IT Connect
Information technology tools and resources at the UW

Collaboration Helps the UW School of Medicine Adopt Canvas

A shared commitment to supporting teaching and learning, regular communication, and a love of puzzles helped the UW School of Medicine (SoM) overcome an obstacle in adopting the Canvas learning management system.

A Unique Case

For several years now, the SoM has used Catalyst CommonView and Gradebook to publish their online content for 180-200 courses annually. Although CommonView has been a reliable way for SoM to provide course materials online, the growing use of Canvas at UW led the SoM to start exploring how Canvas could address its needs more comprehensively. This spring, assisted in part by collaboration with the Academic & Collaborative Applications group in UW-IT,  the SoM decided to adopt Canvas, and will begin using it August 2014.

Michael Campion, Director of Academic & Learning Technologies at the SoM, notes that the greatest benefit of moving to Canvas is the increase in opportunities to support teaching and learning at the SoM. In addition, Canvas allows automatic provisioning of courses, which reduces the administrative work required to make online course materials available. The SoM’s Academic & Learning Technologies (ALT) team currently builds course websites for instructors and supports roughly 60 courses every term.

Although Canvas offered several good reasons for adoption, the LMS also presented multiple challenges for the SoM, whose academic calendar and greater population of remote students differ from the rest of the UW system. Canvas, as implemented at the UW, follows a quarter system; the SoM does not. SoM courses are combined and overlap with courses that are taught in the WWAMI region (Wyoming, Washington, Alaska, Montana, Idaho).

New Canvas Features

Two recent developments in Canvas made adoption easier to envision: 1) The integration of UW Groups in Canvas, and 2) the creation of a one-click method for downloading CommonView content to a format suitable for migrating to Canvas.  Using this method, instructors or departmental support staff can migrate rich content, images and links from CommonView to Canvas.

Researching Ways to Move From CommonView

Prior to these developments, Bill Hill and his colleagues on the ALT team–Michael Campion, Jason Reep, Phaedra Allen, and Miriam Williams–had been exploring ways to move content from Catalyst CommonView. The inventory of course content is significant, including material that has been taught and revised in CommonView over five years. Naturally, the team wanted to find an efficient method, one that wouldn’t require them to completely rebuild courses or slog through a tedious marathon of copying and pasting.

Having worked at the School of Nursing, where he helped to support the move from the Moodle LMS to Canvas, Bill knew that it was technically possible to import content into Canvas from another LMS. CommonView already had an export function that downloads content into two folders, one with files, one with HTML content. So the question for Bill was, could he work with the HTML content so that it would be recognized as wiki pages and stored as such?

The first step was to export a Canvas course to see what the export would look like, then convert the CommonView output to resemble Canvas output. By his own admission, Bill is not a developer, and says he was lucky that the process required him to work with “only” XML and HTML. He described the trial-and-error process as fun: “It was a lot like working a puzzle.”

Collaboration with UW-IT

Around the same time, members of the Academic & Collaborative Applications group in UW-IT began meeting with members of the ALT team to talk about possible migration solutions. Sharing their progress with one another, the teams were able to collaborate to come up with an elegant solution in about two weeks. Jim Laney, a developer in ACA, improved upon Bill’s approach by creating a method that generated a unique serial number for each page, and preserved manually created links to files.

Laney’s approach essentially automated all the hands-on work that Bill had been doing, and gave users a one-click process to export content from CommonView. Bill adds, “Jim’s method halves the time for migrating each course. It’s more streamlined – you’re not handling files as much, or copying and pasting – which reduces the opportunity for introducing human error.” Campion said ACA’s support through the process was “truly impressive.”