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Students, faculty voice differing stances on Rutgers' transition to Canvas

<p>Rutgers Sakai will be phased out in the next few years for Canvas, a University spokesperson said.&nbsp;</p>

Rutgers Sakai will be phased out in the next few years for Canvas, a University spokesperson said. 

As Rutgers begins to phase out older learning management systems like Sakai, Blackboard and Moodle, students and professors are learning to adjust to the newly implemented platform known as Canvas.

These systems are used by professors to make announcements, provide links to resources and collect assignments for each of their classes, with Sakai being the most popular. Eventually, these platforms will become obsolete and all professors will be required to move their course information to Canvas. 

“The move from multiple learning management systems to a single, University-wide (system) will foster collaboration, reduce complexity and simplify the learning and teaching experience for Rutgers students and faculty,” said a University spokesperson in an email.

The spokesperson said that they understand that professors who are accustomed to platforms like Sakai will need time to adjust. Training and support programs are being provided by the University for professors who have begun the transition.

Raluca Musat, a teaching instructor in the Writing Department, said the training program was a helpful introduction but is learning more through trial and error when implementing Canvas in her courses.

“You really have to use it to figure out what problems you’re going to run into,” she said. “It’s a process of discovery.”

Musat said one benefit of using Canvas is the features that help students collaborate through group work, such as automatically assigning papers for peer editing. Other features that she said she found easy to use on Sakai, such as setting up office hours, are more difficult on Canvas.

“When I set up office hours in advance for upcoming weeks, I cannot break up the time into appointments,” she said.

Musat said it is possible that there is an easier way to set up time slots for office hours through Canvas, but she has yet to figure it out.

The University has also looked to students for feedback, and a spokesperson said that Canvas’ grading system is highly popular. One new feature allows students to enter hypothetical grades to see what scores they must earn on future assignments in order to boost their average.

Jahnasia Cummings, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said Canvas offers a better system for explaining the grading process.

“You can see everything down to attendance on why your grade is the way it is,” she said. “On Sakai you don’t know, you just see whatever grades they put in and that’s it. Canvas shows you everything.”

Cummings also said that Canvas is more convenient than Sakai due to its mobile application, which sends notifications to a student’s phone when announcements or grades are posted. Sakai is currently offered on mobile devices through the Rutgers app, but the Canvas app is separate and managed by the website’s parent company, Instructure, Inc.

Maham Aslam, a School of Engineering senior, uses Canvas as a mentor for a class to take attendance and post announcements. She said the website’s features are not very different from Sakai, and finds it is easy to use.

Aslam said that one advantage of using Canvas is that it makes communication between students and professors easier through its direct message feature.

“I think with Sakai, the teacher always prefers you email them directly rather than messaging them through Sakai,” she said. “On Canvas, they kind of use it as a middle ground and you can message a teacher straight through (the website).”

While this system might be convenient for students and professors to relay simple messages, Musat said that professors are unable to attach documents to direct messages on Canvas and that if she wanted to send a document, she would have to send a normal email anyway.

When Aslam is using Canvas as a regular student, she said she likes how the platform consolidates information from all her courses. The calendar and dashboard features on Canvas show assignments and announcements for all classes at once, whereas Sakai keeps each course’s information separate.

“With Sakai, you have to go to your class, and then calendar, and then it will be only that class,” Aslam said. “(Canvas) just keeps you organized way better.”

While some students may find the calendar and dashboard on Canvas useful, others like Chris Kozak, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, prefer Sakai’s organizational format.

“Sakai is more manageable to use, I just think Canvas is not as easy and there’s too much going on,” he said.

One difference between Canvas and Sakai is the different ways in which files and resources are organized within each course. Owen Donnelly, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences sophomore, said he is used to Sakai’s format and finds Canvas too complicated.

“(With Sakai) it’s easier to click on different things, easier to find stuff and navigate the whole site,” Donnelly said. “With Canvas, there are like 10 different ways to get to the same spot or the same information.”

Aslam also said she understands how people unfamiliar with Canvas could be confused by the file storage system.

“Sakai having the resources tab is kind of clear that that’s kind of a file dump. On Canvas, you can have files on modules, pages, files, (there are) many places to find one thing,” she said.

Rutgers has not provided a timetable for when all professors are expected to move to Canvas, but the spokesperson said they expect the transition to take place over a few years. Students and professors will have time to adapt to Canvas as it becomes more widespread.

“I think we just have to be patient and give it a chance,” Musat said. “(Students and instructors) are both in this phase of learning and discovering.”

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