University tests Canvas through pilot program as Schoology subscription runs out

Written By Erin Yudt, Editor-Elect

Last Tuesday, the university announced that they will be switching Learning Management Systems (LMS) from Schoology to Canvas in the fall semester. 


The pilot program comes after long deliberation and a committee, which was formed last March, testing alternative management systems that would better suit faculty, staff, and student needs. Other programs that were explored were D2L Brightspace and Blackboard Ultra. 


Michael Soto, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, announced the news in a university-wide email last Tuesday.


“Later this year, the University will migrate to the Canvas learning management system, which comes with significant upgrades over the current LMS (A few intrepid instructors will pilot Canvas this spring),” Soto wrote. “ I am grateful to Todd Slater and the entire LMS review committee for getting us to this significant milestone–and to the dozens of students, faculty, and staff who test-drove LMS options last year. Your input was loud and clear and we’re all better off for it.”


Before the start of the spring semester, some students received an email stating that one or more of their classes would appear on the program Instructure Canvas instead of Schoology.


“You are receiving this email because one or more of your classes will be participating in the Canvas pilot this spring,” the January 4 email said. “Canvas will be replacing Schoology as our Learning Management System (LMS) as of fall 2023.”


An optional orientation was held on January 5 for an overview of the Canvas interface and to get a walkthrough of a typical course, such as how to navigate a course, submit assignments and participate in discussions. A separate class group is also available for students to ask questions and give feedback about the system, which will also be used to communicate announcements from Canvas and the university. 


Todd Slater, LMS administrator and instructional technologist, said that 11 instructors, 22 courses and over 200 students are a part of this pilot program.


“This pilot of Canvas includes students and instructors across all schools, like Rowland School of Business, COPA, and even graduate and online students,” Slater said. “We want to see how Canvas performs for all students and majors and try to iron out issues before the program fully launches in the fall.”


Slater said that the advisory board for the new LMS system went with the program that was “the easiest to use.”


“We eliminated Blackboard quickly; it was lacking features and just not ready, but Canvas for all instructors, administrators and students in last spring’s pilot was just the easiest to use,” Slater said. “It is also much better on the back end with Jenzabar.”


Renewing the university’s Schoology subscription was also not “on the table” because the LMS system started a K-12 focus, in addition to other problems, according to Slater.


“Schoology just had little flexibility overall, like it was all or nothing with a lot of permissions,” Slater said. “We also just did not like how classes would show up online like a day before a semester begins.”


Sophomore secondary history education major Kairi Stallsmith said that she is “excited” for the university’s transition to Canvas.


“I was actually a part of the Canvas test last year and used it when I was in middle school,” Stallsmith said. “Both [Schoology and Canvas] are both good platforms, but Canvas is just better for college, as it feels more professional. The thing about Schoology that made me somewhat like it was that I could add an add-on called Schoology Plus where it had things like dark and light mode, customizing classes in order and the ‘what if’ option for calculating a grade, but Canvas also has that, and in general, it feels much more neat.”


Student Government Association (SGA) communications director Samantha Hindman said that while their knowledge on the switch is “limited,” SGA is “hopeful” for the new system.


“As far as SGA knows this switch has been in the works for some time, and is entirely at the behest of the administration,” Hindman said. “ There have been some complaints about ease of accessibility in regard to Schoology, and I do know that our neighbors at Pitt currently use Canvas as their learning management software. We are hopeful that the new system will lead to increased opportunities for students to get the most out of their remote learning.”


Slater says that the university plans to “expand” the Canvas pilot in the summer to “continue to work on any issues.”