All you need to know about Canvas

The breakup is official, and QUT has already found a new beau. After weeks of conversation about the move to Canvas on StalkerSpace, and after Glass broke the story to you, QUT has finally announced its transition to Canvas to students. 

You should have received an email from the University on Wednesday 23 November 2022, announcing the move from Blackboard to Canvas in the new year. The announcement was sent out in a ‘Stay connected with what’s happening at QUT’ email (listed as the second line item), and included a link to HiQ with more information about the change.  

What is Canvas? 

Canvas is a digital learning platform. It is where you will find unit information, learning resources, lecture recordings, assessment information, feedback, grades, and communication channels. 

Some early adopter units have already switched over to Canvas for the Summer Semester, and the platform will officially replace Blackboard in Semester 1, 2023. 

What was wrong with Blackboard? 

Blackboard has long been the accepted platform at QUT and many other universities, even though its design is rigid, unresponsive to touchpad movement, and many students find it difficult to use. For many years, digital inaccessibility has simply been accepted within the university space. This issue affects all students, but none more so than our disabled and chronically ill classmates who have been forced to struggle in silence. 

As part of the design and development process with the move away from Blackboard, the QUT Guild Disability Collective was involved in providing feedback on the project. Their role was specifically focused on ensuring that accessibility was built into the student help guide, as well as ensuring the new platform is as accessible as possible. 

Disability Collective Convenor Hettie Rowan said those who have worked with both Canvas and Blackboard have spoken of how much more accessible Canvas is due its ability to be personalised.  

‘… Canvas itself is designed with features that make it inherently more accessible than Blackboard, and students who struggle with organisation or executive functioning will find these features incredibly helpful.’ 

‘It shows that with a little extra time and thought, these platforms can be made accessible to a wide range of disabilities. Which would make online learning spaces at universities much more supportive to all students.’ 

The platform will benefit students by allowing them to adapt their online learning space to suit their specific needs. Canvas will provide students with the ability to customise their online learning space in several ways, including the option to have colour overlays and three different display options for desktop viewing. In addition, the platform is more compatible with free Chrome extensions like Dark Mode and dyslexia/ADHD screen rulers (a coloured overlay across your screen that helps keep your place when reading).  

How will Canvas improve online study? 

Members of the Disability Collective, including Deputy Convenor Savvy Hunt, strongly believe that Canvas will positively impact the online study experience for all students but particularly those who live with disabilities. The customisable features of Canvas will improve usability for all students, including those who struggle with learning but don’t know they have a disability, such as undiagnosed neurodivergence, neurological disability or mental health conditions. 

The variety of display options will benefit people with a range of disabilities, including low vision, migraine and photosensitivity, dyslexia, ADHD, and autism. Not only does the platform offer unique features like a calendar and to-do list, but it can also send notifications directly to your phone – a feature which was highlighted by the d/Deaf and ADHD testers. 

In a bid to further enhance accessibility, the Collective made a recommendation to the University to consider purchasing a subscription to provide campus wide assess to HelperBird, a program which has a comprehensive range of features to support a broad range of disabilities. These include low vision, migraine and photosensitivity, dyslexia, colour blindness, ADHD, and autism. In addition, HelperBird also has inbuilt links to translation services and note taking features.  

In a statement to Glass, the University said they plan to further explore this tool in consultation with the Collective.  

What was the consultation process like? 

The platform was exhaustively tested, and the response was universally positive. Members of the Disability Collective who participated in the accessibility testing strongly believe that Canvas will allow all students to have an equally equitable learning space.  

Rowan said the University staff working on the project were sensitive to the concerns of the Collective, and went ‘above and beyond’ to ensure accessibility was built into every step of the design process. 

‘The entire process felt very collaborative and that the Disability Collective had equal partnership to staff in the workgroups and meetings.  

‘The University also included the QUT Student Guild in the process to ensure that student rights were met and represented as much as possible.’ 

QUT staff regularly met with Guild executives throughout the last 12 months to ensure the student interface was well developed. Outgoing QUT Student Guild President Oscar Davison said the Guild met with staff on the project at least once a month, and were involved with developing the training program for the platform as well as helping develop and design the system.  

‘The biggest concern we have heard from students is the lack of continuity and cohesiveness between units and faculties.  

‘We have combatted this by developing a uniform system, so that all units within Canvas will look the same to all students, across all faculties and units.  

‘Everything will be in the same place, and hopefully make this transition easier.’  

How long do I have to save old Blackboard content? 

Blackboard will still be available to current students until late 2023, so you will able to access past unit content until then.

When will training for Canvas be available? 

A self-paced online training module for Canvas will be made available to students in January 2023. The module is called Passport to Canvas, and has been designed to make the training process as light and engaging as possible. The guide will include extensive information about changing the look and layout of the platform, where to find important things, and what accessibility tools are recommended. If you or someone you know has any accessibility issues with this change over, please contact the Disability Collective.

Celeste Muller
Celeste Muller

Celeste (she/her) is a Meanjin/Brisbane based writer and Editor at Glass Media. She has a Bachelor's degree in Design (Interior Design) and is currently studying Journalism and Economics at QUT.

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