Wake Ed

Wake County schools tout benefits of using Canvas system

A new centralized computer learning management system could make things easier for Wake County teachers, students and parents – if it lives up to the hype and promise.

Wake County school administrators briefed the school board this week on the district’s plan to begin using the Canvas Learning Management System, software which is integrated with dozens of different digital applications. A point repeatedly stressed at Monday’s student achievement committee meeting is how logging into Canvas will allow users to access multiple sites that previously required separate logins.

Cathy Moore, deputy superintendent for school performance, pointed to 13 different things that teachers need to separately log into right now that can be done with a single login on Canvas.

“I’m just waiting for the hallelujah,” Moore said after citing the teacher example.

The ability to reduce the number of logins will also be available for student and parents who use Canvas. Moore said that Canvas will also allow Wake to add new features, including potentially live steaming of meetings held by PTAs, boosters and school improvement planning teams.

Wake has produced nine reasons for liking Canvas, Examples include:

▪ It’s easy to use.

▪ You can create videos and audio files without knowing anything about those files.

▪ It’s integrated with YouTube and other products.

▪ It will include sample questions that teachers can use to create their own formative assessments.

Wake is establishing a digital learning committee to determine how to implement Canvas.

Canvas drew questions, concerns and praise from school board members.

School board member Jim Martin said it’s one more thing being asked of already busy teachers.

“When adopting, they promise the world,” Martin said. “Remember PowerSchool was going to do this. It was going to be the single point of login where parents, students and everybody could get whatever information.

“The roll-out wasn’t quite as it was sold. So anytime we do this, it’s easy from the administrative side to say how wonderful it is.”

“We’re going slow to go fast here,” Moore responded. “We are not making anybody do anything.”

Martin also questioned how good a deal financially the move to Canvas will be in the long term.

Wake is making the switch because the state Department of Public Instruction is giving school districts access to all the features of the Home Base system, including Canvas, for $1 per student for the 2015-16 school year. For Wake, it’s estimated it will cost about $158,000.

Moore said the cost will probably rise to $5 or $6 per student the following school year. At that point, she said staff may come back to the board with a business case to justify increasing funding for continuing to use Canvas.

Wake will keep using the Blackboard learning management system for the 2015-16 school year but transition to Canvas over the next year. Canvas will migrate Blackboard material to the new system.

Moore said that while Blackboard is cheaper, at maybe $100,000 a year, the usability features of Canvas will be much better.

School board member Bill Fletcher, chair of the student achievement committee, asked about the security of student data and district assets in Canvas. Moore answered that since Canvas is integrated into Home Base, all the protections in Home Base are in Canvas as well.

While the issue wasn’t raised at the meeting, some critics of Common Core don’t like how Canvas is integrated with Pearson’s PowerSchool information system.

But school board Vice Chairman Tom Benton, a former teacher, focused on the positives of using Canvas. He said teachers don’t have a choice but to learn how to use systems like Canvas if they’re going to meet student needs nowadays.

Benton cited the recent “eye-opening experience” of how his 2-year-old granddaughter asked him to read a book to her about farm animals. Instead of bringing a paper book, Benton said his granddaughter brought him an iPad, selected the e-book from the list of choices, swiped the pages and adjusted the audio of the sounds made by the animals.

“Can you imagine this 2-year-old in three years hitting kindergarten and us saying, ‘You can’t use that because I’m not comfortable with it and get out your book?’” Benton said. “We’ve got be ready for where this is going and I’m really concerned that we can’t always just sit back and say, ‘But we keep pushing this new stuff out.’

“Certainly we’ve got to help our teachers with this. Canvas is one of the things that will help teachers who may be struggling with some of this.”