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Switch from Sakai to Canvas excites campus, raises issues

| Thursday, September 2, 2021

Since 2011, Sakai has been a key component of students’ educations as the primary hub for online resources, assignments, grades and communication with professors. However, as the University welcomed back fully in-person instruction, it has also mandated a transition for select faculty from Sakai to Canvas as the new Learning Management System (LMS). 

The University’s LMS serves as the software for course work, assisting instructors in the delivery of content and assessments. According to professor David Campbell, one of the chairpersons of the committee responsible for the change, the switch from Sakai was “inevitable.”

According to Campbell, Sakai has “lost most of its market share, which means there are fewer updates being coded.” He added that Sakai lacks any incentive to improve the platform as fewer institutions contract the software. Essentially, a “negative reinforcement” has been created where Sakai fails to evolve in an ever-changing technological landscape, Campbell said. 

Campbell said the negative reinforcement was one of many factors that led to the transition. The Office of Information Technologies (OIT) was already dealing with a lot of questions from faculty about the rudimentary functions of Sakai, he said, and the University’s contract with Sakai was nearing its end. 

OIT presented two platforms, Brightspace and Canvas, to a committee formed by the Office of the Provost for evaluation as the next potential LMS. Because investing in an LMS is at least a several-year commitment, the committee attempted to run a pilot involving all colleges within the University, collecting the opinions of faculty and students, Campbell said. 

The committee began the pilot program during the spring 2021 semester, surveying the faculty and students who were piloting either program.

“The thrust of the surveys was ease of use, and we also looked at things like the ability for people with disabilities to use the LMS,” Campbell said.

Campbell said it was clear that both students and faculty agreed Canvas was the easier learning environment to use. While many students prefer Canvas, the use of Canvas by some professors and Sakai by the rest has raised issues.

Freshman Danuta Sikora agreed that Canvas is easier to use, but has experienced problems utilizing Canvas and Sakai at the same time.

“Navigating through both Sakai and Canvas has been difficult,” Sikora said.

Sikora said the transition feels as if both faculty and students are at the same level of understanding when it comes to Canvas. Although faculty using Canvas this semester attended training, she said many professors “express discomfort with Canvas.” 

Senior Andrew Connor said the two platforms are “essentially the same.” But, if given the choice, Connor would choose Sakai. He said accessing documents in Canvas takes longer in class, but the professors will take the time to explain. Connor said the professors using Canvas seem to be equipped to solve issues.

10% of courses have migrated to Canvas this semester, 50% will by next semester and every course will transition by fall 2022. This lengthy process ensures OIT can “turn a Sakai-literate faculty into a Canvas-literate faculty,” Campbell said.

However, Sikora took issue with the schedule, arguing that it only creates more confusion. “What if I expect a class on one platform, but it’s on the other?” she said. 

Campbell urged the University to understand that it would “not have been physically possible” to migrate all at once because an employee of OIT has to move each course from Sakai to Canvas. OIT has a limited amount of employees and is already taxed, Campbell said. He added that OIT will offer training so the faculty can better navigate and understand Canvas.

Students can expect better delivery of course content though Canvas, according to Campbell. At the professor’s discretion, there are many new features including reminders, calendars, cloud-based storage, collaborative discussion features, grade calculators and better accessibility for students with disabilities.

Campbell expects Canvas to provide a much better learning experience for both faculty and students.

“It was time to find something far more intuitive for faculty and students to use,” he said. 

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