On September 19, the Canvas Transition Team held their second meeting, at which they really started to dive into the challenging work of making decisions about how to set up the new LMS. Because we wanted to start at the top level of the project and work down to the specifics, this month the team was tasked with deciding whether FSCJ would utilize a hierarchal sub-account structure for the overall LMS instance.
Let’s pause for a minute to explain what this task actually is and why it is important. Currently, our Canvas LMS instance is like a completely blank, well, CANVAS (for lack of a better term). When a user logs in, they see the normal side navigation menu that one would expect, but it only holds fifteen users and fourteen courses. There is NOTHING in there—it is an empty container. So, before we begin to fill it up with courses and tools and content and students and instructors and all of the things that make an LMS a place where learning happens, we wanted to take a hard look at the structure of that container to see if we could find a way to divide it up. These smaller buckets would allow us to group courses by subject area so that we could deploy tools and user permissions more strategically, based upon the needs of our college’s varied academic units. Because (as we all know) FSCJ is an institution that serves an incredibly varied community of learners that often have drastically different needs and wants in our shared eLearning space.
We landed upon the concept of the sub-account to help us create these smaller containers within the larger Canvas account. A sub-account is an organizational unit within Canvas that can be customized so that it may provide a slightly different experience for the students and instructors who are accessing the courses within it. LTI tools and resources can be made available to specific sub-accounts where they are used and users can have different permissions granted to them based upon their needs.
In order to understand how this works for the user, it is helpful to think about the way that the physical structure of a traditional school is organized. Students all enter through the same front door and walk in the same common areas, but in a mathematics classroom, they may have access to tools like graphing calculators while in a science lab they may need to use beakers and graduated cylinders. Students can move from class to class easily, but the tools that they encounter and the responsibilities that they have change based upon the learning space that they are currently occupying. The access point is the same, but the experience within the class is different.
The Transition Team was tasked with figuring out if such a structure would be desirable for the FSCJ community, and then to figure out how to set this structure up in a way that was logical, sustainable, and able to be automated. During the meeting Robyn Reese, our LMS Administrator, walked the team through a presentation that explained how to meet these three goals. In order to do this, the team had to figure out how to use the existing academic structure within myFSCJ (the SIS or Student Information System) to create groups that would also fit with the current structure of our schools and departments.
As we progressed through the meeting, the Transition Team provided a great deal of valuable information about the level of structural complexity that they thought would be valuable for the areas that they were representing. As might be expected, it was found that certain areas of the college would require more dedicated sub-accounts for purposes of management and tool deployment. For example, in the Credit area, because of the variety of courses that are offered, we plan to pursue an sub-account organization based upon academic department. For areas like Professional Development, CWE, Not-for-Credit, and Clock, a simpler sub-account that encompasses several subject areas was thought to be best because it will allow for more management flexibility. Moving forward, the Educational Technology department will be meeting with the staff that oversees these areas to obtain more details regarding the specific structure and composition of the sub-account, as well as what support staff are used in this area and what LTI tools are utilized by their instructors.
The Transition Team’s next meeting will focus on training and will be held mid-October.