The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee began to switch its Learning Management System (LMS) from D2L (DesireToLearn) to Canvas in Fall 2018. The last semester that instructors could teach a course in D2L was in Fall 2019, and in Spring 2020, all instructors were required to use Canvas for online instruction.
To assist in this process, my department (The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning) held a number of “VIP Sessions” where we worked one-on-one with instructors to both migrate and translate their courses from D2L to Canvas. These sessions involved checking the instructor's original course site for known problems, assessing video and quiz content, and helping the instructor re-design their course for the new LMS.
During this process, we had an instructor who had previously built his course entirely in Google Sites rather than D2L. The instructor’s students repeatedly complained in course evaluations that his course experience was inconsistent with their other online courses. Out of necessity more than desire, the instructor came to us for help with redesigning his course.
This presented a unique challenge: in contrast to D2L (which mapped relatively closely to the logic of Canvas), this instructor needed to find ways to re-arrange his Google Site content to work with the operating logic of Canvas. Additionally, I needed to quickly learn and assess how the instructor had utilized a Google Site for online instruction. Certain elements, in particular, were not congruous (Menu Options, the Calendar, and Content Nesting).
Below I’ve outlined comparisons of the instructor’s original course site and the Canvas site we created during our session.
Homepage / Calendar Feature
One of the instructor's main concerns was that he could not set the calendar as the homepage for the course (a feature that our instance of Canvas does not support). Canvas does have a calendar feature, but it is a separate "App" that manages all courses and it does not automatically prioritize one course.
One objective for the migration session was discussing how the instructor could better leverage Canvas' features. By using Announcements, student "To Do" lists, and better module design, we developed a plan to translate what he wanted (a calendar on the homepage) to what he needed (a way to clearly foreground course events and progression).
Redesigning Modules with Style
One of my goals was finding a way to simplify the layout of the instructor's course modules. His modules were nested within a separate page that gave an overview, the total points possible for the module, and objectives. Within the modules themselves, the instructor had created an entire week's worth of content with some formatting inconsistencies.
Through our session, I worked with the instructor to re-design his modules for clarity. First, we transformed standalone menu items from his Google Site into their own resources module. By using links to the actual Assignments and Discussions required, we also cut down on the number of clicks students needed to make to access material.
While it was a simple thing, I also strongly recommended formatting. Small changes like text headers and indenting helped keep the organizational 'nesting' that the instructor desired. Not unintentionally, through these changes we were able to address the instructor's primary goal of making the course information clear at a glance. Adding due dates and points to Assignments and Discussions included this data on the home page, and the new formatting didn't require students to navigate to specific sections to locate important course data. Including this metadata in Assignments, rather than text, also ensured that this information appeared in other linked areas like the To-Do list.
Videos and Hyperlinks
Embedded video tutorials were a significant part of the instructor's e-learning plan. While the instructor had previously embedded the module videos at the end of the single web page, we decided to make each video its own "External Link" in the Canvas course. This allowed each video to open on YouTube rather than Canvas (preventing known issues with external videos not playing within Canvas). It also so enabled the instructor to break up the content of a module into discrete chunks (rather than a single wall of material).
Additionally, the instructor made extensive use of hyperlinks in his Google Site to link between different pages and assignments. Part of the session involved going through the course text and updating links that a) linked to specific sections of the Google Site, which needed to be redirected to the new Canvas site, and b) making better use of Canvas' existing system for linking content together. I worked with the instructor to update his existing system of content linking to take advantage of Canvas' logic of Page and Assignment linking.