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Illinois preparing to roll out Canvas: Unified LMS will replace Compass, other platforms on campus

Feb 23, 2021, 15:25 PM

Over the next 16 months, the University of Illinois will roll out the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS) campus-wide, marking a “significant” step in enhancing the educational experience at the state’s flagship university.

The Canvas educational platform will replace multiple platforms that are currently in use. The primary one is Illinois Compass, powered by Blackboard, which will be retired and no longer available at the end of 2022.

University officials said replacing the multiple systems with Canvas will create on campus “a common, modern LMS ecosystem that will reduce frustrations, streamline support, and maximize future economic resources.”

An innovator in educational technology, Canvas is used by more than 3,000 universities, school districts, and institutions worldwide, including 11 of 14 institutions in the Big 10 Academic Alliance. It’s also the leading LMS among major public research universities. 

“We are hopeful that a transition to Canvas will provide a strong foundational tool that we can build upon to aid in student success,” officials said, adding it is recognized for its ease of use, flexibility, and mobile capabilities.

Why change?

The decision comes after months of research and evaluation and a successful pilot program on campus.

In the 2019-20 academic year, the Provost’s Office launched the Student Success Initiative (SSI), charging four working groups focusing on academic support, co-curricular activities, first-year experience, and foundational courses to identify strengths, weaknesses, and priorities for improving student success. 

One of the main findings of multiple SSI working groups was that “the proliferation of LMS and LMS-like systems was difficult for students to navigate,” said Kevin Pitts, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. It's estimated that 20 or more LMS-like systems are currently in use, he added.

That has resulted in “uneven” communication by instructors, students not knowing which LMS to use or where to find course materials, and incomplete assignments, among other things. Those issues were exacerbated by the sudden COVID-19 lockdown and transition to remote learning.

The working groups recommended streamlining LMS use, even adopting a single platform. That would not only eliminate confusion but also foster collaboration and simplify the learning and teaching experience for Illinois students and faculty.

Officials saw an opportunity for the move given that Blackboard’s contract expires on June 30, 2022, and the system ends on Dec. 30 of that year – and the current budget challenges.

“No matter what, campus must switch LMS usage by the end of 2022,” Pitts said.

Early reviews positive

The campus piloted Compass with 1,500 students in the Fall 2019 semester. (The pilot was scheduled to continue with 3,000 students in Spring 2020 but was frozen due to COVID-19.)

Student and instructor feedback was “overwhelmingly” positive.

“I have used numerous systems, and I found Canvas to be the best,” a student said, adding various features helped track assignments and grades and  submit group work easily. “I would love to continue using Canvas.”

“Please extend the pilot and allow me to keep my courses in Canvas,” an instructor offered. “I like it better than Compass/Blackboard. My students had zero problems with it.”

Migration preparations underway

Preparations for the rollout are already underway. This semester, the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning and Tech Services are collaborating with college educational technology experts to put tools, resources, and instructor training workshops in place.

The university is also creating a Canvas Steering Committee and several working groups to provide guidance and oversight to ensure a smooth transition.

“We are also in close contact with peer institutions who have recently made this transition, their ‘lessons learned’ have been extremely valuable in formulating our strategy,” officials said.

Under the current timeline, the first group of courses would migrate to Canvas as early as the Fall 2021 semester with faculty training workshop and course support in full swing. That’s when the first and second groups of courses would utilize Canvas. The majority of courses would follow in Spring 2022, and the final set in Summer 2022. The migration would be complete in June 2022.

Officials plan to provide more information about training and timelines in March.

For additional background and the most up-to-date information, go to the Canvas Transition Website