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Meet the Prof.: Tom Collinger

Tom Collinger is co-chairman of the Canvas Transition Committee (CTC), along with Vicky Getis from A&RT. Professor Collinger provides a unique insight as both a professor, an overseer of courses for Medill School of Journalism, and a member of the CTC. Before Canvas was even selected to be NU’s new learning management system (LMS), there was a group of administrators from every school selected to meet and try to figure out ways to enhance learning. He described the issues that emerged in these meetings surrounding the current course management system, Blackboard. According to Professor Collinger, “The biggest problem, shared by all the schools, was that Blackboard was archaic.” So, they set out to find something better. This started the 18-month process of investigating different LMSs.

But wait, LMS? Wasn’t Blackboard a course management system? Yes. Canvas is more than just a different platform for doing the same things as Blackboard. As Professor Collinger puts it, “it’s like going from a 1.0 to a 4.0.” We as a university have moved from a faculty-focused course management system to a learning-focused learning management system.

“It was a much faster transition than we had planned, because the need was so great,” remarked Prof. Collinger. “The reason we were able to move over 4,000 courses from Blackboard to Canvas is because there was so much desire to find something better.” Prof. Collinger, who has been a part of the Canvas transition process since the beginning, says there are three main reasons why the transition has been so successful. “First, it was pent-up demand. Faculty were motivated and interested in the new system and willing to learn. Secondly, NUIT did a wonderful job with the tools to help with the transition.” Finally, and maybe the most important, word of mouth facilitated enthusiasm and change. “Faculty saying ‘I tried it; it wasn’t so hard,’ or ‘I tried it; I really liked it,’ really made the transition stick.”

As well as being an expert on the Canvas transition, Prof. Collinger has a teacher’s perspective on the new LMS. “Something that’s really great is that when you are building a course in Canvas you can either put due dates on your syllabus or onto a shared calendar,” he commented about the calendar tool. This means that students have the dates both on a calendar and in list form, which lends well to different students’ preferences. Prof. Collinger added that “the tool automatically translates itself into different calendar systems – Google, Outlook, whatever you use.” He points out that Blackboard didn’t have a comparable tool.

A tool that many faculty members are a huge fan of is SpeedGrader. All assignments can be inputted into SpeedGrader and graded online. The professor can do all their grading in one place while the students can access grades through Canvas right away. In addition, instructors can add written, audio, or video comments to any part of the submitted assignment. Prof. Collinger is a huge fan of this tool, commenting, “Students get better feedback and it’s faster.”

As far as advice goes, Prof. Collinger says that the best way to get acclimated is to “go and talk to somebody in your department who has been using Canvas either the longest and or with the greatest amount of enthusiasm.” By doing this, you can get a deeper understanding of all the ways you can use Canvas in your course.