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Preparing Your Canvas: The Feather of Truth

Community Champion
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This is the ninth entry in my Preparing Your Canvas series, documenting NKU's transition from Blackboard to Canvas. If you want to start from the beginning, here's the rest in chronological order:


If the break in my updates wasn't a clue, Spring 2018 has been a busy semester for us! Yesterday was May 31st, 2018, and it was the last day that our old LMS would be available to faculty. About this time 12 months ago my team was outlining our plan for assisting the migration, and now we're at this pivotal milestone. For me, tackling a project of this scale has been an immensely beneficial learning process, even if I didn't play a central part. Also, writing up our experiences of going through the migration has been helpful to me, and I hope its been helpful to some of the people reading these posts, too! Attempting to translate a course from one LMS to another forces you to confront some of the philosophical issues that underpin course design. It also makes you face very practical concerns about time and resources. Because I'm a geek for mythology, it makes me think of "the feather of truth." In Egyptian mythology, once a person dies, part of their path in the afterlife involves weighing their heart against a feather from the goddess Maat, the personification of order, balance, and truth (among other things). On this final day of the old LMS, it feels appropriate.

To wrap up my Preparing Your Canvas series, I want to use this post to "weigh" our migration, and take an honest look at some of the challenges we faced. In my next post, we'll talk about what I would want to replicate because it was effective. In the final post of this series, we'll wrap up loose ends and take a look at the future. Now, let's see how these truths stack up.

1. Account for everything that must be migrated.

One truth we ran into during the migration was making sure truly everything got moved out of the old LMS that needed to be moved. Its easy to say "we need to move your courses," and just leave it at that. But what about courses that aren't taught every year? What about courses that were last taught by an instructor who is no longer a part of your program or institution? Thankfully, our IT can backup everything as a failsafe, but that definitely should not be your Plan A for retrieving course content. Besides courses, what other processes rely on your LMS? Our institution uses courses to organize the faculty review process for tenure. All of that tenure documentation also needs to be moved, and potentially recreated in a short time frame depending on when that instructor is up for review next. Many programs also ran their organizations through the old LMS, storing meeting minutes, forms, templates, and more in a course shell. Identifying these earlier in the process will give everyone more time to assess how much material needs to be moved over.

2. Put your migration in context when you plan it.

My workgroup was identified as a major resource for supporting the migration to Canvas. However, the LMS migration was not the only project that we engaged with this past year. Among other things, our institution has aggressively developed its online programs to gain access to a new market. Coincidentally, my workgroup traditionally has been a resource for developing online instruction. Both of these initiatives have been in progress for several years and they happened to line up in this critical 10-12 month window. I have definitely felt challenged at times to provide adequate support and attention to both of these projects. Part of the conversation about managing a migration needs to involve ensuring resources are allocated to fully support everything else happening around the migration, too.

3. Identify breakpoints.

Moving to a new LMS can potentially have consequences outside the LMS. For example, the way our institution generates courses and manages course sections doesn't line up with how Canvas treats courses and sections. This isn't to say the way we've been doing this is bad, or that the way Canvas does this is bad; the two systems just don't effectively communicate in every situation. While this would often go unnoticed from a student's perspective taking a class, it can have ramifications for course developers managing multiple sections, working with TA's or coaches, or integrating publisher content. This one is tricky, because how exactly are you supposed to plan for the things you don't yet know will break? Separately, you may also need to consider creating in-house solutions to account for important services or features. For example, a number of faculty rely on the built in photo roster functionality of our old LMS. Canvas doesn't have that. So, our IT group did what several other schools have done and built our own photo-roster integration with Canvas. They also had to recreate a grade copying tool that faculty to use to quickly import grades to our SIS. The earlier these needs are identified, the more accurately you can road map the migration.

To me, these are three big takeaways from our migration experience. Because of how long people stay at a job and how long a system can be used, some people may only go through a process like this once at an organization. This is my first time migrating to a new LMS. I suppose the last thing I wonder about is institutional amnesia. Now that we've learned these lessons, how do we ensure we won't have to learn them again? With employee churn, what perspectives/knowledge do we risk losing, and how do we preserve them?

Next: Preparing Your Canvas: Coda

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