2L.”

With more than 85 percent of all courses in the UW System utilizing D2L in some fashion, Jackson is only one of many who have experienced inefficiencies with the current learning management system. To eliminate the problems that faculty and students have with the system, UWRF is currently in the planning process of transitioning away from D2L and moving to a digital learning environment called Canvas.

“The idea is to take the back-end load off the faculty members, so they’re not having to worry about how the system works,” said Joe Kmiech, executive director of the Division of Technology Services. “That’s what all these next generation learning environments offer. It’s to make it easier for the faculty and students to do what they’re there to do – teach and learn, and not to worry about how the bolts and nuts work in the background.”

How much easier and more user-friendly Canvas will be than D2L is something that faculty and students will very soon have the opportunity to discover.

“We’re hoping as soon as spring/summer 2018 to be piloting some courses in Canvas,” Kmiech said. “We know that we have to be out of D2L by fall 2019. Even though our contract doesn’t end until June 2020, we have to keep the student records available for a certain amount of time. So September 2019, when students go into their classes, they should not be in-between two different learning management systems. We don’t want to have students bouncing between two systems.”

Among the different reasons why the digital learning environment is thought to be a better fit for UWRF than D2L, is the fact that system innovation will occur more often, continually making it more efficient for users.

“With our current learning environment, where it’s all self-hosted, you’re probably used to upgrades happening semi-annually,” Kmiech said. “In this new cloud environment, what you’ll find is things change a lot more rapidly. They’re able to do minor changes more frequently, so you don’t see a big change – you might see a button color change this week, and next week you might see something else.”

For faculty and students who are quite comfortable with the current learning management system, DoTS is making plans to prepare them for the transition to Canvas.

“That will be a big part of the transition from D2L to Canvas is the training aspect of it,” said John Murphy, the UWRF teaching and learning technology manager. “We’ll be working with faculty, representatives and student representatives to help inform what that training plan looks like. We’ll definitely be providing a variety of different training panels for faculty and students as they prepare to transition.”