BDH: Professors replace MyCourses with Canvas

January 30, 2012

Professors replace MyCourses with Canvas

Morgan Johnson
Senior Staff Writer
Published: Monday, January 30, 2012

More than 3,000 students this semester will use Canvas, Brown's new online course management system, before its slated replacement of MyCourses in spring 2013. Canvas, officially selected last spring after receiving positive feedback from student and faculty surveys and focus groups, had its first testing phase last fall when it was used in nine undergraduate courses and by first- and second-year medical students, according to the project's recently launched website.


All faculty members were invited via email to participate in the second phase of testing this spring. "We received a very healthy number of responses," said Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron of this semester's volunteers. Sixty faculty members elected to adopt Canvas, which will be used in roughly 70 courses, Bergeron said.

Another voluntary phase is planned for next fall, before all faculty members are asked to switch to Canvas the following spring. MyCourses will still be available for use until summer 2013, according to Brown's Computing and Information Services website.

"I just thought it was clunky," said William Allen, adjunct lecturer in public policy, of MyCourses. After six years of using MyCourses to teach his seminar, PPAI1700V: "Nonprofit Organizations," Allen switched to Canvas this semester.

"It was almost intuitive how to use it," Allen said of Canvas after receiving basic training in the program. "I did not find it a radical change."

"MyCourses has a rigid design structure and a complicated interface for faculty," said Robert Self, associate professor of history. Self will use Canvas in his lecture course, HIST1755: "The Intimate State: The Politics of Gender, Sex, and Family in the U.S., 1873-Present."

Self, who designed the course and is teaching it for the first time this semester, opted to use Canvas while creating the class rather than having to switch course materials from MyCourses to a new course management system next year. Despite having no experience with Canvas before making his decision, Self did not regret his choice. "It's not bad software," he said of MyCourses, "but it appears that Canvas is simply better."

In addition to a cleaner layout, Canvas allows instructors to upload files faster and organize readings and materials by date. "It deals with videos and other visual images better," Self said.

The new program also supports a greater variety of content. "You can view full page articles without having to go to e-reserves," said Chris Moynihan '14, who is using it in HIST1900: "American Empire Since 1890."

But MyCourses does have some features that Canvas lacks. Allen, who has used MyCourses' forum feature in past years to print student blog posts and comments in one combined report, has not yet found an equivalent feature on Canvas. "I'm still working with it," he said. "I don't think it's that big of an issue."

Though Allen and Self have yet to encounter technical difficulties with Canvas, Moynihan said the transition to Canvas has been "kind of a rough experience." In addition to being timed out, Moynihan has had trouble uploading PDF files onto Canvas in the correct format.

Students who do not register for a class that uses Canvas will still have an opportunity to try the new program before shopping period ends. Instructors can publish a public, reduced-access course page that allows students to view upcoming assignments and course documents while disabling homework submission and grade-viewing features.

Self said the switch will likely be well-received. "I don't believe the transition will be long or difficult," he said. "I'm convinced it's a better platform for both faculty and students."

Moynihan is more wary of the upcoming switch to Canvas. "I've used MyCourses for over a year," he said. "I'm comfortable with it, and it's easy to use."