A ship in the storm: sponsoring the Canvas programme during the pandemic

kate blackmon

My overriding memory of the last time I met face to face with the team is of being at a meeting of the programme board in December 2019. We had just had our funding approved and everyone was in a celebratory mood; it was literally Tesco’s Finest Prosecco and Lindt chocolates all round! We had dissolved our old programme board and were in the process of setting up another to reflect our new requirements. The programme had added even more departments and faculties to Canvas at the start of Michaelmas term. The virus was hovering around in the background, but like many others, we had no idea of what was to come.

As Hilary term progressed, it was clear that Canvas was to play an important part in the University’s response to the pandemic. The Centre for Teaching and Learning, under the superb leadership of its relatively new Director, Professor Rhona Sharpe, took the lead in preparing the University for remote teaching.  Supporting the CTL became our immediate priority. All hands were on deck over the 2020 Easter vacation for the huge task of preparing for Trinity term. The Canvas team quickly set up a service desk to handle the many queries that were coming in. They also found themselves managing requests from academics who needed to set up tutorials in Canvas as well as helping to support important activities that had been planned to take place in person, such as Opportunity Oxford. Canvas also quickly became the single point of entry for students for course materials and learning activities during the pandemic, including access to Panopto videos, ORLO (Oxford Reading Lists online) and Microsoft Teams meetings.

The pandemic had the added benefit for us as a programme of introducing Canvas to a wider audience than might have been the case. We saw a 358% average increase in daily usage between the end of 2019 and 2021, and a 140% increase in the number of students and academics accessing Canvas over the same period. It is now being used by 95% of students across the University, across 88% of programmes of study, a high number for a non-mandated service.

One thing I have learned as a sponsor is how important it is to give your team the tools they need to do the job and then to trust them to deliver. Oxford has a well-deserved reputation for attracting the brightest and best, as successes with the Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine shows only too clearly, and this is also the case for the staff we recruit to deliver important projects and programmes across the University.

As the programme closes, I’d like to thank Professor Rhona Sharpe, Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning, Gemini Kahl, Programme Manager for Canvas, and Elaine Aitken, Programme Manager for Education IT, for helping to make my role as a sponsor one to be particularly proud of. I’d also like to thank the programme team, who have done a fantastic job over the last three years, most especially since the start of the pandemic. Finally, my thanks to the University staff for their patience and good will during a very difficult time; I hope we made a real difference.

More information on Canvas for staff