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IT Connect

Information technology tools and resources at the UW

Why are these Catalyst Web Tools being retired?

Collect It, CommonView, GoPost, QuickPoll, UMail, and WebQ Quiz are being retired for several reasons. The tools are built on outdated technology, usage of the tools is declining, and better solutions now exist.

Outdated technology

Most of the Catalyst Web Tools are aging and are built on an outdated technology. UW-IT has reached a point where it is necessary either to retire the tools, or to invest considerable resources to renew them. The technology behind the Catalyst Tools is no longer supportable. The level of investment required is not tenable due to declining usage, aging technology, and lack of staff capacity. Over the past four to five years, UW-IT has not been able to continue to enhance these tools, and in fact has had the capacity to address only the most severe defects.

Better solutions

While the Catalyst tools have provided great value to the UW community for many years, their usage has declined markedly, and UW-IT has well supported alternatives. UW-IT’s governance committees have asked that services with decreasing usage and excellent enterprise replacement options be retired so that resources can be re-allocated to other existing or new services.

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.

Declining usage

Catalyst tools were initially developed to satisfy academic needs and were widely used to support teaching and learning until the introduction of the Canvas learning management system. Since autumn 2013, by any measure, such as number of tools created and number of active tools, usage of Catalyst Web Tools has declined by over 50%. During the same time, adoption of the Canvas learning management system has far exceeded the course usage the Catalyst tools ever saw.

Since then, use of Catalyst tools for teaching and training has steadily decreased. The graphs below illustrate this steady decline.

 

Line graph depicting decrease in numbers of Catalyst Tool owners from 2012 to 2016

Line graph depicting decrease in numbers of Catalyst Tool owners from 2012 to 2016

I rely on Catalyst Tools. Why can’t UW-IT just update them?

To continue maintaining Catalyst Tools would necessitate rebuilding them in a modern, sustainable technology. Since much of the functionality is redundant (e.g., file sharing and collaboration is offered by both Google G Suite and Microsoft OneDrive), UW-IT cannot justify the effort to do so.

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 endorsed 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 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.