Instructure Canvas - 4 Years of Experience
September 19, 2015

Instructure Canvas - 4 Years of Experience

Kevin Reeve | TrustRadius Reviewer
Score 9 out of 10
Vetted Review
Verified User

Software Version


Modules Used

  • Canvas, Catalog, Commons,

Overall Satisfaction with Canvas

Canvas was adopted by Utah State University in January, 2011 for use throughout the entire university system, as part of a state wide contract. All Utah System of Higher Education schools use Canvas. Utah State University uses it to offer fully online degree programs and classes, and is also used for blended courses and to supplement face to face courses.
  • Canvas is a SaaS cloud application. Instructure pushes new features and bug fixes every 3 weeks, which keeps it current, and evolving. These new features are released in such a way that they are not disruptive to instructors or students, and we can choose when we make those new features available to our customers.
  • The mobile app for grading assignments (Speed Grader) has reduced the time it takes for me to grade assignments by 30 - 50%. Allows instructors to grade while waiting for meetings, on the bus, and anytime they have a few minutes.
  • A WYSIWYG editor appears in about every tool. It has a file and tool manager that allows you to provide direct links to any connect you have in your course with a simple click. You can provide these in content pages, discussions, announcements, and other places. Makes referring students to content a breeze.
  • Students can create their own groups for course project purposes, and can play "what if" scenarios with their grades. For example, a student can see how a particular grade on a final exam will affect their final grade in the class.
  • Instructors and students can choose their own notification paths, and how often they receive them. For example if an instructor posts an announcement, students could choose to receive it via email, sms, or other method, and choose if they want them immediately or in a daily or weekly digest.
  • LTI integration is the best of any of the Higher Education LMS software packaged. It is easy for a campus admin, or even a instructor to add LTI tools to their course and choose them from a catalog of LTI tools. Everything from integrating full rich text books, open content, youtube, and social media integrators, and publisher content and tools.
  • Outcomes - needs to be easier to create, adopt, and assign outcomes.
  • Gradebook. It works, but some efficiencies could be added, and certain functions streamlined. I am told the grade book is getting a overhaul and will be released in 2016.
  • SIS grade push. - Needs some additional functionality to allow instructors to choose which students grades to push to the SIS.
  • LMS adoption has grown among instructors and departments.
  • More degree programs are offered fully online reaching more students.
  • SaaS/Cloud has reduced the amount of staff that are needed as we do not host the system.
  • Migration to any new LMS takes time and your innovation and creativity take a hit during the migration process. Canvas has provided us more opportunities for innovation and creativity through LTI than any other system we have used in the past.
  • Large enrollment courses are now being offered fully online adding additional options to students.
We have used WebCT CE, and Blackboard Vista & Learn. We evaluated Blackboard, D2L, Canvas, Sakai, Moodle.

After 4 years of using it and still checking in on the other LMS offerings, Canvas is still the most flexible and easiest to use LMS on the market. The high school and middle school where my children attend are now using Canvas. My kids like it because they can work on things at home and access materials they need to complete assignments. Canvas works well at our institution, and provides great functionality to support a wide range of courses. Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) provides the mechanism to easily integrate other systems and tools into it that extend the functionality and add components needed in specific disciplines.

Using Canvas

26000 - Faculty, Staff, Students, Instructional Designers
Canvas is SaaS in the cloud.

  • IT Technical Staff - needed only for SIS integration and single sign-on solutions integration at start.
  • Instructional Designers - Support faculty in course development. We have 8.
  • Canvas Administrator - Supports the GUI interface of Canvas. We have 1.
  • LTI Tools Developer - Create new plugins for Canvas. Not required. We have 1.
There is no set number of instructional designers required to support Canvas, or other LMS tools. You need at least one person who is experienced with supporting faculty/instructors with educational technology. We have over 350 fully online courses and have faculty located throughout the state so we have chosen to assemble a team of instructional designers to support our faculty and degree programs. Not having adequate staff puts an extra burden on faculty/instructors.
  • Designing, building, and delivering fully online degree programs and courses.
  • Supporting face-2-face courses with online materials, discussions, quizzes, videos, etc.
  • Professional Development of staff, and training of professional in non-academic courses.
  • Creating our own extensions/features to enhance our programs (LTI).
  • LTI allows us to develop innovative tools that enhance the product, and to adopt other tools that make delivery of specific online programs possible
  • Create courses customized to individual students needs. - Learning Pathways.
  • Instructure has created a version of Canvas for employee training and professional development.
  • Adaptive Learning, Personalized Learning, and Competency Based Education.
The other LMS tools have fallen behind. One reason is they are not able to update their systems, features, toolsets in a timely manner. While other LMS providers release bug fixes and new features several times a year, schools struggle to install and implement them in a timely manner. It is not uncommon for a school to take 6 months to a year to fully install and implement new releases on other LMS platforms. With Canvas, those features are released every 3 weeks, and there is nothing for a school to do other than choose to turn them on once released. This has allowed Instructure to innovate faster, and get new features and tools to customers quicker.

Other factors include great pricing, customer support, and the innovative way in which LTI is implemented in the tool.

Evaluating Canvas and Competitors

Yes - We replaced Blackboard Vista. It was EOL by Blackboard, so we had to find a replacement. Blackboard Learn was a possible pathway until Blackboard decided to make it a migration from Vista to Blackboard Learn instead of an upgrade.
  • Price
  • Product Features
  • Product Usability
  • Positive Sales Experience with the Vendor
At our purchase time (4.5 years ago), Canvas was unknown and not feature rich, however they had implemented features in their earliest versions that we had been begging the other LMS providers to implement. We felt that the developers who had recently been students using an LMS, had focused on key areas that the other LMS vendors had ignored or failed to understand.
Keep it simple. Look at your needs, what the challenges are, and your current level of support staffing. Use your rubric to identify gaps, but use your gut instinct on the best solution for your campus.

Canvas Implementation

Once you purchase and sign the contract there is nothing to install or hardware to buy. You can almost immediately start using it and have courses up and going within weeks. We signed in December and had pilot courses online ready to go for the start of school in January.
  • Vendor implemented
  • Implemented in-house
Change management was minimal - With the adoption of any LMS, the workflow changes. That requires rethinking the course development process, and also allows you to rebuild courses from the ground up to make them better. Going from a locally hosted server stack to SaaS in the cloud required change in technical staff assignments, and new workflows for support.
  • FInding alternative ways to implement something that was well done in the other LMS, or a tool that a faculty loved and had used a specific way, and it did not work the same in the new tool.
  • The Sheer number of courses to move from one system to another was a big task. We took one year for the migration to accommodate two semesters plus summer courses.

Canvas Support

I teach with Canvas and on weekends and even holidays I have called the 24/7 support line to get help on something. It has been great.
Quick Resolution
Good followup
Problems get solved
No escalation required
Immediate help available
Support cares about my success
Quick Initial Response
Less knowledgeable
Yes - Faculty can call 24/7 and get support with building a course.
Canvas admin can call 24/7 when there is a problem.
Yes - I have reported several bugs in the first year we were using the tool and my course was one of the first to use it. They have a feedback mechanism built into the tool. I have seen bugs reported one week, and they are fixed and released within 3 weeks into production. Others may take some time to fix, test. In one case a couple of years ago, Instructure pushed a release on Sat. By Sat evening several reports from faculty about a bug were reported by multiple institutions, but Monday noon, the bug was fixed and pushed into production. There have been times when bugs seem to linger much longer than you would expect for a company who is able to push out things every three weeks to production. Perhaps that alone adds to the number of bugs.
I was one of the very first persons to test out a new feature and use it in my class. It worked well, but there was one aspect of it that would prevent me from using it because of the content I teach and need to grade. I told them the feature was great, but I could not use it for some of my assignments. The very next release contained a feature enhancement that was specific to what I needed to do. A small subset of faculty in their customer base who teach this content would need it. They implemented it. That is support!

Using Canvas

There are a few tools that need an overhaul, and are a bit cumbersome to use, or lack some of the features that faculty want.
For example the current web grading tool, although better than others I have seen, could have fewer clicks. There are some inconsistencies in interface in a couple of areas. I hear that a complete overhaul of the gradebook i, and grading s underway and will be released in 2016.
Like to use
Relatively simple
Easy to use
Technical support not required
Quick to learn
Feel confident using
Not well integrated
  • Grading - using the speed grader mobile app works very well for my course. Love it
  • Linking to content from a discussion, content page, etc is easy to do.
  • Adopting an LTI tool as a faculty is easy. In most cases it does not need to involve a admin.
  • Developing Outcomes are cumbersome. Too many clicks.
  • The gradebook took me some time to get used to how it works and how to understand the true grade of a student.
Yes - The web version adapts to tablets really well. You can use it on a smartphone too. They have a mobile version targeted to students that is really good. Faculty can use it too for some things. Faculty have their own app for grading that is excellent. Easier to grade and use rubrics than the web version.