With 4.5 million users, Instructure takes on the courseras and udacities of the world with its own network of open courses – TechCrunch


Instructure launched Canvas in 2011 to provide educational institutions with an alternative to ubiquitous (but heavily criticized) software from education giants like Blackboard. Rather than forcing schools to spend six months onboarding and learning to use rigid and bloated learning management software, Canvas offers an open source, cloud-native system accessible to all students and teachers, easy to use. use (avoids Flash) and mobile, while offering developers a set of APIs and scalable server capacity.

Since then, Instructure has raised $ 9 million and has seen its LMS adopted by 300 universities, colleges and school districts, serving more than four million people (in part thanks to its recent partnership with Cisco).

Today, Instructure is adding another piece to its learning management system with the launch of its own hybrid MOOC called Canvas Network. Essentially, the network allows schools to define the structure of their online courses and personalize the learning experience. They can choose to offer courses in an open and scalable format (i.e. MOOC style) or pursue a smaller, more closed model, in which courses are taught on the online platform. that schools already have in place and are based on tuition fees.

Why? Well, as you’ve probably heard, a lot of attention is being paid to massive open online course (MOOC) initiatives, thanks to networks like Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, EdX, and StraighterLine, to name a few. some. However, speaking with schools, tells us Josh Coates, CEO of Instructure, they learned that while MOOCs have seen the national media buzz, institutions still have a lot of concerns about these open course initiatives.

Primarily, many schools see open course platforms as a feature rather than the future of education and, although they are necessary and integral to democratizing access to courses and content learning, are not yet sufficient. On top of that, says Coates, schools believe MOOCs currently favor a one-size-fits-all approach, which ignores the fact that each university has its own needs and views on how to educate their students.

In reality, universities want flexibility and the ability to organize courses as they see fit, rather than being constrained to a specific model or interface. And, somewhat controversially, schools argue that real innovation in education does not come from providers serving institutions, but within institutions (and the system) themselves.

This is why the Canvas Network allows schools to offer their courses in an aggregated resource, where students already enrolled in their programs can search and access their content and where the public (you and me) can do the same – follow. and discover courses that offer open enrollment.

Starting today, students can view and register for these courses for free, choosing from an initial set of 20 Ivy League schools and community colleges. What is available today is essentially the initial network course catalog, which will begin in January 2013, but the company plans to continue to expand this catalog as we go.

The courses listed today are open to the public and cover topics such as economics, math, engineering, dance, music, and business. Participating groups and institutions include Brown University, Colorado State, Ball State, University of Washington, Ball State, University of Central Florida, Utah, XYZ Textbooks, and Open Course Library, to name a few. (See the list of courses here.)

Again, the expected benefit of the Canvas Network for learners is a place where they can find courses offered by a range of institutions that are free and accessible to the public, while students of particular institutions can access the content. of their particular program. Now, one could argue that, for those looking for the free and open course option, Coursera offers a much better option, as it only offers content from Ivy Leagues and the best institutions.

This will certainly add friction, however, Coates is of the opinion that just because Ivy League schools have this high status does not mean that they offer the best courses or the best methodology in any particular subject. Maybe there is a community college in Colorado that absolutely masters archeology. The idea is therefore that the Canvas Network allows schools hitherto unknown to those outside their community to reach a wider audience.

It’s great, but as it fills up with content and adds more institutions, it will need to find better ways for students to find the best content. Sure, Instructure has a reach of four million, but it’s still a fairly unknown entity, so why would someone who doesn’t know their learning software immediately trust it to curate content from random institutions and community colleges that few have heard of? Maybe this will open the courses up to student commentary and criticism, but my hunch is that this will be an issue they will need to tackle on a large scale, although not a consideration at launch.

On the other hand, for schools, the Canvas Network offers to add value by offering flexible course design, advanced tools such as integrated multimedia, ePortfolios, collaboration, mobile access, analysis, scoring – taking advantage of the functionality of its LMS. In addition to the ability to use public enrollment and display their courses, teachers, and subjects in a public course index, schools can also export their student data for analysis, marketing purposes. , research and all that good stuff. The idea is to help them understand how course design and teaching affects student achievement, whether they blow it up or turn all of their students into Einsteins.

It will be interesting to see how students and schools react to the Canvas network compared to StraighterLines and Courseras around the world. Each of these has their own unique value (StraighterLine with accreditation and Coursera with Ivy League content, for example), but obviously there could be a lot of value – if it is able to offer a comparable number of ivy and of community colleges – in Canvas’ ability to offer a mix of MOOCs and accredited courses, especially since it already has a significant network to operate. But time will tell.

However, it’s a plus that Stan Lee is teaching a comic book class.

What do you think?

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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