Texas A&M University's Canvas TemplateThe transition from ecampus to canvas
Texas A&M University now supports an ever-growing student body of 70,000 students. Our office sought out to create a streamlined learning experience for those students, no matter the modality they received their classes in.
From research, UX, visual design, and prototyping, I was fortunate to own the problem and lead the project with the support of my team of instructional designers and liaisons from Instructure's Canvas.
The nature of education at Texas A&M
In the fall of 2018, Texas A&M University created the Office for Academic Innovation. The main goal of this office was to transition the university from the previous Learning Management System (LMS) eCampus by Blackboard to Canvas by Instructure. After the transition was complete, the office would not only continue to advance and support the LMS, but would begin creating new online programs for undergraduate and masters degrees.
With the introduction of COVID-19 during the process of transitioning from eCampus to Canvas, our office was given the deadline to move almost 13,800 courses online after COVID-19 was upgraded to a pandemic. We successfully transferred 57,871 of our students and 2,988 faculty members (that were not already teaching online) to virtual classrooms. And did so in just seven business days.
USER Demographic of Template
Most professors that work for Texas A&M fall within the range of 30-45 years of age. The age range of 50-65 years of age made up the second largest percentage of faculty. While you normally design for the user that makes up most of your demographic, we needed to instead consider the user that would have the most difficult time and would encounter the most issues.
While the Office for Academic Innovation never works directly with students, they are at the forefront of everything we need to consider as a university. The up and coming generation of students are incredibly tech savvy, but have a lower attention span than ever before. We had to create something that met that need of functional and flashy.
The goal was to make the experience the same for every student no matter the modality or location they received their education at.
Why one template?
The Texas A&M University template in Canvas was designed with ease of use in mind for both course instructors and students. The goal was to enhance the learning experience in every course and create a high universal standard for the online learning environment at Texas A&M.
The template is automatically applied to all courses in Canvas and includes a pre-designed homepage with linked assets, student resources, module building best practices and a syllabus template to ensure you stay up-to-date on the minimum syllabus requirements.
The Steps to Implementing Canvas
To best serve the Texas A&M community and to ensure a quality online teaching and learning environment for our faculty and students, our team elected to utilize a data-driven approach to target waves of faculty and their associated courses. The end goal consisted of having all faculty utilizing Canvas by the end of Summer 2021. This approach ensured we appropriately mobilize resources, and could take critical implementation milestones generated from each wave and apply important lessons learned to subsequent waves.
- Wave 1: Faculty teaching in Summer 2 who elect to use Canvas
- Wave 2: Faculty who want to build from scratch and teach in Canvas for Fall 2020
- Wave 3: Faculty who require assistance migrating Blackboard courses to Canvas to teach in Fall 2020
- Wave 4: Faculty teaching in Spring 2021 who elect to use Canvas
- Wave 5: Final effort to migrate all courses out of Blackboard by the end of Summer 2021 so that the university is fully migrated to Canvas for Fall 2021
My role as Lead Designer
As lead designer, my role consisted of developing, implementing, and maintaining the template for Texas A&M University’s instance of Canvas. I worked alongside a team of course designers and stakeholders, to produce the Canvas template. It is now currently used by over 70,000 students and over 5,000 faculty and staff across the multitude of branch campuses.
I was asked to be the jack of all trades in this project, considering both the user experience and interface design. When the initial launch of the template was released, I was still working as a student worker in the summer of 2020 and collaborated with a temporary communications team within the university. In August of 2020, I was hired on at the full time lead designer on the project and re-designed the look and feel that would be applied for the first large push of Canvas for the fall semester. The initial re-design was asked to be designed, tested, and completed in the timeframe of 2 weeks. While the design was accomplished, the timeline typically needed for a well tested system was not able to be met.
After the first semester of Canvas being fully implemented here at Texas A&M University, we selected a targeted group to receive this survey, our academic liaisons. Our hope was to see through this lens on a larger scale what the university was experiencing and to directly improve the next iteration of the template.
Making the transition to a new Learning Management System is not an easy navigation for faculty and students alike. Over the timeline of implementation at Texas A&M, I had the opportunity to hear both the Faculty and Student voice. This form was the first step of many to create more proactive UX dialogue and improvements.
Through this feedback form, the goal was to receive tactile feedback on issues and wishes users had for the Texas A&M Canvas template, and communicate that feedback directly to the team designing the next iteration of the template.
Canvas Template FeedbackContinuing to progress after launching
When designing products, we tend to design in a frictionless flow; where it removes impediments to immediate action and focuses on increasing conversion at all costs. This approach doesn’t consider the deeper story of how we can design and build experiences that are also enriching and fulfilling, and was they very same mistake make with the first template.
We collected user feedback from faculty on pain points and what we could do to provide them with a better tailored experience.
We received 72 responses from faculty that teach in one or more of Texas A&M's 16 schools, colleges, and branch campuses. A 62% overall satisfaction was received on the Texas A&M template provided with Canvas courses - also implying the templates’ pedagogical usefulness. We are continuously improving the template from the feedback received to further student success at Texas A&M University.
Among the 62% satisfaction rating, 44% of the responses said that the current third-party tool offerings were useful. With the new LMS implementation, we created a new process to review and release third-party tools, and are continuously improving our processes. We have also received feedback on the overall customizability of the template and also gaps in trainings offered. We are taking these into consideration as we strive towards Texas A&M's teaching and learning mission.
From this survey we were able to make edits such as changing the structure from modules to weeks. We selected the weekly buttons be the default option for the Texas A&M-wide template after receiving extensive feedback that it was easier to navigate through classes with time rather than subject. This allowed for the template to work across all modalities supported university-wide.
Additional changes were restructuring and slimming down the included files, moving all extra custom assets to be housed on our website as downloadable assets, creating more specific channels to explain how to use the template, and provisioning separate templates for branch campuses.
Current Usage of Canvas At Texas A&M University
Of 100 and 200 level Texas A&M University course sections are published in Canvas as of Fall 2021.
Of total Texas A&M University course sections are published in Canvas as of Fall 2021.
The Texas A&M University Canvas Template
Lead UX/UI Design: Lauren Bradley
Communications Specialist: Coral Johnson Graves
Creative Student Workers: Katie Seabolt, Gabby Garcia, Zion Lewis, and Madi McDougald
Instructional Consultants: Isabel E. Ben H. Diana B. Kevin L. Jobin V. Deanna S.