This spring, students across 40% of schools and departments in the University were greeted with a new learning management system used widely across higher education institutions — Canvas. Come fall of 2023 — a year after the University first conducted a pilot program with nine courses, and received feedback from faculty and over 300 participating students — all departments and schools will transition to U.Va.Canvas, rendering the University's unique platform, U.Va.Collab, obsolete.
The University’s phased implementation across semesters, however, means that many students — no matter their experience with Canvas before coming to the University — will have some familiarity with the Canvas platform before it is officially here to stay. Until then, students will continue to get used to the shiny new U.Va.Canvas and prepare to say goodbye to the University’s digital staple — Collab.
For some, Canvas is not a new platform. Fourth-year College student Bella Binder transferred to the University as a second-year, already familiar with Canvas from her classes at Northern Virginia Community College.
“It looks cleaner, and I think it's easier to maneuver,” Binder said. “I like how they have modules on the side. I have that for all of my classes … [with] Applied Analytics for Business, we have it divided up by date and by what topic we're doing, I feel like I can be a lot more organized.”
Binder had also used Canvas last year at the University for a class she took through the School of Education and Human Development, which used a school-specific version of Canvas before the implementation of the universal version, U.Va.Canvas.
Like Binder, third-year College student Ellen Herrera also had previous experience with Canvas from a class in the Education School. When she heard one of her College classes this spring would be on Canvas, Herrera assumed she would also use the same login as she had for her class in the Education school. She discovered that it was on a new domain entirely, however, and U.Va.Canvas had changed little from the version she already knew.
“It was very similar to the one in the Education school … there wasn’t much of a learning curve, [but] I remember the first few days it took me a few clicks to get where I wanted to be,” Herrera said.
Students with no previous experience with Canvas may still feel at home with the platform. For second-year College student Thomas Boak, who plans to enter the Batten School next year, Canvas was not familiar but not entirely foreign, either.
“It reminded me a bit of [the system] I used in high school, and there was a bit of a learning curve to figure out the sidebar and where everything was,” Boak said.
The adjustment proved to be easy, though. In a short time, Boak learned the ins and outs of Canvas. Soon, he came to prefer it over Collab. For Boak, the feature of document preview during assignment submission is the one important feature that Canvas offers and Collab does not.
“I enjoy using Canvas more,” Boak said. “When you submit a PDF, you can scroll through without having to click on it … or open a separate tab, which is useful.”
Binder shares Boak’s sentiment about Canvas’s interface — for her, Canvas’s simple layout and mobile compatibility are a huge plus. Canvas, unlike Collab, offers a sleek phone app. Features like these help make Canvas better suited to the needs of students like Binder.
“I think it’s easier to maneuver,” Binder said. “And who doesn’t like a little bit of confetti when you turn in an assignment?”
Herrera, on the other hand, holds a more neutral view of the two platforms in comparison with one another. She says that she likes Collab more than Canvas because of her familiarity with the former — it is a matter of getting used to something new. Moreover, she pointed out that some of her professors only use Collab to direct students to their own sites.
“I don’t mind the interface of either [Collab or Canvas],” Herrera said. “A lot of my computer science classes that use Collab like to use their own website for the course, so even when you go to Collab, it's really just for like a split second. Then, you click on a link, and that takes you to a third-party course web page.”
Binder is especially eager and has no reservations about the switch — for her, this semester’s transition period can be a bother because some of her classes are on Canvas and some are on Collab, making it hard to keep track of all of her classes.
“I have one of my classes on Collab now and I kind of forget about it, which I know is really bad,” Binder said.
On the whole, Binder, Herrera and Boak all feel ready for the University’s full-fledged embrace of Canvas in fall 2023. Though students with classes on U.Va.Canvas have approached the transition with different experiences and attitudes, one unchangeable fact is clear — the age of Collab is coming to a close.