At the beginning of the Academic Year 2017/18, the Milestone Institute introduced Canvas, a new intranet and learning management system, which has brought significant positive changes in the educational life of staff and students at Milestone. Read the interview with János Hódsági, the coordinator of Milestone’s educational IT development projects, in which he introduces this dynamic new learning management system, highlighting its key features and revealing the philosophy behind Canvas.
What was the main reason for changing the old learning management system for a brand new one?
We had been using the old learning management system for four years and, when it was introduced, Milestone was not as big as it is today. The Milestone Community of students, mentors and module leaders was much smaller so we were able to manage our educational life with manually created spreadsheets, documents and forms. As Milestone developed in terms of both size and complexity, the management and administration of the educational programme became much more complicated. So, we had to use and rely upon multiple IT platforms, including Moodle, online forms and Google Documents. After a while we came to realise that the information transfer costs between these platforms were unsustainable and were holding back any further development. With this in mind, we wanted to create a more effective and centralised system which could cater for all our needs.
Why have you chosen Canvas? What makes Canvas different, unique and better than any other available learning management system?
In the US and also in Europe, more than two thousand colleges, universities and schools use this system, among them prominent institutions of higher education such as Harvard and Yale, but that wasn’t the sole reason why we decided to establish Canvas at Milestone. More importantly, we felt that Canvas was designed for the kind of educational establishment we have at Milestone and believed that its features and functions would serve our purposes well. The system’s compatibility with Google Apps was also an important factor: most of our students and staff use Gmail to communicate with each other inside the Institute and, in addition, we had many existing documents and information stored in Google Apps which we could export into the new centralised system automatically. Last, but not least, there is an active community of Canvas users who are always eager to share their knowledge and experiences and this has proved to be more than useful during the implementation of the new system.
How did you customise Canvas to fit needs of Milestone’s educational programme?
Canvas strongly supports group-based teaching and all the tools that module leaders need were already at our disposal. There are features that enable the setting of assignments, arranging courses, tracking attendance, sharing documents, giving grades and feeding back directly to students. Finding the place for mentoring in Canvas was more difficult and we had to tweak the system to accommodate this. Individual mentoring is a key component of the Milestone Programme and is the place where mentor and mentee consult with each other, work together on projects, and where the mentor sets tasks, assignments and deadlines for students. This had been carried out previously via email or in person during the mentoring sessions. The new arrangement is transparent and also enables Programme Year Directors to monitor mentoring and give feedback to the mentors and the mentees.
Will the new system make learning and teaching easier?
Canvas is a user friendly and ergonomic system, so we hope that students will quickly realise that they can get access easily to any information that they need for their educational development. Hopefully, they will feel that Canvas is a place that invites them to learn and, through their user experience, there should be nothing to suppress their appetite for knowledge and learning. For our teachers, whose aim is to create an inspirational and encouraging environment for students to learn, Canvas provides a rich set of tools and gives them the opportunity to teach in an efficient and progressive way. It is our intention to make the system as flexible as possible and to give every teacher the support that he/she needs to find solutions to those problems which they will inevitably face when teaching or mentoring at Milestone. Organised training sessions for staff and students to demonstrate the potential of Canvas have meant that they have not needed to explore and discover the new system all by themselves.
From the many features that Canvas offers which ones would you highlight as the most valuable?
Canvas is completely cloud-based and mobile friendly, so getting access to the learning materials is less complicated and definitely faster than previous systems. By creating quizzes, module leaders can obtain information about student performance more easily and students receive direct and immediate feedback. Another cool feature is ‘peer review’ which allows students to discuss and comment on each others’ work whilst being overviewed by the module leader. Organising multiple Milestone modules also requires less administration. Module Leaders can now manage multiple classes with different time schedules simultaneously.This is also true for time and task management in the case of individual mentoring courses.
To what extent can Canvas change the educational life of Milestone? What are your hopes and expectations?
The Canvas project is very important but is just one of several IT development plans which we are currently working on and will continue to work on in the future. From Canvas and our future IT projects, we not only expect that they will improve the quality of teaching and learning at Milestone, but that they will also have a positive effect on how students and teachers interact and communicate with each other. This serves our long term goal of building a strong and united community around the Milestone Institute. The essential tenet of all our ongoing and highly innovative projects is that every current and prospective student and staff member will have the chance to be part of the unique Milestone experience which makes the bonds that connect us together grow ever stronger.