Black out raises questions of Canvas’ reliability

by Danny Bush Students here at GCC are accustomed to online learning and participation. This effort, fueled by the Learning Management System (LMS) called Canvas, is an integral part of faculty teaching and student learning. Its purpose is to aid students and teachers alike, but as students saw at the beginning of the semester, it’s not without hiccups.
On Jan. 17, problems arose that stalled classwork as login to Canvas was disabled and courses failed to appear. After having talked with Meghan Kennedy, GCC’s Instructional Designer for the Center of Teaching, Learning and Engagement, one would be informed that it wasn’t Canvas having problems at all. As a matter of fact, Canvas has a 99.9 percent up time guarantee, according to Kennedy.
In regard to the issues, Kennedy said, “Canvas was fully operational; we just lost our authentication with Canvas.”
When authentication was restored, action was taken to make sure everything ran smoothly again. Courses were placed back on the site and Canvas was working again the same day.
“[The district is] investigating what happened right now and they are writing an incident report [which will] analyze what happened and look at ways to avoid it happening in the future,” Kennedy said about District IT’s response to the issue.
After the problems that were seen at the beginning of the semester, users’ first assumption was that Canvas was the root of the problem. However, with Canvas’ downtime being less than one percent, the majority of problems seen on campus are caused by errors like authentication, or even one’s own Internet connection.
Canvas was started by two graduate students at Brigham Young University and was designed with the student in mind. It has an adaptive interface that is updated every three weeks in order to cater to the needs of students and faculty. Those who operate Canvas constantly monitor it to fix bugs and make changes. In other LMS systems, one would have to wait months for an update to take place.
Kennedy, who has the role of helping teachers learn and use Canvas, placed emphasis on how well the systems fits the campus and on how functional it really is.
Canvas is used at over 1,000 colleges and school districts across the nation. Its design is aimed to help students and teachers facilitate the learning process. According to Kennedy, the plan is to keep it at GCC for a while. “It’s not in the best interest of faculty and students to be switching things,” said Kennedy. Canvas’ adaptive style and constant updates cultivate a better environment for both students and teachers.
Though implementation of Canvas varies with each teacher, its use is increasing. Kennedy has seen an increase both in popularity and the depth with which the mobile application and the site have been used.
“Our goal is just to support faculty use of Canvas,” said Kennedy, “and to help them see it as a viable option to help teach classes more effectively and efficiently.”
A considerable amount of effort has been put into creating an innovative product, in regards to Canvas. Students can use it on their computers in conjunction with the mobile application. With continued advances being made, hiccups may still occur. The District IT team continues to monitor Canvas and solve any problems that may arise.
“Any technology we use gives us the opportunity to help to improve learning, but the challenge is that innovation also requires taking a risk and dealing with potential problems,” said Kennedy.
In 2012, Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) began adopting Canvas into its schools (with the exception of Rio Salado) according to each school’s timeline and fully replaced Blackboard on June 30, 2013.
Since then, frequent improvements have been made in Canvas, and students will continue to see fixes and changes (including those in the mobile app made recently). More often than not, it’s something else that causes problems involving Canvas instead of the program itself. As incidents occur, investigations are made and steps are taken to ensure that students and faculty can continue using the LMS.

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