First Look at Instructure

Instructure logoOn August 4, 2010, I spent 70 minutes with Cory and Devlin from Instructure Canvas getting a personal tour of their fairly new entrant into the LMS space. This is one of the recent additions to the field that is trying to differentiate itself from the Blackboards of the world by being more open, more flexible, less complicated, and more student-centered (and less evil, I suppose).

In the video below (7:42 running time), I narrate a series of screenshots that I captured as I started to create my first course and my user profile in Canvas. For my money, the important part starts at about 3:15 as I look at making a connection between Canvas and several web-based tools (G Docs, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, Diigo, and LinkedIn) and right after that where I set some notification preferences that allow me to customize how I receive class information updates (email addresses that I control and text messaging if I choose), and how often I receive these updates. (Try using the full-screen mode in the lower right corner of Vimeo screen.)

I will continue to play in the sandbox for a while longer as I start to build out more of a course and will report out again as I make progress on that front. Here are just a few more tidbits to tide you over:

  • Their philosophy is to wait and only build and implement a new feature when there is an identified need for it – rather than the build it and they will come approach.
  • Both students and faculty have the same view and user interface.
  • They have a simple, yet powerful rich text editor that is used whenever there is a tool that allows for editing. Same editor, all the time – even for students.
  • They have embedded a Creative Commons search tool for Flickr photos as one option when adding an image to a course.
  • RSS feeds (I know, what a concept!!) allow most course info to be pushed out of Canvas and to the students.
  • There are many ways of communicating with students. No longer is the only option to “email the class.”

I’ll add many more features in the next post. Don’t get me wrong, though. I haven’t totally fallen in love with Instructure Canvas just yet. I have lots of questions about it and I’ll work on clarifying what those questions are and getting them answered in the near future. So far I’m mainly ignorant about the back end functions and possible scaling issues with the service. More coming, stay tuned.

Also check out Michael Feldstein’s post at e-Literate.

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3 Responses

  1. Barry,

    Thank you for creating this short video. We are just now starting our evaluation (again). We are an ANGEL user (I will never say Blackboard/ANGEL) and need to make a decisions over the next year. I have been in contact with the people at Canvas also and have been impressed with the product so far. I did not look into this notification area until now. Wow..a great idea to allow the students and faculty to choose how they get information from their class. One thing that may concern us here at St. Petersburg College is being hosted. Traditionally, it is not something we like to do at my college but we could change? One last thing in talking with the canvas people, they are working on migration tools but do not have them completed yet for ANGEL. I am curious to see how a course migrates from ANGEL to Canvas. This is a big deal for our evaluation.

  2. Hi Alan, and thanks for the note. I struggle from time-to-time with the whole hosting issue. Lately we’ve had to endure some layoffs and having a service hosted helps us concentrate our efforts on other things around the campus. Still, it’s a trade-off.

    You’ll see in a future post that there is not yet a good indication of how well the Canvas will scale. You guys are huge (enrollment-wise, not in girth) and that would be a very real concern to look at.

    Also, they are very interested in working with colleges in creating the course conversion utilities needed for a system like Angel/Devil. Working with them first-hand on this might give you lots of insight into the company. BD

  3. Thanks for the review – looking forward to part 2. I’m glad that new startups are willing to take on the blackboard dinosaur. Don’t get me wrong, blackboard gets the job done, but i hate being locked into their archaic system, and their new versions are barely incremental. I’m worried that my investment in them will become obsolete. Anyone else have this concern???

    –George–

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