a person sitting looking at ICON website
Thursday, September 1, 2016 - 1:26pm
By Molly Hovden, Information Technology Services

After a busy spring and summer of communication, implementation, and training, all UI colleges have transitioned to the new underlying learning management system for Iowa Courses Online (ICON).

The shift to cloud-based Canvas affords numerous benefits—like the ability to record analytics, and more flexible access to course content. Faculty and students can also take advantage of new functions such as a “SpeedGrader” and a “what-if grade analysis” that helps students predict potential grades.

Professor Jon Garfinkel of the Tippie College of Business likes the way quizzes can be constructed in Canvas and found the new system helpful as he transitioned his large finance course to a “flipped” model, which involves having students prepare in advance so class time can focus on hands-on activities.

“Flipping the classroom necessitates student activities prior to and during each class period – no ‘off days,’” Garfinkel says. “I needed Canvas to confront each student with a clear schedule every time they logged in and it allowed that, which for me was the singular biggest benefit of the switch.”  

The UI decided to switch after two successful semester-long pilots that involved 50 faculty representing every college. The move is coupled with the UI’s membership in the higher education consortium Unizin, which enables institutions to draw on an evolving set of tools for managing course content, interaction of students and instructors, and learning analytics—using data to improve teaching and learning. 

Overall, campus is adapting well.

“I want to personally thank the dozens of faculty who piloted this system for us, as well as the hundreds of faculty and TAs who worked over the summer to migrate their courses,” says Maggie Jesse, senior director of the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology in Information Technology Services. “The staff involved with this transition also deserves tremendous credit; they truly went above and beyond to ensure that it went as smoothly as possible for the campus.”

Communication and training were key to this high-impact technology change. In addition to a host of announcements, IT staff offered numerous events, including 32 presentations to introduce the change to colleges in the spring, 42 training sessions hosted by Student Instructional Technology Assistants (SITAs) and 138 open and departmental training sessions. Over 1,100 people utilized the online training.

“We were pleased with the tailored sessions,” says Vern Duba, assistant professor and instructional services specialist in the College of Pharmacy, where five custom trainings were held. “The ICON team provided excellent group training to our faculty in our building and offered one-on-one assistance.”

As expected with any new system, there was an increase in questions at the semester’s start; those peaked at 80 per day and tapered toward the end of the first week. ICON specialists are embedded in the Help Desk to answer questions, working evening and weekend hours to provide extra support.

Nancy Langguth, associate dean for teacher education and student services in the College of Education, is in her second semester using Canvas. She likens the adjustment to getting a new phone. You know the key functions it performs, but things look a little different and you need time to explore new features. She’s confident, though, that once she’s fully familiar with the new platform, she won’t want to go back.

Support is available to anyone who has questions on the ICON changes. In addition to the online training and resources at https://its.uiowa.edu/icon, you can contact the ITS Help Desk or reach out to Annette Beck, director of Enterprise Instructional Technology.