IT Connect

Information technology tools and resources at the UW

ShareSpaces Retirement FAQ

Why did UW-IT retire ShareSpaces?

When it comes to IT, one certainty is that no one likes change. Retiring a service is a balancing act where we simultaneously consider number of users, the cost of offering that service, and the quality of alternatives to the service. With regard to usage, some of the Catalyst Web Tools were (and like WebQ remain) extremely popular. Unfortunately, ShareSpaces is not one of those tools. By far, it was one of the least adopted tools in Catalyst, and its always modest user base has declined by over 75%.

Regarding functionality, ShareSpaces was created 10 years ago as a minimal-feature file-sharing service. At this time, UW-IT supports two enterprise services, GoogleDrive (FERPA compliant) and OneDrive for Business (HIPAA and FERPA compliant), that offer a much richer set of features for file sharing. And to share files for courses, Canvas (FERPA compliant) provides the natural alternative.

What about the other Catalyst Web Tools?

At this time, we have the plan and retirement timeline affects only Catalyst ShareSpaces. However, we are exploring options for some of the other Catalyst Web Tools that have low usage and/or whose features are redundant with other services offered by UW-IT. In the arena of Web applications, most of the Catalyst Web Tools are aging and are built on an outdated technology. As such, UW-IT needs to either retire the tools or invest resources to redevelop and modernize them. When these decisions are made, we will communicate timelines, alternatives, and transition support plans to all users as we have done with ShareSpaces.

Why is UW-IT moving to cloud-based software?

Increasingly the UW and our peers — not to mention the private sector — have embraced Software as a Service (SaaS) to provide higher-quality teaching, learning, and collaboration  tools rather than devote resources to build these tools in-house. Most homegrown tools simply cannot keep up with the innovation, functionality, capability, security, and usability offered by SaaS. Moreover, these tools are often free and in almost all cases much cheaper than homegrown solutions, and UW-IT staff are freed up to add value in other areas rather than replicate tools from the marketplace. Finally, these are the tools that many students will use when they enter the workforce.

How are decisions to adopt or retire software made?

UW-IT has three governance boards that focus on IT strategy, service investment, and service management. The boards include Chancellors, Vice Presidents, Deans, Chairs, faculty, researchers, UW unit administrators, and UW unit IT directors. Retiring services and adopting SaaS is consistent with guidance provided by these governance boards, which have asked UW-IT to focus our resources on more strategic and innovative endeavors. Further, decisions about services related to teaching, learning, or collaboration are made in consultation with the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Oversight Committee, chartered as part of the Provost’s Two Years to Two Decades Initiative, the Faculty Council on Teaching and Learning, and UW unit IT directors.

Additionally, before UW-IT embraces or offers a new tool or service, user studies, surveys, and pilots are done with UW faculty, students, and staff. For example, year-long pilots of Canvas and Panopto were conducted, and only after receiving significant positive feedback did UW-IT adopt these tools.

Is UW data protected in cloud-based solutions?

Unequivocally, yes. A great benefit of the move to SaaS is that along with our peers, the UW engages in consortia like Internet2 and the Common Solutions Group to negotiate contracts with SaaS vendors that secure excellent terms, protect the ownership and privacy of university data, and allow universities well-defined exit paths. On each and every contract, UW-IT works with the Attorney General’s Office to ensure that the contracts have the requisite terms of service and data security provisions.

Why is the UW moving from Catalyst to Canvas for teaching and learning?

The Canvas pilot — part of the Provost’s Two Years to Two Decades Initiative, Teaching & Learning in the 21st Century — was conducted by UW-IT during the 2011-12 academic year.  It was in part an attempt to improve the student experience, responding to feedback and survey data from UW students indicating that they want a more unified online experience that keeps the number of technologies they need to learn to a minimum. The pilot was also a response to a desire by the Board of deans to have a modern learning management system.

The UW Office of Educational Assessment  (OEA) evaluated the pilot, focusing on the faculty and student experiences using Canvas. The primary goal of the pilot was to understand how well Canvas met the needs of instructors and students across a variety of programs and provide recommendations regarding the adoption of Canvas at the UW. After careful review of the pilot results, the Board of Deans and the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Oversight Committee are endorsing the roll out of Canvas to all three campuses.

Key points from the pilot study indicated:

  • Both students and faculty were satisfied with Canvas, especially faculty repeat-users. Of this group, 79% of said that they would recommend Canvas to other instructors and colleagues.
  • A majority of faculty – 73% – agreed that using Canvas made teaching more efficient, especially with regards to assignment submission and grading.
  • Canvas facilitated faculty experimentation, leading to innovation in their teaching.
  • Both students and faculty favored Canvas over other LMS’s they had used before, such as Blackboard and Moodle.
  • Canvas increased collaboration among students, facilitating their use of student groups, wiki pages, peer review, and chat and video features for study groups.
  • Instructors took advantage of Canvas’s audio and video feedback features, which were received positively by students.
  • Some instructors used Canvas to hold virtual office hours, increasing participation and engagement of students.

Subsequent studies have confirmed these findings; in 2014 an evaluation by OEA found that 62% of instructors and 78% of students were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their experience in Canvas.