Digital Learning progresses in college’s online advancements

By Ariana Portalatin, Campus Reporter

Vice Provost for Digital Learning Robert Green said Columbia’s switch to Canvas from Moodle will allow for a better student experience with online education.

Columbia’s Digital Learning Office recently contracted a new online platform to replace Moodle in the Fall 2017 Semester and filled five new positions to continue development of  online education courses and improve technology throughout the college campus.

Robert Green, the new vice provost for Digital Learning, was appointed by Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden on April 12 to improve online education programs that are supposed to increase enrollment and generate revenue for the college, as reported April 18 by The Chronicle.

Green said Nov. 16 that Columbia recently signed a contract to use Canvas, an online Learning Management System, and will put together a training and development timeline for the digital learning team.

The new hires  for the Digital Learning Office  include Manager of Programs and Instructional Design Eric Bailey, an adjunct professor in the Business & Entrepreneurship Department; Administrative Assistant Emma Graham; Production Manager Ross McNamara; and instructional designers Katherine Kosinski and Kayla Jutzi. The college is also seeking another instructional designer, who Green said he is hoping will be hired by January.

Green said his biggest goal was to bring in people who would support faculty with Canvas use.

“Canvas is a big piece of what will help make us successful, but more importantly is the team we’re putting in place, the structure and a lot of the processes we’ll be using with the faculty, who are really the subject matter experts that are going to help us bring this to light,” Green said.

Development of courses on Canvas will start in the Spring 2017 Semester through the summer, when the first courses will be offered on Canvas. Green said he hopes to have everything ready and transitioned by fall 2017.

“One of the biggest things that we are doing before we start developing is doing a heavy-duty amount of research,” Green said. “We’re looking at where we’d be successful, where we’d be best suited in the online space, and looking at the job market as well so that there’s outcomes in careers for these students after they study with us in the online environment.”

Green said all instructors will eventually be using Canvas, and all Moodle-based courses will be converted onto Canvas as well. The Digital Learning team will need to ensure current courses’ existing content will still provide the best learning experience possible, he added.

In a Sept. 13 interview with The Chronicle, Green said Canvas will open up Columbia to students who are not physically on campus.

“The system will afford us the opportunity to open Columbia up to another population of students,” Green said Sept. 13.

Mary Morley Cohen, associate dean for Academic Programs at Northwestern University’s School of Professional Studies, said Northwestern uses Canvas and also offers graduate degrees fully online.

Cohen said online programs give students who may have problems attending classes an option.

“We have older students who are working and can’t quit their day job to go to grad school,” Cohen said. “It’s gives them a really good, high-quality education while still staying in their local communities.”

Canvas is more user-friendly and secure than Moodle because it does not require any upgrades or downloads, Green said, adding that Moodle requires expensive custom programming to create what Canvas already offers.

“[Canvas] is easy for faculty who don’t have a lot of experience with building online courses to build good-looking, easy-to-access online courses,” Cohen said.

Zoe Levin, a junior education major, said she used Canvas at Bellevue College in Washington state before transferring.

“Canvas was very user-friendly… Moodle is very complicated and it doesn’t make sense where things are,” Levin said.

In order for an online platform to be successful, Cohen said it must allow engagement between students and faculty, video uploading and provide familiar tools.

Levin said she hopes the switch to Canvas will still allow her to have access to past files posted onto Moodle, adding that individuals collegewide need to learn the system.

“The only way to make [technology] great is for everyone to be fully educated on how to use it to its full extent,” Levin said.

Green said instructors will be developing courses with the instructional designers to best understand how to teach in Canvas and more intensive training initiatives will be put in place for campus-based programs.

Canvas will allow students to have a high-level and artistic experience, he said.

“Canvas will allow us to create a product we can be happy with [and] will create a high-level, artistic user experience,” Green said.