by Arnav Harve, Staff Writer, October 2021
PowerSchool has been an integral part of the student experience for years. The online platform has helped teachers and students alike manage homework assignments, activities, and assessments. However, this year Nobles began permanently transitioning from PowerSchool to the Canvas learning platform. At this critical turning point in the student and faculty experience, why Canvas?
English Faculty and Director of Professional Growth Michael Kalin is responsible for spearheading the shift. He provided two reasons for the change. First, PowerSchool is being discontinued in a year, so the administration needed to pivot to a new Learning Management System (LMS). According to Kalin, it was the right time for a switch as well, as PowerSchool, with less than one percent of the market share among K-12 schools, has increasingly become an outdated product.
In order to choose the best LMS for the school, Kalin and the administration surveyed faculty members and found that faculty priorities differed depending on what classes they teach—some preferred site personalization, for example, while others preferred in-platform assessments. The school ultimately decided that a calendar system where students could see due dates for assignments from all of their classes would be most important. “At the end of the day, we’ve been really focused on a calendar system because we’ve never had a [systematic] way of helping students have their stuff in one place,” Kalin said.
Kalin and his team also spoke with Director of Academic Support Heather O’Neill and members of the student body to gauge how students felt about the current system. “The number one piece of feedback we were receiving is how difficult it was to have to check a lot of different sites [for assignment information]… [which] fed into our priority around the calendar,” Kalin said. Finally, Kalin and his team looked at platform usage by schools across the country, and found that Canvas was one of the leading LMSs in K-12 education and in colleges “That notion that a lot of our students would be used to it [Canvas] by the time they went off to college was also attractive for us,” Kalin said. Considering all these factors, Kalin and the administration decided that Canvas would be the best choice for the school moving forward.
Students have expressed mixed feelings about the transition. Gavin Lin (Class IV), as a new student at Nobles, has found Canvas’ calendar feature, in particular its ability to show all classes, most useful. Lindsay Saunders (Class II) also acknowledged that a class-wide calendar feature could be useful, but felt frustrated that in her classes, some teachers weren’t consistent with posting assignments there. “My other teachers don’t post on the Calendar, so it defeats the whole purpose of [it],” Saunders said. She also believes that the Canvas interface is unintuitive and vague, particularly finding frustration in finding class materials and turning in assignments. Lin, on the other hand, has found it easy to navigate through the Canvas interface. “I like how it has the syllabus that shows the ‘About Your Teacher’ and ‘Helpful Links.’ That’s been really helpful for me…to find resources for certain projects and assignments,” Lin said. Saunders also expressed difficulty in managing both PowerSchool and Canvas in her different classes. “It’s confusing. I have to have so many different tabs open on my computer at a time […] so I can make sure I’m keeping up with my assignments,” Saunders said. This year, many students across campus are required to use multiple platforms as well. School statistics show that just about half of all teachers have adopted Canvas, with the rest likely using PowerSchool, Google Classroom, or none at all.
On the teachers’ side, opinions toward Canvas are similarly mixed. Classics Department Chair George Blake teaches Latin in the upper and middle school, and has found both positives and negatives with the transition. While he was not required to move to Canvas this year, Blake decided to do so because he made the switch to Canvas with his middle school classes last year and knew that the upper school would shift soon. One of Blake’s main issues with Canvas is its lack of personalization. “One of the reasons I like Powerschool is that I felt like it was an extension of my classroom, and it could reflect my personality and what I wanted the course to be like. Canvas is a little generic to me, so when I go to my Canvas page I’m not exactly excited,” Blake said. However, he felt that PowerSchool lacked an easy way to manage assignments, a reason why he used Google Classroom in addition to PowerSchool. With Canvas, he feels that there is definitely an advantage for students, particularly with the calendar. He said, “Having students be able to find all their assignments all in one place and have only one LMS to manage is probably better for the school.”
Kalin acknowledged the rocky transition to Canvas: “We are operating in a moment where we’ve made things as worse as they possibly could be for upper school students.” However, he’s focused on understanding student perspectives, something which he plans to do with a student survey later this year. Kalin is confident that by September 2022, when Canvas will be mandatory for all classes, every student will be completely on the same page.