Black vs Orange: Topic of the week: Pacific’s Collaborative Online Learning Systems
Canvas, the new “Sakai” at Pacific, is making waves throughout different departments on campus. Even though many professors may still use Sakai, some have jumped at the chance and started using Canvas for their classes.
Although Pacific has not fully transferred over to Canvas, it is a great step into the 21st century. The portal offers an easy-to-navigate site where students have around-the-clock access to their assignments, grades and even a calendar of when assignments are due. Not to mention, the site offers a better, more aesthetically pleasing look than Sakai.
What truly sets Canvas apart from Sakai is its ability to keep track of emails between professor and student in a thread format. This brings together students’ Pacific e-mail accounts and class portals in one place.
Canvas, which was developed in 2011, also allows students to create personal bio pages where they can list other ways professors can get into contact with them and even links to projects in other classes or special interests
The Canvas home webpage boasts, “Canvas isn’t just a product. It’s a breath of fresh air. It’s an educational revolution. It’s a powerful new way to — pardon our optimism — change the world.” While it might not be an extreme revolution, it will indeed change how professors and students maintain communication about assignments and grades outside of the classroom.
Interestingly enough, Canvas is also used at over 1,400 universities, community colleges and K-12 schools nationwide. Canvas was developed under Instructure, a software company that focuses on learning management and even corporate engagement and training.
Professor of Communication Kenneth Day, who has a doctorate in mass communications, has actually already engaged his classes in the use of Canvas. He expressed, I am delighted we are changing to Canvas… As we are encouraged to explore courses offered in blended/hybrid format and work to improve our summer online courses, Canvas has so much to offer.
“The Canvas email system saves threaded emails so using it to communicate with students in a class allows tracking ongoing conversation. The free mobile app, which runs on iPhones and Android smartphones, allows easy access to content.”
All in all, Canvas is an amazing new software program that will help students operate even better outside of the classroom.
You know what they say: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Such is my sentiment toward the student collaborative learning environment Sakai, which Pacific has been utilizing for at least the past few years. Many professors seem to echo my statement, choosing to stick with Sakai despite the looming implementation of Canvas.
Sakai, to put it shortly, works — and, in my opinion, it works perfectly well. Some may argue that Sakai is not the most aesthetically pleasing system, but that’s on Pacific and its web designers — after all, Sakai offers tremendous flexibility in features, capability (even offering support and easy integration of third-party tools) and, yes, design.
Sakai has been a staple on the learning management systems market since it was developed in the early 2000s. Since then, various learning management systems have come and gone, but Sakai has remained a steady constant.
Various top schools including University of Oxford and Cambridge utilize its collaborative learning platform, and Sakai is utilized on six continents, in 15 countries and in more than 20 languages. Canvas, then, as the newcomer in early 2011, has a lot to prove in terms of staying power.
Full disclosure time: I have classes that use Sakai and classes that use Canvas, and I can see where people are coming from when they say that Canvas is a bit more streamlined to look at.
However, one of my main concerns when considering the switch from Sakai to Canvas lies in the logic — or lack thereof — of learning a whole new system when it is not strictly necessary.
The main premise for establishing any learning management system is for students to access online materials and promote greater communication between the professors and students.
In this sense, Canvas does not offer anything particularly revolutionary compared to Sakai’s fine attributes after all.
Ultimately, I believe professors have more important matters to worry about than attempting to yet again revamp the online accessibility of their materials, especially when Sakai gets the job done.
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