Turning a Battleship on a Dime: Moving to a New LMS During Lockdown

By Valerie E. Polichar, Ph.D., Senior Director of Academic Technology Services, University of California, San Diego

Valerie E. Polichar, Ph.D., Senior Director of Academic Technology Services, University of California, San Diego

When the University of California, San Diego sent everyone home in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our department was in the midst of moving from our old LMS to our new one, Canvas. Faculty suddenly had to rustle up remote approaches to their final exams—and they had just four days to do it. They had to face the prospect of teaching remotely just a couple of weeks after that. And we had an LMS migration deadline: we’d already licensed Canvas and had special dispensation to pay for a year of overlap to make the move. There was no money to extend that further. COVID-19’s timing could not have been worse. But we pulled off our migration on schedule, and with happy customers to boot.

A Careful Process Gets Upended

We’d made the LMS decision after extensive consultation with faculty, students, and partners about their experiences with our existing LMS and their dreams of what might be possible. Our process was guided by Christopher Rice, Ph.D., using an approach he and CIO Vince Kellen had developed known as Experience Analysis and Design (EAD). EAD folds together qualitative interviews, quantitative surveys, identification of pain points, and a robust group ideation process to assess an existing tool or process and envision a future state. EAD served us well, helping to support the identification of Canvas as an appropriate solution while ensuring faculty and students felt invested in the decision.

Energy had gone into a smooth transition, too. We had devoted months to sending our five dedicated Ed Tech support staff out to departments to provide local, in-person training and providing one-on-one support to faculty in our (newly remodeled!) walk-in space. Even so, inearly 2020, we still had some faculty clinging to the old LMS. We privately commented that “Fall [quarter] may be challenging,” because, we speculated, many instructors would then be forced to use Canvas for the first time.

"Additional tools that had seemed luxuries in the past were suddenly critical"

Abruptly, we had gone remote. Not only were faculty struggling with Canvas, they were racing to figure out how best to use it for remote teaching—and they were faced with other tool changes as well. Most had not used Zoom for instruction before. Past reliance on over 2000 on-campus lab workstations meant rejiggering expectations. Additional tools that had seemed luxuries in the past were suddenly critical—yet instructors could no longer walk into our offices or reach us by phone.

Accessible from Anywhere

Ed Tech Services Director Dan Suchy and Ed Tech Support Manager Katherine Collins started by increasing the accessibility of Collins’ team. Collins swiftly established virtual opportunities to meet, including Zoom “office hours” and increased hours for1:1 Zoom appointments.Her staff provided more video/voice live workshops on the LMS and other critical tools.She also adopted a VOIP phone tool to provide telephone access, so faculty could reach assistance through familiar means. At the same time, her team created a quick-access COVID teaching website, updated multiple times per day, where instructors and TAs could jump directly to info on remote teaching technology. They also posted regular announcements within Canvas to alert faculty to training and system updates.

That accessibility on multiple fronts helped. Instructors who were not familiar with Zoom had ways other than Zoom to get support. Just-in-time links on the special website helped folks in a hurry to find solutions.

But faculty comments made it clear that empathy helped, too. Knowing that IT staff understood the immense difficulty of the situation and would be there to help went a long way towards giving instructors confidence. Suchy explains, “Even during normal times, changing learning management systems is one of the most impactful changes to a university. Faculty and students must feel supported throughout the transition. Our constant communication to faculty and determination to maintain the migration timeline helped deliver a new LMS to campus.”

Lessons for Good Times, Too

The end result? UC San Diego migrated our LMS on time and on budget—and with minimal faculty complaints. Unusually, kudos rained in for our staff’s performance during what were unquestionably rough times for our faculty. Collins notes, “I think a big portion of our team’s success can be attributed to increased communication plus training opportunities—and the incredible work ethic and unwavering dedication that each person on the team has for our students and faculty!”

Our take aways for successful change—pandemic or (hopefully) no—include the following:

- Include and engage customers in the technology decision-making process

- Make the team maximally available to customers via multiple routes during times of change

- Create and frequently update a specialized website that gets customers to pertinent help in minimal clicks during transitions

- Voice empathy and understanding for the challenges behind major technology change—this helps turn customers into partners

Contemplating a major change? We’re living proof you can pull it off—even during uncommon times.

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